The One Simple Change That Dropped My Blog’s Traffic By 25%

by Mack Collier

Two weeks ago I wrote a pretty popular blog post on whether or not bloggers should include dates on their posts.  There was plenty of support both for having and removing dates from posts.

Now at that time, I did not include dates on my posts.  But since one of my mantras is that bloggers should test things for themselves with their blogs, I decided to add back the dates to posts for the rest of the month, and then report back my results.

Today it’s been 2 weeks since I added back dates to my posts, and I just took them back off.  I think this picture of my statistics over the last 30 days explains why (the blue X is the day that I added dates back to the posts):

Yep.  As soon as I added dates back to the posts, the overall traffic here started falling.  Quite sharply, as you can see.

Now as part of this, I said I’d look at how search traffic and referral traffic from Twitter was impacted.  Let’s first look at search:

The blue X is on the 14th.  The next day, the 15th, was actually the best day ever for search traffic.  But as you can see, it starts falling pretty sharply after that.  Overall, search traffic fell about 25% over the last 2 weeks.  And given that search traffic drives about 57% of the traffic to this blog, that’s a big hit.

Traffic from Twitter was down a bit as well, but not quite as much:

 Twitter traffic was down about 25% the first week after I added back dates, then another 15% the second week.

Does all this prove that your search and Twitter traffic will fall sharply if you put dates on your posts?  Nope, it does suggest that you should test both with and without dates before you decide.  That’s why I am always harping on testing this stuff, from now on if anyone asks me if it’s better to have dates on their posts or not, I can answer with ‘All I can tell you is that my search and Twitter traffic fell by about 25% when I added dates to my posts.  But you should test it on your blog.’

So why don’t you test this on your blog?  Pick the first two weeks of February, and take dates off your posts if you have them on now, and add them back if you have taken them off.  Track the changes.  I am going to keep doing that, if my search and Twitter traffic now returns to where it was before the 14th, I will be almost positive that adding dates was the culprit.

Never assume when you can test.

UPDATE: There’s been a few people here and elsewhere criticizing the methodology used here, whether or not the test period was long enough, etc.  I don’t want y’all to get hung up on the validity (yay or nay) of the test itself, but instead focus on the fact that I did test.  I don’t want your takeaway from reading this post to be that you should remove dates from your blog if you want to see traffic go up.  The takeaway should be that you should test this on your blog, and not accept my advice or any other blogger’s.  We learn by doing for ourselves, not by blindly following other bloggers.  Either way, test it on your blog then you will know for sure.

SECOND UPDATE(2-5-2003):  Here’s a screenshot I took of this blog’s traffic for the last 30 days, as of yesterday.  The blue X was on the 14th, and that was the day I added dates back to the posts here.  You can then see what happened to traffic levels for the next 2 weeks.  The red X was on Jan 28th, and that was the day on which I took the dates back off.  I think the immediate rise in traffic tells the tale.  But again, don’t assume, test for yourself on your own blog.

SearchStats5

{ 39 comments }

Greg Taylor January 28, 2013 at 8:17 am

This is very interesting. I am going to turn dates off on one of my blogs and see what happens with the traffic.

From the conclusion drawn by way of traffic, I think it’s safe to say that people like consuming good content, no matter when it was published. Does this debunk a recentecy myth for content? Probably not, but it does make the point that good content can be timeless. Thanks Mack!

Mack Collier January 28, 2013 at 8:26 am

Thanks Greg. To be honest, the search traffic being down doesn’t make sense to me, the date still shows up in search results. But it definitely dropped as soon as I made the change. And the drop was from the level as of the 14th, it was continuing to increase at that time, so in actuality it probably dropped about 33% from where it would have been now if I hadn’t made the change.

And already this morning, overall and search traffic is up over where it was last week. Crazy stuff, but this is why I say you should test to know for sure.

Kelly January 28, 2013 at 10:25 am

That is so interesting!

As I mentioned on your first post I found an increase in traffic after moving our date from the top to the bottom of the post last year. Now I’m curious to see if I remove the date all together if traffic and sharing increases a little, a lot or not at all.

Thanks for the motivation to experiment a little further!

Mack Collier January 28, 2013 at 10:52 am

Kelly refresh my memory, did you discover what the source of the increased traffic was? Was it more from Twitter/Facebook/Plus, or from search?

If it was an increase in traffic from social media sites, that makes sense. If you saw the increase as being from social media, I would definitely try removing the date altogether, then tracking how your search traffic does.

This stuff is so geeky, isn’t it? ;)

Nadine B Hack January 28, 2013 at 11:01 am

So how do you remove dates from posts, Mack? I use Wordpress platform & assume it’s a simple setting I can change: yes?

