Every SEO’s most frequently encountered competitor.
With 26 million first page rankings (half of that in the top 3 positions), you’ve probably battled them for the top spot at one point or another.
Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird knocked out even the strongest SEO’s. But Wikipedia has stood strong through each Google update, and continues to dominate the SERP’s today.
It’s not just about links. Even sites like eHow and WikiHow had a ton of strong links, and they got hit pretty hard.
Though Wikipedia’s link profile is pretty much impossible to match, there’s a lot we can learn (and copy) from their on-site SEO.
Here’s what they’re doing right, and what you should learn and implement into your own sites.
In-Depth (Well-Researched) Articles
This is the primary reason behind why Wikipedia has grown to what it is today.
They’re the classic example of quality (trusted) content attracting lots of natural links.
Wikipedia is trusted for a reason -> Sources
When was the last time you went to Wikipedia for information and felt that the content was really weak, or had you doubting if everything you read was legit?
I can’t remember a time, ever.
Having a high word-count isn’t everything. It’s about where you get your information from.
Very strict policies about sources
Wikipedia has some pretty strict policies about how to research content.
This sentence in particular, caught my eye.
Being a good writer is only half the battle with writing solid content. The other half is doing proper research using credible sources.
Citing sources both improves trust from your visitors and enhances the quality of the article that search engines send traffic to.
While I couldn’t find the exact number for the average words per article on Wikipedia, I think we can agree that Wikipedia has some of the most in-depth articles on the web.
While their word-count seems to be anywhere around 1000-3000 for more minor topics, some of their articles covering major topics are over 10,000 words long.
Does longer content rank better?
Based on recent studies by Moz and BuzzSumo, longer articles tend to get more links and shares.
And this study by SerpIQ analyzed the top 10 search results for over 20,000 keywords and noticed that on average, content ranking on the first page of Google had over 2000 words.
While optimum content length varies depending on keyword difficulty, and type of keyword, it’s easy to conclude that long form content is the way to go if you’re serious about ranking for anything (especially information-related keywords).
So does that mean you need to make every article you write 2000+ words?
No, it largely depends on the scope of the topic, and keyword.
For some topics, it just doesn’t make sense to have so many words.
For example, let’s say you have a site about health.
An article targeting the keyword, “How to do a jumping jack” probably won’t make sense to have 2000+ words on it (simply because there’s only so much you can say about how to do a jumping jack).
But, something like “How to lose weight” probably would since it’s a broader topic that warrants more extensive details.
Here’s another example
This is Pat’s niche site from his Niche Site Duel (the series of niche site blog posts that got me to build my first niche site ever).
He has a bunch of articles targeting each state in the U.S. and they’re extremely short.
This one, targeting Nebraska is only 169 words long.
Could be a little longer, but check out the rankings.
He has the first two spots! The second one is another page he’s optimized around the keyword.
Btw, it’s not that they have a bunch of links pointed at them. In fact, that page in the #1 spot only has 1 inbound link from a very weak site.
So it’s pretty much zero inbound links.
So why is he ranking?
It’s because of the domain authority he’s built up, and proper internal linking.
His page targeting his biggest keyword has tons of links, and he has internal links set up to each inner page.
I publish a lot of content with just ~500 words of content on them and they rank fine.
These are for smaller keywords that don’t warrant such an extensive break down.
But for my biggest keywords, I make sure that my content is extremely deep, in-depth material that’s well-researched using credible sources.
Link flow through internal links
There’s probably no bigger reason for Wikipedia’s dominance in the search rankings than their absurdly powerful link profile.
Because Wikipedia is seen as a trusted source, there are many links pointed to their inner articles.
For example, their page on Search Engine Optimization has 153,000 links pointed to it from 13,579 referring domains.
With the millions of links pointing to them, Wikipedia does a fantastic job at spreading that link juice throughout their site.
And they do this through placing internal links (with keyword anchor text) all throughout their content.
