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Everything You Need To Know

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Everything You Need To Know

Google’s Freshness Update was a significant ranking algorithm change that introduced the trend of making the search results more precise and responsive to user intent.

The result of the update was the ability to add time as a relevance measure for search queries. This enabled Google to surface content that is trending, regularly occurring (like a yearly event), or subject to frequent updating (like new product models).

The Freshness Update was made possible by the infrastructure changes introduced by the Caffeine Update, which enabled Google to scale up web indexing at an unprecedented scale, enabling Google to surface the most up-to-date content that is literally up-to-the-minute relevant.

The algorithm update was announced on November 3, 2011.

Google’s official blog post announcement stated that the change impacted about 35% of search queries and noticeably affected approximately six to 10% of search queries.

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That is a significant change in how webpages are ranked.

Why Is It Called Freshness Algorithm?

The “freshness” name for this update is directly taken from the official Google announcement:

“Google Search uses a freshness algorithm, designed to give you the most up-to-date results.”

What Made This Algorithm Update Possible

A reason why Google released the Freshness Update was that the new Caffeine indexing system provided Google the ability to process more webpages faster.

The Caffeine infrastructure made it possible for Google to provide fresh results with a higher degree of relevance by using a more granular definition of what freshness means.

Specifically, Google determined that some queries have three different kinds of time-related relevance factors.

The three kinds of time-related queries are:

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  1. Recent events: These are search queries that relate to trending or current events, generally news related.
  2. Regularly recurring events: Google’s announcement gave the example of annual events, elections, sports scores, TV shows, and corporate earnings reports.
  3. Frequent updates: These are time-related queries for topics that frequently update but aren’t events or trending topics. Examples are search queries for products that are frequently updated.

Freshness For Trending Topics And Recent Events

Trending Topics

Google shows fresh results for certain queries, particularly if they are trending.

Here’s an example with the keyword LIMoE, which is the name of a Google algorithm:

Screenshot from search for [limoe], Google, June 2022

LIMoE is a keyword phrase that didn’t exist until recently. In the above example, Google is showing the freshest search result.

Recent Events

When the algorithm was released there was no such thing as the Top Stories news section for current events.

Google simply showed news results related to recent events at the top of the search results.

Today, Google will show a Top Stories section when a search query has a recent event type of relevance component.

For example, a search query for Ukraine surfaces the following search result:

recent events search resultScreenshot from search for [ukraine], Google, June 2022

The Top Stories feature is shown for recent events that are trending. This is an example of the Recent Events type of fresh result.

Freshness For Regularly Recurring Events

This kind of freshness relates to events that happen on a regular basis but aren’t necessarily trending.

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Google used the example of a search query that is related to sports as a recurring event type of search query.

A search for NBA surfaces recent sports scores:

Sports Search ResultsScreenshot from search for [nba], Google, June 2022

The recurring events freshness type will have to be updated regularly. A sports event will have to be updated on a daily or weekly basis when the sport is in season.

A presidential election recurring event will have to be updated every four years.

Frequent Update Freshness

The third type of freshness is related to search queries about topics that are always updated, like queries related to product reviews.

For example, the Samsung Galaxy phone has been around for many years and has cycled through multiple models.

Ideally, when searching for Samsung Galaxy Review, the best result will be reviews about the latest models.

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This is a search result for that search query:

Product Review Search ResultScreenshot from search for [samsung galaxy review], Google, June 2022

Query Deserves Freshness (QDF)

Google’s Freshness Algorithm update was not the first time Google used time-related relevancy ranking factors.

In 2007, Amit Singhal (then a Google engineer and a senior vice president), introduced the Query Deserves Freshness (QDF) algorithm in an interview with the New York Times.

In a New York Times interview he explained what QDF was:

“Mr. Singhal introduced the freshness problem, explaining that simply changing formulas to display more new pages results in lower-quality searches much of the time.

He then unveiled his team’s solution: a mathematical model that tries to determine when users want new information and when they don’t.

