Ten Minute Guide: How-To Become a Wikipedia Pro

There's enough that Internet Marketers should know about Wikipedia for me to write a book about using it, and lots that can only be learnt by exploring and interacting with the site.

Of course - you don't have time to mess about reading books, so this guide is intended to give you enough knowledge to get you started, and well and on the way to getting good value from time spent on the site.

As a great philosopher may have said:

"You get as much out of Wikipedia as you put into it."

More broadly: building a strong (and hence powerful) account involves only making useful, constructive contributions to the site. This doesn't just mean initially, until you try and drop some big fat link into a high traffic page, but consistently.

I assume that you're familiar with Wikipedia; if you're looking for an official primer, I recommend a look at Learning the Ropes and How to edit a page for all the technical information you'll need.

(I'll link to Wikipedia a lot in this article, sometimes to give examples and often to the project's documentation about certain topics, so that I don't repeat what they have to say. It will mainly be useful to follow those links if you're interested in a particular aspect of this, and need to find out more.)

Why SEOs and Internet Marketers should care about Wikipedia

Knowing that one of the world's Top 10 websites is editable by anyone was too much of a temptation for less reputable SEOs, and the site now applies nofollow to all external links.

However, there are three very genuine ways that being linked to from Wikipedia can help a website. I'll discuss them in more details later, but they are:

  • the referred traffic that comes from the site
  • the fact that Google may use nofollow links within its linkgraph
  • the followed links on sites that scrape Wikipedia's articles.

Building a trusted account

To begin, here are things you can do that will always be helpful to the project:
  • Search for and fix spelling mistakes, e.g.: site:en.wikipedia.org Tuseday
  • Look at the categorised list of articles needing images, pick a topic you are interested in, e.g.: ice hockey, and see if you can provide images for any of these pages. (Read the images and image use policy pages first.)
  • Help overcome vandalism by monitoring edits with a tool such as Mike's Wiki Tool. This highlights new edits to you, which you can assess and revert if necessary.
  • Think of any specialist knowledge you have, and find ways to add useful content to the relevant pages, particularly if you know of trustworthy references that can be included in the articles. (N.B.: don't choose a topic like SEO; think of your hobbies, academic subjects, etc.)
  • Search the list of Stub categories to find partially built articles that you could contribute to and improve.
  • Create new pages (read: Your first article.) You may know of something valuable that is missing from the project, or visit the lists of Requested articles and Most wanted articles to find pages that the community would like to be created.
  • Add references from news stories to appropriate pages. E.g.: After new dates were added to Michael Jackson's tour, this deserved an addition to Wikipedia.
  • Find articles that link to disambiguation pages, and link them to the correct article. For example: The page about the Skrulls links to the Watcher disambiguation page; this link should be updated to point to the Watcher (comics) page.

Some tips for making edits to pages:

  • Use the talk pages (click 'Discussion' tab above an article) to discuss potential changes to an article, and to catch up on discussion about an article before you make edits
  • Check the page history before editing (click 'History' tab above an article) to check you are not jumping into the middle of an Edit war.
  • When making edits, do leave an edit summary and do preview changes before you save the page
  • Add pages to your Watchlist; this allows you to see edits made to your watched pages at a glance.
  • Use the 'What Links Here' sidebar link to see internal links to an article. E.g.: page that link to Whisky.

Wikipedia for SEO & Internet Marketing

If you have a website that you are promoting, it may not be unreasonable to link to it from Wikipedia, but want to make sure you are not submitting spam. Let's get back to the bullet points:
  • How can your site improve Wikipedia? Check the External link page for the criteria regarding which pages are appropriate to include in the 'External links' section of an article.
  • Some article have unreferenced facts and need citations. Check if your site is a reliable source on a topic, in which case it may be appropriate.
  • Find Wikipedia pages that may be related to the site. Use the Wikirank tool to see the number of daily visitors a page receives.
  • Make sure the page is good; it should contain useful, well written content. Make edits to the article to improve it.
  • To add a reference within an article, read the page about Citing sources and look at the sample code on the Cite web page. Use an accurate title, probably the title of the page being linked to.
  • As the guidelines linked to above explain (and as other editors will tell you if you stray into the territory) the project won't benefit from linking to sites that are not authoritative, or that are very commercial (e.g.: they are sales/promotion pages or exist only to generate advertising revenue.)

