There was an interesting study published this week which looked at 1,000 search terms in Google and measured the rankings for Wikipedia.org, which posed the question does Google give too much prominence to Wikipedia?
As a quick recap, Wikipedia ranked for a huge 99% of the terms (as selected with a random noun generator).
While many people may consider this an unfair bias from Google towards Wikipedia, I'm not so sure...
There's no denying that 99% is an extremely high volume of keywords to be ranking for and this is a very interesting study to highlight Wikipedia's dominance.However, I'm still not that surprised by the results. Wikipedia has seemingly become every SEOs biggest competitor, which explains why its dominance in Google creates a lot of attention.
But if you look deeper into the reasons why the site is ranking. Despite so many top rankings, I honestly believe they deserve to be ranking where they are.
I certainly don't think there's anything non-algorthimic happening here, as some people have alluded to in the past.
Chart from Intelligent Positioning showing Wikipedia's positions on Google for 1,000 randomly generated search terms:
Why does Wikipedia dominate Google?
To back up the reasoning for the site being the number one performer for organic search in the world, Wikipedia probably has the best set of SEO fundamentals on the web:
Unique and in-depth content
Wikipedia is such a great case study for the power of UGC (user generated content) with huge volumes of content which is written in extremley large detail.
For example, the Wikipedia Turkey page (which was in the sample list of 1,000 terms) contains 12,536 words on that single page and the breadth of Wikipedia's content stretches to 70 million indexed pages in Google across 10 languages!
Targeted webpages for key terms
Each page is written individually around a primary search term, and due to the fact that this is both a strong page and domain, it's likely to rank both for these core search terms and a long-tail of traffic (and with 12,000+ keywords on a page - that's a very long tail!)
Very strong domain authority
Great internal linking structure
Wikipedia does a great job of contextual linking internally, allowing it to spread the domain strength across the site. If only it would remove that nofollow and link more externally!
Excellent page authority
Wikipedia is clearly the market leader in the online encyclopedia world (Encarta who?) , so naturally generate links and citations from high quality sources.
If you take a look at the same "Turkey" webpage - this has 21,375 links going directly to that page - many of which are from authority sources such as the BBC, Telegraph and NASA!
Combine that with such a strong domain and it's becoming a lot clearer as to the reasons why they rank so well.
But will this dominance last?
Based on SEO metrics alone, most notably content and links I would say yes. Wikipedia is such a strong site that it will be very difficult to shift this trend.
The main thing I would see as a threat to them would be seeing how Google's algorithm develops towards analysing user intent.
For example, if a searcher is looking for "Turkey" (one of the terms listed in the study) and is expecting to find travel and holiday packages, they may be disappointed to find an informational page about the country instead.
So if Google starts paying more attention to bounce rates and user experience, I could see Wikipedia losing some of its top rankings in the future, especially for more transactional queries.
However, seeing the site slide off of page one completely is unlikely in my opinion. Mainly because Google seems to be a strong believer in "query deserves diversity" and Wikipedia generally provides content that no other site can offer for a huge range of keywords.
How do you take advantage of this as an SEO?
As I mentioned above, Wikipedia is every SEOs competitor. Whether you like it or not, it may not be directly competing for business in your market but it is competiting for rankings and traffic in your market, which generates your business.
So if you know it ranks highly in Google, why not use that information to dig a bit deeper? Analyse how much traffic it's getting, there's a great tool which shows you the traffic for an individual article on Wikipedia - see this for the Turkey page as an example:
This tells you that Wikipedia has generated 1,038,886 visits in the last 90 days and that it's the 253rd most popular article on Wikipedia.
Plus, you can dig deeper still if you have paid tools such as Hitwise, SearchMetrics or SEMRush, trying to find out which keywords Wikipedia generate traffic from and then optimising and targeting traffic from them.
What do you think?
Do you agree that Wikipedia's rankings are fair? And lets face it, even if they're not (unless you're Google of course) what can we do about it other than try and compete. We might as well try and learn something from the site's huge success of user-generated content creation and find out how we can use it to strengthen our own sites.