Wikimedia’s Unethical Use Of nofollow For Commercial Gain
I was disturbed to read recently that Wikipedia is planning to lift its
nofollow rule for links that point to their new for-profit site, Wikia.
nofollow is an attribute that can be added to links on a web page. While not directly beneficial to users, it tells search engines that the link is untrusted. As a result, search engines avoid the link.
nofollow was originally intended to prevent link spamming on community websites such as blogs and forums. Wikipedia adopted
nofollow a while back because it was so easy to drop spammy links into their pages.
Google uses the number of links back to a website and the authority of the linking site as a means for calculating the importance of a web page. By using
nofollow, you tell the search engine to exclude the link from that calculation – so the site gets no benefit from the link.
Now, they have decided to remove the
nofollow code from any links that point to Wikia and a few other approved blogs.
Why Should You Care?
You might not think that this is a problem on the face of it, but Wikipedia has grown into a massive authority site based on the number of links back to it from other sites. Therefore, any sites that Wikipedia links to (without using
nofollow) will have an immediate advantage in the search engines.
They describe this as editorial approval of links to trusted sites, but there are any number of legitimate articles from legitimate sites that could be added to a Wikipedia page. Why should they be unfairly hobbled? Because Wikimedia don’t have the resources to police every link added to Wikimedia.
I suggest that Wikipedia should adopt either a blanket application of
nofollow or remove it altogether. I agree with Loren Baker at Search Engine Journal, who said:
I do not think that selective power linking to projects which make your company money is the answer and do not see much of a difference between Wikipedia’s Wikia linking practice and sites selling editorial links (links placed within editorial content) to the highest bidder.
Put simply, Wikipedia are using their PageRank strength to boost another for-profit company. They are giving their for-profit website special treatment at the expense of other quality resources.
Check out Michael Gray’s post about the dominance of Wikipedia in the search engine listings to see why this should be of concern to webmasters. As a webmaster and SEO, I’m worried that Wikipedia’s dominance even for simple common or garden keywords may make it harder for clients (or myself) to get search engine exposure with new websites. I think you should too.