Published vs Last Updated Date: Which is Better for SEO?

James Parsons by James Parsons Updated Apr 18th, 2024 16 min read

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Last Updated vs Publish Date

When browsing search results, most (but not all) of the results will have a date leading the snippet. The date is helpful to readers who want to know how likely the content is to be relevant to their query. After all, if you're looking for practical, up-to-date information, you don't want to click on a post from six years ago.

There are three different philosophies with dates, and marketers take different approaches.

1. The first is to hide all dates. That means your articles have no date in the URL, no date in the post, no date field in the comments, nothing. Neil Patel does this. Take this post, for instance. You can tell it's an old post that has been updated and republished on his feed (it was at the top of his recently published posts when I checked his blog), but how?

  • The topic, while relevant, isn't something Neil would necessarily want to dig into from whole cloth right now.
  • Some of the tips are a little outdated or "common knowledge."
  • Check the dates on some of the posts he links; many are from around 2014. The same with some of his screenshots.
  • The article has hundreds of blog comments, which it definitely wouldn't get in a few days.

Neil isn't fooling anyone, but he isn't trying to. He's not presenting the post as a brand new one, just that he's updated it. That's fine! There's nothing wrong with that approach.

Publish Date Blank

Remember, too, that blog posts decay over time. Different kinds of blog content decay at different rates, but a significant indicator of how quickly they decay is the date being visible. If a topic is timely and the date says the post is years old, it's unlikely to be valuable, right?

2. The second philosophy is to keep the date the blog was published static at all times. This strategy gets you the benefits of having a date in the search results, but it's not super great once a few years have passed. Think about it; if you're looking for marketing advice, are you going to go with a post published this year or five years ago? The older post may be perfectly relevant or kept up to date, but side by side in the SERPs, you're going to angle for the newer one.

3. The third is to update the date to a "last modified" date whenever you edit the post. This method is why you see so many older posts that have dates in the current year or year minus one; they've edited the article recently to keep their content fresh, but they're maintaining the same URL to keep all their comments, backlinks, and other SEO value. This method is especially valuable for pillar content and evergreen content.

Updated Date

I use this third method, as do many others in the marketing space, like Backlinko.

Note: In my mind, a significant determining factor of what kind of date you use should be how much you keep your older content up to date. I think it's good practice to keep at least some of your old content updated. Of course, if you use "last modified" as your date but never update your new content, it's functionally identical to the publication date.

30 Second Summary

Most search results have a date before the snippet, helping readers gauge relevancy. Three philosophies exist about dates. One is to conceal all dates, as Neil Patel does, even though posts can decay over time based on their visible date. The second keeps the original publication date, beneficial initially but not as time passes. The third updates the date whenever the post gets edited, keeping content fresh yet retaining backlinks and other SEO values. The method you opt for should align with how frequently you update older content.

How Does Backdating Work?

Backdating is a practice where you publish a piece but give it a "published" date sometime in the past to make it look older than it is. For example, if I published this post but set the date to say it was published in 2021. That's an extreme example, though.

Publish Date

Backdating is used for two reasons.

1. The first is to maintain consistency in your archives. If you have a calendar-based navigation interface, or you want people to think your publication schedule is highly consistent, great! That's a good practice to have. What happens, though, if you get sick and miss a day or have a post scheduled but WordPress doesn't publish it? A backdated post can help smooth over those kinds of issues.

2. The other reason people backdate is, well, kind of a low-level bit of fraud. Say you have a competitor who wrote a recently-published piece on a topic you like. So, you write a post to cover the subject too. If you publish it now, it looks like you're just copying them, and they'll probably still get the most clicks. But, if you backdate to a few weeks or months before the competitor post, now it looks like they copied you. 

Brilliant, right? Well, not really:

For one thing, it doesn't work. Most people aren't making that kind of comparison or care if they see the dates being so close. And, of course, you aren't tricking Google. That's because, rather than go by the date you tell them, Google goes by the date they discovered the post on your site and the indexation date.

Which Date Type Does Google Use?

Since dates are an element of SEO, it stands to reason that the most straightforward answer would be "do whichever Google prefers," right? So, which does Google use?

Well, you've probably guessed, but the answer is "all of them." The Google search results will show whichever date they think is most relevant to a post, or no date at all if no date is given. If you're like Neil and strip dates from your content, they won't show a date. But, if you display two dates and Google has both available, which do they pick?

Google Post Date

According to John Mueller, all the way back in 2018,

"That's something that we we sometimes argue with with the dates team. But I see they're good arguments both ways. And in our algorithms we don't always pick like one or the other as the one that would show.

So sometimes we feel that the original date makes sense the show sometimes it makes sense to show the last modification date where we know that something significantly changed on this page that affects what the user is looking for.