(And yes, like all Google initiatives, it had a name: QDF, for ‘query deserves freshness.’)

…THE QDF solution revolves around determining whether a topic is ‘hot.’

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If news sites or blog posts are actively writing about a topic, the model figures that it is one for which users are more likely to want current information. “

The difference between QDF and the Freshness Algorithm Update is that the QDF algorithm appears to have been more limited in scope and less nuanced than the Freshness Algorithm.

In a Nutshell: The Difference Between QDF And Freshness Algorithm

  • QDF was examining if a topic was trending among news sites and blogs.
  • The Freshness Algorithm examined search queries to determine if they belonged to one of three categories of queries that required fresh results.

As mentioned earlier, the Caffeine web indexing system, introduced five months before the Freshness Algorithm, provided Google the ability to provide search results that were relevant to the minute.

The fact to remember about QDF is that the 2007 Query Deserves Freshness algorithm preceded the 2010 Freshness Algorithm.

What can cause confusion is that Googlers continued to make references to the concept that a Query Deserves Freshness well past 2010. So even in 2012, Matt Cutts was referencing the concept in a Google Webmaster Video that certain queries deserve freshness.

Nevertheless, they are two different algorithms that were introduced three years apart and apparently did different things, since the technology that made the Freshness Algorithm possible in 2010 (the Caffeine web indexing system) didn’t exist in 2007.

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Is Fresh Content Necessary To Rank?

Not all search queries require fresh results. Many search queries are evergreen.

Evergreen, in relation to the information needs of search queries, means that the answer to some queries doesn’t change much, if at all.

An example of evergreen content is a recipe. The method for how to make chocolate cookies stays relatively the same for many years.

Sometimes, there are cultural changes that affect evergreen content, such as a trend to low fat or low sugar cookies, which might change how cookies are made.

But the cookie recipe is still evergreen.

The Freshness Algorithm only kicks in when the search query fits into one of the following three categories:

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  1. Recent events.
  2. Regularly recurring events.
  3. Frequent updates.

Myth Surrounding Fresh Content

There is an SEO strategy that recommends changing the date of publication or the modification date every week, month, or year because, according to the strategy, “Google loves fresh content.”

There are even WordPress plugins that will bulk update the post-update dates.

But the truth has always been that the “Google loves fresh content” idea is a myth.

Even three years after the launch of the Freshness Algorithm, Matt Cutts, a Google engineer, was still explaining that freshness is not always a ranking signal.

Matt explains this in a 2013 video where he answers how important freshness is for ranking.

“How important is freshness?

So there’s a little bit of an interesting twist in this question where it’s not just the case that something is frequently updated …in terms of the pages on your blog or on your site, that you automatically should be ranking higher.

So I wouldn’t have that interpretation of freshness. …not every query deserves freshness.

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So if it’s a navigational thing, if it’s evergreen content, sometimes people are looking for long-form content or doing more research, then freshness wouldn’t be counting as that much.

…we have over 200 signals that we use and the thing that I would not do, the pitfall, the trap that I would not fall into is saying, okay, I have to have fresh content, therefore I’m going to randomly change a few words on my pages every day and I’ll change the byline date so that it look like I have fresh content.

That’s not the sort of thing that’s more likely to actually lead to higher rankings.

And if you’re not in an area about news, if you’re not in a sort of niche or topic area that really deserves a lot of fresh stuff, then that’s probably not something that you need to worry about at all.

…there’s some content that’s evergreen that lasts and stands the test of time. It might be better to work on those sort of articles…

…if you write about video games, there’s a lot of like topical breaking news, then it is good to try to be fresh and make sure that you have, you know, content that’s especially relevant.”

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Who Needs To Rank For Freshness Algorithm

Publishing new content regularly is generally a good strategy for many kinds of websites.

However, publishing up-to-date content for websites on certain topics is especially important.

Websites on topics related to rapidly changing consumer trends, topics surrounding regularly occurring events, and sites about products that are frequently updated require a steady stream of fresh content.

