Freshness test

What does it do?

This test determines how frequently and substantially a website appears to be kept up to date – how ‘fresh’ it is.

Example results

Example freshness test results

Why is it important?

Fresh content has a marked, positive effect on Search Engine Optimization and user experience for most websites. Conversely, a stale website can actively deter users.

  • Seeing a website that is clearly out of date – for example, the ‘latest news’ area is featuring an article from 9 months ago – projects a negative impression of the website and its brand.
  • Competitive SEO generally requires for content to be added on a regular basis, both to expand the amount of content at a steady rate and to stay current with recent developments.
  • Users are disproportionately engaged by content that is new. In particular, fresh content is more likely to be shared socially and flourish virally.

How is it measured?

Sitebeam reads the content for each page and searches for indications of when it was created, and what dates it talks about. Essentially it does what a human being does when looking at a website.

It also checks for technical indicators of age:

  • HTTP headers
  • RSS feeds

The resulting ‘perceived age’ is illustrated on a graph by this test. This graph indicates when changes in this website were perceived to have occurred, such as fresh news articles.

Technical explanation

Sitebeam detects and interprets dates written on each webpage. Numerous potentially conflicting date formats are understood; for example, Sitebeam can infer whether international dates (dd/mm/yy) or US dates (mm/dd/yy) are being used based on many factors.

The context of each date determines whether a date is considered significant or not. For example, a calendar page would be intelligently ignored despite containing a huge variety of consecutive dates, while the date of a news article would not.

Sitebeam also considers the claimed date of a webpage as described by its HTTP headers or meta tags (the “last-modified” header). Although a date is sometimes specified, the majority of dynamic sites set these dates to the current time. Accordingly, the test ignores dates which are very recent (with 3 hours, adjusted for timezone).

Finally, Sitebeam looks for RSS feeds. These must be linked to from a page in the site. Assuming reasonable dates are provided, these are taken as further indication of age.

The final score is derived from a combination of the update frequency, and how long ago the most recent update was. Both of these variables are graded on a logarithmic scale.

Supported date formats

These are the date formats Sitebeam can recognize:

  • Numeric dates, e.g. 02/07/1979
    • Orders of dd/mm/yyyy, mm/dd/yyyy and yyyy/mm/dd. Where ambiguous, Sitebeam tries to guess based on other dates (e.g. 01/30/2001 is always mm/dd/yyyy).
    • Years can be 2-4 digits long.
    • Leading zeros are irrelevant, e.g. 02/07/1979 is the same as 2/7/1979.
    • Separators can be a slash (/), dash (-) or period (.) but must be consistent.
  • English text dates, e.g. 2nd July 1979
    • Orders of dd/mm/yyyy, mm/dd/yyyy, dd/mm, mm/dd.
    • The absence of a day is allowed, e.g. “Jan 2001”.
    • Only the first three letters of the month are relevant (e.g. “Jan” is the same as “January” or “Jan.”).
    • Ordinal suffixes are ignored, e.g. “th”, “nd”.

Potential problems

Don’t assume that your websites must always score a perfect 10 for this test. See Perfectionist fallacy.

Some websites do not mention any dates. These websites receive an informational score only.

A website may be kept up to date, but not give any obvious indication that this is the case in its content. These websites would be falsely highlighted as appearing more out of date than they are. You could choose to exclude the test in this case, or consider adding dates to pages based on when they were updated (e.g. in the footer of an article, add something like “Last updated: dd/mm/yy”).

How to improve this score

This test indicates the perceived age of the website. If it is more up-to-date than the test believes, consider:

  1. Adding more dates to the website that make the age of content conspicuous, or. For example, add the date at which a news article is posted next to the article. This can usually be automated in the Content Management System you are using, if any.
  2. Specifying the age of the page correctly in the “last-modified” header. If you are using static files for a website, this will be handled for you automatically by your web server.
  3. Incorporating an RSS feed with dates of your most recent content inside it.

Otherwise the only way to improve this score is to keep your website up to date with a steady stream of regular content. Consider adding at least a single page every month at a minimum. If your website hasn’t been updated in a very long time (e.g. 12 months) adding just a single update will make a significant difference.

How to use this test effectively

This test should be consulted regularly as part of your SEO and marketing strategy; fresh content is extremely important and worth measuring.

When aiming to compete with the SEO of another website, pay particular attention to how it scores for this test. Aim to match or exceed their content frequency by default.

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