Over the years, I have seen numerous individuals and organizations in the SEO and SEM industry wringing their hands over what to do about Wikipedia. Some have simply ranted about the massive SEO success of the free encyclopedia. Others try some rather underhanded tricks to get their own “Wikipedia page.” (Hint: Want an article to stick around? Ask for one.) Here are three personal observations from a Wikipedian that I think my friends working in this field need to hear…
1. Wikipedia is not a marketing tool. Period. Anything you might do outside that mindset is an unproductive way to approach interaction with the site and its community. The benefits of an article or links can be substantial. But you’re not going to get either if you don’t think of how your actions benefit Wikipedia as an encyclopedia first and foremost. When you edit out of self-interest instead of altruism, you are not only being unethical. You’re being dense by trying to force Wikipedia to become something it’s not. If you can’t think of a way to link to your client or write an article that doesn’t help readers a lot more than it helps you, then don’t do either.
2. Getting angry at Wikipedia is counterproductive. Ranting and raving may feel cathartic, but it’s not going to help your business. Apologies if that seemed completely obvious to the smart people that I know are in this line of work. But you’d be surprised at whom I’ve heard blame their failure on Wikipedia’s success (not impressive to peers or clients), or get muffed when Wikipedia doesn’t respond well to their marketing efforts (see point one).
3. The best way to capitalize on Wikipedia is not to get in Wikipedia. It’s to learn from our successes (and failures), and to use these strategies for your own purposes. Understanding what makes Wikipedia successful and imitating those practices is not hard. Even on an infinitely smaller scale, valuable original content with a sensible internal linking structure will provoke the genuine inbound links you desire. Gleaning the best practices that Wikipedia has (almost entirely by accident) learned, and implementing them in an environment that you control saves you much time and effort, as well as avoiding the potential blow to your reputation if there’s a backlash.
What will not succeed in the long run is trying to leech off us. No amount of manipulating Wikipedia will make up for having a client no one cares about. Our community didn’t set out to dominate search engine results. We set out to write something worth reading. We don’t always fulfill that mission, but we try our damnedest. Do the same, and you’ll probably engender a similar result.
Conclusion? The real shortcoming of these two industries is not that they are filled with nefarious or lazy people. It’s that the laundry list of “tricks” for gaming Wikipedia has obfuscated the fact that a little honest work is the easiest way to get the results you want, both inside and outside Wikipedia. Perhaps it’s time you did some.