Being linked to from a Wikipedia page can bring significant traffic to a site. Here are three of the top reasons why:

1 - Referred Traffic

This can be particularly true on a short article with only one or two useful looking references.

For instance: people looking for information on 'polish flats' are likely to visit the page for that term on Wikipedia (Polish flat) which ranks at #1 in Google. Try comparing the Wikirank stats for that page to a keyword volume estimation for the term. The single reference source linked to from that article will get a significant amount of referred traffic via that link - possibly more than most of the pages that actually rank for the term in Google.

2 - NoFollow does not mean NoUse

Can a link from Wikipedia actually help a page rank? Over at SEOMoz, Will hinted that Wikipedia links may be used for discovery, and may even pass weight.

3 - Scraper Sites

Wikipedia is available to copy and republish under a GNU license, so the articles are often available elsewhere online. There are even 'scraper sites' that copy most or all of the articles. For example: Wikipedia's article about Surety Bonds is also available on Absolute Astronomy, but on the scraped version all the external links are followed. Although these pages will tend to be very weak, the volume of them could have a considerable cumulative effect.

Bonus: Wikipedia as an authoritative directory

An extra benefit of being linked to from Wikipedia, is that if someone is looking for an authoritative page on a topic to link to, Wikipedia may well be the first place they look to find such a link.

Online Reputation Management and Wikipedia

If you're managing the online reputation of a company, brand or individual, Wikipedia can either be a blessing (having it ranking highly can reduce the visibility of a less neutral page) or a curse (see: Wiki-Circularity.)

Back to the bullet points, beginning with how to make a Wikipedia page rank higher for your search term:

  • Wikipedia is very bad at redirecting pages when titles / URLs change. Hence, decide exactly what phrase you want to rank for before you begin, and make sure that the article page is moved before you begin, if needs be. See: Moving a page and Merging and moving pages.
  • To help a Wikipedia article rank for a specific term, work to build internal links to the page. Using appropriate search queries, you could find articles that mention the topic, but that don't link to the page; update them to do so. An example Yahoo search query: find pages that could link to Michael Jackson.

However, if a Wikipedia page is causing reputational issues for you or a client, you have a variety of options.

  • To begin: if there are libellous comments on a page about a living person, Wikipedia has very thorough guidelines regarding Biographies of living people. This page includes details of how to deal with issues of defamation; the BLP Noticeboard can be used to report and discuss such issues.
  • For issues not regarding an individual, you will want to temper or remove the offending content from the page. If the content is not written from a Neutral Point of View, this is a good reason to edit it. Be aware of the project's rules about conflicts of interest, and do consider Wikipedia's dispute resolution processes.
  • If an issue exists for a brand / person that doesn't fulfil the criteria for notability, then you could apply for the article to be deleted. This happens via a proposal for deletion or speedy deletion.
  • It can be important to respond to such issues quickly. Since Wikipedia is free to copy and duplicate, incorrect information could be scraped from the site and published elsewhere online, and fixing the issue at the source wouldn't remove all published versions of the false content.
  • Before the page is deleted, check the 'What links here' page, to find its internal links. After deletion, remove these links from the other articles.
  • There is an extra step here, which I can't disclose. Seasoned ORMs will spot it straight away; but if you don't, Will Critchlow will be discussing it at the Give It Up session at SMX London 2009.

Well, that's the semi-brief run through. A couple of extra pointers would be:

  • Don't just build content on the site, but build relationships too. If you are friendly with various editors (particularly those who edit the pages of any clients who could potentially suffer from Online Reputation Management issues) then you can call on them to make or revert edits if the worst happens.
  • Having a number of Wikipedia users within your organisation can be very useful.
  • Don't just use your Wikipedia accounts for client work, as your client list could become very obvious to someone who realises. Contribute across a range of topics, and try to do it regularly to keep you account strong and trusted. Furthermore, if I'm making edits to Katie Perry's page for her, then I'd want to dilute it amongst edits to Lily Allen and Katie Melua as well.

I can answer questions publicly or privately about using the powerhouse that is Wikipedia for Internet Marketing or Online Reputation Management. Leave your comments below, or use our contact form.

Get blog posts via email

About the author
Rob Ousbey

Rob Ousbey

Rob joined Distilled’s London office in 2008 as an SEO Consultant. Over the years, he’s developed and executed SEO strategy for clients from small businesses to large organizations, and managed Distilled’s Reputation Management projects, where he’s...   read more