SEOs are used to seeing old web pages outrank newer, fresher content in Google’s SERPs and there’s a widely accepted explanation for this. Older content has had more time to build trust and authority, earn more links and secure its position in organic listings – newer content doesn’t have this time advantage.

However, speaking during a recent Google Webmaster Central Hangout, Google’s John Mueller was directly asked why older content typically outranks newer stuff – and his answer didn’t exactly support the reason most SEOs have accepted for years.

Why old pages continue to outrank, according to John Mueller

You can watch the full Hangouts section above and the section we’re talking about starts at 26:45.

In answering the question on why old content often outranks newer pages, John Mueller made the uncharacteristic move of referencing “trust”, which Googlers routinely deny describes any kind of ranking factor in the search engine’s algorithm.

However, when his use of the word was picked up upon by a developer involved in the discussion, Mueller distanced himself from the idea that he was referencing a ranking factor.

“I don’t know that we’d call it trust or anything crazy like that,” he can be heard saying.

He also rejects the idea that Google uses HTTP as a means to identify sites that haven’t been updated in a while to help distinguish the “freshness” of websites.

Instead, the senior analyst had this to say:

“It can really be the case that sometimes we just have content that looks to use like it remains to be relevant. And sometimes this content is relevant for a longer time.

I think it’s tricky when things have actually moved on, and these pages just have built up so much kind of trust and links and all of the kind of other signals over the years where like well it seems like a good reference page.

But we don’t realize that… other pages have kind of moved on and become kind of more relevant.

So I think long term we would probably pick that up. But it might take a while.”

Based on what John Mueller has to say about this subject, the way Google handles older and newer content is more complex than many like to believe.

What can we take away from John Mueller’s comments?

If you want to hear Mueller’s comment in context, we recommend watching the video above for yourself. However, here is what we’re taking away from his remarks about old content vs new content:

  • “Freshness” isn’t used for ranking in every query.
  • Google is capable of determining when fresher content is important for certain searches.
  • Some content is viewed as a lasting quality resource (evergreen) for specific searches.
  • Links may tell Google an older piece of content is still popular and relevant.
  • Old pages don’t continue to rank well based on their age.
  • There is no trust ranking factor or metric behind older content performing well.

Everything John Mueller says in the Hangouts session indicates there is no single or simple reason why older content outranks newer alternatives. If you want to think of a page that’s earned more links over a longer period of time as having built up more trust, that’s fine – but it’s certainly not the way Google talks about older content.

Yes, a page that remains to be an important resource or continues to earn a lot of links is going to have an advantage over newer content that’s starting out from scratch – but this is no different to the advantage it has over other older content.

Of course, some searches indicate that content freshness is important and this is something Google takes into consideration. So the old content vs new content battle comes down to a multitude of variables that can change from one search query to another.

The classic explanation that old content has had more time to build trust is a convenient way to explain why it often outperforms newer pages, but it oversimplifies what Google’s algorithm is doing when it analyses searches and your content. Age isn’t any advantage if your content isn’t offering value and it only becomes an advantage if it continues to offer value long after the date you published it.

Additionally, this advantage can disappear entirely when Google determines fresher content is more important to the specific search being made at that time.