Note: This post was co-authored by Kurt Krake, Bazaarvoice advisory board member and President of Search-Werks
At this point, if you aren’t incorporating user-generated content (UGC) into your SEO content strategy, you are already behind. For several years, a trending topic in the SEO industry has been the power of “fresh” web content, that which is updated frequently. Benefits such as traffic from long tail keyword searches and boosted relevancy have always been very real, but an additional benefit has recently been given new attention.
After making infrastructure changes (called Caffeine) last year to allow for faster indexing & crawling of the web, Google recently announced a change to its “freshness algorithm,” which impacts what pages it shows to searchers, and is “designed to give you the most up-to-date results.” This algorithm change appears to affect up to 35% of Google searches which dwarfs the much talked about Panda Update. Doing back of the envelope calculations, this affects roughly 11K searches/second and over 30B searches per month. This is clearly further affirmation of the Query Deserves Freshness concept that the SEO community has observed over the last couple of years. Google’s blog post to announce this algorithm change has three key use cases to follow for many types of websites.
The first example of a search that requires fresh content applies to news-related topics, and Google mentions:
“Now when you search for current events like [occupy oakland protest]… you’ll see more high-quality pages that might only be minutes old.”
So, for websites that have a tendency to show fresh content every time Googlebot shows up, it’s likely those will get a boost from this update.
The second example Google uses is a recurring event. For example, it’s unlikely that this calendar will remain the #1 result for “seo conferences”:
Third, the post highlighted product content, describing it as, “information that changes often, but isn’t really a hot topic or a recurring event.” When content has been recently generated on an existing page, that page is more likely to rank than other pages with no new content. Google specifically discusses review content here, but this could apply to tweets, questions and answers, or any other type of user-generated content (UGC).
“Being a large merchant with hundreds of thousands of pages, it can be challenging to keep the entire site fresh,” commented a customer of ours, Mike Miller from Build.com, when we asked how he keeps his webpages fresh in the search engine algorithms:
“I’ve come across many websites that spend far too much time focusing on optimizing for search engines and not enough focus on the customer. I encourage my team to keep the customer top of mind at all times.
Promoting customers to submit product reviews and ask questions is an extremely useful method for keeping content fresh. Customers tend to trust each other, so by providing tools for them to share their experiences creates an enjoyable buying experience.”
Here are some ways to reap the benefits of Google’s focus on freshness.
Keep XML sitemaps updated
This oldie but goodie tactic is often rushed or overlooked entirely. By adding appropriate priority and last update flags to the URLs in your sitemap, you can indicate to Google when page content is new. Also include mobile pages and video content in your sitemap!
Add social and news feeds
Add recent blog headlines, newsfeed items, or your Twitter feeds to high visibility parts of your site because fresh content is what tends to get tweeted about most. This ensures that prominent areas of your site have the fresh content Google is looking for!
Keep your content current
Develop a content strategy for your website based not only on target keywords with lots of traffic, but also ever-changing keywords for current issues, topics, or trends. Use Google Insights and trending on Twitter as keyword research tools to identify those current issues that you can develop a video, blog post, or tweet about. For example, a Christian ministry site posted a blog about using the term “Xmas” instead of “Christmas” – Does Writing ‘Xmas’ Take Christ out of Christmas? Every holiday season, this is a popular subject, so the site incorporated it into their content strategy and posted their point of view. Since this post was timely, it generated lots of shares.
For major brand websites, which have been impacted both positively and negatively by this change, it is not practical to do large-scale content freshness updates to thousands of product detail pages individually. UGC is your best and most scalable method for meeting the freshness ranking signal across those pages (learn about our approach to content freshness).
As users, most of us probably realize the validity of finding the freshest content when we are looking for information. As web marketers, sometimes we forget that content we created just weeks ago may not be in line with this week’s topics or priorities. By following some of the steps above, you will not only be tackling long-tail traffic; you will also be improving your site’s relevance for topics that require freshness. Members of the Bazaarvoice SEO team have been speaking at conferences all year (most recently at #SESCHI) and during that time, companies have been eagerly finding out how to add UGC to their toolkit to benefit from fresh content. Go forth and be fresh!
What strategies do you use to increase the amount of “fresh” content on your site?