Wikipedia’s Double Standard On Nofollow Rule

Techcrunch discovered that Wikipedia was giving special treatment to their own properties, in terms of using standard, non-nofollowed, links to Wikia, “Wikipedia’s for-profit spin off.”

Back in January, Wikipedia nofollowed all external links from the site, in an effort to reduce Wikipedia spam. If you visit the Wikipedia page on Wikia, you may notice some external links do not contain the rel=”nofollow” attribute. Techcrunch calls them out for it.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building: General | Search Engines: Wikipedia

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  • http://sethf.com/anticensorware/ Seth Finkelstein

    Small note – they *publicized* it, but not really *discovered* it. This has been known for a while now, among Wikipedia critics, and discussed on Wikipedia’s own list. But the issue is complex enough that nobody was really inclined or able to push it to a higher attention level before.

    See, for example:
    http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikien-l/2007-March/066161.html

    The problem is that anyone at a lower level was just going to get a personal attack from Wikipedia PR flacks.

  • http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Gmaxwell Gmaxwell

    A minor accuracy nit: There are three primary types of links which occur in Mediawiki page text. Internal, Interwiki, and External links.

    Internal links link to things on the local Wiki. External link to user specified remote sites. Interwiki links link to other wikis out of a configured and vetted list.

    Wikimedia has hundreds of sites listed in the Wikimedia global interwiki map. Interwiki links are also used to link among Wikipedia’s many languages and Wikimedia’s many projects such as Commons, Wikisource, and Wikibooks.

    Interwiki links are not no-followed. Why would they be? They are not only used for Wikimedia’s own projects but for many other sites which have been verified to not be spam factories.

    Yes, it would be nice to be able to avoid no-follow on more links. .. and we have a roadmap to get there. But interwiki is what we have today. This is a complex matter because there are a lot of people who selfishly want certain permissive behaviors on Wikipedias part which can only be provided at the expense of Wikipedia and the Internet at large.

    In any case, Wikia is among the sites listed in the map, just like many other sites. Their pages are well maintained and are not spam.. so it makes sense, and it is certainly easier than typing out the full URLs. Their treatment is not special.

    From some quick sampling it appears that Wikia is more frequently linked to externally (i.e. with no-follow) than as interwiki in any case. It’s hard to tell exactly because we don’t track interwiki usage as closely as external links.

    If the interest in this subject outlasts the initial press noise from SEOs and opportunistic Wikipedia critics, I’ll be glad to produce some reports on the usage of interwiki links. But at this point I do not see this as a matter worth discussing. There are far more important problems with Wikipedia. :)

    It also appears to be the case that Wikia isn’t gaining anything from this… I checked two wikia wikis, Creatures, and Memory alpha which are both linked from English Wikipedia using interwikis. Neither of them show up on the first page of google using generic terms like “star trek community” or “creatures game”, although both are arguably some of the best usercommunities on the Internet for their respective subjects.

    I hope this has cleared up some confusion.

    My response my be repeated verbatim and with attribution in any forum where this subject is being discussed.

    –Greg Maxwell

  • http://www.jehochman.com JEHochman

    Ha, your blog-fu is no match for wiki-fu!

  • katy

    Waaa it’s their site, get over it. Whiners.

  • http://www.luckylester.com Lucky Lester

    Ya you bunch of whiners… get over it. Who the hell are you to complain about contributing to their website and expecting something as precious as a link back? Totally selfish of you all – you should consider yourselves privileged to be able to work for absolutely nothing.

    If the righteous people over at wikipedia don’t want to play nice then why not stop linking to them if it bothers you so much. Or better yet – why not stop contributing to their site altogether?

    Wikipedia reminds me of the self important schmuks over at the DMOZ and should soon be following them out the “We used to have a good thing” door. C-ya Wikipedia and don’t let that door hit you on the ass on your way out!

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    Thanks, Greg — the comments are appreciated.

    Personally, if Wikipedia can vet a subset of sites to be trusted, I’d like to see them go beyond that. Plenty of trusted sites have helped make Wikipedia what it is by the links we send to them. It’s not just content alone that shoots Wikipedia to the top of practically every Google search. It’s hundreds and thousands of trusted sites saying Wikipedia is a good resource. In turn, that traffic helps make it appealing for more people to participate in Wikipedia.

