The Art of SEO For Wikipedia & 16 Tips To Gain Respect

May 3rd, 2007


Originally published in Search Engine Land

Wikipedia’s importance as an authority site is undisputed. It’s at the point where it seems a bit ridiculous how often Wikipedia shows up in the first page of Google for just about every search imaginable. In many cases, these Wikipedia entries are extremely light on content. Oftentimes they are what are known as “stubs,” just the very beginnings of an article.

Personally, I think Google is giving too much weight to Wikipedia. Take for instance a search on the word marketing in Google. The top spot has been awarded to the marketing entry on Wikipedia, yet it is not the most authoritative or comprehensive source of marketing-related information on the net by any stretch.

As long as Wikipedia captures such high rankings on search result pages, there is incentive for spammers to spam Wikipedia with their links and for search engine optimizers to edit Wikipedia for their own interests. This incentive continues despite the introduction this year of a policy across Wikipedia to “nofollow” all external links, so that no link gain passes from Wikipedia to any external site. Certainly this new policy changes the dynamics and the motivations of spammers and SEOs alike, but there is still traffic to be gained, since a top ranking Wikipedia page can still drive plenty of direct visitors.

Jonathan Hochmanâ??SEO consultant, Wikipedia editor with over 2,000 edits under his belt, and panelist (along with myself) on the “Wikipedia & SEO” session at Search Engine Strategies last monthâ??concurs in his recent Practical Ecommerce interview. Hochman noted that even external links neutered with the nofollow tag are alluring: “Journalists and other experts read Wikipedia and so there is a big amplification effect. People will notice the link and link to it themselves, because they see it there and repeat what is said in Wikipedia. It is a very powerful social media.” Hochman muses that Google could choose to disregard the nofollow and still count those external links, if they determine Wikipedia’s new policy is detrimental to relevancy of the search results. For now, the jury’s still out on whether the nofollow policy will stem the tide of Wikipedia spamming.

One thing is for sure: A Wikipedia entry for your company or organization is valuable. It lends credibility to your organization, giving searchers who see a Wikipedia entry while searching for you the impression that your organization is bigger and more legitimate. Because of the authority status of Wikipedia, it’s easy to get a newly created entry for one’s company or brand to rank on the first page of the SERPs, no matter how competitive the keyword is. So, in a way, this is reputation management. If you don’t like what is in the top 10 currently for a particular keyword related to your company, get a Wikipedia entry to occupy at least one of those slots.

With the incentives still in place for editing Wikipedia for SEO purposes, certainly some SEOs will be contributing edits on behalf of their clients. This is frowned upon by the Wikipedia editor community as is editing or contributing entries that are about your own organization. That is because one of Wikipedia’s core policies is that articles must be written from a neutral point of view. At first glance this seems to make sense. However, open source projects such as Wikipedia thrive because people are “scratching their own itch.” Contributors are looking to make a name for themselves, to solve problems that they have, and to work on things that are directly relevant and of interest to them.

Hochman concurs that Wikipedia’s policy of restricting contributions to disinterested parties is not very pragmatic and states: “Wikipedia’s guidelines say that people shouldn’t have a conflict of interest and that you should write about things that you have no connection with. I think that is a naive view. Most of the people who write in Wikipedia are tending to write about things that matter to them. For example, if you are interested in software testing, you are going to go in and write about that; if you are interested in astronomy, you are going to go in and write about astronomy. Search optimization interests me. If I see a lot of misinformation about it I will go in and edit that article.”

Nonetheless, Hochman still believes in advancing Wikipedia’s objectives of making valuable contributions from as neutral point of view as possible, incorporating reliable sources, contributing notable things, and not adding spam. These are all things he wholeheartedly agrees with.

Microsoft recently attempted to pay a blogger to edit a Wikipedia article about OpenXML. Microsoft was reprimanded by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales saying “we were disappointed to hear that Microsoft was taking that approach.” Wales stated that “the proper thing for Microsoft to have done was to write a white paper concerning the article, post it in an outside website and link it to the discussion page of the Wikipedia articles discussions forums which seems like a much better transparent way forward.”

