Why Do Search Results Not Have Dates?

Why don’t search results display the date created, date posted, or date updated? Not the date that I include in my search, but rather one that I can see in a regular search? Automatically listed, perhaps, newest to oldest? I don’t think that the results from 2004 or before are relevant.

I’m not sure everybody would agree that simply picking an arbitrary date in the past makes something not relevant.

Miscommunication, misunderstanding, and lack of information abound when it comes to the dates that appear on internet content. I’ll clarify.

Dates may not mean anything

First, there’s no requirement that all webpages be dated. There’s no part of the search protocol that includes the date a webpage was created.

Worse: if there is a date, there’s nothing that defines what the date actually means.

For example, it’s possible that search results use the date of the most recent update. In other words, if I open a three-year-old article that I wrote for Ask Leo! and make a simple change (say, correct a spelling error), then that’s the date my server reports to services like Google. Even though the article was written three years ago, today’s date could appear in the search results. That’s not very helpful.

Content value can’t always be determined by the date

Website and content producers also don’t want to focus on the date. Why? They don’t want you to set aside or ignore content that would otherwise be truly valuable if all you did was look first for the date.

Some content on the internet is evergreen. It doesn’t really matter when you read it; the information is still valuable.

I strive for that in my articles.

When dates are helpful

Conversely, I understand why a date could be helpful. In fact, that’s why all Ask Leo! articles have a date down at the bottom. If I do a major revision of the article, you’ll see two dates: one indicates when the article was last revised, and another displays the original publication date.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to give the search engines that information, and if there were, it would be abused by people trying to game the system.

However, there is something you can do with Google that may help you with what you’re trying to accomplish here.

Refining your search on Google

When you search for something, go directly to Google.com and then do the following things:

  • Search for what you want.
  • At the top of the results, you’ll see a small bar. To the right of that is something called “Search tools.”
  • Click that.
  • In the resulting display, you will see an “Any time” item.

Click that, and you can restrict the results to the time periods provided. I think that will help you get what you want.

Except there’s still no telling what a date actually means.

Dates still really don’t mean anything

We really don’t know what date Google uses. It could be restricting content by the date of creation. It could be the date that it was updated, even if only to correct a typo in a three-year-old article. It could be the date Google found it, which in many cases is not necessarily the date that it was created.

Remember, Google constantly searches the web for content to put into its indexes, but it’s not instantaneous. Especially with sites that aren’t getting traffic yet, Google may not check more than once a month or so. More popular sites (like Ask Leo!, thankfully) are usually scanned multiple times a day.

So, you have to be careful with what you’re doing, but Google may be able to help out at least a little with some information relating to the date.

Again, I do want to caution you that over-reliance on date may not be as good as you think it might be.

Originally published as Why Do Search Results Not Have Dates? on Ask Leo!