Improving the Wikipedia results for Search Engine Optimization

I’ve been unhappy for a long time with what is on the pages of the Wikipedia for Search Engine Optimization. I decided this weekend to start making some changes to present the subject from a more rounded perspective.

Some of the things that bothered me about the article as it was:

1. It presented the industry as one largely drawn into two different camps, mostly at odds with one another – white hats and black hats – or those who follow ethical practices as defined by search engine guidelines, and those who don’t.

Ethics aren’t defined by search engines, but rather by moral codes of conduct, and having search engines set the tone of that conduct probably isn’t appropriate. They are businesses, beholden to shareholders, reliant on advertisers, and dependent upon searchers. They’ve never set themselves up to be the moral policemen for the search engine optimization community, and it’s a role that I suspect that they don’t relish.

2. Search engines have expanded their offerings considerably in the past few years to include much more than just organic results, and someone practicing SEO can be helped by having an understanding of RSS feeds, local search, mapping, vertical search, shopping search, news, and paid advertising.

The Wikipedia article focuses primarily on optimizing pages to achieve rankings in organic results in search engines. Yet, if you perform a search in Google these days, you’ll see results from other offerings of the search engine before the organic results even begin, including news, definitions, local results, paid ads, and more. Search engines are changing, and SEO needs to change, too.

3. The Wikipedia article also has given an inordinate amount of attention to one patent application from Google, Information retrieval based on historical data, while ignoring the fact that the search engine has been assigned over 180 patents and patent applications from the US Patent and Trademark Office which often contain conflicting approaches to ranking sites, and defining algorithms.

If the article is going to focus upon patents and patent applications from Google, it should at least have a link to the two pagerank patents from the search giant.

4. There’s a list of ranking factors that may play a part in how search engines rank pages in the article, and a number of those factors are pure speculation, though the way they are listed makes them appear that they are from the patent application I mentioned in the paragraph above.

That’s just not true, and even if it were, we can’t be certain that the factors mentioned in that patent application are ones that Google has incorporated into their processes for listing results.

5. There wasn’t a single mention in the article of search engine marketing, nor a link to the search engine marketing article on Wikipedia. There should be some more discussion of the connection between the two endeavors. There’s also very little in the article on marketing itself. That’s an oversight.

6. There’s nothing about where one could go to find out more about SEO in the article, and a strong discouragement to link to some of the primary sources of information on the subject. The people who police the wikipedia are concerned about external links to reliable sources within the industry, and would prefer to have links to guidelines from the search engines only.

While there’s nothing wrong with links to the search engine guidelines, it’s a little like learning how to swim by watching Baywatch, instead of jumping into the water, or taking lessons. In one of my additions to the Wikipedia article, I noted that forums, blogs, conferences, and experimentation are often the primary ways that one learns about SEO.

7. The article went on about how Google was unique in its time by looking to how hypertext and link popularity could play a role in ranking web pages, while completely ignoring the efforts of people like Jon Kleinberg and the folks at the Clever Project. The article might benefit from some additional input on the history of search engines, and search engine optimizers.

Statements like this one really need to be changed:

Search engine operators became interested in the SEO community soon after the first search engine was launched. In some early search engines, such as Infoseek, ranking #1 was as easy as grabbing the source code of the top ranked page, placing it on your site, and submitting a URL to instantly index and rank that page.

As far as I know, there wasn’t an SEO community that sprung up out of nowhere at the time that the first search engines were launched.

I’d like to see the Wikipedia article improve, and I ask that if you have some ideas and a few spare moments in the next couple of weeks, to visit the page and see if you can help make it better. I’ll be making more changes as I find time. Instead of trying to add links to external resources, a sentence or two in the article itself that helps improve its quality would be a great addition.

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22 thoughts on “Improving the Wikipedia results for Search Engine Optimization”

  1. I would not talk too much about SEM on the SEO Wikipedia page, but I do like the idea of linking to the SEM page.

  2. Hi Neil,

    You’re probably right about not having too much about SEM on the SEO page. That’s why there’s a separate SEM page, after all.

    But, I was a little surprised that there wasn’t even a link to the Search Engine Marketing page, or even a small amount of discussion about the relationship between SEO and SEM. The SEM page addresses that relationship some.

    We’ll see how it evolves.

