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Why Wikipedia Dominates SERPs

Lorna Li and Jimbo Wales

I think Jimbo Wales is brilliant, but I must confess my love-hate relationship with Wikipedia.

As a blogger/ web publisher I love linking to Wikipedia, because the information is clear, concise, and easy. However, as a search marketer, I know I am contributing to Wikipedia’s inexorable rise to the top.

According to SeoChat, “Wikipedia has somehow hit on Google’s magic formula for reaching the top of search engine results pages (SERPs).” How so?

Wikipedia is a User-Generated Content Machine

As of July 20, 2007, Wikipedia has approximately 7.8 million articles in 253 languages. According to comScore Media Metrix, Wikipedia had about 47 million unique visitors, making it the 9th largest Web property that month.

Source: ClickZ

It is the largest, most extensive, and fastest growing encyclopedia ever compiled. Written collaboratively by volunteers around the world, editable by anyone with access to the Internet, it is a user-generated content machine. This massive volume of content, updated daily by tens of thousands of volunteers all over the Web, is an all-you-can-eat buffet for search engine spiders.

Wikipedia’s Site Architecture is Structured for Success

It has minimal code bloat and the HTML/XHTML validates. Wikipedia provides a clean indexing path for search engine robots. The interlinking structure is masterful, especially since, according to some SEOs, search engine spiders do not differentiate between inbound links from external sites and narcissistic internal page links. Google bots love Wikipedia’s site architecture, which is a model that SEOs ought to strive for.

Wikipedia Link Love – All Take, No Give

Search engines see inbound links as popularity votes and Wikipedia has about 2.5 million of them. Furthermore, these are high quality back links because the anchor text is frequently the keyword that relates to the page. Links from other growing collaborative Wikipedia projects, such as Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikimedia Commons, Wikispecies, Wikinews, Wikiversity, and Meta-Wiki will, no doubt, add to the link love.

Early this year, Wikipedia added the <rel= “nofollow”> attribute to all outbound links in order to neutralize and discourage link spam. Many SEOs see this act to be as brilliantly diabolical as the orchestration of the Twin Tower attacks.


More than discouraging link spam, which can be effectively handled by a number of anti-spam tools, the <rel= “nofollow”> attribute ensures that Wikipedia rises to the top of SERPs.


Link juice is the passing of page rank from one site to another. The <rel= “nofollow”> attribute instructs search engines that the outbound hyperlinks should not influence the destination page’s ranking in the search engine’s index.

The end result is that Wikipedia’s inbound link juice grows exponentially as people all over the Web link to it, but Wikipedia shares no link love at all through its external links. This juice-hording action is the dynamic that drives Wikipedia to the top of Google SERPs. Wikipedia is, in essence, a link hole – a black hole on the Web that sucks all the links in, but lets no links out.

Why do SEOs Hate Wikipedia?

Wikipedia’s domination of SERPs, makes it the object of fear, loathing, and secret envy among search engine optimizers (SEOs). At the heart of the debate is concern over the proliferation of amateur content on the Web, in addition to the ability of meritless and sometimes empty Wikipedia pages to outrank pages with better quality content.

Wikipedia Proliferates Amateur Content

Wikipedia is the logical starting point for information on general subjects on the Web. But it’s written by anonymous authors whose expertise is questionable. Wikipedia content is more often than not, not based on original research, but a re-writing of work performed by others – knowledge built by scanning other sites. However, its influence on the Web is so powerful, that it threatens the survival of more authoritative sites that pay for original content by diverting monetizable traffic to the Wikipedia universe.

While far better content written by experts might exist on the Web, its impossible for a search engine spider to determine what quality content is. Because Google ranks sites through an algorithm that cannot tell the difference between great content and regurgitated garbage, it bases relevance on the number of inbound links.

For this reason, Wikipedia occupies the top 5 positions for most all keywords, even for pages that are staged for future entries, but that are currently devoid of content. Wikipedia is the 800lb gorilla that always wins.

Wikipedia’s NoFollow Tag Sucks

The NoFollow Tag actually does nothing to discourage link spammers. Link spam can be effectively handled by link spam tools. Furthermore, Wikipedia’s legion of volunteer administrators can effectively identify and eliminate said link spam. If Wikipedia is all about community, it can at least friggin’ reward community participants who add valuable reference links to Wikipedia articles and enrich the global knowledge base with a little link love.

What To Do About Wikipedia?

Wikipedia will not go away. But if you can’t fight ’em, join ’em.

Green businesses, social enterprises, social activists don’t stand a chance against an 800 lb gorilla like Wikipedia – you will never outrank Wiki. However, your expertise has immense value in the world and deserves to be included in the Wikipedia’s knowledge base. Post relevant content, enhance Wikipedia articles and use your site as a reference. You will not gain any SEO advantage by dropping links, but you could get some traffic.

Reclaim Your Link Love

Practice safe link love – reclaim your Google juice by using the rel=”nofollow” attribute for Wikipedia.

