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Dates on Blog Posts – Should You Have Them?

Last week in my post exploring how to make blogs sticky I suggested (in point 14) that one technique to consider is to remove the dates from your blog posts.

My theory is that dates can either add to or take away from a post. Let me explore this a little further:

When you put a date on a post you signal to your reader when the post was written. This is useful to readers wanting to make a judgment on how relevant the post is for them at any point of time. It signals to them that a post is current or recent when the date signals that it was written within the last weeks and signals to them that a post could be dated when the date is years back.

The Problem of Dates on Posts

The problem is that when you have a post that is ‘timeless’ (ie it doesn’t really date because the tips you give or the principles that you talk about will always apply) a date can act as a distraction to your reader. They arrive at the post and see that it was written in 2006 and a little warning bell goes off in their mind that what they are reading is not ‘current’.

As I mentioned in last week’s post – I’ve had comments numerous time on ‘old’ posts saying things like “this is old” or “this is out of date” even when the post was anything but out of date.

When a reader has this reaction no matter what your post contains – it’ll seem ‘old’ to them and you lose reader engagement. This might only happen to a small percentage of your readers but over time this adds up.

On the flip side – when a reader arrives on a post that IS recent and sees the date showing this you can actually get a good reaction because they get a sense that what they are reading is the latest thinking that you’ve had.

So dates can be good and bad. They can make a post seem dated or cutting edge.

So What’s a Blogger to Do? Should You Have Dates on Posts?

The key question to ask when it comes to whether or not to include the date of authorship on a post is – ‘is it relevant to the post?’

The answer to this question has led me to take two different courses of action on my two blogs.

Here at ProBlogger I include a time stamp on each post.

Timestamped

I time stamp (date) posts here at ProBlogger for two reasons:

  1. The industry is moving fast – when I started ProBlogger 3 years back blogging was very different to how it is today. The tools have changed, SEO principles have shifted, social media has become more important and bloggers are developing blogs in new ways. As a result some of the articles in my archives here at ProBlogger are less relevant and need to be put into the context of the time that they were written. While some principles have not changed more often than not I feel that dating posts can actually help readers determine what’s relevant for now.
  2. I’m on a steep learning curve - when I started this blog I had been blogging full time for only a few months. While I’d accumulated some knowledge on the topic I look back and see that I was somewhat naive and very inexperienced. While I’m far from knowing everything on the topic I feel that I’ve come a long way and I hope that dates on posts help readers to make a call on where I was at when I wrote older posts.

At the Digital Photography School Blog I don’t time stamp posts (and never have)

No-Date

My reason for removing time stamp dates from DPS posts is simple – in the vast majority of posts on the blog they have no relevance to the post itself.

DPS is not a news related blog and aims to provide camera owners tips on how to get out of Auto Mode. While cameras are changing the basic principles of photography are not (or are changing a lot more slowly). In short – the posts have more of a timeless and evergreen quality and dates would only serve to distract readers from the content itself.

If I write a post that needs to be anchored to a point of time I will usually add it to the title of the post.

Other Solutions for Dates on Your Blog

There are more than just the two options open to bloggers when it comes to adding or removing dates from posts. Here are a few that I’ve seen:

  • Dates on Recent Posts But Not on Older Ones - I saw one blogger do this last year (I’m afraid I don’t remember who it was). They had hacked WordPress so that dates appeared on recent posts (within the last 3 months) but anything older than that did not have time stamps either on the post or comments. This meant that the blogger benefited from new posts looking new and took the potential distraction of old posts away from readers. I don’t know exactly how the blogger did it but presume they set up a rule that looked at the date of authorship and then determined whether the date would be displayed or not.
  • Dates on Front Page but Not Single Posts – another solution that I’ve considered on DPS is to add dates only to front page posts and to have them removed from single pages. This shows visitors to your blog’s front page that you have recent content while hiding distracting dates from older posts.
  • Subtle Dates - you can keep dates on posts without having them ‘scream out at your readers’ that the post is old. For example dates at the bottom of posts, dates in more muted colors, dates in smaller font than headings etc all can give your readers the date without making a big point of it. In a sense this is what I’ve done to some degree on ProBlogger with a lighter color and smaller font with my dating of posts.

I’m sure there would also be a way to hack WP so that you could flick dates on and off in each post as you publish it. This is actually a mini feature that I’d love to see WP add.

What Do You Think?