Mack Collier January 28, 2013 at 11:17 am

Hey Nadine! I am running Thesis here, so I changed it via a Design setting in Thesis. Not sure how it works with other themes, but I would try looking for a similar option with your theme’s settings first.

Dan York January 28, 2013 at 11:11 am

Mack,

Interesting post, but my immediate reaction was that:
1) did you publish the same quantity/quality of content during the two weeks the dates were on versus when they were off?
2) to get around that, can you perhaps dig into the stats to look at, say, a selection of older posts over the same time period?
3) is two weeks long enough to really get a trend?

On my #1, I can see so many other factors driving the search and social traffic. It could be that some of the posts you published in the two weeks the dates were on simply didn’t attract as much attention as the posts you published prior to that date.

Per #2, it might be more interesting to look at a block of older data that gets consistent search traffic… perhaps now that we’re in 2013 you could look at all your posts for 2012. Look at the traffic for that block of posts for a period without dates and then for the period where dates were on. That would at least control for the issue of variability in posts.

To that point, I’m not sure 2 weeks is long enough… I think I might be more comfortable with a month or so. But at the same time I realize that if it *does* have a negative effect on your traffic you don’t want to keep running it for a long time.

Regardless, I agree with your assertion that you need to test, test, test these ideas.

Thanks for posting this,
Dan

Mack Collier January 28, 2013 at 11:27 am

Dan, good questions!

1 – I published 12 posts from Jan 1st – Jan 14th, and 10 from Jan 15th-Jan 28th. That difference probably somewhat accounts for the drop in Twitter traffic, so I’m not hugely worried about that.

What really worried me was the drop in Search traffic. My search traffic here has literally be slowly and steadily increasing for the entire life of the blog. For reference, for the first month his blog was up, 3.37% of the traffic came from search, or a total of 85 visits. Last month, 10,063 visits came from search, which was 57.93% of the traffic. These last two weeks were the first time in the HISTORY of this blog that search traffic has fell (excluding holidays).

Now what I am hoping to see is that now that the dates are gone again, that search will quickly return to Jan 14th levels. If I see that, then it pretty much cinches it for me that the dates going on were the cause. I still don’t understand exactly why, but the numbers are what they are.

And you are probably right, 2 weeks probably isn’t long enough, and I could probably do more to pinpoint how traffic to older vs newer posts were affected. But I panicked ;)

Jamie Turner January 28, 2013 at 11:11 am

Hi, Mark –

Thanks for writing a post about what doesn’t work. So many posts write about how doing X always works, it’s refreshing to see a post that says doing Y doesn’t work.

A good approach. My only regret is that it temporarily cost you some traffic. But I’m sure in the long run, you’ll prosper.

Cheers,
Jamie Turner

Adam Singer January 28, 2013 at 11:15 am

I’d recommend comparing a larger sample set with a similar, larger sample set.

Also did you filter for just a set of older posts since that’s really your variable you want to look at (not the entire site)? I’d refine your experiment a bit further and also visualize your data differently to show this clearer.

Mack Collier January 28, 2013 at 11:29 am

Adam in regards to Twitter traffic or Search traffic?

Honestly, I’m not hugely concerned with the Twitter traffic since on a great week Twitter sends this blog about as many visitors as search does every day. And for Twitter, I would assume that traffic to older posts would suffer a bit if the date was there.

Scott Scanlon January 28, 2013 at 11:37 am

First I agree with many here that maybe there isn’t enough data but beyond that taking dates off content is something I believe everybody should do.

The points made in your original post cover most of the best arguements for removing dates.

The instant you put a date on something is the instant someone might discount the information you provide. Even though it might be timeless in its insight. Across all our platforms we make it an effort to not post any dates (other than advertsing webinars etc.). We’ve seen no drop in traffic from any source. We’ve seen the reverse, our stuff gets shared more and more because it doesn’t appear dated information.

I also wrote a post along this line as well making the case for pure evergreen content: http://www.youbrandinc.com/content-strategy/the-case-for-pure-evergreen-content/

That ensures that when you don’t date things you have greater impact over the long term.

One thing to look at as well is write a CSS rule to remove the dates on your comments, that should be easy to do using firebug to find the css selector. That way when someone scrolls down there will be zero indication of the shelf life of this post and they will be more opt to comment.

Matt McGee January 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm

There are so many factors that influence traffic that it seems such a short test would be incomplete at best, Mack. Google has rolled out a Panda update within the past two weeks, along with all of their other constant tweaks.

My point for you and your readers is to urge you not to jump to conclusions so quickly. You may think X caused Y, but it might’ve been anything between A and W that actually caused it.

Mack Collier January 28, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Fair enough, Matt. The only significant change I can see from my end over the last 2 weeks was adding the date back. So now that the dates are back off, if search traffic esp returns to its previous levels, that’s a good signal to me that it was the culprit. I still won’t understand WHY, but…

And even with that, my original point still stands that everyone should test this out for themselves. As you imply, there could be a completely different reason for why search traffic suddenly fell that has nothing to do with the date being there.