The upside of publishing news and trending content is that it can result in high levels of traffic, sometimes immense amounts of traffic.

The downside is that after a couple of weeks it may no longer be fresh or relevant to the same search queries that triggered the massive traffic when the topic was trending.

The best thing to do is to understand if your content topics fit into one of the three freshness categories and if so, get writing.

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If the content topic doesn’t fit into those categories, then the topic is evergreen.

And it’s not a bad idea to have a mix of both fresh and evergreen topics so that visitors arriving for the freshness have the opportunity to stay for the evergreen.

Knowing what the Freshness Update was about is still useful for developing a content strategy because Google today is better able to understand which queries deserve freshness, which creates opportunities for publishers to gain more traffic.

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Featured Image: A.Azarnikova/Shutterstock



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Measuring Content Impact Across The Customer Journey

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Measuring Content Impact Across The Customer Journey

Understanding the impact of your content at every touchpoint of the customer journey is essential – but that’s easier said than done. From attracting potential leads to nurturing them into loyal customers, there are many touchpoints to look into.

So how do you identify and take advantage of these opportunities for growth?

Watch this on-demand webinar and learn a comprehensive approach for measuring the value of your content initiatives, so you can optimize resource allocation for maximum impact.

You’ll learn:

  • Fresh methods for measuring your content’s impact.
  • Fascinating insights using first-touch attribution, and how it differs from the usual last-touch perspective.
  • Ways to persuade decision-makers to invest in more content by showcasing its value convincingly.

With Bill Franklin and Oliver Tani of DAC Group, we unravel the nuances of attribution modeling, emphasizing the significance of layering first-touch and last-touch attribution within your measurement strategy. 

Check out these insights to help you craft compelling content tailored to each stage, using an approach rooted in first-hand experience to ensure your content resonates.

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Whether you’re a seasoned marketer or new to content measurement, this webinar promises valuable insights and actionable tactics to elevate your SEO game and optimize your content initiatives for success. 

View the slides below or check out the full webinar for all the details.

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How to Find and Use Competitor Keywords

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How to Find and Use Competitor Keywords

Competitor keywords are the keywords your rivals rank for in Google’s search results. They may rank organically or pay for Google Ads to rank in the paid results.

Knowing your competitors’ keywords is the easiest form of keyword research. If your competitors rank for or target particular keywords, it might be worth it for you to target them, too.

There is no way to see your competitors’ keywords without a tool like Ahrefs, which has a database of keywords and the sites that rank for them. As far as we know, Ahrefs has the biggest database of these keywords.

How to find all the keywords your competitor ranks for

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Organic keywords report

The report is sorted by traffic to show you the keywords sending your competitor the most visits. For example, Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword “mailchimp.”

Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword, “mailchimp”.Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword, “mailchimp”.

Since you’re unlikely to rank for your competitor’s brand, you might want to exclude branded keywords from the report. You can do this by adding a Keyword > Doesn’t contain filter. In this example, we’ll filter out keywords containing “mailchimp” or any potential misspellings:

Filtering out branded keywords in Organic keywords reportFiltering out branded keywords in Organic keywords report

If you’re a new brand competing with one that’s established, you might also want to look for popular low-difficulty keywords. You can do this by setting the Volume filter to a minimum of 500 and the KD filter to a maximum of 10.

Finding popular, low-difficulty keywords in Organic keywordsFinding popular, low-difficulty keywords in Organic keywords

How to find keywords your competitor ranks for, but you don’t

  1. Go to Competitive Analysis
  2. Enter your domain in the This target doesn’t rank for section
  3. Enter your competitor’s domain in the But these competitors do section
Competitive analysis reportCompetitive analysis report

Hit “Show keyword opportunities,” and you’ll see all the keywords your competitor ranks for, but you don’t.

Content gap reportContent gap report

You can also add a Volume and KD filter to find popular, low-difficulty keywords in this report.

