// Internet Duct Tape

Wikipedia Loses the Google Juice

Posted in Technology, Wikipedia by engtech on January 23, 2007

Additional coverage: Official site, TechMeme, Nick Carr, Blogoscope, Search Engine Journal, Digital Inspiration, Seth Finklestein,On Going

Wikipedia is the online encyclopedia that anyone can contribute to (although your contributions are likely to be deleted). It is also one of the most linked to sites in the world. Quite often it shows up in the top ten results on Google. When I first started blogging I saw Wikipedia as an “open directory” instead of an encyclopedia and I was guilty of injecting links to my articles if I thought they were relevant (aka “blog spam”).

Wikipedia is a trusted resource and it is commonly used to define terms or provide additional information. It has a large audience, a lot of traffic, is very trusted by search engines, and anyone can easily edit a page and inject a link. This makes it a huge target. I’m not the only one who thought this. It’s hard to surf through Wikipedia without finding a questionable link or two. Today, Wikipedia is finally taking a stance on spam and they’ve decided to deter spammers by using the rel=”nofollow” tag on all external links.

What the heck is rel=”nofollow”?

NOFOLLOW is like a condom for a link. Most search engines assign value to a site based on the sites that link to it (building trusted neighbourhoods and untrusted neighbourhoods). NOFOLLOW is a way for a site to tell search engines that “this isn’t a trusted link — don’t use it to improve your results”. It was originally developed as a way to combat blog comment spam. When you add a link in comments on a blog it is marked NOFOLLOW so that search engines ignore it.

Matt Cutts of Google has even recommended using NOFOLLOW on paid affiliate links.

But I still get tons of comment spam?

Yeah, NOFOLLOW doesn’t really work. Most spammers don’t even know that it exists. They’re more concerned with creating links that they get clicked on by people, even if they’re ignore by search engines. That’s why we still have to use blacklisting tools like Akismet to prevent comment spam on blogs. NOFOLLOW only deters smart spammers and people who spam to improve for search engine optimization. It isn’t a deterrent for most spammers and we still have to use other blacklisting tools to prevent spam. The only result of NOFOLLOW is that it prevents legitimate links from contributing to search results — since the illegitimate links are blocked by other means.

Even with NOFOLLOW the incentive to spam it is still there. People trust the links in Wikipedia and will click on them. Based on the experience with blog comment spam we know that NOFOLLOW does not stop spammers. All NOFOLLOW will do is prevent that spam from further polluting search engines. But it also prevents all the valuable vetted links that Wikipedia contains from contributing to search engine ranking. Does the cost justify the means?

The solution to Wikipedia spam

There have been complaints that with this change Wikipedia will become a black hole of “google juice” and it will hurt the smaller sites that depend a lot on their links from Wikipedia for traffic. But for me the bigger question is “will this solution prevent spam on Wikipedia?” Using blog comment spam as a basis for comparison the answer is a resounding “no.”

What may work better for Wikipedia is implementing a whitelisting feature where all external links have to be whitelisted by trusted moderators before they go live. That’s the only solution I see that will solve the spam problem.

The “fading nofollow” technique is good, but doesn’t address the fact that a majority of spammers care more about eyeballs than SEO.

8 Responses

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  1. Ravi said, on January 23, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    This change considerably afffects smaller sites that depend a lot on links from Wikipedia for traffic. But how far this solution prevents spam on Wikipedia is a million dollar question.

  2. raincoaster said, on January 23, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    That explains why my Wikipedia link hasn’t shown up on Technorati. But it’s not spam: I certainly didn’t put it there!

    BTW, Gawker Media doesn’t use NOFOLLOW; it seems that every one of my comments on their blogs is googleable.

  3. engtech said, on January 23, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    It also wouldn’t show up on Technorati because they don’t index Wikipedia. They’re supposed to only index “blogs”, although they seem to think sites like http://techmeme.com and the WordPress BOTD page are blogs.

    Yeah, several sites have set it up so comments don’t use NOFOLLOW because they recognize that their commenters deserve the link juice. I think what works best for comments is the “fading nofollow” approach (http://blog.outer-court.com/archive/2007-01-22-n21.html) where comments are NOFOLLOWed for the first week or something, with the assumption that comment spam would be found and deleted in that time.

  4. raincoaster said, on January 24, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    That makes a lot of sense. I’d support that. Personally, I am not complaining about BOTD showing up; I just wish they’d use my correct URL, dammit!

  5. […] rel=”nofollow” tag on all external links by Wikipedia in its attempt to deter spammers and says Wikipedia Loses the Google Juice. He also offers a brilliant solution which the Wikipedia guys should seriously consider. blogging […]

  6. Brian Turner said, on January 25, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    Nofollow hasn’t done anything at all to reduce the volume of comment spam on blogs.

    Why does Jimmy Wales think Wikipedia should be affected differently than everyone else?

    My guess is that it’s not going to have an effect at all on the amount of spam that the site may receive.

  7. engtech said, on January 25, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    The only thing it stops is Wikipedia spam contributing to search engine results.

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