So I think there are arguments that could be made for both directions. And that's kind of why we try to be bit flexible there with the algorithms."

It's generally contextual, but in my experience, it usually leans towards the last modified date if the modifications made to the post are significant.

Remember, Google can compare their indexed version of your post to the new version and see the differences. If you "update a post for 2022," but all you changed was a few word choices, it's not a significant change, and they aren't going to treat it as such. On the other hand, if you rewrote a good chunk of the post to remove outdated information and add newer, more helpful information, the Last Modified date is a better reflection of the last time the content received attention.

Can The Wrong Date Hurt Your SEO?

If Google can pick whatever date they want to show in the SERPs, does it matter what date you give them? Well, sure.

More specifically, though, it's less about the data on the page and more about the metadata. If you have a date in your URL and the date on the page is different, Google will often give preference to the URL date because it's more accurate to the URL.

That's minor, though, compared to one specific date: your sitemap date, which tells Google's bots when you most recently updated a piece of content. There are other values, too, such as  and , if you're interesting in reading more about them in my post here.

If that date is inaccurate, Google will think you're trying to pull one over on them. After all, what possible reason could you have for putting the wrong date on your sitemap? It's not there for users; it's just for search engines.

Post Sitemap Example

If you mix up dates in your sitemap once or twice, that's probably forgivable. If you consistently mess with dates in your sitemap, Google will generally start ignoring your proven-inaccurate sitemap, and that has negative SEO implications.

As for the actual published date, modified date, or no date? Well, it all impacts your SEO and your click-through rate, but it's all relatively minor and contextual.

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After all, someone like Neil Patel wouldn't remove dates entirely if it was a hugely damaging move, right? He gets more benefit from re-sharing old posts as new articles than he loses from not having recent dates on all of them.

I think removing dates can hurt your user experience. I always check the date of the article I'm reading to determine if the content I'm reading is outdated. Removing the article dates didn't hurt Neil here, but then again, his site is much larger and more authoritative than most of the sites on the internet, so he might be able to get away with more.

Which Option Works Best?

In my experience and from reading a variety of case studies and experiments, I've come to one conclusion:

There is no correct answer.

You had to expect that by now, right? There's never one correct answer in marketing unless it's something Google lays out for you, like "don't serve malware on your site."

When it comes to dates, there are pros and cons to each option. Moreover, the SEO implications change over time.

Here's an example. ShoutMeLoud did a case study by removing dates from his blog, letting it rest for a while, as a way of recovering from Google Panda all the way back in 2014 or so. Surprisingly, the choice to hide dates was more favorable for his traffic than having accurate dates. When he added dates back as a test, his traffic dropped by 40%.

Traffic Dropping in Google Analytics

I think the dates likely increased traffic for his more recent posts, but traffic for his older posts dropped. Since this was during a significant shakeup in SEO, older posts were seen as dramatically less valuable.

Of course, his advice has changed since then. In a 2020 update, he says that the new best practice is to include both the publication date and the last modified date, presumably to give Google as much information as possible and let them display the date they think is most appropriate.

How to Display The "Last Updated" Date

I use a last modified date exclusively. Here's the code I use to display the last updated date in WordPress. You can see it in action at the top of this blog post, and to do the same on your site, you can replace your date code with the following code in your theme's single.php file:

$u_time = get_the_time('U');$u_modified_time = get_the_modified_time('U');the_modified_time('M jS, Y');

It's a pretty simple modification to WordPress and changes the display date to the last modified date.

If you decide to go this route, you'll also want to make sure your posts are scheduled at the right time. If you write your post on Monday and schedule it for Friday, when it goes live on Friday, it will still show Monday's date. Why? Well, that's when you last edited it.

So, here's some plugin code that you can add to your functions.php file to fix this issue with scheduled posts:

 * Scheduled posts should update modified date when published
function update_modified_date_to_post_date( $post ) {
	$updated_data = [
		'ID'                => $post->ID,
		'post_modified'     => $post->post_date,
		'post_modified_gmt' => $post->post_date_gmt
	wp_update_post( $updated_data );
add_action( 'future_to_publish', 'update_modified_date_to_post_date', 10, 1 );

You can show the last updated date on Shopify, too.

You'll want to go to your theme, and then open Code Editor. Look for your article liquid file (this might be named something like static-article.liquid), and then search that file for a mention of article.published_at.

Replace that entire line with this code:

 Last updated 

My Advice

If you're looking for my opinion, well, hey, thanks! Here's my thinking:

The most significant factor is honesty.

Google doesn't care if bloggers are using publication date, last modified date, or no date. All they care about is that you're not trying to deceive someone, either their algorithm or your readers. Google is happy to decide which date to show in the search results, so providing them with more information is often better than less.