Individual pages on Wikipedia have hundreds or even thousands of links. If a handful of these pages have internal links to new pages, combined with their high DA, the page should just about rank naturally.
Why internal linking is important
Proper internal linking is probably one of the easiest (and fastest) ways to improve your site’s SEO.
Obviously… since you control the links and you don’t have to go out and build them on other domains.
Even if you don’t go crazy and link every word to a related page like Wikipedia’s pages, you should be maximizing your link building efforts by fully optimizing your highest-linked pages.
- Internal links helps improve your link flow to individual pages on your site, helping them to rank better.
- The anchor text of links helps Google to understand the context of a webpage and to rank better.
- Internal links help Google Bots crawl and access different parts of your site.
- Internal links also improve user experience by providing them with more information on certain topics. That in turn increases your user metrics such as bounce rate and time on site which are all ranking factors.
What’s one of the biggest signs of unnatural linking? Having all your links pointed at just your homepage.
One of the keys to building a long-term niche site these days is to make sure that your links are spread out throughout your domain.
It’s just natural.
Don’t just build links to your homepage. Build links to your internal pages as well.
It’s a tough concept for people new to SEO to understand why building links to page X helps increase rankings for page Y.
His infographics attract a lot of links and shares.
But these links usually point only at the page the infographic is on, not other pages he’s trying to rank.
So how does that help?
Your domain authority increases and you build more trust to your site overall.
This in turn increases rankings across the board for your entire domain.
Of course, make sure to set up your internal links on those pages so that they pass this link juice to the pages you want to rank higher.
Perfect Page Structure
Besides great content, Wikipedia also has what some might call the perfect page structuring for SEO.
Wikipedia pages are organized, categorized, and uses the perfect html elements to layout their page.
Let’s go through a few noteworthy ones.
Keyword in the first word, bolded.
Go through any of Wikipedia’s articles, and you’ll notice that they always have the keyword as the first word, and that it’s bolded.
This isn’t by accident.
Bolding your keyword and putting it as the first word in your article isn’t going to automatically boost your rankings noticeably.
The effects are minor.
But it does tell search engines what your page is about, and that is helpful.
Just don’t go overboard and bold every word.
Keyword in the title and H1
No surprises here.
Having the keyword in the title is usually a must if you’re trying to rank for something.
It’s still surprising to me when I browse the web, and see a website with a super strong link profile.
They should be ranking #1, no competitor should even come close to outranking them.
But the title of their page is something like: “Main” and they’re nowhere to be found.
I have a few competitors in my own niches who are not optimizing their site at all. They have a much stronger link profile than me, and have amassed links for years before my site was even created.
But my site is optimized much better, and I outrank them.
The h1 tag
Same with your h1 tag.
If you’re using WordPress, your title will automatically be used as your h1 tag in most cases.
But you could still change it up a little bit using an SEO plugin like Yoast.
No keyword stuffing for h2 and h3 tags – keeping it simple
Notice that Wikipedia articles don’t have the the main keyword in their h2 and h3 header tags.
It’s not: “SEO history” OR “SEO as a marketing strategy” OR “White hat SEO vs black hat SEO techniques”.
I see a lot of people excessively stuffing keywords into all their header tags.
There was a time when this worked, and it was recommended to do so. Today, especially after Hummingbird, there’s really no need to do this kind of stuff.
If you have too high a keyword density, it can hurt your rankings.
Sometimes, you can’t help but use the keyword all throughout the page. If you’re writing naturally, that’s fine.
But if you’re excessively stuffing keywords into all your header tags just because you hope that it gives you a rankings boost, you’re potentially putting your rankings at risk.
Should you focus on keyword density at all?
No… but not entirely.
What I like to do is to write naturally first and don’t focus on keyword density at all.
After the article is completed, I’ll either replace synonyms with keywords and LSI keywords if the density is too low, or I’ll remove them and add synonyms if it’s too high.
If you’re unfamiliar with LSI keywords, Ankit does a great job of explaining them in this article.
