While Google is often criticized for having a Wikipedia bias, it isn’t the only search engine that has one. When you conduct searches on Bing, you’re actually more likely to see Wikipedia prominently in your search results than for the same search on Google, namely the No. 1 spot, one of the top three spots, and on the first page of search results, according to a new Search Engine Watch study.
Read on for the full details and breakdown.
Wikipedia & Google Through the Years
For years Wikipedia has sat atop Google’s search results pages for a large variety of queries – usually in one of the top three organic positions. Wikipedia’s high search visibility has helped make the website the first stop for many searchers looking for information on a topic or brand.
Many SEOs have questioned whether this dominance is fair or earned, in part because Wikipedia can contain badly written, unreliable, or inaccurate information and because it outranks websites with more quality content dedicated exclusively to that subject.
However, Kevin Gibbons on eConsultancy, pointed out that Wikipedia’s dominance on Google isn’t a complete mystery. Among the reasons for Wikipedia’s top rankings in Google:
- Unique, in depth content.
- Pages are written around a primary search term.
- Strong domain authority.
- Great internal link structure.
- Excellent page authority.
Numerous reports have tried to put a number to Wikipedia’s dominance since complaints from webmasters began around 2005. A 2007 report on search marketing blog The Google Cache found that 96.6 percent of Wikipedia’s pages rank in Google’s Top 10 results.
In 2008, marketing and advertising research company Nielsen Online reported that Google search was a major factor in helping Wikipedia, which launched in 2001, grow 8,000 percent between 2003 and 2008. Also that year, SEO Michael Gray pointed out a few examples of Google undeservedly ranking empty, nearly empty, or useless Wikipedia pages.
In December 2011, UK SEO agency SearchRocket put out a comparison of 13,827 search terms “biased towards retail searches” in an effort to show that Wikipedia’s Google prominence had increased within just a six month period. Wikipedia ranked in the top 100 for 11,813 searches, compared to 7,777 in June 2011.
Most recently, UK SEO agency Intelligent Positioning’s study looked at Wikipedia’s dominance on Google UK, and found that Wikipedia appeared on Page 1 of Google for 99 percent of searches. Their study focused on 1,000 one-word noun searches.
Wikipedia Search Results Ranking Dominance Revisited: Google vs. Bing
This Search Engine Watch study aimed to provide a more complete view of the top search rankings Wikipedia enjoys on both Google and Bing. Using a mix of queries that ranged from one to seven words, we set out to discover how often Wikipedia appears on Page 1 of Google and Bing.
Based on industry feedback from our coverage of the Intelligent Positioning study in February, Search Engine Watch decided to embark on its own study, one that would look at both major U.S. search engines (Google and Bing) to gauge how well Wikipedia ranks for a variety of search terms (transactional, navigational, and informational) of varied length (between 1 and 7 keywords).
Using this Hitwise data that showed the percentage of clicks by U.S. users on search results based on the number of keywords entered from October 2011 (we discarded the “eight or more words”) as an initial basis to create our list of 1,000 keywords, we ended up with the following split that determine how many searches of varying word lengths we would conduct in our study:
- One word: 290
- Two words: 253
- Three words: 208
- Four words: 149
- Five words: 86
- Six words: 86
- Seven words: 23
(The full list of keywords, as well as the raw data and stats, can be found on the “Wikipedia Search Data for SEW” Google Doc.)
Searches were conducted on google.com (not signed in) and bing.com (not signed in to Facebook) with no search history, using ranking report software mimicking Firefox and spot-checked in Firefox, using servers located in Seattle in late February.
Wikipedia as Number 1 Result: Google vs. Bing
Overall, based on our 1,000 searches, Bing favors Wikipedia more than Google as the top result. Most noteworthy here is that Wikipedia results appeared at No. 1 for one-word queries 64.4 percent of the time on Bing compared to 48.4 percent on Google. One word queries make up the largest chunk of searches (27 percent), according to Hitwise.
Here’s the full breakdown of Bing vs. Google searches:
- One word: 64.4 Bing; 48.4 percent Google.
- Two words: 69.8 percent Bing; 63.7 Google.
- Three words: 55.8 percent Bing; 46.7 percent Google.
- Four words: 44.4 percent Bing; 37.6 percent Google.
- Five words: 28.2 percent Bing; 28.2 percent Google.
- Six words: 32.6 percent Bing; 32.6 percent Google
- Seven words: 52.2 percent Bing; 34.8 percent Google.
Final result: Bing 56.9 percent, Google 47.8 percent.
