Wikipedia: The Barry Bonds of Search Results

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Even if you’re not a fan of baseball you probably know that Barry Bonds is one of the most questionable men in the game. From admitted steroid abuse to the brash ways in which he deals with the media — Bonds is nothing short of despised by most.

Like Bonds, Wikipedia comes across as one of the best and one of the cleanest players in the game. Yet when it comes to those in the inner circles — of baseball and in the search industry — both Bonds and Wikipedia represent all that is wrong with the game.

Wikipedia: Fraudulent, or Ignorant?

In a world where everything is competitive, Wikipedia comes off as being clean, right? Sure they do… They’ve got their labels and claims, like when they tell us that they’re the world’s leading reference tool. At SMX Social Media, attendees were reminded (a dozen times too many) just how difficult it is to game Wikipedia. The message a few weeks ago was clear — search marketing will not be tolerated by any of the editors or administrators donating their time to Wikipedia.

I can’t help but question though just how reputable of a source Wikipedia is. From a search engine results perspective, I can understand why Google and others would want to promote sites that making strong efforts to forbid search marketing efforts.

Let me get more to the point… If Wikipedia is the leading reference tool in the world, why does it have more than 40,000 entries that may require cleanup? To throw gasoline on that fire, let’s consider that another 1,500+ entries may not comply with Wikipedia’s content policies…

You probably find yourself disappointed in Wikipedia, unless of course you donate your time there regularly. While search marketers have every right to be irate with the preferential treatment that Wikipedia receives, it is ultimately Google’s responsibility to clean up their SERPs.

See, we already know that more than 95% of all Wikipedia entries rank in the top ten results on Google for their respective topics. That would be understandable if we were talking about unique content that serves users through providing factual information . When Wikipedia though has tens of thousands of errors, and allows anyone to edit anything at any time — it’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

That Mighty Asterisk

Assuming that no one breaks his record, Barry Bonds will go into the record books with an asterisk by his name. Even if that asterisk is not placed beside his name in the books, we will always hold onto that opinion in our minds. In a similar way, users scanning search results are already dismissing Wikipedia entries — and that’s exactly what Wikipedia and Google deserve.

Preferential treatment can not be tolerated in search results; Just as cheats and frauds cannot be allowed in sport.

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  • Ken Savage


  • Jonathan Dingman


    I definitely agree with you.

    I was so sick of seeing Wikipedia left and right in the search results, that I decided to take some action.

    First, I installed a plugin on my site that would nofollow all Wikipedia links. Well, it is indeed spam, which is what Google has claimed nofollow is for, so why not.

    Secondly, I took the initiative to install a user script that completely removes all Wikipedia entries from ever appearing in my Google results.

    It really helps me stay clear of the spam from Wikipedia.

  • Jimmy Jam

    Agreed, I think Wikipedia needs a good swift kick in the Assssterisk!

    Ooops does that violate the TOS?

    My Son is not into baseball and detests illegal drug use so I don’t have to school him there.
    But he does references Wikipedia for school all the time. I am constantly hounding him to double check his data with a second more reputable (Un-editable Source).

    Good analogy Eric!

  • Billy

    While Wikipedia may have some inaccuracies, even with those numbers you listed it’s only about 2% of articles. And just because something is not referenced does not mean it is useless to people searching or not factual. I find it hard to believe that all the other top 10 SERP listings have better factual basis than Wikipedia. All credible websites can contain errors, but is usually accurate. Also the most searched topics are probably pretty close to the most watched and edited topics and so likely have very researched articles.

    How are users supposed to know that any website is credible? The fact that Wikipedia notes that sections need clean up or have errors is beneficial and honest to readers and those terms may often not be in the 95% you mention because of that.

    “That would be understandable if we were talking about unique content that serves users through providing factual information .” You’re using a Google search to estimate the amount of pages that require clean up and not comply with Wikipedia’s rules. How factual is that? You couldn’t get away with using that in a Wikipedia article for very long.

  • Le Portail du Web

    You’re right, Google is giving too much weight to Wikipedia. Wikipedia captures very high rankings on search result pages, they really don’t deserve such a preferential treatment.

