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Is Google Holding A Gun To Wikipedia’s Head?

Posted in: Google by Richard Hearne on March 5, 2007
Internet Marketing Ireland

Wikipedia’s rise as a Internet star has been nothing less than meteoric. It has grown to become an 800lb gorilla of the web and now stands as the largest recipient of refferals from Google.

Over the weekend Damien mentioned:

Another survey from Hitwise shows that online encyclopaedia Wikipedia is the third-most popular destination that Google sends its users to.

Just last week I read this on Bill Tancer’s Hitswise blog

The growth rate for Wikipedia.org over the last two years was over 680%.

As of last week, Wikipedia.org was the #1 external domain visited from the Google main search page (after images.google.com).

So apparently Wikipedia’s traffic from Google is still growing. Now on first read this might seem like a fantastic position to be in, but my take is that any business that is overly reliant on a single supplier (who cannot be easily replaced) is in a very, very precarious position.

With the flick of a switch over at the Googleplex Wikipedia’s traffic could be impacted with an absolute killer-blow. Given Google’s absolute dominance in the search space, such referrals cannot easily be replaced from another source, and Wikipedia may well be a sitting duck.

Compounding this is the belief that Google is applying additional weight to Wikipedia’s domain over and above what would normally be expected.

This all beggars the question ‘why?’.

What does Google plan for Wikipedia?

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  1. [...] Richard Hearne, Red Cardinal. Target number 2 for lifestyle Jealously with 6 months a year in Thailand. [...]

    Pingback by Pings for everybody that we met at the Irish Blog Awards - Technology in plain English - Dublin Ireland — March 5, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  2. “apparently Wikipedia’s traffic from Google is still growing [...] my take is that any business that is overly reliant on a single supplier (who cannot be easily replaced) is in a very, very precarious position.”

    I missed the logic leap that went from Wiki being a prominent outward link from Google, to Wiki being overly reliant on Google for traffic.

    Surely one of the main reasons that Wiki scores so well is down to the number of inward pointing links? Most every blog somewhere on it has a link to Wiki. Wiki has one of the most distributed set of inward pointing links on the web that you can imagine.

    Comment by fmk — March 5, 2007 @ 2:20 pm

  3. I appreciate the point but who’s going to take Google’s place overnight? If another search engine comes along, it’ll build up its market share slowly, like Google did and sites will adapt accordingly. Is even possible that Google would decide to blank Wikipedia for political reasons? That would kind of discredit Google… and scare the hell out of a lot of big business owners who have spent millions on SEO over the years.

    Comment by Ken — March 5, 2007 @ 3:46 pm

  4. When I want to look something up in Wikipedia, I search for it in Google because I know it’ll be the first and best result and because wikipedias own search isn’t that good. And if Wiki is down you can use the Google cached page. So if wikipedia disappeared from Google’s SERPs, I’d just go direct to their site. Everybody who has heard of Google has heard of Wikipedia I think.

    Comment by Georgie Casey — March 5, 2007 @ 4:57 pm

  5. @ fmk – Hi. I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen the reverse statistic that Google is on of Wiki’s biggest referrers. It would make sense insomuch as Google is the primary referrer for most web properties.

    Yep Wikipedia scores very well because of many inward links, but I have a niggling feeling that this is overstated in the ranks Wiki gets. No evidence, just gut. And I know for sure that you can find Wikipedia pages that rank well without even one external link pointing at them.

    @Ken – Hi also. Sorry that was the point I was making. No other traffic source could take Google’s place. I don’t think Google would blank them, but they could twist a knob somewhere and very subtly affect the rank of many Wikipedia pages.

    Bear in mind that Google is a very slick money-making machine (with a search engine). Wikipedia is working on its own search engine, which could draw traffic away from Google. Things could get interesting then.

    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 5, 2007 @ 5:00 pm

  6. what % of wiki traffic is referred from google? even if google is the biggest *single* source of traffic (which can often mean providing 20%-30% of traffic), wiki still has a widely distributed link-network which you are totally ignoring in your analysis. are you contending that the vast majority of wiki’s traffic is coming from google alone?

    and, as has been pointed out, many of use google as wiki’s frontdoor / search engine. so there you have to ask yourself, how much of the google traffic is genuine search and how much is just down to google having better ease of use than wiki’s own search?