    In return, I think many sites would feel basic fairness would be met if Wikipedia didn’t adopt some type of “it’s them against us” attitude when it comes to external links. It can’t be that hard to start growing a list over time of sites Wikipedia considers trustworthy. That would be helpful internally for Wikipedia editors, plus removing nofollow from links to these sites might help win Wikipedia some support it has lost recently.

  • http://www.jehochman.com JEHochman

    Danny, I think you have it backwards. Your beef is with Google, not Wikipedia, because the nofollow attribute value isn’t a web standard. Nofollow was adopted by Google to make their job easier, and so they could make more money. Google is free to ignore the nofollow value when links point to something already known to be a reliable source.

    Rather than meaning “don’t count this link,” nofollow should mean, “we aren’t vouching for this link.” Maybe Google could make up another convention to explain things more clearly. How about rel=”novouch”?

  • savage

    “Your beef is with Google, not Wikipedia”

    Exactly. Google started link politics, Wikipedia is just conducting damage control.

    If nofollowing some of their links means less spam, who cares what it means to Google?

    Their site their links.

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    Well, Time For Google To Give Up The Fight Against Paid Links? that I just wrote gives Google plenty of beef.

    To be clear, I support nofollow. I think site owners should be able to flag if they want a link to pass credit or not. I have no beef with Google pushing (and two other search engines joining with them) this attribute out there two years ago. And it most definitely is a standard, one adopted by the major search engines along with many other blog software makers.

    Nofollow indeed means we don’t vouch for this link. As you say, Google could choose to ignore that if they want. They say they don’t, but they could.

    But my beef remains with Wikipedia in the sense that it could, if it wants, start to build a trusted link rather than the blanket view that all external links have to be denied credit. I think that’s especially an issue for Wikipedia given how much it benefits from inbound links.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Danny, I agree with you, but some Wikipedia higher-ups are quite adamant about the opposite:

    http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikien-l/2007-April/070170.html
    “Dear SEO spammers and Googlemancers: go away. We actively don’t care about your page rank.”
    [Wikipedia's UK press flack]

  • http://www.jehochman.com JEHochman

    There’s already too much wikilawyering. Can you imagine how many cases we would have if SEOs and marketers thought they could lobby Wikipedia for link love? Resources are already stretched thin. A link grading scheme, and the arbitration cases that will inevitably follow would pull volunteers away from writing brilliant articles. That’s a bad thing.

    Who benefits from link grading? The search engines do! Maybe they should do the link grading and bear the associated cost. C’mon, search engines, you already have a scheme for ranking the trustworthiness of sites. How hard could it be to say that if a nofollowed link points to a trusted site, count it? That would make us all happy.

  • http://davidgerard.co.uk/notes/ David Gerard

    I’m a PR flack? w00t! Must be why they pay me buckets of cash, not to mention the fame and chicks. Thanks to Seth for the link, here’s the text in full. It’s not in fact an official Wikimedia opinion, it’s mine, so my name is on it:

    Dear SEO spammers and Googlemancers: go away. We actively don’t care about your page rank.

    Our responsibility as a top 10 site is to our readers. Our responsibility is not to a third party (search engine optimisers) to make them look good to a fourth party (Google). People whose interest in Wikipedia is page rank are in no way, shape or form our constituency. Because their interest is, fundamentally, spamming.

    Pagerank is not a consideration for Wikipedia – it contributes nothing to the project of writing an encyclopedia. This is why SEOs and Googlemancers find it so hard to find anyone at Wikipedia or Wikimedia who cares.

    The interwiki map is for the convenience of the projects. Not for the SEO spammers.

    nb: Seth’s beef is that I kicked him off the wikien-l list because he was trying to troll for column material.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    David, just for my information, is “Wikipedia and Wikimedia UK press enquiries: Email me directly” a paid job or volunteer? Just so if I say “it’s his job,” I know whether or not I can append “he gets paid for it”.

    But see what a good flack he is? Now all my criticism, no matter how accurate and well-supported, can be neutralized with a personal attack on me. Wikipedia has a very creepy underside to it in terms of the fanaticism it fosters.

    Anyway, Florence Devouard, chair of the Wikimedia Foundation, has now come out with a different position:

    “Either all links (external and interwiki) should be nofollow
    Or none of them should be.”

    http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikien-l/2007-May/070291.html

    I will admit I am amused to see David lashing out furiously in the wake of this reversal. The subsequent spinning is well-done, but it’s got to hurt to go out and be an aggressive attack dog throwing mud on all the critics, and then find out his boss (?) is validating those very concerns.

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