  3. That awful SEO page has pretty much made me not trust a thing I read on Wikipedia.

    Good luck trying to get it changed, Bill. Every time I’ve looked, they seem to not allow many changes.

  4. Thanks, Jill.

    I’m cautiously optimistic that they might keep some of the changes I make.

    Actually, I’m a little surprised that some of the changes I’ve made haven’t been rolled back.

    There was a series of bestselling books published in Europe in the later 1800s that were a series of guidebooks of the United States written by people who had never visited the country. Those were part of the “armchair guide” series; not useful as a reference source, but fun as entertainment.

    Sometimes, I think about those books when I read some pages of the wikipedia. The section on SEO may have had some contributions from people who are involved in search engine optimization, but I suspect that most of the authors and editors of the page really don’t know much about it.

    My hope is that if I make reasonable changes over a period of time, so that I’m not challenging them, nor making them feel as if I’m spamming the page, that some or all of my changes may stand. I guess we’ll see. :)

  5. Hi David,

    It would be nice to look at that in a month or so, and not grumble under your breath as your read it. I think we’re off to a good start. I feel a little better about it already.

  6. If anyone can do it, Bill, it would certainly be you since you have the patience of a saint and are always extremely well-balanced in everything you write.

  7. Keep your fingers crossed, Jill.

    So far so good. No one has rolled back what I’ve added so far. Someone did come along and add a link, which was removed by another person, so my additions have passed at least one level of scrutiny.

  8. I wish search engine ranking rules were more open source. As things stand now there is an incredible amount of time and effort wasted in trying to make web pages search engine friendly. A related issue is the time to accept a web site by a search engine. I have no idea of how long it currently takes but a while back it took months. It seems to me that everyone’s best interests would be served if the process were more transparent. I recognise, of course, that competitive forces in the marketplace force some proprietary aspects to ranking algorithms, but the current situation is bad for everyone.

  9. Hi JAJansenJr,

    You raise some pretty good points. I guess there are a few competing issues in hand that may keep what search engines do difficult from reaching a level of transparency that you might find in other media.

    One of the main ones is that search engines are constantly evolving and trying to do what they do better. So the rules for ranking aren’t fixed and could be different from one day to the next.

    Another is that even if we knew exactly what they are doing, it’s probably complex enough that we might have troubles putting all the pieces together.

    There are a number of fundamental things that you can do that help most sites – like making sure that there are text-based links between all of the pages, so that spiders can crawl a site, and that there are no spider traps such as endless loops or session IDs that a spider needs to accept before seeing a page.

    Unique content on everypage, including titles, headings, and content can help, too. Giving the search engines enough text on pages, so that they have something to index doesn’t hurt either, as well as using words that your targeted audience might search for to find your site, and expect to see on your pages.

    The guidelines search engines have published don’t spell everything out, and aren’t as clear as they could be in some places, but they aren’t a terrible starting point.

    And the commercial search engines do have to protect some of their secrets. They have competitors with significantly deep pockets. How transparent can you be, and not give away the business? Tough question to have to juggle with.

  10. I’m glad you’re working to improve content at Wikipedia — we all win when people do that in good faith!

    As a regular editor there, I can say you seem to be going about it in the right way. Improve a bit at a time, write neutrally and verifiably, attribute opinions to their sources, and provide references for any fact or statistic that /you’d/ ask, “well, where’d they get THAT from?”, if you were an uninformed reader.

    Most of all, I thank you for trying to add more value to the encyclopedia, rather than simply trying to gain value for yourself as so many of our SEO visitors do. If half the effort expended in trying to get a link to “stick” in Wikipedia was applied to improving the article in question, providing more useful information (and keywords) for the reader to use in further research, imagine how we’d all benefit!

  11. Hi Catherine,

    Thanks. I can see the value to everyone interested in the subject to have a higher quality article on it.

    It still misses some important elements, and contains some SEO mythology, but it’s getting there.

  12. TRUSTRANK appears to be the real enigma – it is being pushed as the next silver bullet, but the standards are so varied….

    Take for example that Wikipedia article

    It is on page 2 on Google and page 1 on Yahoo for Search Engine Optimization, … but, it is nowhere on Ask or MSN…

    The same for the Google SEO guidelines…

    It is on page 1 on Google and Ask, …but nowhere on Yahoo or MSN.

