I’m sure you’ve noticed how Wikipedia entries have risen in Google’s page-ranking system. The results of many searches now include a Wikipedia page in the first few hits.
There are several reasons for this. One is the sheer size and comprehensiveness of the online encyclopedia (1.6 million articles!). Second is the trend by bloggers, when mentioning a person, place or product, to link to the relevant page in Wikipedia to avoid digressing from their discourse. In other words, they use Wikipedia links as footnotes. A third reason is that fact that if you add the work “wiki” to any Google search, you will be given the URL of an apparently relevant page from Wikipedia.
Recently, however, Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales decreed that henceforth all outbound links on the site would be given a special “No Follow” HTML tag, which means that the links will become invisible to search engines. Google searches will still lead users to Wikipedia pages, but will not bring up links from those pages.
This is a huge bummer for content publishers and bloggers. Why? Say you discover a cool feature hidden in your iPod and blog about it. Tomorrow, the Wikipedia contributors will append the details of your iPod discovery to the Wikipedia page on iPods. They will attribute the information to your blog, but search engines will never see that attribution (or read your blog via Wikipedia) because of the No Follow tag.
Not only that, because Wikipedia enjoys such high credibility and trust, search algorithms will rank the Wikipedia iPod page higher than your blog for queries on iPods. The search engines are not aware that Wikipedia’s content is actually based on your blog page, so your site will appear AFTER Wikipedia in the iPod search results. Wikipedia enjoys all the fruits of your labor, while you get low or no traffic to your blog.
Where’s the Buzz in that? Buzz Marketers know about the value of strategic linking – it works and it works well! But the opposite issue of “link spam” is real and growing, so it’s reasonable for Wikipedia to protect itself. But has Wikipedia become so dominant that search engines should henceforth ignore links to the original information sources?