Today we’re learning how to find the publication dates of undated web content. We’ll explore a small handful of quickly actionable tips. We’ll also learn why hiding your content date is bad user experience design.
Doesn’t it piss you off when websites don’t display the publication dates on their content? Some go as far as removing dates from their comment section, leaving no doubt that their audience is the least of their worries.
In my experience, you will find the publication date inside the content page’s source code, 9 out of 10 times. Right-click anywhere on the content page with the hidden date and click on View Page Source.
Now inside the page source code, hit up the page search function with CMD + F (Mac) or CTRL + F (Windows). Now, search for anything related to publication, e.g. “published”. The date will usually be at the top of the page source inside meta tags:
Studio winter Dress Boutique Casual Max The date is often wrapped inside a meta tag:
Or inside a time tag:
Studio Casual Max Dress Boutique winter Still can’t find the publish date? On to the next tip then!
Google’s search engine has a built-in feature that allows you to filter content by dates. By using the following format you should be able to find the publication date (or at least the latest update) on any content.
The Wayback Machine is useful for many things. Such as finding out how a website used to look 10-15 years or even longer ago. The Wayback Machine only takes snapshots every now and then, so it won’t give you precise dates. But it will often show you the period that content was originally published.
How reliable is the Wayback Machine? Well, in the screenshot above, The Wayback Machine highlights two dates in September 2017, for this great article by Jonathan Z. White. The only problem is that the article was published May 17, 2016 — more than a year earlier. I couldn’t find any snapshots from 2016 for that post.
What’s going on? What the snapshots of September 2017 might mean is that the article was updated or perhaps republished around that time. It’s impossible to say for sure. Thus, the Wayback Machine is the last method I’ll use for finding hidden dates.
The final two methods are quick to check for, but not likely to work at a broad range of websites, that’s why I put them last.
Check the URL
Especially on a lot of WordPress websites, you can find the publication date or period in the Boutique Dress Studio Casual winter Max URL path of the post:
But I see dates in URLs less and less.
Check the comments section
If the site has a comments section you can often get a pretty good idea about how old the content is based on the comment dates. But some site owners hide their comment dates also — and many sites don’t have a comments section.
In my experience, method 1, 2, and 3 is all I need.
Congratulations, blasphemy has been defeated. You are now well equipped to find hidden post dates on decadent websites.
If you’re not a website owner and don’t plan on publishing content then the rest of this post might not interest you. Otherwise, keep reading for the sake of humanity!
SEO and, tech in general, are usually time-sensitive topics.
For example, the best SEO methods of 2014 are not the same best SEO methods in 2017. In fact, older SEO tactics can be hurtful to your website if you apply them today.
Search engines constantly update their search algorithms and policies, if you don’t keep up you’ll get into trouble. Thus, it’s pretty ridiculous when tech-related websites go out of their way to hide dates from their audience when it could potentially hurt them.
When you remove publication dates one of two things happen:
Some people will immediately get pissed (that’s me) and bounce.
Others will initially get tricked to assume that your content is fresh, so they won’t take off right away. Once they realize they’ve been duped, they’ll get angry that you wasted their time — the biggest offender in the UX rulebook. And then they take off.
Both are terrible scenarios. Don’t do it.
Website owners: update your content!
The simple solution is to update your existing content so it matches the current standards. Whether it’s SEO, programming, or something else), and clearly state it in your articles/guides.
Last Update: December 5th, 2017.
Not only will it benefit your audience, it will also benefit your SEO because updating is a relevancy ranking signal according to Google. If you update your content, search engines will recognize it the next time they crawl and index your website. Updating is good for everybody.
You can also republish old content if updating the old content is too complicated. It depends on what platform your original content is published on. Sometimes republishing is the best choice.
How should you display your content dates?
winter Casual Max Studio Boutique Dress I don’t believe there is one best way, but I do believe in A/B testing and taking a page out of successful people’s books.
Some of you know that I’m a fan of Tim Ferriss. Tim also “hides” dates from his content, but he does it in a non-shitty way.
He puts dates at the bottom of his articles. He does this because of the time-bias we discussed earlier. He talked about it in his presentation:
Here’s why the Tim Ferriss way of hiding dates doesn’t hurt UX:
His website is mostly based on timeless, philosophical and principle based content. Most of his content is relevant regardless of age.
He doesn’t hide content dates, he puts them at the bottom of each post. A/B testing concluded that it gives more upsides than downsides (few people complain).
Casual Max winter Dress Boutique Studio Somewhat surprisingly he actually shows content dates in the URL path. But Tim is one of the few people who I trust to have A/B tested every square inch of his website, so there’s probably a reason.
There’s a big difference between moving dates from the top to the bottom of a post vs. Boutique winter Max Dress Studio Casual completely hiding it from your page.
Hey, you’re not a bad person because you don’t want visitors to discard your aging content (which might still be relevant). But if your content is time-sensitive, and you don’t update it, and you purposely hide dates from your audience.. well, it’s a great idea if you want people to hate you.
Max Casual Dress winter Studio Boutique I considered putting dates at the bottom of my posts. But I’m leaning more towards keeping it at the top, and then switching the time stamp “published on” to “Latest Update”.
I have an idea:
Keep content date at the top of the post: if your content is time-sensitive. Remember to update it — or you’ll lose readers (but at least you’re honest). If you update: display the latest update date!
Move content date to the bottom of the post: if your content doesn’t get updated often — but is still relevant and doesn’t mislead people.
The glory of UX has been restored!
Hiding dates on outdated content will at best piss of your readers. At worst it’ll end up hurting them. Get off the couch and update your content or throw in the towel and delete your shameful website.
Has this article been helpful? Let me know in the comments! Any criticism is welcome. We’re all here to learn!