No one wants to think of Google as a business that does sketchy things to other businesses through its search engine optimization algorithms, but according to a recent statement from Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, it seems that Google has been decreasing the traffic to Wikipedia pages for awhile.
Wales released a statement that Wikipedia’s organic search results are bringing in less traffic now than they previously did; there was a sudden drop in traffic recently, Search Engine Land and SimilarWeb reported, but Wales stated that it’s more of a “long-term issue” that has been going on for a while (and is expected to continue).
SimilarWeb posted on July 28 that Google’s most recent update, Panda 4.2, seemed to be penalizing Wikipedia more than usual, but that the website has actually been losing millions of page visits through Google searches over the past few months. According to the analysis provided by SimilarWeb, Wikipedia lost over 250 million desktop visits within the three months between April and June of this year.
After Wales released his own statement that the decline has been gradual rather than sudden, SimilarWeb took another look at the numbers and found that indeed, it has been going on for quite some time. According to the data, Wikipedia lost over 550 million desktop visits (between February 2015 and June 2015), which is a loss of approximately 20%, and it also lost about 500 million mobile visits during that same time period.
So what happened?
Well, it doesn’t look like Google punished Wikipedia — at least not on purpose. Search Engine Journal and SimilarWeb have both theorized that user preferences have changed, and that Google’s Panda 4.2 updated has reflected that change; instead of dense, never-ending paragraphs (like what’s often found on Wikipedia), people prefer to read short posts about trending topics.
“Web searchers are more interested in reading shorter, bulleted paragraphs, with interesting graphics,” says Suzanne Jeska, Owner, MRN Designs, LLC. “Gone are the days that people take the time to read through pages of information for research. If the answer is not found within the first couple of paragraphs, or if the user has to scroll on a page, they will go to the next source. There is too much competing information on the web to take the time to weed through a lot of words. We are a society of fast results with a short attention span, myself included.”
Also coming into play is Google’s new Answer Box, which appears at the very top of the page and provides an instant overview, definition, or answer to a search term. Instead of clicking on the first link for a quick answer — the first link typically being a Wikipedia page — users get that basic information on the search page itself.
“Another reason may be users copying Wikipedia content and duplicating it on the web, which Google penalizes in SEO,” Jeska continues. “Even in your own blog writing, be careful not to duplicate content found on the web. You can link or reference it, just don’t copy it.”