As you can see, commissioning others to edit Wikipedia for you has its own hazards but so does editing Wikipedia yourself. Countless entries get deleted because they were started by an employee or a representative of the organization that is in the subject of the article. Last year, Barry Schwartz, Search Engine Land’s news editor, was the subject of some controversy within Wikipedia because he submitted an entry for himself. He escaped having his entry deleted.

The right way to get represented in Wikipedia

You will get different answers depending on whom you ask. If you ask a Wikipedian, you just wait for a disinterested third party to consider your company notable enough and worth the time to start an entry about you. A typical SEO would probably tell you to ask somebody who has no obvious ties to start the entry for you, or somebody who already has a good reputation with Wikipedia, meaning a solid history or edits that don’t appear to be self-serving.

Because Wikipedia does dominate the SERPs, it makes it pretty darned important for your company to have an entry in Wikipedia. Not a stub. Not conspiracy theories written by crackpots.

And if you do have an entry, do you have all the external links that you deserve on that page? For example, does the Pottery Barn entry include external links, not only to, but and Although Pottery Barn may not obtain any link gain from those additional links, it is still valuable to have them there – from the perspectives of both the reader and the Pottery Barn company. When you add such links you may wish to contribute other things too in the same edit – such as fixing typos, adding additional copy, etc. That makes it harder and less likely for your changes to be reverted.

In order to have a Wikipedia entry for yourself you must pass the “Notability” test. That means that the subject of the entry has had sufficient media coverage to be considered notable. Preferably the coverage was in the mainstream media and is available on the web without login/registration. The coverage should be about the subject of the entry, not simply a quote. The articles that establish notability should be incorporated into the articles as references at the end. Those references should be used to back up statements made in the main article body.

Because external links are so hard to add (at least to make them stick, for longer than five minutes before Wikipedia anti-spam zealots remove/revert them), try adding references. Good references are desperately sought after by Wikipedia editors. Indeed, many entries are flagged to display a big message at the top that “This article or section does not cite its references or sources. Please help improve this article by introducing appropriate citations.” So help them out: Add some references that back up assertions made in the entry.

Some of those reference links could happen to be articles on your site, but don’t just link to your own stuff, as that looks just a wee bit self-servingâ??it will stick out like a sore thumb and your references will get nuked. It is against Wikipedia’s External Linking policy to add links to sites you own, maintain or represent, so it’s best to fly under the radar and for such editing, use a Wikipedia account that cannot be easily connected with you. Oh did I say that? I meant… you should mention the link on the entry’s Talk page and let neutral and independent Wikipedia editors decide whether to add it or not.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that anyone can edit anything, and can do it quickly and easily, Wikipedia maintains a high level of quality and accuracy. A study published in the academic journal Nature concluded that it is “nearly as accurate as Encyclopaedia Britannica”! That boggles the mind.

Sixteen tips for becoming a respected wikipedian

These tips will help you become an upstanding member of the Wikipedia community so that the edits don’t end up getting reverted and the entries that you contribute don’t end up getting nuked.

1. Develop a profile that looks like an upstanding member of the community. That means developing the age and history of your account (ie. looking after your Contribution page), creating a User page that builds your credibility, and a potentially earning awards, and maybe even achieving an administrator position at some point. Engage with Wikipedians who communicate to you through your Talk page. A full Talk page makes you look active in the Wikipedia community.

2. Don’t keep adding your same edits back when people revert them. Reach out to the user who reverted your edit and ask them for clarification and what you could do differently so that you address his/her concerns. After you have heard that person’s concerns, sometimes it is better just to accept that you are in the wrong and move on.

3. Watch entries that are important to you. There is a watch function within Wikipedia. You can watch any page and then, when you log in, you will be alerted to any changes that have been made to the entries that you have been watching when you log into Wikipedia.

4. Before you add an entry make sure it passes the “Notability” test and have the references to back it up. Although you can use news article that are no longer available online, those are not ideal. Hochman says references need to have editorial control and cite sources so people can go back and check the facts.

5. Don’t add external links that require registration or login to access the content. These will likely get flagged as spam and removed. If your content is behind a wall, remove any registration requirements for Wikipedia-referred traffic.

6. Don’t add photos to entries that are not Creative Commons licensed because those will get removed because of copyright infringement. Not just any Creative Commons license will do. It should allow for commercial use.

