It happens to many companies: their Wikipedia page evolves and starts reporting bad stats, inaccuracies, legal stories you thought were water under the bridge and more. Wikipedia is a web 2.0 success story, and almost always ranks on page one in Google search results for your brand. Anyone can make changes, and there is little you can do to keep the public from adding, expanding and telling your story, their way. While you can’t make it disappear, you there are things you can do to mitigate the visibility of any negative content on your company’s Wikipedia page.

Wikipedia is a free-for-all content site, where anyone can make changes. For each page on the Wikipedia, there are typically one or more unofficial Wikipedia editors. These editors aren’t assigned by Wikipedia. Rather, they are ordinary people who keep an eye on changes, and, for one reason or another, feel particularly passionate about a topic and any change made to its page. If you find negative content, you are free to go and delete it, but be careful. It’s going to come back anyway, and before long the editors may call you out, creating more visibility to the negative content.

While you can’t make the unfavorable content disappear, there are some things that you can do to make it fade into the background by adding a lot of noise on the page. The editors like additions and changes—it’s the premise of Wikipedia. As long as your additions add value for readers (and not necessarily for the company) they will be accepted. For success, you need to add and tweak—not delete—content, and follow Wikipedia best practices when doing so.

Five tips for making negative Wikipedia content fade into the background

  1. Push negative content below the fold. Content always wins when it comes to search engine optimization, the same goes for Wikipedia. Add content to the top of your Wikipedia page to push down negative copy far below the fold.
  2. Reduce the numbers. Eyes flock to numbers, so make minor grammatical corrections to the page that change numbers 1-10 to text. This will give the unfavorable content less attention as a reader’s eyes scan the page.
  3. Bury the bad stuff in noise. When people read online, they don’t read everything; they skim, likely catching the beginning and/or end of a paragraph. Use this knowledge to your advantage by adding positive content at the beginning and end of a paragraph, and placing the negative comments in the middle.
  4. Fill the entire page with content. People do not like to read a mountain of information, and the more content on the page, the less likely they are to see the bad elements within the copy. Be cautious with this one—do not use corporate-speak or official language. Instead, use normal everyday language to describe the company, products, history, etc.
    Wondering how to expand your page? Include the company history, top clients and anything of interest. The Starbucks page is a good example of how you can expand the company Wikipedia page—they talk about the sizes you can order, the logo, various locations and more. Don’t forget that what you add must be unique content. The marketing and public relations departments often want to copy and paste from existing materials.
  5. Include pictures. Eyes navigate toward photos. Notice how the Starbucks page has many pictures, if you place the right photos at the right place on the page, you can divert eyes from negativity that might otherwise catch their attention as the user scrolls through the page.

While it’s not all-inclusive, it’s a nice list to get you thinking about how you can improve your company’s Wikipedia page that went bad.

Next time I’ll talk about tactics for actually making the changes in Wikipedia. In the meantime, use this information to gather ideas, pitch recommendations and get buy-in for making your Wikipedia page more positive.

Jessica Bowman is the Director of SEO for Business.com and an independent consultant and author of the SEM / SEO In-house Blog. The Brand Aid column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

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

Related Topics: Brand Aid | Channel: SEO | Search Engines: Wikipedia | Search Marketing: Branding | Search Marketing: Public Relations

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  • Jack K1

    Jees, what did Starbucks ever do to you?

    Jack

  • http://www.jehochman.com JEHochman

    Jessica, you’ve done a disservice to the readership of this website by encouraging them to do black hat editing of Wikipedia. Anyone caught following your advice will be reverted, and possibly blocked for violating the neutral point of view policy, and conflict of interest guideline.

    Keep in mind that Wikipedia investigations are public. An SEO or in house marketer who follows these strategies could be making a career-ending mistake, as well as creating a grave embarrassment for their employer.

  • http://www.jehochman.com JEHochman
  • Sean William

    The writer of this should be ashamed. Astroturfing on the Internet is just as wrong as doing so in person.

    I’d like to thank Jessica Bowman for revealing her preferred methods of astroturfing. The Wikipedia administrators now know exactly what to look for.

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    “The Ranger won’t like that, Yogi” …

  • http://www.fusednation.com Marketing Guy

    Nice. “How to deal with bad PR by burying your head in the sand and hope it goes away”.

    I find it amusing that someone authoring “in-house SEM” and “brandaid” blogs shows a classic example of one of the core issues facing in-house SEO – the fact that generally most SEOs don’t have a clue about the big picture when it comes to marketing.

