There was once a time when searching a specific subject, perhaps a celebrity or medical phrase, was almost guaranteed to result in a Wikipedia article being top of Google’s SERPs, but it seems that Wikipedia’s prominence at the top may be starting to fall.
Despite popular belief, Wikipedia is generally a useful and accurate source of information. Wikipedia has taken large strides in ensuring the information it supplies is accurate and well sourced. Sure, the odd discrepancy will occasionally make it past Wikipedia’s community of collaborators and admins, but it’s generally very reliable. One thing that Wikipedia has over rival encyclopedias is the ability to update information so quickly (anyone remember Microsoft Encarta?) and this has allowed the website to keep the content relevant and original. It also has very in-depth content and long articles full of information.
But things seem to be changing. Wikipedia no longer appears to have the prominence is once did. So why is Wikipedia falling in Google SERP Rankings?
Panda and Hummingbird begin Wikipedia falling in Google SERP Rankings
Over the past few years, Google has released various updates to the algorithms which index and display search results. Panda saw weight given to websites with more inbound links (Wikipedia links out to sources a hell of a lot). To counteract this, Wikipedia added a “nofollow” code to outgoing links. That worked.
Hummingbird saw more weight being added to long-tail keywords and phrases which were used by voice search, for example questions (“Who, Why, Where, and How”). Given that many Wikipedia articles concentrate on shorter, more focused keywords, this has led to a natural reduction in SERPS and it’s no surprise that we saw Wikipedia falling in Google SERP Rankings. This leads us onto the subject of user intent.
User intent is beginning to affect SERPS
User intent is beginning to take part in ranking more and more. Google wants more intelligent search and it want to make sure that users – especially those searching by voice – get the information they need first time.
Lets take the word ‘squash’ as an example. A person searching for the sport is going to be disappointing to get a Wikipedia article for vegetables or a fruit flavoured drink. This can result in user quickly bouncing off of a page, increasing bounce rate. Bounce rate is a factor which Google takes into consideration when ranking pages and a higher bounce rate can have a detrimental effect of Wikipedia. Google’s task is to try and provide some separation on these types of searches to provide the user with the information they need the first time, every time, and Wikipedia isn’t always the answer, which is another reason for Wikipedia falling in Google SERP Rankings.
People searching by voice tend to ask questions. It’s this pattern which Google is trying to adapt to provide good quality search results to it’s customers.
Local search affects results
Google has been placing a lot of weight on local search results over the past few years, the idea being that people get results more local to them. For example, if you’re searching for Tesco you’re likely to want to know where you local store is, perhaps it’s phone number or opening hours. But displaying local results to the user the user gets to it’s information more quickly.
Wikipedia struggles when country searches are introduced. My version of Firefox at work automatically shows results filtered for the UK as Country: UK. I have to manually select “any country” to get Google’s full results. So if I search Google for “wikipedia” with UK switched on the top article isn’t Wikipedia but instead an article about Wikipedia by the Guardian newspaper. In fact, Wikipedia doesn’t show until the 6th result. Personally I don’t like this option of search and don’t understand why Google introduced it in the first place (you can stop it by using https://www.google.com/ncr).
Is this the beginning of the end for Wikipedia’s dominance?
Absolutely not! Wikipedia is by far one of the most dominant domains in existence. It’s not going anywhere for a long, long time and webmasters are going to have to keep on slogging away to try and beat the wiki’s that are keeping them off of the top spot.