Friday, September 29, 2006

Wikipedia and SEO

Wikipedia and SEO

What’s the word on Wikipedia? The online, self-proclaimed “free encyclopedia” that uses collaborative software to allow you, me and anyone else with Internet access to add and edit entries has made quite a name for itself. With over 1.3 million articles, its own language (how many words can you put ‘wiki’ in front of, anyway?) and a big presence on search engine results, it seems at first glance like a good resource for an SEO program. Because of its age, freshness and authority, it would be an ideal resource for a link to your site. Not only would it be a valuable link from an optimization perspective, but could also a pretty decent traffic driver. But dig a little deeper, and it becomes unclear whether the effort of building a Wikipedia entry and gaining some inbound links is outweighed by the results.

It’s Not as Easy as it Looks
While it seems as simple as going to and adding an article, the reality is that Wikipedia has pages and pages of policies and guidelines that govern the content that gets added. It could take days to untangle the mass of interlinking pages of rules covering everything from civility to proper citation. Unwittingly make a mistake and you’ll have angry “Wikipedians” on you faster than bees on honey.

Neutrality Above All Else
Wikipedia prides itself on providing neutral information – something they believe arises out of the public vetting of articles until an agreed-upon version is reached. From the site: “All Wikipedia articles must be written from a neutral point of view, representing views fairly and without bias.” So you can forget about posting a glowing article about your company, product or service – before you can say “Wikipedia” it will be changed to an unbiased version. With any article you add, you must be prepared to address the good with the bad, or your peers will do it for you. And if you were thinking, “I’ll just keep changing it back”, think again. To stave off “editing wars”, Wikipedia instituted the “3 revert rule”. A “reversion” is undoing all changes made after a certain time in the past (ie, getting rid of someone else’s edits and reverting to the original version). You cannot perform more than three reversions, in whole or in part, on a single Wikipedia article within a 24 hour period, or risk being blocked.

While you can’t post promotional articles for your company, product or service, it is a good practice to do a search for its name in Wikipedia and read the entries that talk about it, to make sure that it is represented in a correct manner. If any discrepancies arise, take the necessary steps to have them fixed.

Wikipedia also frowns upon adding links that overtly promote a site, so it’s certainly not a go-to link-building resource. A link you add will only remain if you’ve made a valuable contribution to the article and the site you’re linking to is a natural fit and provides even more information about the topic. Wikipedia believes that if the connection is there, the general public will take the initiative to add the link to your website – in short, your site must be worthy of earning the link.

When Can it Work?
There may be some instances where Wikipedia can help you gain traffic, though much is still left to chance so it should not be major part of your strategy. Try the following:

Try to think of an article or topic that you could write, centered around your business/industry. Make sure it is something that is closely related to your company, service or product.
Search Wikipedia to see what’s already there about the topic.
If there is no article about your topic of choice, go ahead and write an informative, unbiased article about the topic – keep the readers in mind and make it as useful and comprehensive as possible. Add one link to your site and keep your fingers crossed. If the link seems relevant, Wikipedia may let the link remain.
OR, find an existing article about a topic/keyword related to your business that needs some updating or that you can provide additional information or value to. Make your additions and then add a link to your company. If the addition is a good one, and the link makes sense, Wikipedia may (remember - fingers crossed!) let the link remain.
Another tactic is to try the foreign versions of Wikipedia, which aren’t under the same level of scrutiny as the English version. However, the foreign versions don’t have as much authority or link power as the English site, so the effect will be less.

Be careful about adding links to your site in the External Links section of other articles without also making some sort of worthwhile edit to the article. Wikipedians keep an eye out for external link spammers, and will quickly delete your links. Check out the “How not to be a spammer” section of this page: for guidelines to safely add external links that will last.

Wikipedia Wrap Up
My take on Wikipedia? It’s probably not worth the wikistress (yes, that’s actually a term in the Wikipedia glossary). It’s an interesting sociological experiment, with a noble goal of achieving truth (or at least an agreed-upon version of the “truth”) through collaboration and information exchange. But as far as SEO goes, it’s something for the bottom of your bag of tricks. Adding a link to Wikipedia is easy. Adding a link that has staying power is much harder. A link that only lasts a few days, or hours even, is not going to help you in the search engine rankings, so think twice and make sure the link you want to add is relevant.

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