    Comment by fmk — March 5, 2007 @ 5:33 pm

  7. are you contending that the vast majority of wiki’s traffic is coming from google alone?

    Yes, absolutely. I’ll try to dig up some stats on that (I’m sure I’ve seen them somewhere).

    WRT the front door – that is a very persuasive argument which I’m sure is very credible, but I don’t believe that the majority of Google traffic through to Wiki is from ‘front door’ users.

    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 5, 2007 @ 6:08 pm

  8. Your post makes no sense whatsoever. What does Wikipedia lose without Google traffic?

    If Google cut off all links to Wikipedia tomorrow … the project would continue writing an encyclopedia, and barely noticing. Except for the servers appearing to run a bit better without the added load. Our ad revenue would drop to zero … from zero.

    Google links Wikipedia because they like its effects on their search results’ usefulness. Which is nice that Wikipedia is useful to people, which gives all this a point, but that’s about it.

    What was your actual point again?

    Comment by David Gerard — March 5, 2007 @ 8:11 pm

  9. Sorry David – your comment got marked as spam.

    Well as much as I think Wikipedia is a great project, it’s value can only be measured through its usefulness to users. Given that a large number of its users arrive via Google, any reduction in that traffic is going to have a knock-on effect on the success of Wikipedia.

    Our ad revenue would drop to zero … from zero.

    Obviously I’m well aware that Wiki doesn’t generate revenue from the site. But how can you measure the success of Wiki? I presume by how many people use it – that figure is very heavily dependant on Google SERP referrals.

    After all, a resource is only really useful if people actually use it.

    But the point I’m really trying to make is that the relationship between Google and Wiki strikes me as a wee bit unnatural.

    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 5, 2007 @ 9:44 pm

  10. Hey Richard,

    I see two basic reasons why SEOs aren’t fond of Wikipedia:

    1) They are competitors. No matter what niche you’re in, Wikipedia is likely to show up on page one, pushing someone off the front page.

    2) Due to their new nofollow policy, SEOs can no longer leech off Wikipedia to improve their search ranking.

    In other words, Wikipedia takes an arm and a leg from SEOs and gives nothing back.

    But for the average Google user, Wikipedia is often an invaluable resource, much more so compared to some of the junk out there people try to pass off as legit websites.

    I also agree with David Gerard. If Google flicked a switch tonight and Wikipedia pages slipped to page 10, Wikipedia wouldn’t blink an eye.

    “And I know for sure that you can find Wikipedia pages that rank well without even one external link pointing at them.”

    Internal links on Wikipedia are pretty darn strong, considering that the site is a PageRank black hole and that millions of links point to the site.

    Comment by Halfdeck — March 6, 2007 @ 1:35 am

  11. You folks seem to be quite shortsighted and a bit hampered logically.

    1. Do you realize that Wikipedia is a multilingual project of enormous scale? That there are 13 language editions with over 100,000 articles each, and for many of those languages, Google is not the #1 search engine? The multitude of ways that Wikipedia is being linked to across languages, cultures and geography means that we Anglo-oriented fellows don’t even begin the fathom the impact of Wikipedia’s inward-linking ecosystem.

    2. Google’s PageRank is a reflection of what is being linked on the wild Internet. Blogs, articles, news organizations, etc. are linking to Wikipedia articles which is why it’s showing up in Google. Google is in effect a third party simply cataloging this relationship and providing it as search. Google in itself is not the one masterminding influence on the Internet. If Google went away tomorrow, the next thing that people use to search or find will recognize the linkages. Check out Clusty, A9 or anything else out there and see the results.

    Comment by Andrew Lih — March 6, 2007 @ 6:07 am

  12. Ok, hold the boat for a second. Just for the sake of clarity:

    I’m not attacking Wikipedia. I think Wikipedia is a fantastic resource and use it regularly. This is not a Wikipedia-bashing exercise. What I am saying is that Wikipedia may be over reliant on Google for their traffic. My apologies if I am sending mixed messages on this or my comments lack clarity.

