I am writing this post Monday morning. May 2. 2011.
This must be pretty important information because Martyn Chamberlin says the date is one of the six biggest problems with our blogs:
Early on, I decided to remove every single date on my blog, including the comments.
As a result, when folks read something I wrote months ago, they feel it’s absolutely relevant to them. Since it doesn’t look like they’re joining the conversation late, they feel okay leaving a comment too.
I’m constantly getting comments on months-old articles because I don’t have the date showing how “stale” the page is.
If a post looks like you wrote it this morning, for all practical purposes you did, and people will treat it as such.
Martyn’s guest post on Copyblogger is pretty good. For the most part, his list of blogging mistakes is worth reading:
- “Your headline size is too small”
- “Your photos look like they were taken with a broken iPod”
- “You’re invisibly whimpering for a subscription instead of confidently insisting on it”
- “Your About page is lame”
- “You’re unnecessarily reminding everyone how stale your articles are”
And by saying “for the most part,” I mean the first five points. I don’t believe readers are dismissing content because the date makes it look old.
Which is more important: Trust or Freshness?
If the age of content is important to readers, then they should know when it is created. If you’re hoping someone thinks your content is fresh because it doesn’t have a date, that is deception.
It’s not a good way to establish authority.
But what if I’m wrong?
Is it time to stop blogging?
No, this is not a “Blogging is Dead” type of post. This is about making your content look as fresh as possible. Since that seems to be such an important element of blogging. And blogging systems are conspiring against this goal. Here are three signs that your post is old:
- It’s not at the top of your home page:Basically, a blog puts your most recent content on top of what’s already published. It is designed to emphasize the newest content. Anything that’s not at the top is so yesterday.
- It’s not listed in the “Recent Posts” widget: It’s incredibly easy to set up those sidebar boxes that automatically list the 5 or 10 latest blog posts. They’re great for showing what else you have written. But glaring reminders that not everything is fresh.
- The post is listed with “Older Posts”: Look at the bottom of the page. There’s a link to more content that’s not new.
Blogs were designed to be publishing tools that made newer content more relevant than important content. They did this because it was the easiest way to publish content on the Web.
Now we are using blogs to publish because of the adage, “When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Which really isn’t all bad. The design and function has turned us all into potential publishers and launched countless new businesses.
But if the perceived freshness of content is so important to your publishing model, then blogging is the wrong tool. It’s not the best way to organize your content.
And are we relying too much on Google?
Just because your content is yesterday’s news, that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Which presents a problem with blogging. How do we get people to read old content? You have two ways to solve that issue:
- Evergreen content:Write posts that are useful and relevant no matter when they are read. Focus on universal problems that are always plaguing your audience. So no matter what the publication date says, readers will find the content to be useful.
- SEO: This is how your evergreen content gets found.
Think about that second point for a moment. Once Google indexes your post, it’s available to any reader who searches for the right words. Their entrance into your site can be anywhere depending on how they are searching for answers or solutions.
Which is great. It allows you to put your content in front of just about anyone.
But it’s ceding organization of your content to search engines. And if the freshness of your content is so important, then you don’t want old, stale posts to be the front page of your content. Remember this is incredibly important. Why else would you remove the date from the post?
But you have bigger problems than a publication date. The very nature of blogging and search engines are emphasizing your old content.
So what do we do about all that old content?
First, watch your cultural references. The date isn’t the only clue to when you write your content. Are you guilty of using any of these premises for blog posts?
- Nine marketing lessons I learned from Charlie Sheen
- What the Japanese earthquake taught me about disaster planning
- Social media lessons and the royal wedding
Using current events is a great way to get your content noticed. The context attracts audience, and can be incredibly useful information. But the cultural reference dates your content.
Remember how important it is to look fresh.
Second, organize your content by importance. Ironically the best examples are printed on dead trees. Look at books, magazines and newspapers.
Books are designed to lead you through important content. Main stream media put the most important content first.
Of course this is hard. That’s why we blog.
Am I serious?
Yes and no.
We need to make our content useful and relevant. Our headlines and introductory paragraphs will communicate utility and relevance better than the missing dates on our blog posts. If the idea is new to the audience, then it’s new content – no matter when it is created.
Placing a lot of importance on a date stamp is misguided. The whole system is working against that strategy.
Focus on what really matters. Helping your audience, not fooling them.