In Google, Wikipedia is everywhere. Pretty much anything you type into Google seems to result in a Wikipedia entry being returned as a top-10 result. Wikipedia’s status in the search engines as an “authority site” is undisputed. Those lucky, well-connected, skillful or famous enough to be cited enjoyed the benefits of Wikipedia’s unique “golden link effect.”
Then a new policy instituted in January changed all that. As a countermeasure to thwart spammers competing in an SEO contest, all external links within Wikipedia were “nofollowed.” This effectively cut off the outward flow of “link juice” (PageRank) to websites referenced in Wikipedia.
Despite this setback, Wikipedia remains an important component to your SEO strategy. Firstly, having a Wikipedia entry for your company that shows up in the search results lends credibility to your organization. Secondly, if high rankings for a competitive keyword prove elusive, you can get Wikipedia into the top 10 with relative ease. Of course it would only be of benefit to do so if the entry referenced you or linked to you, or if you wanted to displace competitors or pages that were unflattering or critical of you.
Some SEOs may feel inclined to contribute edits on behalf of their clients. However, that’s a practice frowned upon by the Wikipedia editor community, as is editing or contributing entries that are about your own organization. One of Wikipedia’s core policies is that articles must be written from a neutral point of view.
SEO consultant Jonathan Hochman has edited Wikipedia since 2005 and counts more than a thousand edits under his belt. Rather than doing the job for clients, he participates in Wikipedia for recreation and for making friends. While he believes that Wikipedia’s policy of restricting contributions to disinterested parties is not particularly pragmatic, he advocates the overall objective: to make valuable, notable contributions from as neutral a point of view as is possible, incorporate reliable sources, and never permit spam.
Commissioning others to contribute to Wikipedia on your behalf has its hazards, as does editing Wikipedia yourself. Countless entries get deleted when it is discovered they were started by an employee or company representative. Microsoft was admonished for its recent attempt to pay a blogger to make edits to the entry on the subject of Open XML.
Does all this mean you’re doomed to wait indefinitely for some disinterested third party to spontaneously start an entry about you or link to you from an existing entry? That doesn’t seem desirable either. Doing nothing will gain you nothing. You need to get involved. But how?
On Wikipedia, reputation is everything. A central tenet is to become an upstanding member of the Wikipedia community. Do this by building a solid history of edits that aren’t self-serving. Engage with Wikipedians through your Talk page, their Talk page, the Talk pages of entries you wish to contribute to, and The Village Pump. Creating an informative User page can build credibility and boost social networking, too.
When someone reverts your edit, ask them for clarification. What could you do differently so that you address his/her concerns (via the aforementioned Talk pages).
Make sure any new entry you contribute passes the “notability” test and include the references to back it up – from the get-go. Good references are articles from the mainstream media that are available online; an out-of-print or registration-required article may be acceptable, but it’s not ideal.
If the entry is for a person, being an author really helps with notability; Hochman advises referencing their book’s ISBN number to support your case for notability. If the entry is for your company, a press mentions page on your website where you link to all the different media coverage you ever received will also make it easy for Wikipedians to establish your level of “notability.” The best references, according to Hochman, are those that do fact-checking and maintain editorial control and independence from the source.
If you want to add a link to an entry, it’s preferable to add it to the References section rather than to the External Links section, as it’s more likely to stick around and not get reverted. If you do add a reference, make sure it substantiates a statement made in the main body of the article. Avoid adding links where registration is required to access the content, as that will be removed or flagged as spam.
Wikipedia sister sites like Wikinews should be on your radar too, as the sites interlink and achieve visibility in their own right.
Don’t add photos to entries that are not Creative Commons (commercial use) licensed; they will be removed because of copyright infringement.
Hochman suggests monitoring entries that are important to you by way of the “watch” function within Wikipedia. When you log in, you will be alerted to any changes that have been made to those entries.
It’s wise to use categories and add entries to relevant categories, because links are part of the category pages.
Build relationships with Wikipedia editors in the real world. For example, if there is a Wikipedia “meet-up” in your city, it might be worth your while to attend.
After adding a new entry, build up its PageRank with internal links from other Wikipedia pages including, if relevant, other entries, “category pages” (e.g. click here for an example), “disambiguation pages” (e.g. click here for an example) and “redirects” (e.g. click here for an example)
Most of the time you will want to be logged in, so that your edits become part of your viewable contribution history. However, there may be times where it would be appropriate to be logged out and only known as by your IP address, for example, if you edit a controversial page.
Hochman cautions that, as a Wikipedia newbie, you shouldn’t just jump into a high profile entry and start editing. Cut your teeth on less-scrutinized entries. Similarly, as a newbie you shouldn’t put an entry you create into a high-profile category; high-profile categories are monitored by a lot of people.
A final caution from Hochman: Wikipedia is not a place for original thought, but a place where you consolidate what has already been published elsewhere.
Now get out there and start contributing.