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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.

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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.

Time Options in Google Search Results 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.

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Leo

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16 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?

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  5. In academic search, the date is very meaningful. After all, if say searching for income data, a six year old article is not very useful.

    Reply
    • In cases like that, you can check the date after you’ve downloaded the article. And as Leo mentioned, if the search results did show a date, which date would Google display?

      Reply
  6. A date is necessary for anything that could be affected by information that is relative to the date it was created compared to the current date it is accessed. seems very rudimentary. Of corse if you are being paid because of someone opening or viewing it that would be a disadvantage. Follow the money!

    Reply
  7. Many undated articles are used by political groups, promoters of personal products, and sensationalist publications (Checkout ‘rags’) to promote their agenda and mislead (spin) information. For this reason alone the articles should be required to display an original publication date. Most links to undated articles are devised as ‘clickbait’. The attempt to sway opinion based on outdated or incomplete information may not be illegal, but is definitely unethical.

    Reply
      • Any date is better than no date, because the article can be researched and scrutinized for accuracy and completeness for anyone who cares to do so. One undated article was titled “Court decision spells bad news for so-and-so”, but it turned out to be 2 years old and water under the bridge. The person submitting this apparently wanted to invoke ill will toward the person in question, and the unfortunate fact is there are people who blindly accept half truths and innuendo as truth. An original publication date would make them more receptive to the relevancy of the article.

        Reply

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