Web pages without dates appear less trustworthy

“Is this information up to date?” “It refers to floppy disks as the preferred installation medium…” This article is my appeal to web publishers for them to please display each page’s publication date. Published texts — whether it be product pages, documentation, articles, FAQs, or other texts — should always show when they were last updated and first published. I believe that pages that omit these dates appear less trustworthy than pages that include them. I certainly trust them less than dated pages.

Displaying the last revision date helps confirm that the content is still up-to-date. The revision date should show when the page’s content was last significantly updated and verified. Fixing typos or redesigning the website does not count as updating its content. Displaying the publication date can help add authority to the page.

The dates should either appear below the headline or below the body text. Do not reduce its size, contrast, or use otherwise reduce their readability. It is common in webdesign to use small gray text and treat it as secondary information. Think about why the dates are there. Consider removing the text instead of making it illegible.

I have found examples of websites who realize that these dates are important. Unfortunately, some of the same sites try to appear more up to date and relevant by lying. By programmatically setting the revision date to something close to the current date. Readers will recognize this scam from small hints that the page is out of date. For example, the text may not contain the latest information or appear incompetent. The user may think “something published after this date should have known about this thing.” Search engines can identify pages that use these methods. Pages can be compared against their cached copy to reveal no actual updates.

A closing note on date formats. In my opinion, there are only two acceptable formats that should be used on the web. Keep in mind that with web publishing, your audience is always an international audience. The preferred format should be the international date format: year-month-day. See W3C’s recommendation of this format for details. You will be familiar with that format from year-month-day which is common in URLs. Alternatively, any variation with the full four-digit year and the name of the month spelled out. The latter format avoids confusion by being verbose. While you are at it, read up on the <time> element too.

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