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I was just listening to someone talk about how the older content is the more relevant it is seen by search engines even if it is obsolete info. But it seems in many cases it is good to leave content in place for historical\reference reasons.

Is there a standard way (tag, meta-tag, http response code) to mark up a page as obsolete? Or at least is there a standard way to tell the search engines that the pages are less relevant.

To be absolutely clear, I am not asking how to make the pages unavailable (for which there are clear HTTP status codes), but rather how to acknowledge that they may no longer be relevant except for historically.

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    I don’t see this as duplicate. This is not about effectively closing a page (so that 410 Gone response would be a reasonable answer, though not without problems) but about keeping old content, just marking it as outdated or telling search engines that it is less relevant (two different things, though maybe connected). – Jukka K. Korpela Mar 11 '14 at 19:27
  • Yes I am definitely not asking how to close a page. This is not a duplicate of the referenced question. – Matthew Nichols Mar 11 '14 at 19:46
  • @Matthew Nichols: why do you want to mark a page up as obsolete? What is the aim of this effort? – Zistoloen Mar 11 '14 at 20:32
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    I would certainly include a "published" (or "last updated") date near the top of the page. This makes it pretty obvious to users and (I think) to search engines. Google is known for picking up arbitrary dates on the page and associating it with the published date of the page (at least in the SERPs), even when it might not be related! From a users perspective, for technical/reference content, I wish all pages were dated - a lot aren't and I personally find this frustrating. Ref: webmasters.stackexchange.com/questions/18395/… – MrWhite Mar 11 '14 at 21:34
  • @Zistoloen: I am mostly asking because I realized I didn't know the answer and was curious. But I don't have an immediate need. Hopefully that doesn't make it unworthy of consideration. – Matthew Nichols Mar 11 '14 at 22:00
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As mentioned on the comments to the question, and as common sense indicates, having the published date on the page is very important.

But there are more dates or periods that you have to consider, for instance, date of references used, date of research if any, date of validity if it's possible to assess that aspect, etc. Any date that is relevant should be present on the content, either on a separate section dedicated to general information about the content or in the content itself. Of course footnotes and similar mechanics are good. All that is common practice in the printed world and you can see many references and dates used on books, for some reason, we don't see it that much on Internet; most probable for lack of experience on how to do it and/or laziness.

All that information help the user to recognize if the information is still valid or not. But of course, you can add a headline stating that the information is outdated and that they should go to a more recent version of the page/information and then you provide a link for it. If there is no more up to date information, then just mention that it is or may be outdated.

You also may use microdata, like RDFa, Schema.org or any other that you like to provide that information. Using microdata, may help search engines to inform the user and may be, in the future, used by tools on user agents to improve the user experience by informing the user about the state of the data/web site. The problem with microdata, right now, is that it doesn't offer attributes or properties to indicate the end of live of many things, although it does for some things, and there are mechanisms to extend the schema, plus slowly they add more elements, so at some point it will be available on common branches that don't have it right now.

So, I would add as much information as possible on the page and would use microdata with the available information and keep an eye on possible expansions of the microdata shemas.

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I work almost entirely with data that has a short shelf life but a need to remain public. In addition to using the publication date on the article, a common tactic for that kind of content is putting them in dated folders, i.e., www.sitename.com/news/2012/filename.

Another tactic is making that content mainly accessible via an archive that again organizes them by date and uses anchor text with dates in them. Someone clicks on archive or something similar and sees a series of links with years and months. Articles display headline links with the dates next to them.

Altogether those tactics will make it easier for search engines, site visitors and even the site manager to find and organize content.

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