Categories: Crawling, indexing & ranking :

Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet?

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Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet? Bill Slawski 9/27/10 12:11 PM
I have read the FAQs and checked for similar issues: YES 

My site's URL (web address) is: http://www.seobythesea.com/
Description (including timeline of any changes made):
 
I've had a few people suggest to me that I should post a question about this issue here in Google's webmaster help forum.
 
I noticed this weekend that Google was displaying a date of "Mar 8, 2005" at the front of the snippet for my home page, on a search for my business name "SEO by the Sea" (without the quotation marks).  The date appears to have been randomly selected from a blog post excerpt that was appearing on the home page.  That date wasn't the date that the excerpted blog post was filed, but rather was the "filing" date of an Apple patent on Apple's approach to Instant Search that I blogged about.
 
I am concerned that someone searching for my business, and seeing the 2005 date in the snippet for my home page might consider my site to be filled with old and outdate content - if Google is showing a date in a snippet as additional information about a page listed, shouldn't that date be somehow relevant to the page itself?  Here it isn't.
 
A few hours ago, I modified the post about the Apple patent so that the filing date for the patent no longer shows up in the excerpt that gets published on the front page of my blog.  The 2005 date is still appearing in the snippet, and  I expect that at some point in the near future, it will either disappear or be replaced.  However, I'm concerned that Google may randomly select another date to display, from my home page.
 
Moving forward, I will now no longer include dates in the excerpts that appear on my blog's home page until Google's snippet generation algorithm improves, though I am concerned that the next snippet might randomly include a date from the posting dates on my blog which show when blog posts are published.
 
I noticed on a search for Matt Cutts blog, using the query "Matt Cutts" (without the quotation marks) that a date in the snippet displayed for his site is the publication date of his oldest post shown on his home page - September 2, 2010.  Seeing that date in the snippet for his blog home page, I would assume that it might be the last time his blog was updated, but he has five "newer" blog posts on his blog home page, with the newest having been published on September 20th.
 
I've looked at a fair number of snippets of blog posts which show the publication dates of those posts in snippets for those pages, and the ones that I've viewed have appeared to be pretty accurate, but the home page of most blogs don't usually have a specific publication date associated with them.
 
I'm not sure why Google would include a date, seemingly randomly selected, from the home page of a blog to display in the snippet shown on a search for that blog. If the snippet was showing a "last updated" date or the date of the latest publication of a blog post, that might make a little more sense.
 
Is it helpful to include a date for the home page of a blog?
 
If it is, does the random selection of a date to use really add to the value of search results?
 
From my perspective, I'm concerned that I might lose potential visitors when they see an old date like that in search results.
 
While I've taken steps to make that date change, and blogged about some remedial actions that others who are similarly situated might follow, I wanted to post this here in the hopes that someone from Google who works on snippets might see it, and consider the possible harm that a random date in a snippet might have.
 
Thanks.
 
Bill 


 
Re: Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet? 53north 9/27/10 1:04 PM
I think they consider it. The date was important for Apple (?). Have you checked for referal terms used from search engine visitors, it may be a pretty popular search term amongst geeks..
 Also are your dates in the header tags / <b> - maybe they're making the dates more important (?)..
Re: Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet? JohnMu 9/27/10 1:46 PM
Hi Bill

It's great to see you post here :-). I passed this issue on to the team when I initially read your blog post. I agree that it could be a bit misleading and I think it would be wrong to suggest that you change the content that you write about (such as not including dates) in order to prevent our algorithms from picking the wrong dates to show next to the snippet.

Overall, I feel we do a reasonable job at finding and using the right dates, but sometimes it's not that simple for our algorithms (and sometimes much easier for humans :-)). We're constantly working on improving our algorithms, and from what I've heard, there are also improvements planned for better finding the best dates within the content.

Thank you for your feedback!

Cheers
John
Re: Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet? Bill Slawski 9/27/10 3:02 PM
Hi 53north,
 
Thanks for your answer.
 