Top positions in the search engines get the lion’s share of organic traffic and are extremely valuable for the website positioned here. Websites positioned further down Google or Bing’s search results pages are less likely to be clicked on the further down you go.
Bing’s No. 1 result on average gets just under 10 percent of clicks, while Google’s top spot accounts for just over 18 percent of clicks according to a Slingshot SEO study last year (while other search studies on click through rates have the estimated value of a top spot in Google being worth anywhere from 34 percent to 42 percent of clicks).
Wikipedia Appearing in Top 3 Results: Google vs. Bing
Once again, Wikipedia ranked more often in the top three results on Bing when compared to Google. Generally, traffic to websites in positions 2 and 3 (combined) of the search results is equal to the traffic of having a coveted number one spot, so these spots can drive a significant amount of traffic.
Here’s the full breakdown of Bing vs. Google:
- One word: 90.75 percent Bing; 82.56 percent Google.
- Two words: 87.35 percent Bing; 82.45 percent Google.
- Three words: 74.62 percent Bing; 65.48 percent Google.
- Four words: 69.92 percent Bing; 57.89 percent Google.
- Five words: 53.85 percent Bing; 42.31 percent Google.
- Six words: 60.47 percent Bing; 37.21 percent Google.
- Seven words: 73.91 percent Bing; 56.52 percent Google.
Final results: Bing 79.4 percent, Google 70.2 percent.
Wikipedia Appearing on Page 1 (Top 10 Results): Google vs. Bing
Wikipedia ranks well on both search engines, but overall Wikipedia appears on Page 1 of Bing more often than Google.
As expected, Wikipedia does extremely well on Google and Bing for one and two-word searches, appearing more than 90 percent of the time on Page 1. For two-word searches, there is no difference between Google and Bing, but Bing is more likely to rank Wikipedia on one-word searches, while Google is more likely to rank Wikipedia on three-word searches.
The number of Wikipedia results in the top 10 declines as you would expect with the addition of each new word in the query, until you get to seven-word queries, where it jumps back up. This is likely due to the keywords we chose. However the trend is definitely that Wikipedia appears less often as queries become longer.
- One word: 99.29 percent Bing; 97.51 percent Google.
- Two words: 91.84 percent Bing; 91.84 percent Google.
- Three words: 78.68 percent Bing; 79.19 percent Google.
- Four words: 75.94 percent Bing; 76.69 percent Google.
- Five words: 74.36 percent Bing; 62.82 percent Google.
- Six words: 69.77 percent Bing; 55.81 percent Google.
- Seven words: 82.61 percent Bing; 82.61 percent Google.
Final results: Bing 84.9 percent, Google 86.6 percent.
Also big thanks to SEW Staff Writer Miranda Miller, who did the number crunching and created the images used in this study.
While this study was focused mainly on Wikipedia’s Page 1 dominance, we also looked a bit deeper to see how often Wikipedia appeared in the Top 50. It is at this point that the number of times Wikipedia didn't rank in Top 50 is almost same on both engines, 10.4 percent on Bing and 10.5 percent on Google, for the queries in our study.
This study also didn’t take into account any personalization that you might see with Google’s Search Plus Your World or Bing’s integration with Facebook. Another factor that could reduce visibility of Wikipedia could be the appearance of AdWords ads over the organic results, or the inclusion of universal results, such as news, images, or videos.
Will this put to rest claims of conspiracy theories between Google and Wikipedia? Doubtful. But this study does show that Google isn’t favoring Wikipedia as much as its top U.S. search competitor, Bing.
Regardless, the presence of Wikipedia in such prominent positions means one less spot on both search engines for a business or brand to gain valuable real estate.
The Wikipedia problem is not unlike the problem laid out by Mike Grehan in “Filthy Linking Rich.” With end user data being one of the biggest signals search engines use to judge the quality of their search results, Wikipedia’s prominence in one of the Top 3 spots, which garner a majority of clicks from users, almost guarantees Wikipedia will continue to reign in the search results for a long time to come.
We expect there may be some criticism of our sample size of 1,000 keywords not being a large enough. However, we chose to use that size because, as noted by research company Public Agenda,“The bigger the sample, the smaller the margin of error, but once you get past a certain point – say, a sample size of 800 or 1,000 – the improvement is very small.”
There was much discussion of larger studies around this topic. Hopefully this study has contributed some perspective of Wikipedia’s search results on Google and Bing, and we welcome more studies and data on this topic.
Are you up to the task of dethroning Wikipedia for your keywords? Have you taken a top spot away from Wikipedia? Let us know in the comments.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!