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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:
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?
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.