Query Deserves Freshness QDFSearch engine & informational retrieval technologies have come a long way yet they are still in their infancy, particularly when it comes to sentiment and intent analysis. Very often users with different search intents may submit the same search query to a search engine but they expect different search results.

In this blog post I will explain content freshness and its impact on search results and Google’s method of handling hot topics. This post will help you understand how SEO consultants deliver good results on Google News.

Internet users make over several hundred million search queries on Google each day and a large number of these queries require fresh results. Fresh results could be anything from latest football results to a new epidemic outbreak.

Assuming there was a mad cow disease epidemic today; searchers wouldn’t want to get results dating back from 2008. This is because such a query is likely intended to get latest information on the current outbreak and not previous ones. In such circumstances Google’s “standard” PageRank algorithm is biased towards older content for several reasons i.e. older content might have thousands of links from authoritative websites. Therefore, such queries should be treated differently because they require fresh content; in some cases these queries may even explicitly mention the  need for recent/fresh results.

For example, a searcher looking for “upcoming London concerts” does not want upcoming concerts in London for last year or even a few months ago.

Query: [upcoming London concerts]

upcoming london concerts - Google Search

On the other hand some queries might not even explicitly mention recency or breaking news but they might deserve recent information from news sites/blogs.

For example:

Query: [Libya]

libya - Google Search

The reason a lot of new pages are being returned in SERPs is because the query needs recent and fresh content based on trends across the web. Look at the the sudden surge in search volume over time for “Libya” indicated by Google Trends below.

Other queries might be of a recurrent nature for example:

Query: [x factor winner]

Google Trends  x factor winner

In a previous blog post titled “Understanding search behaviour” I pointed out that search queries are classified into three categories:

Navigational queries

Navigational queries are those which are intended to find a specific webpage that the searcher has in mind.

Transactional queries

Transactional queries are those which are intended to complete some web mediated activities.

Informational queries

Informational queries are intended to find information about a certain topic.

For some queries and especially for informational queries, old results may give the wrong information to users. Take “Linux webcam drivers” as an example, the user looking for Linux webcam drivers is most probably not looking for old drivers because the might be totally useless to him/her.

I hope you are getting the jest of where I am going with this. Serving the right results for such simple yet tricky queries is not easy; it requires intelligent topical and ranking analysis which is a rather complex affair because nearly all general ranking algorithms favour old results over new ones.

Google does have features such as date restriction, latest results mode and real-time search but the average user will not use those features therefore there is a native algorithm which plays a part in the circumstances outlined above.

Query Deserves Freshness

Query deserves freshness or the QDF algorithm attempts to compensate for Google’s bias towards older content. QDF is not new, it has been around for a long time and was initially brought to light by Amit Singhal in a New York Times article written by Saul Hansell titled “Google Keeps Tweaking Its Search Engine”.

Before any further explanation, it is important to establish that Query Deserves Freshness does actually exist. In the following Google Webmaster Help video Matt Cutts confirms the existence of QDF model.

What triggers QDF and how can I leverage it?

You can leverage the power of QDF to achieve high ranking for a keyword without the need of having many links or even a long established website. I have managed to position some of our clients on the first page for highly competitive keywords within a short period of time by triggering QDF and taking steps to make their rankings stable.

Query Deserves Freshness is triggered by a multitude of factors such as query volume fluctuation, query hotness and Tweet quality amongst many others. The single most important element in leveraging QDF is to get the timing right.

To give you a clear idea of how it works and how you can leverage it, I will give a quick example.

Launched on 28th March 2011,Startup Britain is a “new campaign by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs” designed to celebrate, inspire and accelerate enterprise in the UK, it has the full backing of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and HM Government.

Within minutes of its launch, I wrote a quick blog post about Startup Britain and tweeted my blog post with a #startupbritain hashtag. Now bear in mind our blog has nothing to do with business or entrepreneurship therefore it bears no relevance to Startup Britain. Furthermore, our blog is roughly about 6 months old hence it is not in a position to influence SERPs significantly.

With all apparent odds against my blog post, it was the third result on Google UK within minutes for “startup Britain” – that is the magic of QDF. Learn how to trigger it on time and you will rank without any links or relevance. Within half an hour all major news sites in the UK including BBC, Guardian, Telegraph etc published articles on Startup Britain. Now you might think there is no way my blog post could have still been on the first page, but yes it was because I leveraged social media to boost my QDF effort.

Here is a quick screenshot of our analytics showing the number of visits my blog post received in a single day.


Obviously, ranking for Startup Britain has no commercial value for Elevatelocal therefore I did not pursue it any further. We have since dropped to second page for “startup Britain”, still not a bad position considering it is a non-relevant term with no links yet still competing with some very popular websites.

Steps you should take to trigger QDF

Follow these steps if you want to trigger QDF for a hot query,

  1. Create page with optimised title tags: Remember time is of the essence! Write a couple of sentences and post your page as soon as possible. Don’t worry about writing a complete article; you can do this later on.
  2. Tweet/Share/Like: Tweet your page making sure your main keyword is as close to the accompanied URL as possible. If you want to be cheeky, you can use a trending hashtag. Trending hashtags trigger QDF because they are hot – have a look at my posts on Tweetserping & Tweet Serping with AwesomeScreenshot.
  3. Final touches: Complete your article and add relevant imagery and multimedia to your page. Make sure you use heading tags and strong tags properly.
  4. Link out to original website: Link out to the originating domain i.e. for the example I have used above I linked to startbritain.org.
  5. Link out to Wikipedia: Find a word or a term in your article and link to its explanation on Wikipedia.

Preparing for QDF activation

Prepare product pages, articles, press releases and landing pages for expected and unexpected QDF activation. If the content of your product page is the same today as it was a few months ago, or for that matter a year ago or so, your page will virtually vanish from SERPs when QDF activates for relevant keywords.

Use Google Trends to analyse seasonal search spikes for your products or services and publish your content a minute or two after it all kicks off. It is always good to be the underdog when it comes to QDF, meaning if you are the second or third source of fresh content for a hot topic you will outlast the initials ones – get your timing right!

Taking of advantage of QDF in Google News

Because of the time difference you can always take advantage of QDF to achieve high rankings for hot news that has just broken out in i.e. United States. There are many services you can use to monitor hot topics in US, try Surchur.com to get latest hot topics or try Buzzfeed.com.

If you release fresh content for a hot topic that has just broken out in the United States, you are very likely going to rank really high in UK SERPs depending on topic and your timing.