If I’m ordering articles from places like iWriter, I’ll do the same thing when I go over it.
In-page links for easy navigation
One of my favorite things about a Wikipedia article is how they organize their content with in-page links.
I’m talking about this thing at the top of every article.
It’s a great user experience because it allows you to preview all the major sub-topics within the content, and then jump straight to the section you’re interested in.
Wikipedia articles are usually super long, so this is the perfect way to format their content.
I do this for most of my main pieces of content.
Creating in-page links is really easy to do.
All you need to do is create links and ID’s throughout the page by following this guide.
It can be styled any way you like, including buttons like on this backlinking guide from Backlinko.
No need to do this for every page like Wikipedia.
It’s probably not the best thing to have on a page with less than 1000 words.
But if you have pages that are over 2000 words long, it’s a nice feature to add on.
Proper image alt tags & file names
Wikipedia’s pages have photos all throughout their page.
They’re given nice descriptions, have the proper alt tags, and have the proper file names as well.
Here’s one from their page about tigers.
Notice the name and alt tags are not something like “tiger 1” but is specific to what the image is.
They use the alt tag for what it’s supposed to be used for: describing the image.
Using images to add LSI keywords is one of my favorite on-site SEO strategies.
Instead of using the keyword for every alt tag and file name, use words related to your keyword instead.
Sources / External Links
I remember a few years ago when everyone was linking to a single Wikipedia article at the bottom of their pages.
People believed that linking to an authoritative source in your article helped you rank higher.
But they also believed that it was considered bad for your rankings to link out to external sites because it would pass on link juice to sites other than your own.
So their solution was to just slap a link to a Wikipedia article at the bottom.
Outbound links in relation to your rankings is pretty well explained in this video by Moz.
Linking out to helpful external sites is just a better user experience overall.
So you should do it more often. You won’t lose your rankings by linking out to a helpful resource.
If anything, it will make your own content more credible and trustworthy.
For instance, I love reading content like this articles by Forbes because there are links everywhere.
When I read a sentence that intrigues me, and I want to learn more, there’s usually a link to another page which extensively covered that story.
Now, that’s a helpful external link!
Know what I’m thinking after reading it?
Forbes really did their research and covered this story thoroughly. I trust this site.
When you write an article, you’re NOT the only authority on every single sub-topic within the article. There are other places where people can go to learn more.
Link to them.
And you must have used sources to research your article, too right?
Link to them.
Don’t be a dead end on the internet.
Link out to helpful sites. Credit sources where you got your information.
Wikipedia does this very well.
As mentioned earlier, they are very strict about contributors using credible sources.
And they link out to all of them within the article.
Not only that, but they also link to helpful external pages that they feel would be of interest to readers.
But, wait! Wikipedia’s outbound links are NOFOLLOW 🙁
Yeah, but it’s not for the reason why most people nofollow their links.
It’s not because they want to “preserve their link juice for themselves.”
It’s because they don’t want SEO’s spamming the hell out of their sites.
I think you’ve all seen what happens when a popular, authoritative blog has do-follow links in their comments.
= 1000+ spam comments to sites selling Louis Vuitton handbags.
Even when their outbound links are nofollow, people are trying to get links from Wikipedia.
Imagine what would happen if they switched all their links to dofollow.
If you allow unnatural links or links to bad neighborhoods, then your site can get penalized or even deindexed.
In fact, Wikipedia may not even be where they are today if they had allowed dofollow links from the beginning.
Having nofollow links allowed Wikipedia to discourage spammers, and protect themselves from penalties for linking to spammy sites.
Last but not least, natural writing is another reason why Wikipedia does well.
Their writers don’t write for rankings. They write naturally. I’m pretty sure that most of them don’t even know what SEO is.
And that’s helped Wikipedia in the long run.
Imagine if Wikipedia had “SEO guidelines” in their editorial policies and followed the “best practices” as outlined a couple years ago on how to optimize your articles.
By not writing with SEO in mind, they’ve been able to continue dominating the SERPS through every Google update.