I don't believe that the selection of that date was anything but random, or if so was possibly based upon something like it being the last date listed on the page - remember the days when people used to put a "last updated" date at the bottoms of static pages, mostly in the mid and late 90s?
 
The blog post where that date appears is:
 
 
The date itself is fairly irrelevant for my site.  It's one of many hundred filed, published or granted dates that I've included in posts on search-related patents.  I didn't receive any visitors to my site since the publication of that blog post using "Mar 8, 2005" or variations of that date as query terms according to Google Analytics, and as far as I can tell the date doesn't really hold any special relevance amongst geeks, apple fans,.  The date isn't marked up in any HTML elements beyond a paragraph element.   There's absolutely no good reason for it appearing within the snippet for the home page of my site on a search for the name of the site. 
Re: Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet? Bill Slawski 9/27/10 3:14 PM
Hi John,
 
Thank you.  Hopefully the team will find a way to stop something like this from happening to the snippets for my homepage, and for other people's homepages as well. 
 
I'm not sure that I see much value in posting a date in the snippet for a blog home page to begin with, but as I wrote in my initial post - if a date is listed, possibly it should have something to do with something like the last time the page might have been updated.  That's how I'm anticipating many people seeing the "Mar 8, 2005" date in the snippet for my page will interpret that date.
 
I don't want to have to change the way that I present my content to prevent Google's algorithm from choosing a meaningless date to display in a snippet for my home page, but I don't see an alternative at this point.  I will likely strive to make sure that no dates are being shown on the home page excerpts for my blog posts.
 
The dates I've seen in snippets for individual blog posts do seem to accurately reflect the publication dates of those posts everywhere I've checked, so the  team is doing great there.   Hopefully they will figure out the home page issue.
 
Again, thanks.
Re: Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet? Ani Lopez 9/29/10 10:58 AM
Bil, thanks for the article and posting here about.

53north, I tried all the ways I could imagine with different html tags and different order in html elements to get rid of dates in snippets with no success at all.

JohnMu, I hope this can get some attention and finally solved, Sometimes it works fine but Google has been ruining perfectly tailored meta-descriptions again and again. A check box at WMT as an option would be fantastico.
Re: Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet? 53north 9/29/10 11:06 AM
Wonder if it recognises dates by format, and using a name for month would stop abberations in the serps.
Re: Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet? Ani Lopez 9/29/10 11:07 AM
An example http://www.google.ca/#hl=en&q=site:hotelpalacebarcelona.com

it is not a blog, but dates are added to different home pages by language hotelpalacebarcelona.com/fr hotelpalacebarcelona.com/it hotelpalacebarcelona.com/de just because at the bottom there are some reviews from clients including date.

These dates are not relevant for the page itself but they should not be removed from it because makes sense for this section of the page, don't you think?
Re: Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet? 53north 9/29/10 1:27 PM
Absolutely.
But I wonder if the Gbot would be so quick to index them if it was in the form:
7th Septembre '09
etc..
Re: Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet? 53north 9/29/10 1:35 PM
I mean, Bill's dates may have been fetched from within <h3> tags as the last date in the archive list, and yours are in <em>. Perhaps having them as ordinary text may dissaude gbot..
Re: Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet? 53north 9/29/10 1:39 PM
+ your meta description is more like a title; it could be expanded to a couple of sentences and gbot may choose it in preference to cobbling one together itself..
Re: Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet? Ani Lopez 9/29/10 2:30 PM
53north
These are pretty obvious ways for search engines to guess they are dates
<div class="date"><strong>18.12.2008</strong></div>
<span class="date">24.11.2008</span>
but in other example I can give to you, date is coded this way <div><span>Apr 10, 2009</span></div>

After several attempts to change Html tags none of them was working.
Google is good guessing what's a date and injecting it in snippet but quite bag determining when there is a good reason to do it.

It would be better nothing than what we have now but this is an opinion and I have no real data to prove it in a more general way.