7. Make use of categories. By placing an entry into multiple categories (through the addition of category tags), the entry gains internal links from those categories, as well as more visibility and traffic. Hochman advises that this also encourages others to come in and help you with your article.

8. Keep Wikipedia sister sites like Wikinews on your radar. For one, Wikipedia’s sister sites form part of the internal link network, unlike regular external links. Second, these sites get traffic, search engine visibility, and links too. You might even want to incorporate into your PR strategy getting coverage on Wikinews. Just like your PR firm or PR department would approach journalists with story pitches in the mainstream media, they can approach Wikinews correspondents as well.

9. Build relationships with Wikipedia editors in the real world. For example, if there is a Wikipedia Meetup in your city or a nearby city it might be worth your while to attend. A meetup is an informal gathering where passionate Wikipedians talk about Wikipedia.

10. Leverage redirects and disambiguation pages to drive traffic and link juice. A redirect serves to direct visitors from a synonym to the definitive entry. For example, the Cambridge University entry is a redirecting page pointing to the University of Cambridge page. A disambiguation page is a signpost of sorts, pointing the visitor to all the entries that can be associated with the single term. For example, the disambiguation page for Hertz could point to the entry for the rental car company as well as entry for the unit of sound frequency.

11. Leverage User pages. User pages get indexed in Wikipedia. Not Talk pages, however. So when you are creating a User page for your account, consider that you might get traffic from the search engines to that page.

12. Make friends and get questions answered as you are finding your legs in Wikipedia. When learning the ropes, it is helpful to ask for assistance from other Wikipedians. You can do that by communicating on their Talk page or on the Talk page of an entry that you are working on or wish to work on. There is also the “Village Pump”. It is like a water cooler where you can ask questions about how things work and bring issues up.

13. Log-in when editing to establish a track record. If you work on Wikipedia while logged in, your edits build up your contribution history. On rare occasions you may prefer to be logged out when making an edit, such as when editing a highly controversial page. When you are logged out, your edits will be associated with the IP address of your computer, so you need to think about whether that IP address can be connected to your company or not, or whether you should be dialing in via modem or connecting from home. Hochman strongly discourages editing on the sly, or trying to obfuscate your identity. If you have a conflict of interest, just say so and use the article’s talk page to get other editors to help you make desired changes. There are Wikipedians who specialize in wikisleuthing. If you are sneaky, you will leave tracks, and when you’re caught, you won’t get the benefit of ‘assume good faith.’

14. Build on your authorship or press mentions credibility. Hochman advises that, when meeting “Notability” criteria, it helps a lot to be an author of a book that has an ISBN number. He also says that it helps to have an appearances or press mentions page on your website where you link to all the different media coverage you have gotten. That makes it easy for a Wikipedia editor to establish “Notability” and to incorporate some of those References.

15. Start small when you are editing. Hochman says that newbies shouldn’t just jump into a high profile entry and start editing itâ??that page will get lots of scrutiny. Similarly, don’t place an entry that you are working on into a high profile category straight away, as that will also attract a lot of scrutiny since high profile categories are monitored by a lot of people.

16. Use Wikipedia for social networking and to improve your reputation in the outside world. Hochman has gotten some great opportunities and met some really interesting people because he is so active in Wikipedia.

Hochman really knows how to play by the rules. He actually seeks out oversight. He added himself to an editor review page requesting that he get reviewed by other editors, for the purpose of soliciting feedback from other Wikipedians.

Clearing the notability hurdle isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. According to Hochman, “Having a Wikipedia page can be a double-edged sword. Noteworthy doesn’t always mean good. It can also mean infamous. Getting into Wikipedia can be positive and it can be negative. When you step up on the public stage, people may throw tomatoes.”

“Wikipedia is a way of educating a lot of people all at once,” says Hochman. “The bottom line is that sales are about informing people and, when they become informed enough, they will sell to themselves. Wikipedia is a tremendous tool for informing large numbers of people.”

Remember, Wikipedia is not a place for original thought but where you aggregate the facts and consolidate what has already been published elsewhere. It is a place where you can contribute to those facts and assemble them into a rational article.

There’s a place for SEOs in Wikipedia, as long as we play by the rules.