Before investing time and effort in search rankings, and even before setting client expectations, it makes sense to gather whatever intelligence you can about the keywords you’d like to rank for. SEOs and webmasters have few reliable sources of information about the relationship between rankings and traffic. But Wikipedia’s traffic stats can help, offering some surprisingly detailed data.
Have you been searching for Jesus? On Google, Wikipedia ranks first for that search. How much is that first place ranking worth? According to Wikipedia’s public traffic stats, about 14k page views on a typical day, and 19.3k on Christmas. The redirect Jesus Christ, which points to the same page, gets about 25% as much traffic, and Christ adds another 10%.
Maybe you’re not the religious type. Have you been looking for sex? You are not alone, at least not online. The top ranked sex page gets 45k views per day. Love only gets 18k per day. Wikipedia readers prefer sex to love by a 5:2 ratio. Even on February 14th, St. Valentine’s Day, the power of love peaks at just 31k. Virginity, also listed first, gets relatively little action with 1.7k dailies.
While sex is a consistently popular topic, regardless of current events, news-related articles show much more traffic variation. The article on waterboarding, ranking first, ran between 2.8k and 74.6k visitors per day during February 2008.
A total of 465k people viewed the article that month. Since the United States presidential election season began, editors have been fighting over the article lead that says, “Waterboarding is a form of torture.” The phrase appears on the search engine results pages in a way that creates severe negative publicity for the Bush Administration. Several conservative editors have tried every which way to remove the incriminating phrase from Wikipedia. They finally became such nuisances that they were banned from editing.
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain have wiki pages that rank third. Wikipedia blows away both Democratic Senators’ official web pages, but not the two campaign sites with their multi-million dollar budgets. Barack had 2.6 million monthlies to Hillary’s 858k. John McCain had a respectable 1.6 million views. George W. Bush was the wallflower with 106k views (but he is still more popular than virginity). When compiling these stats, I added variations together, such as Hillary Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, because redirects generate separate totals.
The top organic ranking for search engine optimization gets 4.3k page views per day. A Search Engine Land article that received 788 Diggs generated about 8k page views in about 24 hours. So the wiki article is equivalent to going popular on Digg every other day. I can assure you that writing one featured Wikipedia article is much easier than writing three articles per week that make the home page of Digg.
How about the article on Danny Sullivan (technologist)? Wikipedia ranks seventh, behind Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, Danny’s personal blog, and the wiki article about race car driver Danny Sullivan. Seventh is not worth much: just 45 people per day view the article.
Wikipedia biographies of living people frequently appear in third position, right behind the subject’s own website. For instance, Matt Cutts’ article draws 75 to 128 visitors per day, Vanessa Fox’s 20 to 44, and Jason Calacanis’ 100 to 500, depending on how badly he behaves and whether his friends and foes are monkeying the article, as they often do. If you are thinking about creating an article to promote something, given the modest traffic volumes drawn by these rather high profile people, you might want to think of something else. Articles generate traffic when the search term already has volume. Creating a new page does not cause people to search for it.
Let’s look at one more example. Say a network of travel blogs writes a business plan predicting 2 million page views per month within a year. What does that mean, and how successful would the site have to be to hit those numbers? Clues are freely available. Wikipedia ranks second on Google for New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and London, and first for Tokyo, Moscow, Sydney, and Hong Kong. Those eight articles generate a total of 1.9 million page views per month. I personally would not put my name on that business plan.
Jonathan Hochman has two computer science degrees from Yale. He runs an Internet marketing consultancy and a web development shop.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.