SEO

Wikipedia is #1 : What Are You Going to Do About It?

I’m been noticing a lot of frustration lately with the dominance of Wikipedia in search results.

And, I’ll admit, I never felt like I really understood why they get so much love from Google until I started blogging.

Just for some background, I found a thread at the HighRankings forum from a few months ago that addressed this very issue. It’s a good discussion and worth reading. They talk about some of Wikipedia’s plusses: full-text pages, nice summaries on a single topic, internal link structure, lots of external links, users like it (mentioned multiple times but doesn’t mean anything to Google by itself). Then one of the posters gets to the heart of the issue: bloggers like to cite it.

So far, so good. But why does everyone cite Wikipedia. It’s a combination of what they do right, but also what so many others do wrong. In the short time I’ve been writing for our site, I’ve found that I’ve linked more to Wikipedia than any other source. Here’s why:

  • Short URLs. Yes, it’s as simple as that. The shorter the link, the easier it is to deal with when referencing. I know others have some fancy way of getting links into their posts, but I still do a lot of copy and paste and it’s easier with a shorter URL.
  • No Parameters / No Numbers. In a recent post, I wanted to link to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, mostly to help make it clear that my story was a shaggy dog (ah, that was an easy link!). My first choice was the Google books link, which looks like this:

google book search url Wikipedia is #1 : What Are You Going to Do About It?

Yikes! I didn’t want to copy and paste that monster. What about Amazon? I liked the idea of linking there because I thought my readers might end up purchasing a classic book. But what does that URL look like?

http://www.amazon.com/Animal-Signet-Classics-George-Orwell/dp/0451526341

Double-yikes. It’s shorter, yes, but it has that pesky number in it. I would hate for a reader to think I was using an Amazon affiliate code in my post so that was a non-starter.

Strangely enough, in the middle of writing this, I noticed that a commenter on SEOmoz thought Rand’s link to Amazon was an affiliate link. That’s an easy and honest mistake and was likely made because Amazon URLs use numbers to identify their inventory. That’s exactly what I was worried about.

Where did I end up linking? You got it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Farm Behold that URL; it’s beautiful!

  • Penalty FUD. Ah, good old Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Many mid-level IT managers over the decades have avoided being fired by always buying IBM products. Similarly, many bloggers have avoided the dreaded Google penalty by not linking out to “spammy sites,” which nobody would ever accuse Wikipedia of being. In another recent post, I wanted to link out to the lyrics of the theme song from Weeds, “Little Boxes.” If you’ve ever visited a lyrics site, you know why I didn’t. You get more pop-ups and crazy flashing ads on those sites than just about any other category. It’s just a matter of time before Loren outs one of them for getting their ranking based on some crazy hit counter scheme. I don’t want to Google to think I’m supporting that. So no link to the lyrics, but I did link to the Wikipedia entry.

P.S.: extra thanks to Wikipedia for teaching me that FUD had a secondary meaning. You learn something new every day.

  • Momentum. I need a link to make a point. I Google. I check the top 3-4 listings. Guess who’s always one of the choices? Thus the additional links build on the present ranking.
  • Laziness. Honestly, I think most bloggers just can’t be bothered to find the perfect reference on a subject. Good enough really is good enough if the link is just serving as a bit of background on something you think might be too esoteric to be familiar to all readers.

So are there any takeaways here for you?

You’re not going to do much about momentum or laziness, so lets’ look hard at the other three.

  • Keep your URLs as short as possible. If Wikipedia can organize all of their information without getting close to the URL character limit, so can you.
  • No parameters & no numbers. Especially if you, like Amazon, have pages about actual physical items that have names. I’m sure they could think of a way to differentiate duplicate products without resorting to a numbering system for their inventory.
  • Keep all of the garbage off your site. One of the reasons I’ve criticized Blogrush so much is that it puts garbage links to questionable blogs on your site. Similarly, if you have pop-ups, malware, crazy flashing ads, or even excessive AdSense links on your site, people are going to think twice before they link to you.