    I doubt that very many big brands consider publicly defacing web properities to be a sound approach to a damage limitation exercise – it sounds more like something that average Joe SEO would do to after using his Dummies Guide to Marketing book as a doorstop.

    MG

  • http://www.gregorykohs.com thekohser

    Jessica, don’t feel bad about all the nasty comments you’re getting (and will continue to get) here. As the founder of MyWikiBiz.com, I learned that Wikipedia is mostly a collection of young people with very little business experience, and they take a very hypocritical view of commercial enterprise. My company was written up by the Associated Press in a story that appeared in over 180 newspapers. I’ve appeared on national television. Yet, when someone tries to create an article about me or my company in Wikipedia, “revenge” is the operating policy, and it gets deleted on account of not being “notable” enough. But, they don’t delete until at least a half-dozen admins can disparage and libel me in the course of the deletion debate, in which I am not encouraged to participate.

    The problem with Wikipedia is that its policy is to reject all forms of commercial editing (except in their own, approved Reward Board area) — even to the point of the subjects of articles literally being forbidden from editing that article (!) — so when people like you express the logical alternative to transparent cooperation, the Wikipediots get themselves all up in a bunch, frothing with indignant outrage.

    After you’ve been immersed in it for a few months, you begin to view it with an almost comedic perspective. The anti-corporate cabal within Wikipedia, I have concluded, actually rather enjoys the whack-a-mole game they’ve constructed. They’re really not at all interested in building an encyclopedia. It’s more fun for them to “investigate” and “bust” commercially-motivated editors. Seriously, if it’s not a game, why would they create imaginary tools like the “ban hammer” and the “Troll-B-Gon”? Juvenile, multi-player gaming is the only explanation.

    I, for one, am looking forward to your next post — as I’m sure are scores of PR and Communications folks who have had enough of Wikipedia’s version of “community editing”, but are hesitant to post here, for fear of sabotaging their operation.

  • http://www.gregorykohs.com thekohser

    Hah! It only took a day for this to appear on the WikiEN-l mailing list, AND for a brand-new “user” of Wikipedia (…couldn’t POSSIBLY be a sockpuppet of an existing admins, now could it?) charmingly named “Snakesouls” to get busy making the Business.com page look a lot worse than it used to.

    Snakesouls’ contribution history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/Snakesouls

    Tell me, what is encyclopedic about adding “original research” about this blog post to the article about Business.com in Wikipedia? Very little. What is vindictive and game-like about it? Everything.

  • http://www.jehochman.com JEHochman

    @thekosher

    Feeling vengeful for being banned, eh? Let me give you a tip: Nobody is required to participate in Wikipedia. If you choose to edit, you have to follow the rules. If you don’t like the rules, you can set up your own wiki, the software is free. You can call it “Spamopedia” or “Astroturfopedia,” and we’ll see how many people want to read that.

  • Durova

    Hello, I’m the Wikipedia administrator who goes by the username Durova. I’ve made over 15,000 edits at that site and received 19 site awards (called barnstars). I am JEHochman’s Wikipedia mentor, and similar to him I’m a mature adult with an Ivy League education.

    I encourage the people here to have a look at an essay of mine.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Durova/The_dark_side

    Jessica Bowman and other Search Engine Land readers and writers are welcome to contact me with questions, preferably in advance of publishing either here or at Wikipedia. It’s a tricky matter to contribute there with a conflict of interest and I advise readers to disregard the suggestions at this article. As a nonprofit reference source, Wikipedia is profoundly different from other Web 2.0 sites such as MySpace.

    I can be reached through the e-mail link at my Wikipedia user page.

    Readers who may be curious why MyWikiBiz is banned from that site can examine the link below. I discourage others from following that example.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Community_sanction_noticeboard/Archive3#Unblock_of_Thekohser.3F

  • Sean William

    This article has inadvertently turned into (yet another) battleground between Thekosher/MyWikiBiz and Wikipedia admins. MyWikiBiz was originally banned by the founder of Wikipedia, Jimbo Wales, for astroturfing articles for money. It’s a complicated story. It would be beneficial to read the second link that Durova posted to gain more insight on this.

  • http://shilllicker.blogspot.com Halliburton-Shill

    Jessica, I think you provided a significant and useful service. You should be proud for highlighting the basics and some of the principles at work behind what anyone can see on any major company’s Wikipedia page, or any politician’s page. Exxon, Halliburton, GM, Coke, Ford, Hummer, Fox News, Phillip Morris (or it’s rebranded Altria Group), Mcdonald’s, etc.