I figure that if you have an old blog with posts over four years old, chances are most of your old content isn't getting much in the way of clicks, traffic, or new links. Even though the average age of content in SERPs is around three years old, many people prefer reading more updated web pages when they can, unless their query has a reason to look for older articles.

If you hide dates entirely, users won't know when a piece of fresh content is older or newer and will trust Google more in serving results relevant to their needs. Likewise, if you've updated your content recently, a "last modified" date is going to be more useful as a reflection of how recent the information in the post is.

Last Updated Date

It's also worth paying attention to the 80/20 rule. On a blog, 80% of your traffic will come from around 20% of your blog posts. Identify which 20% of your blog posts are generating your value, and keep them updated as much as possible. Updating your blog posts frequently, with the last modified date showing them as recent, allows users to get the most up-to-date value out of your site.

I have a complete analysis of the pros and cons of removing dates if you want a deeper dive into that particular subject, as well.

Advice From Other SEO Experts

So, you already know what I do - what about other SEO experts? I reached out to a handful of different SEO professionals to see what they had to say:

1. Adam Enfroy

Their answer: Both

"In my experience, it is often best to use the publish date for articles, as this is the version Google will take to rank them, and it is therefore what their SEO will be based on. However, the exception is when the article has been changed, and therefore the last updated date becomes relevant, because the way Google ranks the page is now different, due to the new content." - Adam Enfroy

2. Konvertica

Their answer: Last updated date

"When it comes to the publishing dates, there are usually a lot of mixed feelings about this in the industry, however, it is typically best practice to use a 'Last Updated' date for a few reasons. When a user is faced with a decision to select an article to read when they are using search engines like Google, Bing, etc. one of the first factors they will pay attention to is how recent is the material on the article. This is usually noted by the publication date and can weigh heavy on the CTR for that given search query. Alternatively, Google also similarly views content this way because its goal is to provide the most relevant and updated content to users based on the intent of their search. When we tested this theory in 2019, we discovered that our articles gained more traction when we used the 'Last updated' date." - Brandon Mitchell

3. SEOTagg

Their answer: Last updated date

"I use last updated at the top of the article. This is to show Google that the content on a site is constantly updated. Published date is still important, and I have found that longevity can be leverage as a ranking factor. So in short, keep the publish date on an article, but I've seen that adding a last updated feature at the top of an article (very easy to do on WordPress) can have a positive, site wide impact on your content rankings." - James Ewan

4. Twibi Agency

Their answer: Last updated date

"In my experience, "last updated" works better to get ranking in Google. It is algorithmically favored by Google as it wants to show the most updated and relevant content to its users. It also allows you to keep your content evergreen." - Brent Thomas

5. Tuff Growth

Their answer: Both

"We keep the original publish date and add a sentence to the top of the blog post stating that 'Note: this post was updated on DATE with new information on ...' . For a while, we tested out changing the original date to the publish date but didn't see any additional organic traffic. We prefer this method in case Google is using our publication date to determine which content to rank higher in SERPs. Also, it serves the purpose of notifying readers that the content has been updated with new information and further more, tells them what new information has been added." - Derek Coleman

6. Nick Laiuppa Marketing

Their answer: Both

"Great question. One that is debatable for sure. Four years ago, I'd say it was best to rewrite the blog post and keep the older one and the newer one on your site. But, today, I find Google likes updated content more so than a "new but similar post." In fact, I have a hunch that Google far more favors older content that is frequently updated.

Here's why. The older a piece of content is, the more signals Google has that it is either a good choice for it to show or a bad one. If you have a post that's gotten traffic, shares, comments, etc. for years, and you update it as often as you need to to be relevant, why wouldn't Google think, "hey, this piece has been helping people in the past and in the present, I bet it's a safe option to pick"?

Furthermore, Google is looking at how people engage with your content - namely, if they have to back out of it to go back to the search results to find a "better suited" article. If your post answers all of their questions, they have no need to go back, and Google knows that you've got a choice article. You can achieve that by creating a great post and updating it as often as you need to. I display both the published date and the updated date. I think it helps Google to see, but I also think it makes for a better user experience. It lets the reader know that we've been experts on said topic for a long time, and we keep current on our content." - Nick Laiuppa

I'm curious about how different niches and industries vary, so let me know your story. What do you think? What options have you tried, and have you tried changing and recording the difference? Please let me know what you think in the comments!

Written by James Parsons

James Parsons is the founder and CEO of Content Powered, a premier content marketing agency that leverages nearly two decades of his experience in content marketing to drive business growth. Renowned for founding and scaling multi-million dollar eCommerce businesses through strategic content marketing, James has become a trusted voice in the industry, sharing his insights in Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Journal, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, and other leading publications. His background encompasses key roles across various agencies, contributing to the content strategies of major brands like eBay and Expedia. James's expertise spans SEO, conversion rate optimization, and effective content strategies, making him a pivotal figure in the industry.