On the morning of March 11, Google published an article that lifted the veil on when and how it shows dates in search results snippets.  The article offered some best practices for helping Google find the right date for that snippet.  Google has been criticized or has showed the wrong dates for some search results snippets over the years, so this post could end up helping them communicate those issues going forward.

For certain search results, Google might decide to show the date the content was published or updated.  For the time being, the date is found before the search result snippet under the URL.

In the snippet, Google can show a date when its algorithm determines the content is either time-sensitive, news-oriented, or something related to fresh and new content.

There is no definite, single answer on how Google picks a date.  Google said they use “a variety of factors, including but not limited to: any prominent date listed on the page itself or dates provided by the publisher through structured markup.” Why not use a single factor? Google said “because all of them can be prone to issues. Publishers may not always provide a clear visible date. Sometimes, structured data may be lacking or may not be adjusted to the correct time zone.”

SEOs can help out Google pick the right date by

  1. Showing a visible date prominently on the page and/or
  2. Using the datePublished and dateModified schema with the correct time zone designator for AMP or non-AMP pages.

There have been some publishers who, over the years, were caught tricking Google News into thinking a story was published more recently than it really was published. Google is reminding publishers to review the guidelines around dates in their news articles.

There are six best practices that Google has published that you can follow to help Google with these Issues.

  1. Show when a page has been updated
  2. Use the right time zone
  3. Be consistent in usage
  4. Don’t use future dates or dates related to what a page is about
  5. Follow Google’s structured data guidelines
  6. Troubleshoot by minimizing other dates on the page

The reason this can be a big deal is because many people would be both confused and angry if they found out that the article that was dated as recent was actually dated over a year ago.  This could really put off your readers and ruin your site’s credibility.

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