The SEO Value Of Featured Pictures At Wikipedia

My last article about Wikipedia—An Untapped SEO Opportunity: Image Link Love From Wikipedia—prompted an Orwellian mantra: instead of “four legs good, two legs bad,” people have started saying “images good, text bad” and wondering why the difference.

The short answer is the Wikimedia Foundation created a white hat opportunity for SEO to generate outgoing links via image uploads. The strategy hinges on a copyleft licensing option called CC-by-sa, and the decision isn’t accidental. They’re glad to trade some link love in return for quality content. Or, as Wikimedia communications committee member David Gerard puts it, “Releasing control over your stuff is hard. But consider the advantage of having a picture that isn’t a blurry, red-eyed piece of suck.” I chuckled at those words until I viewed the link David supplied as an example. Really, Emmy-winning actor Richard Schiff ought to have a portrait at his biography that looks better than the one on his driver’s license.

Guys, if your wife or girlfriend is the jealous type it may be wise to wait until she leaves the room before opening this next link. One celebrity who gets the idea is Michele Merkin, who hosted The Next Best Thing on ABC last spring.

There’s an important detail on that page if you can pry your eyes away from Michele for a moment. Have a look at that gold star in the far upper right corner: Wikipedia calls this a featured picture. Yes, the lady has brains. Michele is the first celebrity to gain featured picture status at Wikipedia by releasing a professional portrait under copyleft license. Readers of my last column won’t be surprised to learn this has earned her publicity at some high level Wikipedia articles.

By releasing high quality portraiture and gaining featured picture status, Michele’s image will probably be durable at all three of those pages. Featured pictures almost always are the winners in editorial debates about how to illustrate an article. That’s great… erm… exposure for her.

Another benefit that goes to featured pictures is a day on Wikipedia’s main page. I’ll crunch a few numbers to demonstrate how valuable that is. Recently I was on Alexa tooling around with their search function to see what a monster Wikipedia had become. You’ll either love these stats or hate them.

  • Wikipedia: traffic rank 9
  • traffic rank 216
  • traffic rank 1,098
  • 4,097

If you combined all three of those venerable publications they’d bring about one tenth the traffic at Wikipedia, which gets 40 million unique visitors a month. 52% of the overall traffic goes to the English language edition where the most popular destination is the main page. According to Cary Bass of the Wikimedia Foundation, that page gets 3 million total hits a day.

All of this points to one simple conclusion: in late 2007 a scroll-down spot on Wikipedia’s main page is considerably more valuable than below the fold placement on the front page of The New York Times. If your goal is publicity then Wikipedia’s main page is a great place to be. Hardly anyone in the business community has tapped this opportunity yet. Most of Wikipedia’s pictures of the day are amateur creations or historic public domain material. This doesn’t need to be the case: businesses and entertainers commission large amounts of professional photography, and Wikipedians appreciate quality content.

So, here’s how to take advantage of the featured picture program. To get started, brush up on the important licensing information from my last article. Then browse Wikipedia’s featured picture category and read up on Wikipedia’s featured picture criteria. If you think your material is good enough then make sure you have a high resolution image of at least 1000 pixels in height or width.

Next, head to Wikimedia Commons and upload your images. Write up a self-nomination at the candidate page. Volunteer editors review each nomination and reach a consensus decision. As an example, here’s the discussion that promoted Michele Merkin’s portrait. After an image gets accepted you can write up some accompanying text and ask for a turn at picture of the day.

Wikimedia Commons also runs its own parallel featured picture and picture of the day programs. You can try for these also if you like:

Why are images so welcome while SEO pros walk on eggshells at the text side of Wikipedia? There are more ways to run afoul of site standards with text, especially since the style of professional press releases and advertising copyrighting is entirely inappropriate for an encyclopedia. Many desirable images are proprietary, which means business people are often uniquely positioned to provide encyclopedic content that way. David Gerard estimates that 10% of the image uploads at Wikimedia Commons violate copyright. The site’s regular volunteers undertake the Herculean labor of identifying and deleting that material.

In the long run, more freely licensed material will reduce the inflow of copyvios and that will make a lot of volunteers happier. The chief obstacle, as SEO professional and Wikipedian Jonathan Hochman notes, is persuading a client to loosen some control over copyright. “If you have a performer this could be a great strategy, or if you promote tourism to an area. The much bigger opportunity is to seed the Net with good quality reproducible images.” Businesses often own several nearly identical versions from the same photo shoot but use only one of them. A CC-by-sa licensed upload of one of the alternates may earn featured status on Wikipedia, while the client retains full copyright on the primary version.

Durova is the pen name for Lise Broer, a Wikipedia administrator who confronts some of the site’s most disruptive editors. After graduating Columbia College, Lise attended film school and also served in the US Navy. The Let’s Get Social column appears Tuesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Search & Social | Search Engines: Wikipedia | SEO: Image Search


About The Author: is the pen name for Lise Broer, a Wikipedia administrator who confronts some of the site's most disruptive editors. After graduating Columbia College, Lise attended film school and also served in the US Navy.

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