    Now everyone, not just the huge company’s that can pay PR firms, can see how to employ Wikipedia. With a little luck, maybe the admins there will spend less time erasing “dirty” words and more on easing deceptions and disinformation.

  • http://www.gregorykohs.com thekohser

    JEHochman, you’re a search engine optimization pro, but you haven’t even looked into my story. You say, “If you choose to edit, you have to follow the rules.” Fair enough. When I set out to edit for pay, in July 2006, there were no rules against improving the encyclopedia with encyclopedic content, for which the editor was paid to author. The Reward Board — then and now — confirms this policy. The current rules were invented AFTER my business launched, in response to (retaliation for?) my enterprise. You say, “you can set up your own wiki”. Duh. I have. It’s called Centiare, and it gets as many page views as Larry Sanger’s Citizendium and Jimmy Wales’ OpenServing on any given day. So far, 200 editors and nearly 30,000 pages. We’re getting some fairly impressive search engine ranking results, too — just Google the word “realtors” and the zip code “02740″ and see what comes up at the top of 9,000+ results.

    Durova, you are an anonymous administrator. Protected by your anonymity, you cast defamatory comments which you also refuse (or fail?) to back up with any proof. The link you provided is ironically rich, being that it is the very page where you said I have “given misleading information to journalists that was published in the mainstream press”. Jimmy Wales unblocked me a couple of months ago. Within a couple of days of my asking you publicly on the wiki to provide some rationale or proof to back up your statement that I’ve been misleading journalists, I was again blocked by administrators coming to your rescue, after you cried out that I was making “legal threats”. I made four separate statements assuring you that I had no interest in any legal action against you, but you kept up the pitiful fiction that I was intimidating you with a lawsuit.

    Any reader who has spent less than 15 minutes editing Wikipedia would read the above exchanges and quickly come to the conclusion that Wikipedia is, indeed, controlled by irrational, vindictive people. It is no wonder that businesses who wish to interact with the Wikipedia community quickly learn that deception and “underground” forays are the only logical way to proceed — if they interact with the project at all.

  • Durova

    Mr. Kohs has been saying a lot about Wikipedia and about me around the Internet. I haven’t responded off-wiki before, but this time I’ll bite because the digression might be illuminating to other readers here.

    To put this into perspective, MyWikiBiz.com grossed $500 at the utmost during its entire operation, according to the Associated Press story by Brian Bergstein of January 24, 2007.

    http://massis.lcs.mit.edu/telecom-archives/TELECOM_Digest_Online/0250.html

    The English language edition of Wikipedia currently has 4.7 million registered accounts and any sample of people that large a contains a few unbalanced individuals who eventually come to the attention of the sysops. Below is a case that Mr. Kohs is probably aware of (it was discussed at an attack site he frequents): a self-described psychiatric patient had to be sitebanned for developing a sexual fixation on me. It’s a good example of why many women edit pseudonymously.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Community_sanction_noticeboard/Archive6#Proposed_community_ban_of_Arkhamite_and_68.84.17.112

    When Mr. Kohs first claimed my statements about him were defamatory I immediately contacted the Wikimedia Foundation and sought the advice of their counsel. They have never asked me to retract a word of my comments concerning him. I stand by my statements, which are mostly based not on some mysterious e-mails but upon comparison of the Associated Press story to his Wikipedia contribution histories, most of which are open to anyone who has an internet connection. Assessments of the remainder remain available through Wikipedia deletion logs.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:MyWikiBiz

    During Mr. Kohs’s latest unblock I offered to bring his grievances to arbitration. An uninvolved administrator reimposed his ban because he preferred to continue not-so-subtle hints of a lawsuit. To the best of my knowledge Mr. Kohs has no qualification to give legal opinions. Had he consulted anyone who does possess such expertise, I suspect they would have discouraged his continued assertions on a variety of websites that may expose him to potential countersuit.

    Overall, although I wish him well in other endeavors, my experience investigating his actions at Wikipedia inspires no confidence in his claims. It surprises me that he continues to draw attention to events that, upon examination, can only damage whatever professional reputation he hopes to build.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Sam Samuel Wantman

    I’m another administrator from Wikipedia. I do not edit anonymously. In response to this article and because the subject repeatedly comes up, we have created an FAQ for Businesses which can be found at:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Business%27_FAQ
    If there are any important questions that are missing from this FAQ page, please let us know.

