New Year’s SEO Resolution: Update Your Copyright Statement Dates

In the last few days, I’ve reviewed a few different large websites which have utterly neglected to update their copyright statement dates to reflect the current year.

Copyright statement dates have been something I increasingly check on websites that I audit for search engine optimization purposes, because of a few different things.

Copyright as an SEO Ranking Factor

First of all, it’s now established that Google has been giving special treatment to content dates found on webpages. I’ve written before on the subject of whether dates on pages might be used as a search engine ranking factor. As I wrote previously, Google’s been parsing date information out of pages already, and they’ve decided to often lump these dates into the snippet found below listings of pages in search results. They’ve stated that their usability testing has established that for many types of content, consumers would like to see the date. I’ve argued that it could be a ranking factor, but whether it is or isn’t is virtually secondary to the positive effect that it likely would have on influencing clickthrough behavior.

One type of date that Google typically does not display in the search snippets are the more commonly-used date included with the copyright statement found on most corporations’ webpage footers. However, it’s my belief that Google is likely to be paying attention to this page parameter just as much as they focus upon content update dates, although for slightly different reasons. Read on and I’ll elaborate.

The date found in a copyright statement could be used in combination with various other signals in establishing whether a page and website is being maintained or not, and whether a page’s content may be stale. It can also be a signal of quality, because a site which does not display the copyright line may not be as trustworthy as more tightly-run corporations, or the site may not have proprietary ownership of the content they are displaying.

Naturally, there may also be compelling legal reasons that you should be updating the copyright statement on your website as well — the date of copyright of content helps to establish whether you have control/ownership of that content for a precisely defined period of time into the future.

The copyright date is one of the most poorly maintained elements of webpages that I run across. So, I admit that if it is one of the many SEO ranking factors out there, it would be a fairly weak one. However, I do not see any good excuses for rolling the dice about whether this element is a ranking factor or not — it should be updated as a major aspect of site quality. Always. It’s faintly ridiculous to run across sites here at the end of 2010 which are continuing to display a copyright date of 2009!

There’s no doubt that sites which have yet to update the copyright dates on their pages at the end of this year may actually forget to do so beyond New Year’s and well into next year. So, make a resolution to yourself and schedule this if you need to get this updated. Do it in the first week of January.

For many of you techies out there, this is an opportunity to upgrade your website in order to remove manual update activities for the future. There’s absolutely no reason that copyright dates should be static text content in pages footers in this millenium — you ought to be able to automate the date so that you never have to touch it or worry about it being updated again.

Now, a quick-and-dirty way to add the code to pages could be to use Javascript, relying upon the copyright to get added into the page when loaded at the client end by the browser. For instance you could use code like this:

Copyright ©
<SCRIPT LANGUAGE=”JavaScript”>
<!—
today=new Date();
year=today.getFullYear();
document.write(year);
// —>
</SCRIPT>
- All rights reserved.

(To see how this appears, view it in action on my copyright code page.)

Although Google is increasingly adept at interpreting Javascript content, I believe it’s better to incorporate the copyright legal statement on the server-side.

For Apache and some UNIX-flavored servers, you might be able to use a simple server side include command combination. As you may know, server-side include tags can be embedded in your static HTML pages, and the server will execute the include commands on the fly before sending the code out to a visitor’s browser. Here’s a simple SSI command that will include an always up-to-date copyright statement:

<!–#config timefmt=”%Y”–> Copyright © <!–#echo var=”DATE_LOCAL” –> – All rights reserved.

If your pages are delivered via a PHP application, the code for an automatic copyright is quite similar:

Copyright &copy; <? echo date(“Y”); ?> – All rights reserved.

If you’re using a PERL application, then it’s a bit messier in my opinion. You could use localtime(time) which is compatible with a number of versions of PERL. For instance, this code works on one of my servers:

$date = scalar localtime(time);
@parse = split(” “,$date);
$year = $parse[4];

Then, when you’re printing the page content back to the browser, you’d print $year.

I say this is “messy”, because I think the $date returned to the application by the server may be in varying formats — so, the code I show above might not work on all servers, and is likely dependent upon how the date is formatted by the server’s administrators. There are also a few modules which you could install for PERL which may be much more dependable for consistent date formats.

Regardless of the scripting language you’re using, inclusion of an automaticly-updated copyright line ought to be pretty easy to accomplish.

I’m personally not a big fan of the date ranges for copyright lines, because I think those are overly-aggressive on the part of intellectual property lawyers, and I’m not entirely sure how they would hold up in potential copyright infringement litigation. The goal is to inform the visitor as to what date the content is copyrighted, and making it some vague range could really undermine the future limit on when that copyright expires. Don’t waffle around with this — make it the current date for when the site is being viewed (since most websites are works-in-progress, and today’s version of the site may be different from yesterday’s).

Since it’s potentially a ranking factor, a freshness factor, a quality factor, and a legal necessity, make a New Year Resolution to update the copyright on your websites once and for all!

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2 thoughts on “New Year’s SEO Resolution: Update Your Copyright Statement Dates

  1. @Chris – Great stuff as always. Some copyright lawyers I’ve worked with think the beginning date is more important (and only want to use that), so a range is a good compromise, not a waffle.

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