Wikipedia is page one for 99% of Google UK searches, according to a study of 1,000 searches using randomly generated nouns. 

The research, carried out by Intelligent Positioning, raises a number of questions. 

Is Google giving too much prominence to Wikipedia, or are these rankings justified? 

Intelligent Positioning's Sam Silverwood Cope searched Google in incognito mode using 1,000 keywords from a random noun generator. 

The results? 

  • Wikipedia is on page one of Google for 99% of noun searches (of nouns).
  • 96% of searches had Wikipedia in the top five positions. 

  • Wikipedia takes the number one spot for 56% of searches.
  • The online encyclopedia is number two for 24% of searches

As you would expect, Wikipedia does very well for 'informational' searches. This seems fair enough, as Wikipedia will often provide a quick, and well structured answer. Great for pub quiz cheats too. 

Sam questions the prominence of Wikipedia for pages with little real content. He quotes the example of a search for the term 'air' which returns Wikipedia at number two with a disambiguation page.  

This point about pages with little content ranking well has also been made by Barry Schwartz and others.

I asked Bigmouthmedia's Andrew Girdwood if there was anything in this: 

It’s hard to deny Wikipedia its position as king of search. Google would certainly be able to see if Wikipedia failed to satisfy searchers as the engine would be able to detect the repeat searches and additional clicks. As long as Wikipedia provides satisfactory answers to searches then it is hard to argue the site does not deserve to rank.

That’s not to say there are instances when a particular Wikipedia page does not seem to be the best possible fit for one particular search. Individual pages do benefit from the authority of the site as a whole.

Girdwood suggests another way to look at the issue: 

The 1,000 search study was good and interesting. It certainly helps us investigate Google and algorithmic trends. However, not every word is equal and Google has talked for a long while about navigational, informational and commercial search terms. Wikipedia tends to rank strongly in the informational bracket and most words tend to be informational.  

A similar experiment that takes 1,000 brand terms that might be mistaken as informational rather than navigation would be interesting. For example, with a selection of words like  [apple], [virgin], etc and see how well Wikipedia does for those would likely have a very different result curve.

I haven't had time to conduct an experiment using 1,000 brand terms, but I tried a few in incognito mode and Wikipedia ranks well for these:

  • Apple: number three on Google UK.
  • Argos: number two.
  • Hoover: third.
  • Orange: third.
  • Virgin: eighth.
  • Currys: third.
  • Boots: sixth.
  • Game: third. 

Sam did manage to find a few words for which Wikipedia didn't rank on page one of Google. There were just eight of them:

  • Mail
  • news
  • trainers
  • national
  • sweets
  • wardrobe
  • phone
  • flight

What do you think? Is Wikipedia unfairly favoured by Google, or this this just a case of a content-rich site which deserves its lofty position? 

Graham Charlton

Published 13 February, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (6)

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Andrew Isidoro

I've felt for a long time that Google giving too much prominence to Wikipedia. There are numerous "converting" keywords that are being dominated by wikipedia.

I don't think it's a bad thing for many searches as for a quick bit of info it's perfect but is Wikipedia really the 3rd best resource on Apple?

over 6 years ago



Google gave up on web indexing about 5 years ago. Since then they have added algorithms to tailor searches to the individual and recently add a sort of stumbleupon thumps up button.

Wikipedia is chucked into the mix as it probably won't be complete rubbish. Yes there will be better more informative sites but working out what those are has become too difficult.

over 6 years ago


Gregory Kohs

People and web search engines that place all faith in Wikipedia as a knowledge storehouse are as vulnerable as our Cavendish banana monoculture is to the Panama disease. Good luck with that, when it all comes tumbling down.

over 6 years ago


Sam Silverwood-Cope

Hi Graham - thanks for the comments.

In the post i mentioned Wikipedia performing well for pretty average pages.

I used "Air" as an example - a major brand term for some big companies. Google offered up its disambiguation page. This seems unbalanced when taking the potential competitors from Apple, Adobe, Nike and Air the band into account.

It's an interesting angle from Andrew. However within our research there were several brand names. (Single word nouns are obviously popular for brands). But we wanted to keep it as random as possible.

These randomly included:
Puma, Boots, Quartz, Grey, Engine, Caterpillar, Tiger, Ice-Age, Air, Gun, Zoo, Bench, Glue, Poison and Fahrenheit - to name just a few.

I believe Wikipedia is over dominant, for several reasons, one is laziness on Google's part (not all pages should be offered up) and one a bit more cloak and dagger.

We'll be doing this in other languages shortly.

Cheers Sam

over 6 years ago


Pat Marcello

Yes, most definitely! Google does give way too much prominence for Wikipedia, which isn't even a 100% reliable source. Sure, some of the information there is quality stuff, but let's face it, much of it was created by people who may not be Rhodes scholars. The research may be faulty, etc. and people thinking that it's a scholarly resource are sorely mistaken.

When I type in "search engine optimization," I'd sure rather see a site that I respect in that field, like SearchEngineLand or SEOBook, for example, instead of Wikipedia, which is #1.

I love it when I'm able to get a client to beat Wikipedia for the top spot for any keyword. It just feels good. :)

over 6 years ago



As a Newb, I am constantly searching on-line for posts on airsoft that may benefit me.

about 6 years ago

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