Volume and KD filter in Content gapVolume and KD filter in Content gap

How to find keywords multiple competitors rank for, but you don’t

  1. Go to Competitive Analysis
  2. Enter your domain in the This target doesn’t rank for section
  3. Enter the domains of multiple competitors in the But these competitors do section
Competitive analysis report with multiple competitorsCompetitive analysis report with multiple competitors

You’ll see all the keywords that at least one of these competitors ranks for, but you don’t.

Content gap report with multiple competitorsContent gap report with multiple competitors

You can also narrow the list down to keywords that all competitors rank for. Click on the Competitors’ positions filter and choose All 3 competitors:

Selecting all 3 competitors to see keywords all 3 competitors rank forSelecting all 3 competitors to see keywords all 3 competitors rank for
  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Paid keywords report
Paid keywords reportPaid keywords report

This report shows you the keywords your competitors are targeting via Google Ads.

Since your competitor is paying for traffic from these keywords, it may indicate that they’re profitable for them—and could be for you, too.

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You know what keywords your competitors are ranking for or bidding on. But what do you do with them? There are basically three options.

1. Create pages to target these keywords

You can only rank for keywords if you have content about them. So, the most straightforward thing you can do for competitors’ keywords you want to rank for is to create pages to target them.

However, before you do this, it’s worth clustering your competitor’s keywords by Parent Topic. This will group keywords that mean the same or similar things so you can target them all with one page.

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Export your competitor’s keywords, either from the Organic Keywords or Content Gap report
  2. Paste them into Keywords Explorer
  3. Click the “Clusters by Parent Topic” tab
Clustering keywords by Parent TopicClustering keywords by Parent Topic

For example, MailChimp ranks for keywords like “what is digital marketing” and “digital marketing definition.” These and many others get clustered under the Parent Topic of “digital marketing” because people searching for them are all looking for the same thing: a definition of digital marketing. You only need to create one page to potentially rank for all these keywords.

Keywords under the cluster of "digital marketing"Keywords under the cluster of "digital marketing"

2. Optimize existing content by filling subtopics

You don’t always need to create new content to rank for competitors’ keywords. Sometimes, you can optimize the content you already have to rank for them.

How do you know which keywords you can do this for? Try this:

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  1. Export your competitor’s keywords
  2. Paste them into Keywords Explorer
  3. Click the “Clusters by Parent Topic” tab
  4. Look for Parent Topics you already have content about

For example, if we analyze our competitor, we can see that seven keywords they rank for fall under the Parent Topic of “press release template.”

Our competitor ranks for seven keywords that fall under the "press release template" clusterOur competitor ranks for seven keywords that fall under the "press release template" cluster

If we search our site, we see that we already have a page about this topic.

Site search finds that we already have a blog post on press release templatesSite search finds that we already have a blog post on press release templates

If we click the caret and check the keywords in the cluster, we see keywords like “press release example” and “press release format.”

Keywords under the cluster of "press release template"Keywords under the cluster of "press release template"

To rank for the keywords in the cluster, we can probably optimize the page we already have by adding sections about the subtopics of “press release examples” and “press release format.”

3. Target these keywords with Google Ads

Paid keywords are the simplest—look through the report and see if there are any relevant keywords you might want to target, too.

For example, Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter.”

Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”

If you’re ConvertKit, you may also want to target this keyword since it’s relevant.

If you decide to target the same keyword via Google Ads, you can hover over the magnifying glass to see the ads your competitor is using.

Mailchimp's Google Ad for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”Mailchimp's Google Ad for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”

You can also see the landing page your competitor directs ad traffic to under the URL column.

The landing page Mailchimp is directing traffic to for “how to create a newsletter”The landing page Mailchimp is directing traffic to for “how to create a newsletter”

Learn more

Check out more tutorials on how to do competitor keyword analysis:

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Google Confirms Links Are Not That Important

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Google confirms that links are not that important anymore

Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed at a recent search marketing conference that Google needs very few links, adding to the growing body of evidence that publishers need to focus on other factors. Gary tweeted confirmation that he indeed say those words.