Download this Wikipedia NoFollow plugin designed for WordPress.


The Ultimate List of DoFollow and NoFollow Plugins

Top 50 US Web Properties, June 2007

Web Site Architecture Structured for Success

Wikipedia Conquering Google First, World Next?

Wikipedia Takes our Money & Links, Gives Nothing Back

Why Is Wikipedia On Top in Search Results?

[tags]wikipedia, rel nofollow, nofollow tag, link love, link juice, link hole, SERPs, search engine rankings, search engine results pages, wikipedia top positions, wikipedia site architecture, SEO, search engine optimization, lorna li[/tags]

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  1. David Gerard says:

    This isn’t quite the case – putting nofollow on outgoing links did in fact see a notable drop in linkspammers creating pages filled with only their links. So it was worth it from our viewpoint.

    The essential point SEOs miss is that helping SEOs has nothing to do with what Wikipedia does or why it does it; they’re not our constituency at all. Wikipedia is written by its editors for its editors and readers, to make something that’s useful to readers and that creates content that can be reused by others; SEOs are a third party demanding Wikipedia help them get in good with a fourth party, Google. SEOs will be helped by Wikipedia precisely as far as that contributes to the mission of writing a free content encyclopedia.

    It is also useful to note that Wikipedia doesn’t lift a finger to raise its popularity or search ratings – its popularity is entirely from word of mouth. And its massive popularity is, in practice, a massive pain in the backside – it costs a fortune to serve a top 10 site without ads, and being at the top of every Google search means a lot of stuff (biographies of living people in particular) need harsh constraints on their content because they have to be not-awful right now, meaning we don’t have time to take our time and get things just right. It’s all a tricky one.

  2. Brilliant article, I couldn’t have summed it all up better myself!

    Just to clarify something: using the no-follow plugin does not give you higher link-juice; it just treats Wikipedia the way Wikipedia treats us. We can only hope that enough people do this to affect their SERPs and, in the end, get them to undo their no-follow for all outbound links.

  3. lorna says:

    Hi David,

    Point well taken. I think what many SEOs gripe about is Wiki’s lack of 2-way link love. While contributing content is one aspect of participating in a community, we also hope to be rewarded with additional link juice for our time and efforts.

    I wonder if a link spam tool could’ve taken care of the link spam, without completely neutering Wiki’s ability to share link juice.


  4. […] in high places, indicate a belief that this factor is more important now than before. However, the dominance of Wikipedia in SERPs is a powerful […]

  5. David says:

    I think wiki pages annoy SEO marketeers but many people looking for info trust it and I know many who use it for almost everything.
    I have heard over the last few years that wiki is not accurate and I hope someone will create some evidence for these claims as that would be fun.
    With regards to link juice I think SERPs has so many factors that noone should set rules and believe they hold true throughout googles algos.
    For example I think google have probably downgraded links from bookmarking sites by now as they are spam prone.
    Possibly nofollow and dofollow are ignored in equal measure by google today depending on topic and many other factors.
    I like wiki but I am baffled at how quickly pages are made.
    If someone obscure hits the news today by the morning they have a wiki page!
    Great article and I love your ethos and site.

  6. Leo says:

    “the ability of meritless and sometimes empty Wikipedia pages to outrank pages with better quality content.”

    This statement is, which is true, sheds some light on some common misconceptions. For one, anyone who preaches that ‘content is king’ will quickly (for some people it takes a while) change their mind when their top notch quality content is ranking behind a crappy wiki page. Of course this is not meant to imply that wiki is built on crappy content. It’s not. It’s a great site. But, content is not king and this example is a classic one that proves it.

    This also tells us that having a keyword in the url is not critical to ranking. It matters of course but it is not critical. Look at how many number one position wiki has and wiki wasn’t even a keyword until they became wiki. lol.

    So I guess the lesson here is that links are king. Am I wrong about that?

  7. Ben says:

    I guess, everything you said here is true. It doesn’t seem to be fair to take everything and give nothing instead. While it seems to be normal to link back to a useful and related information the other part considers that this was the best way to proceed. Well, guess what, I totally disagree with this ideea, in fact I hate it, but stop this is not everything. What happened to me was that somebody posted an article about X Product even he was not the developer of the X Product. The X Product became very popular and I also wrote a full and detailed article and visited the Wiki page and I posted my Link to References section. Somebody deleted my link, I posted back and after 10 times I stoped. It seems to me that somebody controls what he was read and tries to bring the traffic only to his website/s even if sometimes the subject has nothing to do with the Wiki article. So, Wiki is bad and the rel=nofollow attribute should be present on all articles that points to wiki. That’s just my oppinion.

  8. Internomie says:

    SEO’s I think are mainly jealous of the great way that wikipedia distributes linklove, linkjuice or how you call it.
    I hate that you can’t get any linkjuice or linklove from them too but I respect the way that they are optimized to rank so high in the SERP’s for basically every word in every possible language.