    Those are non commercial pages from respectable Domains, and are probably linked to from respectable sites.

  13. I’m not sure that we can take that as an indication of some trust factor.

    There’s just too much else that can be part of the ranking systems that these search engines use.

    And, some interesting critiques of the Trustrank method described by Yahoo! in their paper on the topic.

  14. Thanks for your edits to SEO at Wikipedia. The page is now much better. There are a bunch of us camping on it and making good edits, so I am confident that it will continue to improve.

  15. Thank you, Jonathan.

    I’ve been really happy to see many of the edits that have happened to the page lately. I think there’s some positive momentum going on there.

  16. Hi Bill,

    Your name was ringing a bell when I saw you editing the SEO article at Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a pain and big bureaucracy, you probably noticed that yourself by now.

    I did only some cleanup work and support for the SEO article.

    I am more active for the Affiliate Marketing article. Affiliate Marketing is somewhat related to SEO and I know a thing or two myself without calling myself an expert. The Affiliate Marketing Article has no strong Editor Base as the SEO Article has. Believe me if I tell you, it’s much more of a pain there.

    I feel your pain regarding all the changes that slowly destroy your writing. It’s the nature of the beast. A popular article and a lot of different opinions.

    You have only a chance if you are persistent and play the WP rule book. When you accomplished something then don’t believe it to be lasting very long. Before you know it are the same discussions and problems start all over again.

    Hang in there. You have my support. Also Jehochman seems to be a useful partner. See ya at WP.

    Carsten aka Roy/SAC

  17. Hi Carsten,

    Thanks for your encouragement and positive outlook.

    I’ve been peeking in on the SEO entry, but really haven’t made many changes lately.

    I have learned a lot about the Wikipedia from the experience. I’ve been making some edits and changes lately that focus upon some of my other interests – local, music, art, sports (though the sports folks seem to have lots of stuff covered in the areas where I’m looking.)

    Learning about the policies, and evolution of policies of the organization is interesting. I’m growing more and more convinced that the wisdom of crowds isn’t always the best way to capture knowledge – the SEO entry is a good example. But seeing the deletion approaches, the usage of bots, different editing styles, how stubs and categories work, and so on is an education.

    I’d recommend that people get involved, though I’m not sure that they should start in a topic where there is so much alteration and change, and uncertainty, like there is in the SEO entry.

    Again, Thanks.

    Bill

  18. Wikipedia policies are changing and get more and more blurry and can be interpreted as you see fit.

    Bureaucracy is holding Wikipedia. in a tight grip.

    The SEO Article is one of the “spammiest” articles at Wikipedia and watched by a lot of “RC Patrollers” http://www.wikitruth.info/index.php?title=RC_patrollers

    You should check my Userpage at
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Cumbrowski

    The collection of Wiki Links in particular. Since I can’t remember all the crap they come up with WP:NPOV, WP:EL, WP:GOV, WP:Whatever , procedures for things like AfD (Articles Recommended for Deletion) etc. You name it, they have a procedure, template, project for it.
    See: http://www.wikitruth.info/index.php?title=Doublespeak

    You should for sure check the WP:SPAM project pages and its Talk Pages. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Spam

    I learned a lot by just checking there.

    To see a different point of view from an insider perspective (not positive), have a look at http://www.wikitruth.info/index.php?title=Main_Page

    Carsten aka Roy/SAC

  19. Just to comment many years after the original post be Bill – Improving the different wikis can be a headache even after the ‘nofollow’ was introduced. I tried to get involved in improving wiki travel, with a day almost all my changes had been updated or rolled back because the larger seo agencies were using wiki travel to promote their large travel clients. Some of the pages were edited multiple times a day in line with whatever agenda each agency had for its client.

    In the end I just gave up!

    I have seen Bills posts everywhere over the years and I know this is one from the ark….. what was your conclusion on the main wiki SEO entry Bill?

  20. Hi Shaun,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with the Wikipedia, Shaun.

    I’ve done some editing of other parts of the wikipedia without any problems, but that SEO entry bothers me sometimes when I read it. It really could be much better than it presently is. I notice that some of the things I added to it in the past are still there. Maybe I’ll take another stab at it sometime in the near future.

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