WordPress, as one of the most popular blogging platforms in the world, offers the ability for users to change the date on their posts, both before and after they have been published. This is a useful tool. You can set a post to appear in the future, scheduling your content drops. You can write and upload a dozen posts all at once, and set them to appear at set, reasonable intervals.
That’s all about future dating, though. What about backdating? What about changing the date on a current post to make it look older? Post scheduling is a valuable tool, but post backdating seems to offer very little potential reward. How can it be used, legitimately and illegitimately, and what is Google’s opinion on the practice?
Sometimes, you have no choice but to make a drastic site move. You may have an archive of data, but the post dates are somehow lost in the translation. You have to manually upload your posts again, and the problem is, every post is now dated with the time you uploaded the replacement post. The original post dates are lost.
This is a legitimate instance where you may want to use post backdating. You can manually compare every post on your site with the date it was originally posted, assuming you have access to that information. You can then edit the post date to maintain consistency from one site to another.
Of course, these days a site migration generally includes post dates, unless you’re doing a drastic move from one blogging platform to another and your only backup doesn’t work with the new software. It’s very rare that you have to manually repost any content, unless you’re performing the migration incorrectly in some way.
On a similar note, there’s also the instance where you future-date an old article to a date that is still in the past, but more recent. You might do this when you update the content on a page, as a way of keeping it visibly more recent. Backdating is generally all about changing a post to make it look older than it is, however, so that’s what the rest of this piece talks about.
This is one of the most common backdating uses; to make a new site look older. The inspiration is easy to see. One of the factors for SEO, in every realm, is age. Older sites with older posts tend to be ranked higher. Therefore, why not make your site look older by posting a few dozen or a few hundred articles with dates scattered across the previous months or years?
This, of course, ignores why age is important. Age alone is not important. Google and the other search engines don’t necessarily care that your post was posted two years ago. What they care about is the age of your site as a whole. They care about monitoring your actions over the course of the lifespan of your site. Older sites rank higher because they have had more time to gain Google’s trust.
By backdating the content on a brand new site, you may be able to trick users into thinking your site has been around for a while, hidden in a place they never saw it. You won’t, however, trick Google into thinking the same thing.
Another common – and more insidious – use of backdating is in content theft. Content is hugely important in the modern web. It’s critical for a site to post quality content on a regular basis. More importantly, your content needs to be original. You’re going to be penalized by posting content that isn’t yours originally. If you’re copying content from somewhere else, and you’re dedicated to a black hat route, the solution seems obvious.
What the typical black hat spammer does, when they copy content, is set the date for their copy to be earlier than the original post. The reasoning is that, when Google sees the two posts, it will compare their dates and give authority to the earlier post.
This has problems of its own, of course. Many black hat webmasters don’t pay a lot of attention to the content they’re stealing, nor the historical perspective driving that content. They simply set the date days or weeks ahead of when the original post was published, to make their copy look legitimate. The issue is that a lot of times the original post may be commenting on current events. It would be like stealing a post about the decision of the recent World Cup finals, and dating it to before the semifinals were finished.
Backdating can fool users, but it won’t fool Google. Sure, if you change the uploaded and posted dates for your content, Google has no way on your page to see that it wasn’t posted when you claim it was posted. The thing is, Google doesn’t care.
Google largely ignores the posted date for most content. The only date it cares about is the index date. In most cases, the index date for content is within a day of the actual post date, so there’s very little actual difference between their records.
The thing is, when you backdate a post and hope Google indexes it and gives you the authority for having an older post, you’re not going to get what you want. Google records the first date they saw the content. If that first index date is significantly later than the date of the original content, the original content doesn’t suffer at all. It’s one of the ways Google has managed to ignore content thieves.
In case there’s ever any actual confusion, such as Google indexing the original site a day later than normal, and the content theft happening immediately and getting indexed first, there’s still a backup to prevent the legit site from a penalty. That backup is site trust. Spam sites, sites caught copying content, don’t build trust. Sites that build trust are more resilient against content theft. Google looks at two sites, sees the index dates claiming a spam site has posted original content and that the trusted site has stolen it, and makes the logical leap that it probably got the index dates shuffled up. The spammer still loses.
As one final note, the posted date of a piece of content can be important to users because it shows up in search results a lot of the time. This helps users see when a piece of content was posted. However, backdating a piece of content here is largely detrimental. Users tend to look for more recent content, trusting it to have more recent, valuable opinions. Setting your content to appear older than it is doesn’t benefit you for most queries.
James is a content marketing professional who enjoys writing useful content for bloggers. He’s a contributing writer at Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, and Business Insider.