  • Jon Lee Clark

    Wikipedia is indeed in need of some cleanup! I think it was becoming an issue even BEFORE all of the articles were written exposing large corporations for editing ‘negative’ postings. I think the benefit of using the Internet for research is the ability to generate more than one viewpoint on a subject matter. With the anyone, anytime, anywhere Wiki editing option, that ability is lost.

  • Thomas

    100% agreed. I suggest google to open up a box at the right, where they put sponsored ads for wikipedia. What is the point of displaying wikipedia for all top search queries? There are sites that offer far more better information than wikipedia, so why promote a service with so many errors?

  • Charlie Anzman

    We just did a similar post this week. We literally wrote 9 original (and factfilled) articles for Wikipedia in the past two years. All have been somewhat destroyed by ‘those with an agenda’ and I’m not referring to the links!
    Charlie Anzman

  • Increase PR

    Trying to fuel a controversy? That’s much ado about nothing to my viewpoint. I wasted my time with this article. Should focus on more interesting topics…

  • Joseph

    Your analogy between Bonds and Wikipedia is slanderous at best. Are you an authority on what people think of Barry Bonds? You are only an opinionator of BS when you attempt to feed hate to the public in a subliminally sneaky way.

  • Eric Lander, Associate Editor

    Sorry you feel that way Joseph… The point I was making is that despite Bond’s accomplishments — he will go down as having an indelible mark on his record.

    Clean or not, we know (albeit, illegally) that he took steroids in the midst of his prime.

    In a similar fashion, Wikipedia taints the search results despite their less than squeaky clean image.

    Listen guys, the comparison in the above article was done to illustrate a point. If that was done, in your opinion, in poor taste — I’m sorry for that.

    I do however appreciate your reading the article as well as commenting. I can guarantee you — Joseph, Increase PR and Billy — that your comments are not only read and understood, but they’ll also be factors in how I approach similar articles in the future.

  • Joseph

    Oh how great we would all be, but for the things that we do, think, and say… Your response to my opinion is noted for the record. Thank you.

  • Carsten Cumbrowski

    I assume that Joseph is a big fan of baseball and Barry Bonds and not a big fan (to say the least) of Wikipedia. This would make his reaction to the article understandable.

    I am not a fan of baseball and never heard of Barry Bonds before and a supporter of Wikipedia (who knows too well its flaws and weaknesses, but also benefits at the same time).

    I got no bad opinion about Barry Bonds after reading this post. I understood that he is obviously famous and that something happened to put a dark spot on his long career.

    Maybe Eric should add a link to a good news article about the “dark spot” AND one about his record to the article.

    The phrases “his record” and “with an asterisk by his name” are the perfect spots for this references.

    In Wikipedia would I mark those two with a “cite” template (citation needed), but its not Wikipedia hehe.

    This different reactions come to no surprise to me, because if you mix two subjective things to make a point, this will happen. I fell into that trap myself in the past :).

    Regarding Wikipedia content and ranking. I agree and disagree with you Eric. There were discussions in the past that suggest how Google might should treat different entries in Wikipedia. I won’t repeat all of this stuff, but want to mention that there are indicator in the code of Wikipedia articles that show the stage the article is in and its quality. For example the “stub” templates indicate that it is an article in its early stage and Google should not rank that one too high (if domain comes into play, add a penalty to those pages). On the other hand are there thousands of articles in status “good article” or “featured article”, which were scrutinized and reviewed multiple times before they got that status (which they can also lose anytime). Those articles actually deserve to rank #1 because of their quality.

    Good post though.

  • bodybuilding blog

    While the use of Barry bonds is a linkbait measure to to draw attention, I think it was in bad taste to slam Bonds for a topic on wikipedia.

  • cuocthiseo

    Old but cool article, nice to read it,

  • sarah

    Wikipedia is indeed a mess. The Ron Paul page alone could take eons to verify content. I think Google really wants Wikipedia to be seen a a “good” content provider but inevitably they are just adding fueld to the “whoever has the most links in the end wins” fire.