How social signals build Wikipedia’s authority

Launched in 2001, Wikipedia has essentially replaced print encyclopedias and become one of the most trusted sources of information on the internet. According to Wikipedia’s published statistics, the English-language site alone is comprised of 4.5 million article pages, maintained by 899,112 active user-editors.

wiki all categories

Wikipedia is the number one site in SimilarWeb’s Reference category and the number seven site across all categories 

Despite widespread healthy skepticism over the accuracy of the content published on the site, Wikipedia reigns as the undisputed authority site for general knowledge. Google recognizes this authority and ranks the site’s pages highly for more search terms than humans are capable of counting. In fact, 74.5% of the site’s traffic comes from search, since Wikipedia appears on the first page of results, if not in the number one spot, for almost any concept you can imagine Googling. Search engines are sending about ten times as much traffic to Wikipedia as any other source.

wiki traffic share

Traffic sources for the English-language Wikipedia favor search heavily

Social Signals as SEO Boosters

Social media sites are only bringing in slightly over 4% of Wikipedia’s desktop traffic, but considering the sheer volume of Wiki traffic, that’s not an insignificant amount – about 892 million sessions over the past year, according to SimilarWeb’s data.

As far as social referrals per channel go, Reddit is leading the pack by far, with a 76% share of all social media clickthroughs to Wiki pages, according to SimilarWeb’s crawlers. Facebook is responsible for 18% of social media referrals, and YouTube is a distant third, with 1.8%. Small amounts of traffic are also coming in from Stack Overflow, Twitter and other social media channels.

wiki social channel traffic share

Breaking social referrals to Wikipedia down according to social network

Although all social media sites are driven by user-generated content and interactions, Reddit’s culture emphasizes interesting information, even if it’s not new. So it makes sense that Reddit is so powerful for sending users to Wikipedia. Reddit sends users to only two sites (Imgur and YouTube) more often than Wikipedia, which benefits from 2.5% of all outbound traffic from Reddit.

Approximately 3% of the traffic to Wikipedia from Reddit is from the Today I Learned subreddit, where users post facts they just discovered, along with the source where they read about it. Not surprisingly, the source is often Wikipedia.

And we tracked over 1300 pages in the AskReddit subreddit which sent users to Wiki pages. This makes sense, since no one wants to spend time answering a question when the answer can be easily accessed on the web.

Facebook’s referrals are also important to Wikipedia, but the privacy settings of the social network don’t allow for much insight into the context of these referrals.

Stack Overflow does show context, but the range of technical subjects is so broad that it’s hard to see any especially Wiki-favoring topics or trends.

Winning Search Terms

The most fascinating finding in social referrals to Wikipedia pages is the topics – A lot of the questions on Quora which are sending traffic to Wiki include the word “most,” like “What’s the most mysterious photo ever taken?” or “What are the most famous unsolved mysteries?” In these queries, users list several answers and link to Wikipedia so readers can find more information about each one. As on AskReddit, Quora users often send readers to Wikipedia instead of repeating information which can already be found elsewhere online. As an online marketer, trying to push your content or campaign forward, learning from Wikipedia’s social organic activity can be very insightful.

In addition, Quora links to Wikipedia often have images as their targets, which makes sense, given that Wiki boasts a huge depository of photographs, some very high quality.

Links from social media sites are “no follow,” so they don’t send the same “link juice” signals to Google for boosting a website’s authority as links from other sites might. On the other hand, those fickle Google bots do pay attention to social signals, so those 9000-plus social web pages that include links to Wikipedia are surely helping to boost Wiki’s rankings.


Results from digital marketing thought leader Neil Patel’s experiment to determine social’s influence on search rankings, courtesy Quick Sprout

About the Author -

Ben Jacobson is a freelancer specializing in digital marketing, content and community management for startups, small businesses, travel publications and entertainment brands.

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