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Get To Know Google’s Before: and After: Search Operators

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Get To Know Google's Before: and After: Search Operators

Google offers a lesser-known advanced search command that could make your Google searching a whole lot easier.

While it’s possible to use Google’s Tools menu to do the same thing, it takes six clicks to do what advanced search operators accomplish with one click.

Advanced Search Operators

Advanced search operators (otherwise known as search commands) are ways to refine your search in order to get a more specific result.

For example, if you want search results from a specific website, you can use the site: search operator.

Example of the site search operator:

apples site:example.com

The above search will return all webpages on the example.com website that contains the word “apple” in them.

Now, here is how to do the same search, but this time we want to find results about “apple” but not from example.com.

To do that, we do the same search but with the minus sign (-).

Example of site exclusion search operator:

apple -site:example.com

Before: And After: Search Operators

The advanced search operators that Google introduced in 2019 are called the before: and after: commands.

What these search commands do is make it easier to find webpages that are published within a specific period of time.

These kinds of time-based searches help a user to find webpages that were published during a specific time period.

There was already a way to accomplish this time-based task by using an advanced search tool available on Google’s home page.

But, using those tools takes six clicks to accomplish a time-based search.

The old way to do it is to first click on the Tools button located below and to the right of the search box:

Screenshot by author, May 2022

Then, the next step is to click the “Any time” link.

Screenshot of Google's Tools Button for Advanced Searches showing the Time-based search toolScreenshot by author, May 2022

The third step is to enter a custom date range in the pop-up calendar box.

custom date rangeScreenshot by author, May 2022

That’s a lot of typing and clicking in order to search for a document that was published within a specific time frame.

The New Way To Accomplish Time-Based Searches

The new way to search is similar to using the other advanced search operators, like the “site:” search operator example above.

The before and after search commands look like this:

before:

after:

These are examples of how to use the before and after search commands:

spider man before:2005
spider man after:2005
spider man after:2005-01-01 before:2019-31-12

Note: If you’re using the full dates, the search has to be done in the year/month/day format.

before-search-operatorExample of spider man before:2005
multiple date search operatorExample of multiple calendar dates

What The Before & After Search Operators Mean

The advanced search operator “before:2019” means before 01/01/2019.

This is a screenshot of a search using the “before:” advanced search operator:

Screenshot of before: advanced search operatorScreenshot from search, Google, May 2022

Notice how the above search result has a date of November 16, 2018? That’s because Google is returning webpages from before 01/01/2019.

This is the same search but restricted to results from before 2018:

Screenshot of before: advanced search operator for pages published before 2018Screenshot from search, Google, May 2022

Similar to the previous search, what Google is doing with the “before:2018” search operator is returning webpages that were published before 01/01/2018.

How Dashes And Slashes Work

Something that’s really cool is that both a dash (-) and a slash (/) in the date also work.

So for this search:

avengers endgame after:2019/03/01 before:2019/03/05

You get this search result:

slashes and dashesScreenshot from search, Google, May 2022

Time-Based Search Operators Are Flexible With Numbers

Another useful feature is that when entering a date, it doesn’t matter if single digits are written with or without a zero.

This:

07

Works the same as this:

7

Are Dates Sometimes Wrong?

The publication date of the search result pages will not always be shown.

This was the case in 2019 when the before and after search commands were announced, and this continues to be the case today as of the publication of this article.

Also, sometimes there are search results that don’t seem to match.

For example, for the Spider-Man search like this:

spider man after:2005-01-01 before:2019-31-12

The search results should be no later than December 31, 2019.

But, if you look at the example below, there’s a result from 2021. Is the search operator broken?

Wrong Search Result?

wrong search result?Screenshot by author, May 2022

The above search result is not broken. The above search result from the IMDB website appears to be from 2021, but that page was originally published in 2019.

Screenshot of Archive.org Cache of 2019 IMDB Spider-Man PageScreenshot of Archive.org Cache of 2019 IMDB Spider-Man Page

So, although the current webpage appears to say that it was published in 2021, the actual publication date was in late 2019 (as seen in the cache saved by Archive.org), when the IMDB created the webpage for the (at the time) untitled movie, that eventually came to be known as Spider-Man No Way Home.

Before & After Works In Google News

The date-based search operators also work in Google News.

This should make it easier to research news reports from specific date periods.

For example, WordPress is updated to version 6.0 (named Arturo) in late May 2022.

If I search Google News for WordPress Arturo from before 2022, Google news returns search results where the words WordPress and Arturo are on the news site. But nothing about the WordPress 6.0 Arturo update.

