What it means to SEO and what is the QDF, Google’s query deserves freshness

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Google SERPs favour fresh content. For many years this statement has been repeated, as a mantra, referring to the so-called Google QDF algorithm, the Query deserves Freshness rule for which, in fact, the novelty and freshness are criteria that are worth a priority in the ranking. But is it still so? And how much do these factors weigh? We try to take stock of the situation, in the light of the constant evolution of the systems of interpretation of the contents of the search engine.

What Quality Deserves Freshness means

Query Deserves Freshness, or QDF, is not a new concept but is often interpreted improperly in the planning of SEO campaigns, especially when it comes to content, so much so that even former Googler Kaspar Szymanski spoke of it as a “false myth”.

This expression intuitively means that in some queries the search engines reorder the search results so that the most recent contents will be placed higher, rewarding indeed the “freshness”.

History of the Google QDF algorithm

The algorithm called Query Deserves Freshness was actually launched by Google in 2007 and then updated in 2011 (as part of the evolution of the new search index Caffeine) to identify topics and search queries for which users need up-to-date content, so as to benefit them in search results pages.

It is a mathematical model that can determine if and when users want up-to-date and current information, or “fresh”, and is based on the popularity of a topic, examining the flow of billions of queries on Google and the number of new content published on the subject.

How the QDF algorithm works

In a nutshell, the QDF algorithm analyzes user search patterns to detect when it is trying to access current information (and when it is not), and is activated when Google records an unusual increase in search volumes or quotes of a given topic mainly in three environments: magazines and blogs, multimedia pages and direct queries on the search engine.

However, not all queries are the same and, above all, not all topics are: the research for “president of the United States” generate results that change more often than those for those looking for “biography of Catherine the Great”, because it is only in the first case that – basically – users need to read “fresh” content.

Query deserves freshness, clarifications and explanations

So, it is only partially true that Google rewards Freshness: this happens only if the freshness responds to the search intent and really corresponds to a changed or growing interest of people. Then there is another type of freshness – the one at site level – that “requires” to constantly update the published content (even the evergreens!) to avoid that they may be “expired” or too old, and therefore lose positions and visibility in SERP.

On the topic level, current events mainly apply “to sites such as newspapers, magazines or portals that operate with frequent and fast news, for which vertical freshness can result in a competitive advantage“, as Szymanski explained, while for the vast majority of websites the Freshness “is not important as an SEO factor”.

In fact, the QDF algorithm does not apply to all types of queries and only seeks to serve the broader mission of returning relevant content and results to meet the user’s intent, and may affect the placement of content related to specific recurring events (music festivals, events, annual fairs, political events such as elections etc.), but also content that require frequent updates and recent information (technologies – such as the query “the best smartphones” – sports, gadgets, job offers and more).

The algorithm is more relevant for queries of the informative type, such as news or trending themes; therefore, generally does not “affect” content and transactional queries, for which however always applies the rule of respect for the research intent, that can change in line with real world events, as we saw at the time of the pandemic with the Covid-19 impact on searches and SERPs.

Examples of freshness

The evolution of Google and the increasing ability to understand what users really want – thanks to systems such as BERT – has made giant strides even the algorithm QDF, as seen in the event of sudden events and, in particular, the evolution of Serps for new research on the Coronavirus or the “revolutions” caused by the orange sky seen by millions of people in northern California in September.

As we wrote in our article, many of those people searched for answers on the search engine to understand what was happening, and Google responded by changing its SERPs in real time, also exploiting features such as featured snippets: The previous responses indexed by the engine, in fact, offered only “general scientific explanations of what can turn the sky orange”, but the Californians wanted to know why the sky was orange at that time and where they were.

For this reason, Google has provided fresher results, adapting the answers according to the local context and also using time and location to help algorithms understand what the user is really looking for.

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