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INTERNATIONAL: Freshness Score and Why It Exists

by Brent Yorzinski, January 27, 2012

Previously, it was not uncommon for search engines to return outdated pages among results. This occurred since they matched the words entered by a visitor to content indexed from pages on the Web, often leveraging signals that favoured older pages with accumulated link data to order and display results that contained the visitor’s queried keywords. That method made it possible to show old pages that were not in line with a visitor’s search intent.

As a measure aimed at solving this problem, in 2009 Google expressed that freshness of data, through such algorithmic implementations as QDF (Query Deserves Freshness), would be taken into account when determining what a visitor is interested in finding. However in late 2011, Google significantly extended the signals it used to score freshness and the number of queries this scoring mechanism then impacted.

Now indicators relating to fresh content account for substantial changes to their algorithm that affects approximately 35 percent of searches according to Google’s approximation. Since then Google clarified this to state that 6 percent to 10 percent of search query results have changed significantly enough to be noticeable to the end user. The change helps Google to display SERPs with new and updated pages for queries determined to imply fresh content is most relevant.

The ability to determine the relative freshness of Web page content is required in order for search engines to return search results with the most up-to-date information possible. Prior to the recent introduction of a freshness score by Google, there were no reliable methods to distinguish fresh pages from older ones. For example a "last-modified-since" attribute is sometimes available from information provided by the Web server upon which that page resides. However, the information in the HTTP "last-modified-since" attribute is not reliable. This is in part why Google created a freshness score.

freshness-score-diagram.jpg

This graphic is a rudimentary illustration of how the freshness score influences what is shown in the search results.

1. Initially a visitor will enter a search phrase. At this point, Google searches its index for the documents, pages, videos, etc., that contain the queried keyword phrase.

2. Next, if Google determines that the query deserves fresh content, the search engine looks for an array of freshness attributes. For example, one such attribute might be how long ago an inbound link was first obtained. Google can determine the time a link was created as one signal to ascertain pages with the latest content. A link to the page may come from older, not as fresh pages, or newer, fresh pages.

3. When and if the Web page has any freshness attributes associated with it, Google can use such signals as a basis for assigning a freshness score. Returning to the example of the original date of an inbound link, since Web pages often have more than one outside link pointing to them, Google may look to see if the number of fresh pages with links to a particular page is larger than the number of links from not as fresh pages.

4. Google can then use each freshness score associated with a Web page as a factor when displaying results if appropriate. For example a search query for the “The Ides of March” displays a variety of information about the recently released George Clooney film in the top of the rankings, while only a couple results relate to older pages containing references to the Ides of March as a date on the Roman calendar. Over time, these results should shift back to the Roman calendar, or the film may have a renewed burst of topicality, should George Clooney be nominated for an Oscar or the film receives an Academy Award (in which case the top ranking pages may be news related sites discussing the Oscar or Academy Award nominations).

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There are numerous attributes that contribute to freshness score aside from those referenced, all of which an online marketing expert should seek to know. However, a fundamental understanding of the comprehensive factors that determine freshness score is essential to obtain and maintain top search rankings, especially considering Google’s recent acknowledgment that it is providing visitors with fresher, more recent search results.


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