Should you put the date on your blog content?

February 18, 2013

Inflatable cactus - yours from partyshop dot co dot nzMy daughter occasionally drags me into Hollister for a nose around. Once we have tunnelled our way into the shop, she flits about ooh-ing and aahing, and I walk after her grumpily.  I notice things: the music, the unfeasibly good-looking assistants, and the near-darkness that means you have to squint very hard in order to see the prices.

It is obvious to me (but not to her) that we are in a Marketing Zone.

That amount of bad lighting does not happen by accident.

So, what does this have to do with websites? Well, lately, I’ve been noticing a trend for Big Name Blogs (and some small ones) to have no dates on their blog content. Their content is still organised by date (it’s obviously a blog and you can go back through previous posts one by one), but there’s no actual date placed on the individual posts.

Since most blogging software adds dates automatically, you have to make a pretty deliberate decision to remove dates.

I’ve seen it around a lot lately and can only surmise that this is part of some Big Blogger advice that’s being handed out in a deep cavern somewhere. Evergreen content, perhaps.

Let’s get some data, shall we?

The Dated:

The Dateless:

There is also a third category, the Dateless But (Often) Dated. I tend to see this approach on small business blogs which recycle older posts. The articles themselves aren’t dated, but comments to the articles are. This can produce some odd disconnects: I came across a site yesterday where the comments showed that a series of recently-published posts were originally published two years ago. That’s just odd.

To date or not to date?

There’s a fair amount of discussion on the pros and cons of dates on your content.

The date-removal folk argue that readers neglect old (but great) stuff in favour of the newest and shiniest. Your content is like a fast-flowing river: if people miss it first time round they may not see it again. So not-dating gives you more chances to show off your terrific content.  Some of your site visitors will come from Google search, and they might be less likely to stick around if they realise that the content they are reading is 18 months old. Also (warming to the theme), people don’t usually put individual dates on web pages and that doesn’t matter, so why should dates matter?

The date-inclusion folk point out that the whole point of the blog format is to produce content with dates. New is preferred to old for good reasons. At the very least, your visitor might feel a bit stupid commenting on a post that’s 2 years old. (Dateless tends to go with commentless, though, which might remove that objection).

Do people notice, and does it matter?

I don’t know if people notice. I always notice, but then I notice things like this for a living. I am not necessarily the core customer for those sites.  The really key question is whether the core customer for those sites notices or cares.

Does it matter? Hmmm. My own reaction to dateless sites is a little bit like my reaction to Hollister’s dark, dark shops: my senses tingle a little. It makes me aware that I’m in a marketing zone; there’s a bigger game going on and I’m being spun. I certainly read and love a number of websites which are dateless, but you know? I also take everything they do with a pinch of salt.

Speaking personally, I’m wary: the lights are a little low for my liking.

Should you take off the date?

I don’t know. You really need to find out from your own audience.

Still, my hunch would be, if your brand has honesty and transparency at its core, you should keep your dates. If you have great content that’s older, update it or find a way to showcase it more prominently on your site.

If it embarrasses you that you are irregular in your posting habits, either write more regularly or let it go. It is what it is.

That’s my take on dates.

In the comments, I would love your thoughts on this. Do you notice this, and does it have a particular meaning for you?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Ann Gleason February 18, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Great post. Great food for thought. Personally, I like to see the dates and I like to know that the content is fresh. Why not simply place an enticing invite in the side bar that depicts “most popular posts”? THAT would get my attention.

I also look to a blog to get a feel for the “essence” of the person who is claiming to be an expert in some area. What are they writing? How current is the content? Who is responding to their posts and what are they saying? For me, a blog adds a layer of credibility to the source. For example, if someone claims to know a whole lot about blogging and wants to teach me how to be a better blogger, the first place I visit is their blog. Same goes for social media, web design, business consulting, branding, etc. I’ve heard far too many people say things like, “Oh I’m managing so many “other” pages, blogs, websites, twitter accounts (fill in the blank), I don’t have time for my own. I’m with you, Alsion, let’s shine a light on that.

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Alison February 19, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Some interesting comments here and elsewhere – it also matters if it’s done elegantly or inelegantly. If the datestamp says February 2013, but the comments clearly date the original discussion as 2 years old, I feel a bit cheated. If the dates aren’t there…well, as I say, it’s a detail which on the one hand can make things seem fresher, on the other might be a little bit manipulative.

I have a whole other post on being able to more or less read a business but reading the website. It’s true, though if, your business is not purely online then some very gifted people and organisations can end up with an online presence which simply doesn’t do them justice. I think web designers are a classic example, at times…

And thanks for commenting! It’s nice to be back!

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Naomi Niles February 19, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Hi Alison!

I don’t know. I go back-and-forth on it. I’ve got a few blogs with dates and a few without. My reasoning is that if the blog posts are more like articles and more “timeless” (although I guess nothing is truly timeless) then adding a date isn’t really needed.

However, if it follows some sort of timeline, then it should have a date as a reference.

I know from observing results with mine, engagement did go up quite a bit on one of mine when I removed the dates. Not really a sneaking marketing ploy, it just worked out better. :)

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Alison February 19, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Interesting, thanks for sharing that. I’m thinking it could make a difference to incoming people, if it’s not so precisely dated. I know I always feels a bit weird about it but equally, I’m not an everyday reader. Of course, it makes no difference to a regular reader because they know what order things appear in anyway.

(And didn’t realise I’d got comment moderation on – I’ll go and change that!).

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Joan Wallington February 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Hello Alison
That’s a really good article regarding the dates on blogs, and recently I too have noticed that the date is not being put onto stuff to read, and in fact I have been looking for the date on articles prior to reading your comments, so it made me smile that I am not the only one!
I like to see a date, although if I’m honest if the blog has a date going back to last year, although the article would perhaps be timeless, I’m a bit less likely to read it. It’s a bit like reading a magazine; you don’t mind reading stuff when you waiting in the doctor or dentist waiting area but yet we throw out our own magazines as they clutter up the home after a year or so eh !! thanks for sharing

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Billie May 29, 2013 at 8:45 pm

I recently noticed the trend of no dates on blog posts. I personally like to see dates, for whatever reason. I think placing “an enticing invite in the side bar that depicts ‘most popular posts’” like Sue mentioned in the comments above is smart. That way good content doesn’t get lost.

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Sue Ann Gleason May 29, 2013 at 10:59 pm

I had to return to this post because I’m getting ready to launch my third website and I am now in the space of” “How will I EVER keep up with not one, but THREE blogs?!” So here I am thinking I may just have to find a creative way to populate my site without the pressure of posting every week. I’m thinking of calling that page, Marketing Muse. What do you think?

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Alison June 3, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Three sites!? Wow!

It depends on the whole, is what I’d say. How often your audience want to hear from you. What they want to hear about, how it fits in. I’ve been rather absent from the Facebook groups but we should catch up sometime!

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Sue Ann Gleason June 3, 2013 at 7:43 pm

I would love to catch up with you, Alison. Let’s make a SKYPE date.

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