SEO Tip #80: Can I Tell Google Not to Display the Date In My Site’s Snippets?

Matt Cutts: I’ll give you the short answer, which is no, and then I’ll give you all the background behind it. So way back in the mists of time whenever dinosaurs roamed the earth, and meta descriptions were pretty much the only way that search engines had to return what was shown to search engines, webmasters would cheat back in those days.

They would say things like, “My site is about Disney cartoons.” Then you would land on a site and it would be hard core porn. And for that reason, and a lot of other reasons like that, search engines tend not to trust meta tags or things that are not directly shown to users quite as much.

So Google for example doesn’t use the meta keywords tag in our ranking at all. Now we do use the meta description tag sometimes. We used to use keywords in context; that is we would show only matches on the page. And we would try to show them in the context based on what query words you used.

So if you typed in a query and the only time that query appeared was at the very bottom of the page, we’d still show you a snippet of text from around your query phrase from the bottom of the page. That was better than showing say the first 50 words from the page because it wouldn’t include your query. That was better than showing the meta description because often those were pretty useless.

So that’s how Google did things for several years. But over time we found that the meta description tag could, in some circumstances, be useful. So we’re willing to take the meta description tag to show as the snippet, sometimes when we think it could be useful for users.

But we always have this philosophy that we think it’s Google’s responsibility to compute what we think the best snippet is for users, not necessarily what a webmaster considers the best snippet. Because a webmaster might come up with something that’s deceptive or misleading rather than totally clear and really good for users.

So it’s that philosophy that leads us to showing the date in the snippet. If you do a search for iPhone or 3D MACs or whatever you’re looking for be it a product or a breaking news query, whatever, often you’ll see the date as we infer it or when we first saw it whenever we crawled that page, or if we can find it somewhere on the page and we can extract that date, you’ll see that right at the very beginning of the snippet.

Users love that because then they know if this is something that’s relatively recent? Or is this something that’s evergreen content that’s going to be really useful? Or is it something that’s really stale and out of date?

If I’m asking a question about Ubuntu Linux and the results from 2006, there have been lots of versions of Ubuntu Linux since that snippet or that document was written. So because it’s really useful for users we don’t at this time provide a way to request or tell Google not to show the date in the snippet on the search results.

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About the Author

Andy Johnson

Andy Johnson has been on the Internet since the its dawn(ie his first computer program was recorded on cassette tape) and his first hard drive cost about as much his current MacBook. His first byline was in 1993 for a local newspaper rag he eventually helmed, and his last “real job” was at a computer start up which ended when it ended. Throughout it all he’s freelanced and blogged. Now he is mesmerized by Search Engine Optimization forever trying to “rise to the top” for the right reasons. He’s been married to his wife Julia for as long as he can remember and has two lovely, wonderful children. He looks forward to sharing the latest in the technical best for all the online entrepreneurs.