Keeping It Fresh

Imagine you’re searching for something online. You go to your favorite search engine, enter whatever it is you’re looking for, and examine the first few results.

Clicking on a promising entry, you view the webpage and quickly discover that the information is out of date – checking the home page, you can tell that the site hasn’t changed in months.

Sure, maybe the contact information is valid, and the “hours of operation” haven’t needed to change, but for all you know, the website may be abandoned.

It doesn’t matter, because you don’t waste any more time trying to figure it out. You return to the search results and choose one of the other entries, a website clearly more active and up-to-date.

Now, you may think I’m about to recommend you treat your website more like the latter, by updating it often, and you’d be right …

… but perhaps not for the reasons you think.

Life is more attractive than death

A website that shows signs of life is, to put it bluntly, more attractive than one that remains unchanged.

I mean “attractive” quite literally. A website that is kept current, has interesting content, and updates on an ongoing basis will attract more visitors.

In part that’s very much because of the scenario I started with: unless the person is looking specifically and only for you, on visiting your dead-looking site, many visitors will simply leave. If you’re in a competitive situation, your competitor is likely to get that visitor (and newsletter subscriber, and sale, and whatever else…) instead of you.

But it actually goes deeper than that.

The scenario I outlined above is unlikely to happen. Why? Because the scenario starts out by finding the stale site in search results.

Search engines give preference to sites that aren’t stale. In reality, that stale site was probably far from the top of the search results.1

Search engines like change

One, or maybe more, of the mythical “200 factors” that can affect your search engine ranking is whether or not your site changes, how often, and in what ways.

Adding new information to your site – be it new reference information, timely news, opinions, posts about your specific area of expertise, or even something as simple as answered questions – keeps your site active in the eyes of the search engines.

Actually, it keeps your site active and “alive” in the eyes of your visitors, providing them with a better experience, and that’s really what the search engines care about.

It’s an over-generalization, to be sure, but an active site is considered more likely to provide what people might be looking for.

But it’s also about much more than search engines.

Left unattended, email lists die quickly

You have a mailing list full of people waiting to hear from you.

When was the last time you sent anything?

I recently overheard a rule of thumb that says a mailing list that hasn’t been sent anything in a month – that’s one month – is likely to have what it does finally send get marked as spam by many of the recipients.

People forget. People lose the context of who you are and why they subscribed to your email list in the first place.

Publishing regularly reminds people you exist and that being a subscriber to your list somehow adds value to their lives.

Activity is almost always a positive

Whether or not to accept comments on your posts is a discussion for another day, but there is one aspect of it worth mentioning here.

Nothing says “active website with a community of interested followers” like comments. When people leave comments, it’s because they are interested in what it is you offer or say. Be it disagreement or support, when people leave comments, they’re taking valuable time to do so.

Visitors notice. Search engines notice.

As I said, comments are a larger topic, often referred to as a “can of worms”; you are allowing others to place their words on your website, after all.

But done correctly, they also contribute signs of life.

That’s generally a good thing.

Commit to a publication schedule

I’ve told you how my reluctance to do a newsletter was one of my biggest early mistakes. When I finally did do it, however, I discovered an unexpected side benefit.

I had to publish.

I made a commitment to my readers. I had a schedule to meet. I had an obligation to fulfill.

I had a deadline.

As a result, Ask Leo! has been publishing weekly, and on schedule, for years. I’ve created new content. I’ve updated older content. I’ve engaged my audience.

I’ve shown the search engines that is a vibrant, valuable website.

It’s alive.

My exceptionally strong suggestion to you is to do the same. You certainly don’t need to publish the same quantity of information, and you don’t even need to do it every week.

But do it you must.

Commit, now, to publishing a blog post every other week – every week if possible – that gets sent out to your mailing list.

It’s an important sign of life.


1: Yes, I know, it’s very possible to craft a search that would locate even the deadest of dead sites. That’s not the point. People looking for what you have to offer are rarely searching for something that only your dead site would answer; hence the competition from other sites that would show up for the same search.