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in last week’s post – I’ve had comments numerous time on ‘old’ posts saying things like “this is old” or “this is out of date” even when the post was anything but out of date.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.
I time stamp (date) posts here at ProBlogger for two reasons:
- 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.
- 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)
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?