But, if I search for WordPress Arturo for the dates after March 2022, I get the news search results about the WordPress update.

Google News search like this:

wordpress arturo after:2022-03-01

Returns the correct search results:

Google News Search by Date Range

Before And After Dates Are Considered Estimates

At the time that the search operators were announced, Google’s Danny Sullivan said that it’s possible that Google might not get it right because it’s sometimes difficult to parse the actual publication date.

So, it was said at the time that the publication dates of search results that used the date-based search operators were to be understood as more of an estimate.

But as is seen with a little digging around, some of what appears to be mistakes in the date range are actually correct. It’s just that the articles were subsequently updated.

Save Time With The Before And After Search Operators

I have to admit that I have forgotten about the before and after search operators. I’ve never seen anyone talk about them since the announcement of these search operators.

Nevertheless, searching with date restrictions is a useful way to search, and it’s a good idea to become reacquainted with these search operators.

Citation: Read the tweet by SearchLiaison that announced the before and after search operator.

More Resources:


Featured Image: Golden Dayz/Shutterstock



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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


Featured Image: Danishch/Shutterstock

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

There’s one thing standing between you and several days of SEO, socializing, and Singaporean sunshine: your boss (and their Q4 budget 😅).

But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Here are 5 arguments (and an example message) you can use to persuade your boss to send you to Ahrefs Evolve.

About Ahrefs Evolve

  • 2 days in sunny Singapore (Oct 24–25)
  • 500 digital marketing enthusiasts
  • 18 top speakers from around the world

Learn more and buy tickets.

SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. Between AI Overviews, Google’s rolling update schedule, their huge API leak, and all the documents released during their antitrust trial, it’s hard to keep up. What works in SEO today?

You could watch a YouTube video or two, maybe even attend an hour-long webinar. Or, much more effective: you could spend two full days learning from a panel of 18 international SEO experts, discussing your takeaways live with other attendees.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve speakers from around the world.

Our world-class speakers are tackling the hardest problems and best opportunities in SEO today. The talk agenda covers topics like:

  • Responding to AI Overviews: Amanda King will teach you how to respond to AI Overviews, Google Gemini, and other AI search functions.
  • Surviving (and thriving) Google’s algo updates: Lily Ray will talk through Google’s recent updates, and share data-driven recommendations for what’s working in search today.
  • Planning for the future of SEO: Bernard Huang will talk through the failures of AI content and the path to better results.

(And attendees will get video recordings of each session, so you can share the knowledge with your teammates too.)

View the full talk agenda here.

There’s no substitute for meeting with influencers, peers, and partners in real life. 

Conferences create serendipity: chance encounters and conversations that can have a huge positive impact on you and your business. By way of example, these are some of the real benefits that have come my way from attending conferences:

  • Conversations that lead to new customers for our business,
  • Invitations to speak at events,
  • New business partnerships and co-marketing opportunities, and
  • Meeting people that we went on to hire.

There’s a “halo” effect that lingers long after the event is over: the people you meet will remember you for longer, think more highly of you, and be more likely to help you out, should you ask.

(And let’s not forget: there’s a lot of information, particularly in SEO, that only gets shared in person.)

The “international” part of Evolve matters too. Evolve is a different crowd to your local run-of-the-mill conference. It’s a chance to meet with people from markets you wouldn’t normally meet—from Australia to Indonesia and beyond.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve attendees by home country.

If you’re an Ahrefs customer (thank you!), you’ll learn tons of tips, tricks and workflow improvements from attending Evolve. You’ll have opportunities to:

  • Attend talks from the Ahrefs team, showcasing advanced features and strategies that you can use in your own business.
  • Pick our brains at the Ahrefs booth, where we’ll offer informal 1:1 coaching sessions and previews of up-coming releases (like our new content optimization tool 🤫).
  • Join dedicated Ahrefs training workshops, hosted by the Ahrefs team and Ahrefs power users (tickets for these workshops will sold separately).

As a manager myself, there are two questions I need answered when approving expenses:

  • Is this a reasonable cost?
  • Will we see a return on this investment?

To answer those questions: early bird tickets for Evolve start at $570. For context, “super early bird” tickets for MozCon (another popular SEO conference) this year were almost twice as much: $999.

There’s a lot included in the ticket price too:

  • World-class international speakers,
  • 5-star hotel venue,
  • 5-star hotel food (two tea breaks with snacks & lunch),
  • Networking afterparty, and
  • Full talk recordings to later share with your team.

