Why timestamping your online content is so important

I’ve blogged for 15 years, but I’ve never thought much about the best way to timestamp my blog content.

Then I started writing a book called Trust Signals: The New PR, which had to be researched online almost daily. The experience made me someone with surprisingly passionate opinions about timestamps.

Where’s the fresh stuff?

When I go to the supermarket, I tend to shop in the periphery rather than in the inner aisles. That’s because grocery stores are generally laid out similarly, with fresh food – meat, fish, produce, dairy – taking up the outside walls. I go to the middle of the store when I want canned food to feed my family after a zombie apocalypse.

However, during my book research, I found that most blog content lacks such a standard of separation – for brands or publishers. Whenever I am looking to learn more about a subject, I happen to come across the following:

  • Timestamped posts that provide timely information
  • Timestamped posts with updates to ensure freshness
  • Timestamped posts with timeless information
  • Undated posts that provide timely or timeless information
  • Timestamped posts with outdated information
  • Undated posts with outdated information

The comparative usefulness of such posts is closely related to the order in which I have listed them. Let’s take a closer look at each category to understand why.

1. Timestamped posts with timely information

This is the gold standard. If your post has a timestamp for 2020 or 2019, I know it’s fresh content.

The only downside is that a new timestamp doesn’t say much about your own research standards. Sometimes I find links to “recent studies” from 2012 that have outlived their usefulness (even well-known publications are to blame). I was pleased to see that when creating content for Forbes Councils, not only are timestamps published, but any research cited cannot be more than three years old.

Publication standards vary, but having an up-to-date timestamp is your best first step in identifying high quality, relevant content.

2. Timestamped posts with updates to ensure freshness

Obviously, if you have a blog that has been around for a while, your content will not all have the latest release dates. So how do you keep it relevant? It is best to update your posts regularly and include a timestamp of the last update in addition to the original timestamp.

Most discerning publishers know that the majority of blog traffic comes from older posts. So if you can keep them up to date, you will be rewarded for it by both your visitors and Google.

Make it a goal to go through all of your posts – at least the ones that received traffic – at least once a year to read through and update the content.

3. Timestamped posts with timeless information

It’s a little tricky. If the post has an up-to-date timestamp, I know it’s okay to use. But if it’s got an old timestamp, I’ll have to read the piece to see if it’s relevant enough that I can still use it – because it’s about high-level trends that don’t change that often, historical research, or general marketing -Wisdom.

Even if your information is really timeless, it’s still a good idea to add an updated timestamp on a regular basis. It tells me that you recently checked your content for relevance so I don’t have to do it for you.

4. Undated posts with timely or timeless information

This type of content might be helpful, but sometimes it’s just not worth the effort. If your post is undated, I have no idea when you wrote it, so I’ll have to find out for myself if it’s still up-to-date or relevant to me. I can possibly find out if it’s new out of context (for example, if you find Trump is President, I know it’s younger than if you mention Obama is President).

I might click on a link and find that it points to an interesting 2020 study. Pay dirt! Or I click on a link that returns a 404 error because the outdated research that the post refers to is no longer even online. Frustrating.

5. Timestamped posts with outdated information

The bad news is that I can’t use outdated information. The good news is that if you tell me immediately with a 2011 timestamp, you won’t be wasting my time.

6. Undated posts with outdated information

This guy is the worst of them all. I have to scan your post, click the outlinks, check for timestamps on comments, or do other detective work to see if your content is worthless to me. Please don’t let me check your source code or wayback machine to see when you posted a post.

Timestamped content and trust

While writing about how brands build trust online, it occurred to me that content timestamps can be an important signal of trust for brands.

Going back to the grocery store metaphor, what is the first thing you do when you pick up those steaks for dinner? You are checking the best-before date.

“Use by date” or “use by date” is a relatively new phenomenon that arose in the UK in the 1970s. You might be surprised to learn that the USDA does not require an expiration date food in the US, except in the case of infant formula. Even so, food manufacturers are adding these labels to their products.

Why?

Build up trust.

Research has shown that consumers view expiration dates as a quality indicator. And it’s not that hard to see timestamped content in the same light.

Let’s face it: why are so many brands and publishers refusing to timestamp their posts? In the early days of blogging, all content was time stamped. It wasn’t a blog if the posts weren’t clearly dated and displayed in reverse chronological order.

At some point someone got smart and said, “You know what? Visitors jump up when they see old content, and Google doesn’t like it either. So let’s just take the data and nobody gets smarter.”

That may be wise, but it is also deceptive. Your visitors – and your buyers – may be wondering what else you’re fooling about.

If you invest the time and creativity it takes to create quality content, the relatively small additional obligation to keep that content up to date and to share that status with your visitors is well worth it. They’ll trust you all the more for it.

More resources on using content to build trust

How to win the trust and loyalty of your customers with unfiltered marketing: Stephen Denny on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]A 12 step checklist for creating good website content [Infographic]

Mastering the Content Lifecycle: The Key to Changing Your Customer Experience

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