  • Do you have dates on your posts? Why or Why Not? (PS: I surveyed my twitter followers on this and found that 75% of them date their posts)
  • Do you think blogs should always have dates on them?
  • What other ways do you control how the dates on your bog appear?
About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. FatFighter says:

    I use dates on my posts – mainly because I often post about stuff going on in the news so I want people to know when the information first came out.

  2. David Hobson says:

    I use dates on the homepage and catefory pages as this lets my visitors know i update the blog.

    But i dont show the date on the individual blog posts.

  3. Well, it all depends on what your site is supposed to be.

    If your site is acting purely as a CMS, then I don’t believe date are necessary on the posts. Having a date will make the site look too much like a blog.

    But of course, on a blog I feel that dates are very important. By having a date, you are revealing to your reader your posting schedule. Which makes visitors keep coming back.

  4. Rob says:

    Blogging has become so diverse that, in regards to many aspects of blogging, it’s impossible to make general statements that apply to all. As I understand it, blogging was originally a way for individuals to write diary-like entries on a weblog, which became shortened to just blog. If people are still blogging in that fashion, then dating their entries is essential – it’s their framework as they archive the events and experiences they choose to share with the blogosphere.

    Some “blogs” now are actually merely websites, hawking their wares or ideas, yet allowing for comments. And then you have “blogs” all across the spectrum from those two extremes.

    So each “blogger” has to decide to date his posts according to his blog’s purposes. I think that’s come through clearly through many of the comments already posted.

  5. Hugh says:

    I use dates on my trading blog because it shows when I made a trade and eventually I want it to be the story of my success.

    However, I am thinking about taking the dates of my other blog because they are not so time sensitive.

  6. Chris Dohman says:

    can anyone imagine reading a newspaper without a date on it? it would be absolutely absurd.

  7. Reginald says:

    I think that the blog post may serve a more distinct purpose for the sake of research information.

    If a post is timeless, then it won’t matter that what date the article is published. The content is still valid.

  8. Angel Cuala says:

    Posts without date when it was posted? I think this is only applicable if you are writing a book where dates are not important. For a blog, I think readers should know when a post was submitted.

    I check the date of the posts I read because they may not be applicable if they are very old. Things change, you know.

  9. Chip says:

    Yes, you should have dates on post. I wrote an article about this, and I’m really frustrated when I’m looking for fresh info, and I run into old post with no date.

    So, a big yes to article dates.

  10. Jean (Buje) says:

    Good evening ( 23:42 here),

    Well ,my blog is quite light for now, ie only two dozens of posts, and parallel to adding new content and improving its look I’m still in the process of including some of my protoblog (which is the name I now give to my old now offline site) so I particularly have this question about dates in mind.

    I guess this is like going throught older posts and question about their place in the actual context.

    The topics aborded in my (now personal and generalist) blog are still very actual (human rights, energy, prices, drms, and the like).
    So :
    * I date them with their first publishing date,
    * I add a note saying they are a re-publish and their re-publish date.
    * I think I will bring them back to the “front” through a few new posts resuming how the situation about these topics has (or not) evolved.

    For this kind of “reminder posts” and republishes, date is important.

    For non recurrent, or more intemporal topics older posts maybe the trick would be to make them into non dated articles, as often suggested.

    PS and off topic: “Problogger” book has been delivered to my mailbox last thirsday.
    Have a nice day,

    Jean

  11. nicky says:

    I always check for the date of a post and my own posts are dated. I’ve been blogging (on my personal blog) for three years. I think if you have a blog that is more like a website, or where the information is “static”, like your DPS site example then using static pages (WPress pages) might be more appropriate. I use these for pages where the info doesn’t change. The very essence of blogs is that they are chronological journals accounts so I think a date is important. They also give my readers a point of reference. I don’t want them waste time wondering ..”when was this written? Is it still relevant?”

    I often want to see the date on a post to see if the info in the post is still relevant me or my readers. When it comes to software for instance or a review or business things change so quickly that i need to know whether I am reading the most current information. Also, if I go to a blog i want to know if it’s regularly updated. If the last post is March 08 and we are in August, then I won’t waste my time – I will move on.

    I wonder if not putting a date on posts (except in certain circumstances) is a way to try and disguise irregular or infrequent posting. Regardless, if there’s no date on the posts, I’ll move on and get my bearings elsewhere.

  12. Richard says:

    This is an argument that my wife and I often get into when the food in the refrigerator goes past the date marked on the package. My wife’s automatic reaction is to look at the date and throw out anything if the date has passed. I, on the other hand, will smell and look at it and if it appears to still be good, go ahead and consume it.