Background Of Links For Ranking

Links were discovered in the late 1990’s to be a good signal for search engines to use for validating how authoritative a website is and then Google discovered soon after that anchor text could be used to provide semantic signals about what a webpage was about.

One of the most important research papers was Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment by Jon M. Kleinberg, published around 1998 (link to research paper at the end of the article). The main discovery of this research paper is that there is too many web pages and there was no objective way to filter search results for quality in order to rank web pages for a subjective idea of relevance.

The author of the research paper discovered that links could be used as an objective filter for authoritativeness.

Kleinberg wrote:

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“To provide effective search methods under these conditions, one needs a way to filter, from among a huge collection of relevant pages, a small set of the most “authoritative” or ‘definitive’ ones.”

This is the most influential research paper on links because it kick-started more research on ways to use links beyond as an authority metric but as a subjective metric for relevance.

Objective is something factual. Subjective is something that’s closer to an opinion. The founders of Google discovered how to use the subjective opinions of the Internet as a relevance metric for what to rank in the search results.

What Larry Page and Sergey Brin discovered and shared in their research paper (The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine – link at end of this article) was that it was possible to harness the power of anchor text to determine the subjective opinion of relevance from actual humans. It was essentially crowdsourcing the opinions of millions of website expressed through the link structure between each webpage.

What Did Gary Illyes Say About Links In 2024?

At a recent search conference in Bulgaria, Google’s Gary Illyes made a comment about how Google doesn’t really need that many links and how Google has made links less important.

Patrick Stox tweeted about what he heard at the search conference:

” ‘We need very few links to rank pages… Over the years we’ve made links less important.’ @methode #serpconf2024″

Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted a confirmation of that statement:

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“I shouldn’t have said that… I definitely shouldn’t have said that”

Why Links Matter Less

The initial state of anchor text when Google first used links for ranking purposes was absolutely non-spammy, which is why it was so useful. Hyperlinks were primarily used as a way to send traffic from one website to another website.

But by 2004 or 2005 Google was using statistical analysis to detect manipulated links, then around 2004 “powered-by” links in website footers stopped passing anchor text value, and by 2006 links close to the words “advertising” stopped passing link value, links from directories stopped passing ranking value and by 2012 Google deployed a massive link algorithm called Penguin that destroyed the rankings of likely millions of websites, many of which were using guest posting.

The link signal eventually became so bad that Google decided in 2019 to selectively use nofollow links for ranking purposes. Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that the change to nofollow was made because of the link signal.

Google Explicitly Confirms That Links Matter Less

In 2023 Google’s Gary Illyes shared at a PubCon Austin that links were not even in the top 3 of ranking factors. Then in March 2024, coinciding with the March 2024 Core Algorithm Update, Google updated their spam policies documentation to downplay the importance of links for ranking purposes.

Google March 2024 Core Update: 4 Changes To Link Signal

The documentation previously said:

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“Google uses links as an important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

The update to the documentation that mentioned links was updated to remove the word important.

Links are not just listed as just another factor:

“Google uses links as a factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

At the beginning of April Google’s John Mueller advised that there are more useful SEO activities to engage on than links.

Mueller explained:

“There are more important things for websites nowadays, and over-focusing on links will often result in you wasting your time doing things that don’t make your website better overall”

Finally, Gary Illyes explicitly said that Google needs very few links to rank webpages and confirmed it.

Why Google Doesn’t Need Links

The reason why Google doesn’t need many links is likely because of the extent of AI and natural language undertanding that Google uses in their algorithms. Google must be highly confident in its algorithm to be able to explicitly say that they don’t need it.

Way back when Google implemented the nofollow into the algorithm there were many link builders who sold comment spam links who continued to lie that comment spam still worked. As someone who started link building at the very beginning of modern SEO (I was the moderator of the link building forum at the #1 SEO forum of that time), I can say with confidence that links have stopped playing much of a role in rankings beginning several years ago, which is why I stopped about five or six years ago.

Read the research papers

Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment – Jon M. Kleinberg (PDF)

The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine

Featured Image by Shutterstock/RYO Alexandre

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