User:Prioryman/Use of SEO techniques on Wikipedia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

It has been claimed that search engine optimization (SEO) techniques have been used to artificially promote the search rankings of certain Wikipedia articles. Such claims have been made without any hard evidence to support them, or even any evidence to support the proposition that SEO techniques can have any effect on the search ranking of Wikipedia articles or of pages linked from Wikipedia. This page provides an assessment of how SEO interacts with Wikipedia.

SEO techniques[edit]

In brief, SEO uses a variety of techniques on and off the target page to boost search rankings. This includes inbound links within a website, keyword frequency, meta tags, headings, internal links, site structure, providing site maps, titles and meta descriptions, and external linking from social media, blogs and high-ranked websites.

Many standard SEO techniques are not available at all on Wikipedia. Wikipedia pages do not include meta descriptions, titles are circumscribed by standardised naming formats and there is no site map.

Additionally, steps have been taken on Wikipedia to reduce the usefulness of Wikipedia articles for SEO. The NOFOLLOW attribute is automatically set on all outbound links from Wikipedia articles. Major search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo do not use such links for ranking.

Other techniques are theoretically available, such as adding keywords to an article to drive traffic; generating internal traffic from other Wikipedia pages; and structuring a page in a way that would be useful for SEO purposes. However, do these techniques actually have any effect and can they have a measurable impact on traffic?

A practical test[edit]

To test whether various usable SEO techniques would have any effect in practice, I carried out a practical test over a period of several days.

On 7 August 2011, I created a new article, Whorlton Castle, and submitted it to Template talk:Did you know (DYK). It appeared on the Main Page as the top-listed DYK item on 15 August, attracting around 10,000 page views. I made a number of changes to the article following its creation to assess the impact that they would have on the search rankings in Google (which controls about 85% of the search market). Over the next few days, I closely monitored the Google results for any changes, using Google.co.uk. To control for possible bias introduced by personalisation, I carried out searches from multiple networks without logging into Google accounts. The following provides a summary of the ranking and significant events over time:

Date Ranking Notes
7 August 2011 13 Article created & nominated for DYK
8 August 2011 11  
9 August 2011 11  
10 August 2011 10 Template:Castles in North Yorkshire created and added to article and 21 others, increasing inbound links by 21
11 August 2011 10  
12 August 2011 10  
13 August 2011 10 Article added to DYK prep area
14 August 2011 10  
15 August 2011 10 Article appeared on Main Page DYK area. 10K page views recorded.[1]
16 August 2011 10  

A few observations:

  • The article appeared in Google's search results within 15 minutes of it being created.
  • The article achieved a high search ranking from the outset (#13 out of some 8,600 results), even without being linked from anywhere outside Wikipedia and having only a handful of inbound links from within Wikipedia.
  • Changes in ranking occurred without any editorial intervention but then remained stable when editorial intervention began in earnest. When first created, the article was ranked #13. 24 hours later it climbed to #11. It rose to #10 within 72 hours. These changes happened without any additional inbound linking and are likely the result of algorithmic sorting by Google.
  • After the addition of a template on 10 August, which linked the article to 21 others and created inbound links from those articles, no further change in ranking was observed; it remained and still remains at #10.
  • After the article appeared on DYK on 15 August, no further change in ranking was observed.
  • There were no changes in the ranking of the higher-ranked pages for the search term "Whorlton Castle". Two of those articles were linked from the Wikipedia article.

Conclusions[edit]

  • Rapid indexing of new articles. Google evidently monitors the Recent Changes tool, probably using the Atom feed, to identify new content on Wikipedia.
  • Effect on ranking of Main Page appearance. There is no evidence from this test that appearing on the Main Page DYK section has, in itself, any effect on ranking.
  • Effect on ranking of inbound links from other articles. Adding multiple inbound links from other articles via templates also does not appear to have any effect on ranking.
  • Effect of ranking of off-wiki pages linked from high-ranking articles. No effect was observed on externally linked pages, which is consistent with the use of NOFOLLOW on Wikipedia's outbound links.
  • Overlap between SEO and legitimate editing. A well-written Wikipedia article will be highly attractive to a search engine simply by virtue of corresponding to Wikipedia's manuals of style, which are themselves intended to ensure that articles are highly structured, authoritative and readable – precisely the qualities that search engines look for. There is thus no difference between normal editing practices and "search engine optimization" on Wikipedia because the two produce identical results in terms of article quality.
  • Claims that SEO techniques can be used on Wikipedia appear to be wide of the mark. This experiment has found no evidence that deliberate attempts to influence page ranking actually have any effect. A professional SEO has advised that it is possible to influence Wikipedia page rankings but only by carrying out extensive external linking campaigns, e.g. by promoting a particular page through linking from multiple other high-ranking websites. This is less likely to succeed for high-traffic articles where the effect of an SEO campaign would likely be swamped by other inbound links – for instance, an SEO campaign to target the United States article would be futile. However, it may be more viable for obscure articles where there is little competition for search terms.
  • Many SEO techniques are not available on Wikipedia in the first place. Site structure, metadata, page layout and other elements commonly used for SEO purposes are locked down and cannot be amended by anyone other than developers.
  • Google gives high rankings to Wikipedia articles even when they are linked from nowhere outside Wikipedia and few or no other articles on Wikipedia. The appearance of the article at #13 immediately after it was created indicates that Google gives a very high default preference to Wikipedia articles, regardless of linking from other pages. Conversely, the addition of multiple inbound links had no visible effect whatsoever. This suggests that Google does not put much value in inbound links between Wikipedia articles.