    Hi Andrew. The points you make are very valid, and my English-mother-tongue-blinkered brain now acknowledges the multi-lingual element of Wiki. I do still believe that it is not healthy for any site to rely on one source of traffic to any extent.

    Google in itself is not the one masterminding influence on the Internet.

    I have to say that as an aggregator of all the links on the Internet Google is very much a masterminding influence. What Google displays on it’s pages affects what people link to in the first place. You do realise that increaslingly people view Google as the gateway to the Internet. Just look at how many people type URLs into Google’s search.

    If Google went away tomorrow, the next thing that people use to search or find will recognize the linkages.

    Perhaps, perhaps not. All algorithms are different. If the other SEs gave the same weighting as Google to the factors now affecting Wiki’s rank we would have similar search results in Y! and live! Of course there are a number of other SEs, but none has been adopted in any significant way.

    Hi Halfdeck. Again, this isn’t the rant of an anti-Wiki SEO. I really want to get across what I feel is the possibly unhealthy relationship between Google and Wikipedia. Perhaps all those links do justify the rankings, but I wonder just how much of Wiki’s traffic comes from Google alone? In a nutshell – would you trust Google if you were Wikipedia?

    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 6, 2007 @ 9:00 am

  13. “Perhaps all those links do justify the rankings, but I wonder just how much of Wiki’s traffic comes from Google alone?”

    hang on a moment yesterday you *knew* this figure. it justified your post’s unexplained leap of logic. now you’re just wondering what it is? sheesh …

    Comment by fmk — March 6, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  14. I have read that Wiki receives more outbound visits from Google than any other site (see here).

    And I’ve read that:

    Wikipedia received 54% of its traffic from Google

    The above is based on UK traffic. Of course none of the above can be judged to be 100% accurate, but I’m happy to believe that some of Hitwise’s data is reliable.

    If you would like me to dig up any other details just leave another ‘sheesh’ comment :grin:

    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 6, 2007 @ 3:43 pm

  15. [...] LinkListing Tuesday Published March 6th, 2007 in Internet. Tags: google, wikipedia, wordpress. google, wikipedia wordpressIs Google Holding A Gun To Wikipedia’s Head? An interesting little discussion going on here [...]

    Pingback by LinkListing Tuesday — March 6, 2007 @ 4:41 pm

  16. saved you the bother – american data here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2007-02-19/Google_again

    yes, google is providing upwards of 50% of wiki’s traffic. and yes, wiki is a v prominent outward link from google (1.87% of downstream traffic). regardless, i still fail to see the problem here, for reasons offered above. but also i just don’t see the logic of what you’re suggesting. yes, come the wiki search thingey (which sounds more like a directory than a true search engine – and we all know the problems inherent in directories) google could throttle back wiki’s traffic. but how would that hurt wiki? surely doing the opposite – driving up wiki’s bandwidth costs – would hurt more?

    funnily, i find the wiki-damaging-google argument ( http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/03/06/wikipedia_crisis/ ) more persuasive. though i’d be as unwilling to bet on it coming true as i’d bet on your theory.

    btw – have you noticed the changes in amazon’s link structure? wiki’s place as the #1 serp could be under threat, especially if the same link structure crosses from amazon to imdb.

    Comment by fmk — March 6, 2007 @ 9:04 pm

  17. Unless I missed something … Wikipedia doesn’t actually make any money, so if it lost traffic from Google it wouldn’t actually cost it anything.. So what’s the big deal?

    Comment by Michele — March 7, 2007 @ 12:32 am

  18. Hmmm… this is not about money. This is about success. (And in fact, it probably is about money at some levels – I don’t think Mr. Wales is 100% the altruist.)

    How would you measure the success of Wiki? Best proxy in my view would be usage. Of course others will disagree.

    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 7, 2007 @ 6:52 am

  19. @fmk – I’ve just come across the new Amazon architecture. It seems to be very sporadic at this time – I could only find a handful of products that used the new structure. This is very interesting, but that said I’m not sure just how much juice can be squeezed from the URL on a site such as Amazon.

    Very much worth watching this.


    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 10, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

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