Dates Matter, and Not Just for Singles

I’m not sure exactly when it started becoming popular, but at some point removing the date from blog posts became chic. I believe the idea was that if an article has a date on it, then people who arrive at your site by searching Google for content can tell how old the article is, and if it’s old, they will no longer be interested in it. Therefore, to increase traffic from Google, you should remove all the dates from your websites.

I cannot express the extent to which this drives me completely bonkers.

There are two types of writing: timeless and time-sensitive. This post you’re reading is an example of timeless content. It does not matter whether you read it the day after it was written or twenty years down the road; my opinion remains the correct one.

An example of a time sensitive post would be anything written about the technical details of Ruby on Rails, where the likelihood of it being completely out of date and irrelevant to the current version of the framework approaches 95% approximately four months after the date of authorship.

For some people, I’ve read that removing dates from your content can increase your traffic from Google, because if two articles are written about substantially the same topic and one is a few years newer, then who wants to read the old one? In order to continue driving eyeballs to your site, you’ve got to remove dates entirely so that the eyeballs can’t tell at a glance whether the content is still relevant or not.

In a piece of fiction, or perhaps an opinion piece, I don’t really care when it was written. (I might still like to know, to get a better idea of the historical context, but it won’t drive me nuts.) In the case of anything technical, if the article is not up-front about when it was written, I will not even bother to read it (unless I’m desperate).

Furthermore, do not ever try to placate both sides by only including part of the date. I will not pick on anyone in particular here by including direct links, but suffice it to say that the other day I was seeking an answer to a technical question and found a blog which only listed month and day. “August 30th?” I said. “That’s relatively recent.” Except after reading some of the article, it became clear that it was the August 30th of several years ago and the answer in the post was no longer the correct one.

Perhaps my biggest gripe arising from this pet peeve of mine is the purported goal of this date eradication: to drive traffic to your website. The goal of good marketing should be to direct people to solutions that solve their problems. (Hopefully, your solution is one that will solve lots of people’s problems.) The goal should not be to grab as many random strangers as possible off of Google and then waste a few minutes of their time staring at your website. That might be lucrative (or it might not; there seem to be arguments from both sides), but it’s neither helping people nor making the web a better place.

Make the web more useful. Say “yes” to dates.

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