With all that, given Wikipedia’s overall quality and Google’s current love for its pages, I can’t imagine its dominance ending anytime soon. But, please, at least level the playing field a bit by changing what’s in your control.

Jon Kelly is the President of SureHits, the ad network for Insurance & Loans.

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19 thoughts on “Wikipedia is #1 : What Are You Going to Do About It?

  1. Great post Jon! I would like to add that from my experience wiki does rank fairly high for broad terms (1 or 2 keyword phrases) but has more difficulty placing for longtail phrases (3 to5 keyword phrases).

    cheers

  2. Nice post Jon – good to see someone coming up with ways to play against the Wiki-monster, rather than just complaining.

    One thing I’d say about your tips is that a URL without numbers can not be submitted to Google news, so for publishers, this should be ‘Keep them to a minimum’.

    With regards to beating Wikipedia, we managed it at my last job on some medium volume information based searches – by copying Wikipedia; not scraping their content, but by compiling ‘Everything you need to know about..” style pages, with high quality, unique content. If you can’t beat ‘em….

  3. Great point about Google news. I agree, keep those numbers to a minimum, especially if you are a retailer. Better to have the product in the URL than a random string of numbers even if the affiliate question didn’t exisit.

  4. Nice post. There are a lot of complaints about Wikipedia getting things wrong or dominating search results, but the fact is they’re top of mind when people want a quick take on just about any subject. And while things aren’t always correct, it’s almost always a decent starting point. We’re trying to do something similar at Bessed—although it’s going to be a while before we have 3 million pages.

  5. Goog post. But I think the best reason for wikipedia top searches is people link to wikipedia for every definition. There are millions of links in internet linking to wikipedia pages.

    This cause pagerank for wikipedia pages is impressive.

  6. Hmm, looks like SEJ followed Wikipedia’s footsteps and went nofollow with the comments :|

    “Then one of the posters gets to the heart of the issue: bloggers like to cite it.”

    The reason isn’t just the short URLs, momentum, or laziness. It’s mainly because most people like Wikipedia.

  7. It’s a cycle, I think. Bloggers Google a term or person or event, etc. and because they rank so high for so many phrases, they’re clicked on more, which leads to more links and more ranking, etc.

    What’s the tipping point? I wonder. That is, how big does your network have to be before it starts skyrocketing? I’d love to see some graphs of Wikipedia traffic over time.

    On the other hand, their site *is* set-up really well. That got the ball rolling. I think at a certain point, though, the math went crazy and now they’re everywhere.

    In any case, great post.

  8. Jon, awesome advice! As many of us know building inbound links is really critical to your search optimization strategy. As Jon pointed out he didn’t link to a site because of the pop ups, and other crazy stuff on the site. It might have been a great resource, but carried some stigma with it. THAT should be lesson to everyone. If you want to get those inbound links don’t add this stuff to your site because as Jon pointed out it could mean the difference between an inbound link and not getting it.

  9. Blogers cite them but the editors are also the biggest link mongers on the net. Put two words together that happen to be on Wikipedia and you get the editor of the page hounding you for the link back. Stick it in their bum and cite them in text not a href! The Google algo universal search has bumped trust or something because no site goes from nowhere in the “search engine optimization” keywords to first just because a bunch of bloggers link to them from pages with little or no juice. It’s a handjob or there’s a piece of code that says “Put Wikipedia result here”,no other way to do that strictly with IBL’s or it would have showed up in that SERP quite some time ago.

    Secondly, the history on that WIKI page is a joke it was obviously written by some 3G “Rand’s cult of mediocre uninformed SEO” follower. Basically you’d think there were no SE’s before Google!

  10. Just a add-on. If you have written some good and valuable content about related topics, wikipedia is definitely a good place to add a link to your article. I have some good articles that is linked from wikipedia and is getting some good referring traffic from wikipedia almost everyday.