Laura P Thomas January 28, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I’m all for testing stuff, and it is very interesting to see your results Mack, but I just have a hard time thinking you can isolate the cause to deleting dates on posts. There are so many other variables like the content itself. Looking at the yellow bar chart, your traffic at the end of the previous month and traffic at the end of this month look very similar. Perhaps this is just a normal fluctuation. Or, perhaps I’m just skeptical because of my own personal preference for dates on posts. :-) I hate coming across a post and not knowing when it was written so I can place it in context.

Mack Collier January 28, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Hey Laura, I think the traffic at the end of last month falling can be attributed mostly to it being Christmas and New Year’s. I’ve seen similar drops in traffic every year around that time.

And really I am still testing, if search and Twitter traffic doesn’t bounce back over the next couple of weeks, then I will need to test something else. But I totally get your point about wanting dates. Le sigh, it’s a tradeoff either way.

Annie Maloney January 28, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Interesting test, and I applaud you for testing it on your site first. Two questions though. 1) Any idea as to why the change in behavior? I can’t for the life of me understand why the traffic would drop so much because of whether the date is populating or not. Unless it is showing in the serps and preventing CTR. 2) Isn’t providing a date the best thing for the reader? Especially if the article is old an may be about a topic that has changed or is no longer accurate?

Just a few thoughts….

Mack Collier January 28, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Hi Annie, I have no idea why the dates coming back would result in that big of a search drop but something sure did. I am hoping that taking them back off will cause search to return to previous levels. If it doesn’t, I have no idea.

As for doing what’s best for the reader, it’s a tradeoff. Not everyone cares if the date is there or not, but I understand that many do. Is it worth it to give a better experience to some or even most of your readers, if it means that you’ll lose 25% of your traffic, IE people that will never see your post at all?

Interesting questions, I think each blogger needs to weigh both sides for themselves.

Suzanna Keith January 28, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Mack
This info is so helpful. I will do a test as you suggest.
Thanks for sharing.

Mack Collier January 28, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Awesome, please share your results!

Lori Ryan January 28, 2013 at 6:34 pm

I am someone who enjoys reading blogs. Call me crazy, but one of the first things I look at is the date something was written. I think it’s important to know if you’re reading something that is current or written months or even years earlier. It’s disappointing to me that folks would purposely choose to conceal the date something was posted just to increase web traffic, but I get it. And I’m sure some would argue their posts are timeless and the date doesn’t matter. I just happen to be that person who always wants to know if I’m reading something new.

Kristen Nyberg January 29, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Lori, I agree. It’s great to find helpful content written at any time, but I find a lack of date somehow disingenuous. The reader would like to feel the author takes his subject seriously and cares more about relaying valued information than about page hits.

If I am researching something about older versions of software or an OS, I want the information to be dated to verify its relevance. I publish local restaurant reviews and food events. Clearly, that information is time sensitive and needs to be accurately dated.

Scott Ayres January 28, 2013 at 6:56 pm

You say there was a drastic drop in traffic but to me the pattern looks very similar to the days leading up to when you took the dates off. I don’t see this as being any thing definitive based on the figures you’re showing here. http://www.postplanner.com/blog

Mack Collier January 28, 2013 at 7:04 pm

It is very similar. But again, the days leading up were the end of last year, and New Years. My Search traffic and overall traffic are always down then.

But again, you should test it on your own blog and see what you get.

Ryan Passarelli January 29, 2013 at 12:06 am

I think the results would have more impact if there was a longer sample size. I always assumed adding dates was bad (for traffic) because if you have older blogs that are still posting great numbers a date from a few years ago could be a turn off for a Google searcher. However, leading up to the event it looks like your traffic was building and then after the event it fell back down. could this be do to any cyclical nature?

I am wondering did your traffic have any cyclical nature before this event or had it been steadily increasing over the past year or so and all of a sudden start going back down?

Mack Collier January 29, 2013 at 9:09 am

Hi Ryan! Search traffic has slowly buy steadily increased for the life of the blog. The only time it decreased at all was every year around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. You see some of that on the left hand side of the search traffic graph above.

Kelly Green January 29, 2013 at 11:50 am

I was just thinking about this yesterday! Thanks for this insight, I’m going to try it today!

Mack Collier January 29, 2013 at 11:58 am

Awesome Kelly! Please let us know what happens on your blog!

Linden Wilcock January 29, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Nice post!

I’d be interested in seeing the effect no dates has on returning visitors long-term. Even if search results are improved and initial traffic increases and there is a spike in referral traffic due to shares, tracking whether or not reader confidence is hindered might require long-term analysis.

