SEO Analysis: Why Does Wikipedia Rank So Well?

If you’re regularly checking search engine rankings for a variety of different keywords, you’ll have seen that Wikipedia is one of the highest rankings sites in the World; claiming the number one spot in Google for a huge amount of keywords, from the long-tail to the hugely competitive.

So why does Wikipedia rank so well? Can you outrank Wikipedia for a competitive phrase, or should you just be happy with the number 2 or 3 slot? We get asked these questions a surprising amount, by clients, interns and readers of our blog, so I thought it was probably worth covering the subject in a blog post.

Let’s start at looking why Wikipedia ranks so well for such a variety of terms.

Domain Authority

Wikipedia has a phenomenally high domain authority (98 out of 100 according to the SEOMoz toolbar) – this is the result of the size, quality, age, structure and inbound links of the site and is one of the primary reasons for the site ranking so well for such a variety of keyterms. The site has a homepage Page Rank of 9, and whilst this isn’t as important a ranking factor as many people believe, it is indicative of the authority of the site and the subsequent trust it enjoys from Google.


Despite what some people seem to think about the quality of the Wikipedia pages, they’re actually extremely high and the content is now often compared (in terms of authority on a subject) to the Encyclopedia Britannica. The myth that the reliability of the content on the site is poor most likely comes from Wikipedia’s user-entry content model, which (at one time) allowed anyone to update and change the information on any Wikipedia page. This is still possible, but the level of moderation on Wikipedia now makes adding comical or incorrect information (that lasts) to the site extremely difficult.

Structure and mark-up

The content and the way the site is structured (in terms of mark-up and well optimised copy, images, etc) is essentially perfect in terms of SEO. The website is unconcerned with promotional content (apart from the now common ‘plea’ from the Wikipedia founder), conversion optimisation or flashy, modern content – their encyclopedia status (and associated aims) allow them to produce pages which are simple, clean, text-based and perfect for search engine indexation. On top of this, the site speed is excellent, substantially aiding the impressive rankings .
The site utilises semantic mark-beautifully, has perfectly optimised images, highly relevant (and usually high authority) external links and extremely strong content (in terms of both quality and quantity). The site is 100% substance over style and is an ideal example of how to lay out web pages and content for ranking well in search engines.

Internal Links

Wikipedia has one of the strongest internal linking structures imagineable; ensuring nearly every page of their mammoth website enjoys at least a handful of extremely strong, internal anchor text links from extremely high authority pages.

Inbound External Links

As you might expect, Wikipedia boasts a monumental backlink profile, with some phenomenally high authority pages/domains linking to them. The encyclopedic nature of the site encourages anchor text links and pretty much every page on the Wikipedia site enjoys at least a few high authority page links (on top of the particularly strong internal links).

The combination of the above elements has caused Wikipedia to rank so highly for such a wide range of phrases, and makes the site extremely difficult to outrank.

How To Outrank Wikipedia

With that said however, it is of course possible to outrank Wikipedia, even for the most competitive phrases. However, to do so, you’ll need to ensure that your site exceeds Wikipedia in at least a few of the metrics mentioned above.

Domain authority – it would be extremely difficult to exceed Wikipedia’s domain authority, and in a lot of cases practically impossible. Therefore, you need to look at other ranking factors in order to outrank Wikipedia pages.

Quality – this will need to be a major consideration for you and you’ll need to ensure that you have a substantial amount of extremely high quality, relevant content on the page you’re looking to rank. Your content needs to be more valuable and more in-depth than that on the corresponding Wikipedia page and should encourage an extremely high click through rate.

Structure and Markup – you will struggle to beat Wikipedia when it comes to structure, mark-up or site speed, but it’s certainly possible to match the site. If you can ensure your on-site elements are properly optimised, keep your site speed at an optimal level and ensure you’re content is of a particularly high standard, you’ve got a good starting base to take on the Wikipedia page.

Internal links – you’re unlikely to get the same level of internal linking (from the same number and authority of pages), but you should make an effort to find the highest quality, most linked-to pages on your site and ensure they’ve got internal anchor text links to the page you’re trying to rank. Check out the post on using Open Site Explorer to find link prospects for more information on finding the strongest pages on your domain.

External links – this is one area where you stand a good chance of exceeding Wikipedia’s metrics (for all but the most high profile, linked-to Wikipedia pages). Whilst the majority of high ranking Wikipedia pages can boast some good inbound external links (usually with good anchor text), they’re usually beatable if you’re engaging in a quality link-building campaign for your target page.

Weak Areas

As you’ve probably guessed, exceeding the metrics above isn’t a particularly easy task – so are there any SEO areas that Wikipedia is weak on? Actually, there is one notable weakness in Wikipedia’s overall SEO profile; social media signals.

Social media is becoming an ever-more important SEO factor, and (at least at the moment), Wikipedia doesn’t get too much in terms of social media signals. You should easily be able to exceed the regular number of mentions from large social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, etc that Wikipedia receives, helping you to outrank their pages.

Obviously some pages are going to be harder to outrank than others, so the likelihood of taking a number one spot from Wikipedia varies wildly depending on authority of the page and the competitiveness of the keyword. If you’ve got any specific examples you’d like to ask us about or any general questions whatsoever, let us know in the comments section below.

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