Let’s face it: Google loves Wikipedia. It seems like we see a Wikipedia result in nearly every search result page (a.k.a. “SERP”). However, Similarweb recently produced data indicating that Wikipedia traffic from Google had dropped significantly.
This led me to ask many questions, and I set out to answer them. As part of this, my company, Stone Temple Consulting, tested 18,534 search queries whose search pages contained 184,610 natural search results (i.e., not including ad results).
What does this mean to you as a publisher? Read on.
Wikipedia’s Dominance in Google’s Search Results
We tracked the search queries over a four-month period, taking snapshots in April, May, and August. I then analyzed this data to figure out whether or not Wikipedia had indeed lost traffic. At first blush, there did not seem to be much of a story here:
Total SERPs with Wikipedia in the top 10 peaked in May, but the difference from April to August did not appear that significant, with Wikipedia seeing less than a four percent drop of its presence in the SERPs overall.
For that reason, I took the analysis deeper, and analyzed the presence of Wikipedia in the SERPs by specific ranking position. Here a clearer story emerged:
Wikipedia lost nearly 12 percent of its number one ranking positions. That level of drop from the number one spot could easily account for a material drop in traffic. In fact, if we look at the number of URLs in each of the top 10 ranking positions, and compare our August data with our May data, here is what you see:
You can see a clear shift of Wikipedia from the first five results toward the bottom five results. This would clearly result in a reduced amount of search traffic to the site.
However, its presence is still huge, and in fact is far more than any other site in the SERPs. In fact, all Google properties cumulatively only have a listing in 36.26 percent of the SERPs—much less than Wikipedia.
Commercial vs. Informational Queries
In August of this year, Moz published its latest Ranking Factors Study. This study reviewed 16,520 commercial search queries and their results pages to determine what factors appear to be driving Google rankings.
The Moz team kindly shared the raw data with me so I could compare the makeup of their search results with the makeup of the ones that we checked. Since our data was focused on informational queries, this allows us to see how Wikipedia’s behavior varies based on query type.
Out of 165,177 URLs found in the commercial query tested in the Moz data, 12,105 of them were from Wikipedia. That’s 7.33 percent of all the URLs. Of course, some of the SERPs have more than one Wikipedia result per page, so I also had a look at what percentage of the total SERPs included at least one Wikipedia result. It was a whopping 64.44 percent—that’s nearly two-thirds of all the SERPs we tested!
Taking a look at the Stone Temple data from the week of August 24, we still see major penetration of the SERPs. Out of the 182,340 URLs we found in that data, 11,620 of the URLs were from Wikipedia (6.29 percent of all URLs), and “only” 52.36 percent of the SERP pages had at least one Wikipedia URL in it.
What’s interesting about this is that Wikipedia shows up less in informational SERPs than it does in commercial SERPs.
It’s fascinating to see this, as it’s an unexpected result. My speculation relates to the way the Moz query set was derived, which I believe was from the AdWords Keyword Tool (now called Keyword Planner). These queries are all words that someone might bid on, and these are far more broad than phrases like “buy shoes.”
Summary and Impact
For the average publisher, this change in Wikipedia’s place in the SERPs has little direct impact, except for making more room for you. However, there are a couple of important observations we can make as a result:
- There are no sacred cows. Google’s algorithms are ever-changing, and nothing is guaranteed.
- Focus on building your own real world authority. This is the best way to create an audience and demand for your content.
- Diversify your traffic sources. Google is running a business, and will change as it sees fit to meet its own needs. If Google is your number one source of traffic, it’s best to protect yourself through diversification
Wikipedia has long been the site that gets the largest amount of search traffic by far, and that’s still the case. These recent changes serve as a reminder to us that Google can and will make large changes to their algorithms at any time. Your best protection, other than diversification, is to be in so much demand that Google’s search results will suffer if you aren’t present in the SERPs.
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