I’m looking forward to testing. Thanks for a great post!

Mack Collier January 29, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Linden that’s an interesting question. I just checked my Google Analytics and found this for returning visitors:

2009 – 21.55% returning visitors
2010 – 26.24% returning visitors
2011 – 26.87% returning visitors
2012 – 20.37% returning visitors

Now a couple of clarifications: I used to have dates on the posts here, I can’t remember exactly when I took them off, but I think it was some time in 2011.

Also, search traffic has consistently grown at a faster rate than overall traffic. For example, about 57% of my overall traffic is from search. And I would assume that the majority of search traffic is also new visitors. So that could at least partly explain why the percentage of new visitors is falling.

Still, I think it’s worth watching. Thanks Linden!

Linden Wilcock January 29, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Thanks for the reply. Very interesting. And nice work getting your search traffic percentage to where it is!

Andy Davies February 1, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I hate blog posts without dates as you can’t judge the age and therefore the potential validity of the contents.

Shaun February 5, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Not the best of tests, not even a test is it. I

One day I brushed my teeth three times instead of 2, and I noticed a decrease in traffic, when I stopped that and only did it 2 times a day my blog traffic increased as normal.

Mack Collier February 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Exactly, which is why you should test this stuff for yourself on your own blog.

What did you see when you ran your own test, Shaun?

BTW the first week after I took dates off, my search and overall traffic returned to almost the exact point they were at before I took them off.

Doesn’t prove that adding dates back dropped my traffic, but it’s a pretty good nod in that direction. At least for me ;)

Mark February 6, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Very interesting, you’ve confirmed something that I’ve been thinking about recently; people want up-to-date content. Even if a post has evergreen content, if it is a year or two old, very few visitors are going to want to read it. My blog is just a few days old, but I’m going to see if I can turn off the dates, because my present posts are soon going to become past posts! Thank Mack

Jeni February 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm

This is great; I’d never seen the hypothesis tested. I had the dates on my blog for the first few months, but when I removed them I noticed a dramatic increase in the number of comments and shares on older posts. Just goes to show you that regardless of what the search engines think of you, real *live* people have the final say. :)

Lori Eldridge June 9, 2013 at 5:23 pm

I have always put dates on articles/posts with the copyright statement. Never even thought it might be reducing traffic. However, I’m wondering what would be the reason for traffic dropping for a page/site because of adding dates to posts. Most people don’t include a date when searching for info and Google doesn’t need dates to know when something is fresh. If a date is included in the post then it shows up in the search results. I know myself, if I’m searching for date sensitive info, I will pick the newest date I see and having to sift through posts with no dates is annoying, however it would encourage people to click on your site more.

Jennifer June 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm

While I understand the desire to up traffic / gain visitors to a site, as a person who uses a lot of blog entries in my field to learn about the newest/latest research, tools, techniques, etc., dates are how I gauge the relevancy of the information I may or may not read. Not publishing a date with article is unprofessional to me. It’s not up to the author to determine value over time, but to the reader, for the reader has certain needs to be met.

So, perhaps it does depend on your topic. Is your blog/site just a form of journal? Dates then probably not so relevant. Is your blog/site for posting results or research? Then dates are incredibly important. Like this one, no date. Yet, you have an “update” showing as 2-5-2003. I assumed the year is a typo only based on the comments coming from 2013. But, until I got there, I had to wonder: how relevant is this information? If this was written in 2006, I do think the relevancy of your experiment – to a degree – is less than were it in 2011-2013.

And though, like I said, I understand the desire to maximize traffic, It frustrates me to no end when I arrive at a blog entry or article without a date. It’s a form of trickery. Look to other published works and they all have dates.

Instead, I recommend, find another way to post the date without it being one of the first things a visitor may see. Like, at the bottom of the post.

Lastly, one always needs to keep in mind that quantity of traffic does not necessarily equate to quality. Being honest with your audience helps with building trust with them, and thus return visitors who are more loyal to you and likely to recommend. It’s a longer-tail approach, but it serves all those involved, not just the site administrators.

Mack Collier June 26, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Hi Jennifer! Thanks for your thoughts, and I understand your position on including dates to identify ‘relevant’ information. That is, ironically, part of the reason why I do NOT include dates here. Because if someone sees a date from 2009 or 2010 on a social media topic, especially if they are a ‘newbie’, they will generally NOT share that content because they assume it IS dated. Even though the information may still be completely relevant.

So if my ‘Ten Steps to Creating a Successful Twitter Chat’ post includes the fact that it was written in 2010, many people won’t share it because they will assume it’s dated. On the other hand, if someone that has never run a Twitter chat writes a similar post in 2013, many people will assume its content is more valuable than mine, simply because it’s from 2013 vs 2010.

I can see both sides of this issue.

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