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Should SEOs Care About Wikipedia?

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Wikipedia is not a search engine, and links from Wikipedia no longer count towards increasing your link equity – so why should SEOs care about Wikipedia? At the Search Engine Strategies conference in New York last month, a panel of experts shared their reasons why Wikipedia is still relevant to search marketers:

  • According to Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz, his Wikipedia listing on the "search engine marketing" entry generates more traffic than his first page ranking on Google for “search engine marketing.”
  • According to Don Steele, director of digital & enterprise marketing for Comedy Central, Wikipedia delivers the equivalent of $20k in monthly traffic.
  • According to Jonathan Hochman, founder and lead consultant at Hochman Consultants and an editor at Wikipedia, the free traffic driven by Wikipedia often converts better than Google pay-per-click traffic.
  • Despite its current use of no-follow tags, Wikipedia’s ability to generate high-quality traffic can be equal to or better than that of most search engines.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference in New York, April 10-13, 2007.

Online marketers have tried several ways to incorporate Wikipedia into their social media marketing efforts. Neil Patel, co-founder of Advantage Consulting Services, told the audience that he had tried the “If you haven’t been caught, you’re not trying hard enough” approach to Wikipedia. Neil’s several fictitious accounts and selfish links were quickly deleted as promised by Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines.

When dealing with Wikipedia Neil recommends the same basic policy recommended for all social spaces. For sake of this article we will refer to this as the “Don’t be a Richard” rule. You can easily be a Richard at Wikipedia by adding a link to your Web site, writing about how great you are, or deleting a link to competitor’s Web site. Instead spend your time developing a solid reputation and adding useful content before you add any links you expect to be accepted.

Based on the lessons Patel has learned, he offered a list of things Wikipedia is not for:

  • Link building
  • Adding biased information
  • Deleting accurate information
  • Breaking community rules
  • Any other form of spam

Wikipedia used to be a primary source of authority links which search marketers worked very hard to get. This changed in January 2007, when Wikipedia opted to add the "nofollow" attribute to all outbound links, effectively cutting off the transfer of PageRank in Google's algorithm.

While most marketers focus on Google, marketers should remember that other search engines don't all treat nofollow attributes the same way, so links on Wikipedia can still carry weight on other search engines. In addition, Hochman points out that there are still hundreds of other Wikis that do not use nofollow, so marketers could focus their efforts on those smaller or more specialized wikis.

He warns marketers that most of these wikis share the same blacklist of sites that have attempted to game the system. This blacklist is public and could potentially be used by the engines themselves, he warns, and hunting spammers has become a sport for the “Wikisleuths.”

According to Hochman, search marketers can also take advantage of the fact that Wikipedia results tend to rank highly on search engines without directly linking to your own site. For instance, a Wikipedia entry can be created or edited to rank highly on a query for which you're trying to optimize your own site. While this will not improve your own ranking, it can bump a competitor that might be holding the top spot for a term important to your business, and dilute the amount of traffic your competitor is receiving.

Even if Wikipedia links do not affect search rankings, they still most definitely drive traffic to sites that are linked within a Wikipedia article. For instance, Wikipedia is a top 10 referrer and generates over 1 percent of all traffic to Comedy Central, according to Steele.

While this may not sound like much, Steele reminds us that there is no cost for this traffic. He says that he'd have to spend about $20,000 a month to drive an equivalent amount of traffic from other sources. Wikipedia can help continue the buzz from recently aired content, especially content that appeals to a Web-savvy demographic, like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and South Park. Steele regularly sees over 200 new Wikipedia references after every South Park episode. They monitor Wiki references daily to make sure they are accurate and up to date.

For an inside view into the way Wikipedia editors view SEO, you can view the write-up of this session on the Wikipedia Administrators' Notice Board, Search Engine Strategies 2007 Conference and Expo's agenda creeping me out, which Hochman links to in a comment on Search Engine Roundtable's live-blogged coverage of this session.

Craig Paddock is president of Plaza Digital, a Kansas City-based search marketing firm. He's also been referred to as a "Search Engine Groupie" for his regular attendance at search conferences.

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