Today we’re learning how to find the publication dates of undated web content. We’ll explore a small handful of quickly actionable tips. We’ll also learn why hiding your content date is bad user experience design.
Doesn’t it piss you off when websites don’t display the publication dates on their content? Some go as far as removing dates from their comment section, leaving no doubt that their audience is the least of their worries.
Do you wonder why they do it? I mean wouldn’t it be the most basic service in the world to make dates clear to your audience?
Because they hate people.
Kidding. It’s because they know that people have a time-bias
Fresh and recent content is more attractive than old. People assume that older content is less valuable. Even though there is plenty of old content that is still valuable (often more valuable).
Before we move on to why removing dates makes you a terrible person, let me show you how to find the publish date on any blasphemous site.
There is a handful of ways to work around hidden content dates on websites. You can’t always use the same approach. It depends on the platform, and some website owners are more sneaky than others.
I always end up finding the content date with one of the following methods. I list them in the order: from most likely to work — to the least.
- Finitimus — a Chrome Extension (small browser app).
- Check the page source code
- The Google date filter trick
- Use The Way Back Machine
- Look at the URL & Comments section
Let’s go through them one by one.
The Finitimus Chrome Extension takes 5 seconds to install and it works right away. Once installed, go to any website an click on the Finitimus icon in the Chrome App bar, and it will show the content date:
How reliable is Finitimus? Well if you compare Medium’s publication date with Finitimus’s estimated date on the screenshots above, they’re one day apart. There could be many reasons for that.
It’s close enough for me. I’ve tested Finitimus on at least 10 different sites, and it’s been reliable so far.
But not everyone wants to install an app for every problem they have. If you rarely need to find hidden publication dates, then skip the app and move on to one of the manual methods.
In my experience, you will find the publication date inside the content page’s source code, 9 out of 10 times. Right-click anywhere on the content page with the hidden date and click on View Page Source.
Now inside the page source code, hit up the page search function with CMD + F (Mac) or CTRL + F (Windows). Now, search for anything related to publication, e.g. “published”. The date will usually be at the top of the page source inside meta tags:
The date is often wrapped inside a meta tag:
<meta property="article:published_time" content="2014-04-06T20:59:23+00:00" />
Or inside a time tag:
<time datetime="2017-05-12" itemprop="datePublished">12 May, 2017</time>
Still can’t find the publish date? On to the next tip then!
Google’s search engine has a built-in feature that allows you to filter content by dates. By using the following format you should be able to find the publication date (or at least the latest update) on any content.
Go to this Google date filter query page:
Then paste in the URL to the content with the hidden publish date into the search input, right after inurl: and hit enter.
And you get the date:
If you want to change the number of years it filters back from, change the
qdr=y10 to e.g.
qdr=y15 then it’s 15 years.
You can also just put everything on one line and paste it directly into your address bar:
Here’s me querying this tutorial from TechStacker, by combining the Google search filter URL with the URL to my tutorial:
The Wayback Machine is useful for many things. Such as finding out how a website used to look 10-15 years or even longer ago. The Wayback Machine only takes snapshots every now and then, so it won’t give you precise dates. But it will often show you the period that content was originally published.
Go to The Wayback Machine and paste the URL to your targetted content and it will return a list of dates, like this:
How reliable is the Wayback Machine? Well, in the screenshot above, The Wayback Machine highlights two dates in September 2017, for this great article by Jonathan Z. White. The only problem is that the article was published May 17, 2016 — more than a year earlier. I couldn’t find any snapshots from 2016 for that post.
What’s going on? What the snapshots of September 2017 might mean is that the article was updated or perhaps republished around that time. It’s impossible to say for sure. Thus, the Wayback Machine is the last method I’ll use for finding hidden dates.
The final two methods are quick to check for, but not likely to work at a broad range of websites, that’s why I put them last.
Check the URL
Especially on a lot of WordPress websites, you can find the publication date or period in the URL path of the post:
But I see dates in URLs less and less.
Check the comments section
If the site has a comments section you can often get a pretty good idea about how old the content is based on the comment dates. But some site owners hide their comment dates also — and many sites don’t have a comments section.
In my experience, method 1, 2, and 3 is all I need.
Congratulations, blasphemy has been defeated. You are now well equipped to find hidden post dates on decadent websites.
If you’re not a website owner and don’t plan on publishing content then the rest of this post might not interest you. Otherwise, keep reading for the sake of humanity!
In Tech, showing content dates is important because it’s the most expanding and changing industry in the world. Many types of technology get outdated quickly. Either we adapt or we lose.
SEO and, tech in general, are usually time-sensitive topics.
For example, the best SEO methods of 2014 are not the same best SEO methods in 2017. In fact, older SEO tactics can be hurtful to your website if you apply them today.
Search engines constantly update their search algorithms and policies, if you don’t keep up you’ll get into trouble. Thus, it’s pretty ridiculous when tech-related websites go out of their way to hide dates from their audience when it could potentially hurt them.
When you remove publication dates one of two things happen:
- Some people will immediately get pissed (that’s me) and bounce.
- Others will initially get tricked to assume that your content is fresh, so they won’t take off right away. Once they realize they’ve been duped, they’ll get angry that you wasted their time — the biggest offender in the UX rulebook. And then they take off.
Both are terrible scenarios. Don’t do it.
Website owners: update your content!
The simple solution is to update your existing content so it matches the current standards. Whether it’s SEO, programming, or something else), and clearly state it in your articles/guides.
Like this:Last Update: December 5th, 2017.
Not only will it benefit your audience, it will also benefit your SEO because updating is a relevancy ranking signal according to Google. If you update your content, search engines will recognize it the next time they crawl and index your website. Updating is good for everybody.
You can also republish old content if updating the old content is too complicated. It depends on what platform your original content is published on. Sometimes republishing is the best choice.
How should you display your content dates?
I don’t believe there is one best way, but I do believe in A/B testing and taking a page out of successful people’s books.
Some of you know that I’m a fan of Tim Ferriss. Tim also “hides” dates from his content, but he does it in a non-shitty way.
He puts dates at the bottom of his articles. He does this because of the time-bias we discussed earlier. He talked about it in his presentation:
Here’s why the Tim Ferriss way of hiding dates doesn’t hurt UX:
- His website is mostly based on timeless, philosophical and principle based content. Most of his content is relevant regardless of age.
- He doesn’t hide content dates, he puts them at the bottom of each post. A/B testing concluded that it gives more upsides than downsides (few people complain).
- Somewhat surprisingly he actually shows content dates in the URL path. But Tim is one of the few people who I trust to have A/B tested every square inch of his website, so there’s probably a reason.
There’s a big difference between moving dates from the top to the bottom of a post vs. completely hiding it from your page.
Hey, you’re not a bad person because you don’t want visitors to discard your aging content (which might still be relevant). But if your content is time-sensitive, and you don’t update it, and you purposely hide dates from your audience.. well, it’s a great idea if you want people to hate you.
I considered putting dates at the bottom of my posts. But I’m leaning more towards keeping it at the top, and then switching the time stamp “published on” to “Latest Update”.
I have an idea:
- Keep content date at the top of the post: if your content is time-sensitive. Remember to update it — or you’ll lose readers (but at least you’re honest). If you update: display the latest update date!
- Move content date to the bottom of the post: if your content doesn’t get updated often — but is still relevant and doesn’t mislead people.
The glory of UX has been restored!
Hiding dates on outdated content will at best piss of your readers. At worst it’ll end up hurting them. Get off the couch and update your content or throw in the towel and delete your shameful website.