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Why Do Search Results Not Have Dates?

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

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

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Dates may not mean anything

First, there’s actually no requirement that says all web pages must have dates. There’s actually no part of the search protocol that would include the date a web page 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 really 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 truly evergreen. It doesn’t really matter what date you’re reading it; the information is still valuable.

I strive for that in my articles.

When dates are helpful

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

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

There is something that 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.
  • What you will see is an “Any time” item in the resulting display.

Time Options in Google Search ResultsClick 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 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.

6 comments on “Why Do Search Results Not Have Dates?”

  1. To DCT 08-13-2013

    Obviously the chronological date for research is very important. While the web is quite good for doing research, it is interesting that accurate dates cannot be assured. Could it be that **some** techies are getting back at liberal arts type persons?

  2. Leo – when our time changes from Greenwich Mean Time to British Summer Time, or back, suddenly all the saved files in a ‘briefcase’ need to be updated to a wrong time, i.e. one hour either side. This is particularly annoying for example where it is desirable to know the exact time when a photograph was taken. Is there any way to prevent this?

    • Go to the Control Panel and click “Date and Time”, then click the “Change time zone settings”, finally check the box which says”Automatically adjust clock for daylight savings time.” The process might be slightly different for a different version of Windows.

  3. Dear Leo,
    I would like to replace the XP Explorer. The search function of the XP version of Explorer does not work for me. In Windows 2000, it was easy to search my local disk for files. Not so in XP. That “dog” can’t find its nose with both paws. Where is a decent search engine for my local computer that works effectively as it did in 2000 where I could specify a particular subdirectory to search and use wildcards?
    Thank you,
    David Parker

  4. Thanks, Leo, for another helpful and meaningful article. I enjoy your thoughtful discourses.

    On another note, I notice that many of your words using apostrophes in your newsletter, viewed in my Thunderbird mail client, show a space instead of an apostrophe. In looking at this article on the web, apparently it’s curly apostrophes that show up in the newsletter as a space instead of as an apostrophe. When you occasionally used a straight apostrophe (‘), that showed up properly.

    Perhaps you might want to consider not using curly apostrophes and quotes, to prevent that situation, since it looks strange to see something like “Content value can t always be determined by the date” in the newsletter.

    Just trying to be helpful.

    Feel free to delete this if you don’t want it shown publicly.

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