    Wikipedia is not anti-business. We are not Liberal. We are not conservative. But we do uphold basic principles of verifiability and neutral point of view. Some people have a very difficult time editing under those constraints. It is a very rare individual that can write about themselves or their business without creating a conflict of interest.

  • http://www.gregorykohs.com thekohser

    Durova, I feel sorry for you. Here is a snapshot of four things I typed to you on Wikipedia, which are also available in the “contribution histories” you speak of:

    * In sum, I’m not trying to drag you into court. I’m not trying to expose your true identity. In fact, I’m trying to reduce the need or desire for either of those processes.

    and

    * The word defamatory merely means ‘harmful and often untrue; tending to discredit or malign’. It is not exclusively a legal term.

    and

    * You can stop any level of concern or paranoia that I am threatening a legal action.

    and

    * I, too, respect and commend almost all of your contributions to Wikipedia! Heck, only one of them is sticking in my craw. ;-) I’ll look forward to your e-mail.

    Do you even NOTE that? I said I respect and commend your contributions to Wikipedia. I didn’t even hear a “thank you”. But, apparently because you’ve been harassed by someone else in your past, you were afraid to e-mail me an explanation of why you thought I gave misleading information to journalists. I understand you did give an explanation to Brian Bergstein of the Associated Press. Here is what he said to me in response to that “evidence”:

    “…it’s not so much that I decided she [Durova] was right or wrong, but it’s more that I didn’t care one way or another. I would have come back to you and grilled you about it had I at all cared. As I’m sure you know, my story was not meant to carry water for you, personally, but instead was meant to explore the issue you raised about payments and Wikipedia and how it played out in your experience. There was no point in trying to assess whether she had opened up some new revelations about your character. It wasn’t relevant to the story.”

    So, there you have it.

    An anonymous Wikipedia admin says that I “gave misleading information to journalists”. The journalist says “it wasn’t relevant to the story”. I made four different statements to try to assure Durova that I didn’t intend to file a legal action against her. Durova’s reaction was to seek the advice of counsel at the Wikimedia Foundation (counsel whom soon thereafter quit the post).

    Am I the ONLY person who thinks that maybe *I’m* not the one damaging my professional reputation here? Seriously, am I crazy? Are we now to the point in our Web 2.0 society where anonymous persons holding authority positions within Top 10 website communities can say defamatory things (that I lie to journalists), and the end result of my politely personal complaint is to have my “professional reputation” further questioned by the anonymous administrator?

    That’s just lovely.

    Thank God I love my wife, daughter, family, and many friends — who all love me dearly and don’t give two whits about Wikipedia. I really can’t imagine that if any major donor to the Wikimedia Foundation knew THIS is the type of culture that is fostered there, HOW they would possibly sign that check over to Jimbo and his admins-gone-wild.

  • Sunshine

    Be oh-so-careful when taking advice from Wikipedia administrator Durova. She likes to write long preachy essays about the dangers of Wikipedia, while tripping up users who don’t know the rules. She’s pretty well known for making up false information to discredit people on any small whim.

    Please don’t disclose that you have a any page on wikipedia in which you have any vested interest (business or otherwise) to her, or any other Wikipedia administrator. But most certainly her.

    She’s not stable.

    I don’t know why she runs around to all these articles and posts her name as some kind of authority – but if you read anything about Wikipedia, and look at the comments, she is showing off about herself, and offering herself up for advice. Ask her for the same advice on Wikipedia, and she’ll kick you in the face.

    She’s a twisted piece of work. Avoid her like the plague.

  • http://www.stevengeldrich.com DandBBoy1981

    After reading both this article and the Starbucks Wikipedia entry, I’m confused. If you were using that entry as an example of a company adding “filler” to hide the negative, then you obviously have not read the entry yourself. I’ve read nothing negative on that entire page, and yes, I did read the entire page. I am a fan of Starbucks coffee, and although that does make me a little bias, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s nothing negative about the company. The only thing close is the section on unions, and most companies hate unions, so I don’t really see that as a negative.

  • http://www.jehochman.com JEHochman

    DandBBoy1981, this article was written a while ago. The article may have been edited since then. If you click the “history” tag you can find older versions of the article and check them.

  • http://www.stevengeldrich.com DandBBoy1981

    Looking through the history, I still haven’t found anything truly negative in the entries. I think the author of the article just doesn’t like either Wikipedia or Starbucks, but not having met the author, that’s just a personal opinion.

 

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