SEO is a crucial growth channel for most businesses. If you can improve your company’s SEO performance after attending Evolve (and we think you will), you’ll very easily see a positive return on the investment.

Traveling to tropical Singapore (and eating tons of satay) is great for you, but it’s also great for your team. Attending Evolve is a chance to break with routine, reignite your passion for marketing, and come back to your job reinvigorated.

This would be true for any international conference, but it goes double for Singapore. It’s a truly unique place: an ultra-safe, high-tech city that brings together dozens of different cultures.

1718123166 301 How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs1718123166 301 How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Little India in Singapore

You’ll discover different beliefs, working practices, and ways of business—and if you’re anything like me, come back a richer, wiser person for the experience.

If you’re nervous about pitching your boss on attending Evolve, remember: the worst that can happen is a polite “not this time”, and you’ll find yourself in the same position you are now.

So here goes: take this message template, tweak it to your liking, and send it to your boss over email or Slack… and I’ll see you in Singapore 😉

Email template

Hi [your boss’ name],

Our SEO tool provider, Ahrefs, is holding an SEO and digital marketing conference in Singapore in October. I’d like to attend, and I think it’s in the company’s interest:

  • The talks will help us respond to all the changes happening in SEO today. I’m particularly interested in the talks about AI and recent Google updates. 
  • I can network with my peers. I can discover what’s working at other companies, and explore opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing.
  • I can learn how we can use Ahrefs better across the organization.
  • I’ll come back reinvigorated with new ideas and motivation, and I can share my top takeaways and talk recordings with my team after the event.

Early bird tickets are $570. Given how important SEO is to the growth of our business, I think we’ll easily see a return from the spend.

Can we set up time to chat in more detail? Thanks!

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Google’s Statement About CTR And HCU

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Google's Statement About CTR And HCU

In a series of tweets, Google’s SearchLiaison responded to a question that connected click-through rates (CTR) and HCU (Helpful Content Update) with how Google ranks websites, remarking that if the associated ideas were true it would be impossible for any new website to rank.

Users Are Voting With Their Feet?

Search Liaison’s answer was to a tweet that quoted an interview answer by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the quote being, “Users vote with their feet”.

Here is the tweet:

“If the HCU (Navboost, whatever you want to call it) is clicks/user reaction based – how could sites hit by the HCU ever hope to recover if we’re no longer being served to Google readers?

@sundarpichai “Users vote with their feet”,

Okay I’ve changed my whole site – let them vote!”

The above tweet appears to connect Pichai’s statement to Navboost, user clicks and rankings. But as you’ll see below, Sundar’s statement about users voting “with their feet” has nothing to do with clicks or ranking algorithms.

Background Information

Sundar Pichai’s answer about users voting “with their feet” has nothing to do with clicks.

The problem with the interview question (and Sundar Pichai’s answer) is that the question and answer are in the context of “AI-powered search and the future of the web.”

The interviewer at The Verge used a site called HouseFresh as an example of a site that’s losing traffic because of Google’s platform shift to the new AI Overviews.

But the HouseFresh site’s complaints predate AI Overviews. Their complaints are about Google ranking low quality “big media” product reviews over independent sites like HouseFresh.

HouseFresh wrote:

“Big media publishers are inundating the web with subpar product recommendations you can’t trust…

Savvy SEOs at big media publishers (or third-party vendors hired by them) realized that they could create pages for ‘best of’ product recommendations without the need to invest any time or effort in actually testing and reviewing the products first.”

Sundar Pichai’s answer has nothing to do with why HouseFresh is losing traffic. His answer is about AI Overviews. HouseFresh’s issues are about low quality big brands outranking them. Two different things.

  • The Verge-affiliated interviewer was mistaken to cite HouseFresh in connection with Google’s platform shift to AI Overviews.
  • Furthermore, Pichai’s statement has nothing to do with clicks and rankings.

Here is the interview question published on The Verge:

“There’s an air purifier blog that we covered called HouseFresh. There’s a gaming site called Retro Dodo. Both of these sites have said, “Look, our Google traffic went to zero. Our businesses are doomed.”

…Is that the right outcome here in all of this — that the people who care so much about video games or air purifiers that they started websites and made the content for the web are the ones getting hurt the most in the platform shift?”

Sundar Pichai answered:

“It’s always difficult to talk about individual cases, and at the end of the day, we are trying to satisfy user expectations. Users are voting with their feet, and people are trying to figure out what’s valuable to them. We are doing it at scale, and I can’t answer on the particular site—”

Pichai’s answer has nothing to do with ranking websites and absolutely zero context with the HCU. What Pichai’s answer means is that users are determining whether or not AI Overviews are helpful to them.

SearchLiaison’s Answer

Let’s reset the context of SearchLiaison’s answer, here is the tweet (again) that started the discussion:

“If the HCU (Navboost, whatever you want to call it) is clicks/user reaction based – how could sites hit by the HCU ever hope to recover if we’re no longer being served to Google readers?

@sundarpichai “Users vote with their feet”,

Okay I’ve changed my whole site – let them vote!”

Here is SearchLiaison’s response:

“If you think further about this type of belief, no one would ever rank in the first place if that were supposedly all that matters — because how would a new site (including your site, which would have been new at one point) ever been seen?

The reality is we use a variety of different ranking signals including, but not solely, “aggregated and anonymized interaction data” as covered here:”

The person who started the discussion responded with:

“Can you please tell me if I’m doing right by focusing on my site and content – writing new articles to be found through search – or if I should be focusing on some off-site effort related to building a readership? It’s frustrating to see traffic go down the more effort I put in.”

When a client says something like “writing new articles to be found through search” I always follow up with questions to understand what they mean. I’m not commenting about the person who made the tweet, I’m just making an observation about past conversations I’ve had with clients. When a client says something like that, they sometimes mean that they’re researching Google keywords and competitor sites and using that keyword data verbatim within their content instead of relying on their own personal expertise and understanding of what the readers want and need.

Here’s SearchLiaison’s answer:

“As I’ve said before, I think everyone should focus on doing whatever they think is best for their readers. I know it can be confusing when people get lots of advice from different places, and then they also hear about all these things Google is supposedly doing, or not doing, and really they just want to focus on content. If you’re lost, again, focus on that. That is your touchstone.”

Site Promotion To People

SearchLiaison next addressed the excellent question about off-site promotion where he strongly asserted focusing on the readers. A lot of SEOs focus on promoting sites to Google, which is what link building is all about.

Promoting sites to people is super important. It’s one of the things that I see high ranking sites do and, although I won’t mention specifics, I believe it feeds into higher rankings in an indirect way.

SearchLiaison continued:

“As to the off-site effort question, I think from what I know from before I worked at Google Search, as well as my time being part of the search ranking team, is that one of the ways to be successful with Google Search is to think beyond it.

Great sites with content that people like receive traffic in many ways. People go to them directly. They come via email referrals. They arrive via links from other sites. They get social media mentions.

This doesn’t mean you should get a bunch of social mentions, or a bunch of email mentions because these will somehow magically rank you better in Google (they don’t, from how I know things). It just means you’re likely building a normal site in the sense that it’s not just intended for Google but instead for people. And that’s what our ranking systems are trying to reward, good content made for people.”

What About False Positives?

The phrase false positive is used in many contexts and one of them is to describe the situation of a high quality site that loses rankings because an algorithm erroneously identified it as low quality. SearchLiaison offered hope to high quality sites that may have seen a decrease in traffic, saying that it’s possible that the next update may offer a positive change.

He tweeted:

“As to the inevitable “but I’ve done all these things when will I recover!” questions, I’d go back to what we’ve said before. It might be the next core update will help, as covered here:

It might also be that, as I said here, it’s us in some of these cases, not the sites, and that part of us releasing future updates is doing a better job in some of these cases:

SearchLiaison linked to a tweet by John Mueller from a month ago where he said that the search team is looking for ways to surface more helpful content.

“I can’t make any promises, but the team working on this is explicitly evaluating how sites can / will improve in Search for the next update. It would be great to show more users the content that folks have worked hard on, and where sites have taken helpfulness to heart.”

Is Your Site High Quality?

Everyone likes to think that their site is high quality and most times it is. But there are also cases where a site publisher will do “everything right” in terms of following SEO practices but what they’re unaware of is that those “good SEO practices” that are backfiring on them.

One example, in my opinion, is the widely practiced strategy of copying what competitors are doing but “doing it better.” I’ve been hands-on involved in SEO for well over 20 years and that’s an example of building a site for Google and not for users. It’s a strategy that explicitly begins and ends with the question of “what is Google ranking and how can I create that?”

That kind of strategy can create patterns that overtly signal that a site is not created for users.  It’s also a recipe for creating a site that offers nothing new from what Google is already ranking. So before assuming that everything is fine with the site, be certain that everything is indeed fine with the site.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Michael Vi



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