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There are thousands of people all around the world giving their time and knowledge to Wikipedia, “the free online Encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone”.

According to Alexa, Wikipedia is one of the twenty most popular websites in the world. As any webmaster knows better backlinks mean better search engine page rankings and better search engine page rankings mean more traffic. If you can edit the Wikipedia can you use it to create high-quality backlinks to your website? Why don’t you go to Wikipedia now and plaster links to your website all over its pages?

Hold on there for a moment! Wikipedia can drive traffic to your website via backlinks but before you go ploughing through Wikipedia pellmell adding links left, right and centre take a moment to consider how Wikipedia works.

Despite the fact that anyone can edit the pages on Wikipedia the content is almost always of a very high quality and very accurate. So it is reasonable to conclude that there are some underlying processes in place that help keep it that way.

Here’s how it works: no article on Wikipedia is ever complete, that is, it is always subject to further editing, improvement and development. All pages on Wikipedia contain a history – a record of every single change. When a change it made the date and time are logged as well as all changes made. You can either make changes as a guest or through a (free) registered account. If you make changes as a guest your IP address is recorded whereas if you use an account your username is recorded. Either way, if you make a change to Wikipedia you leave your mark for everyone else to see. Contributers to Wikipedia can also create a “watchlist” – a series of articles that they can track changes on (articles that they are interested in and / or have contributed to).

Given that all articles on Wikipedia are intended to be neutral and unbiased and the stringent change tracking in place if you edit an article such that it contravenes the ethos of Wikipedia you will find that it will quickly be removed. And given that all changes are attached to an IP address or a user account you can quickly build a bad reputation for yourself as a Wikipedia contributor if you keep SPAMming the site (more on SPAMming later).

Don’t be discouraged though, you still can use backlinking for the benefit of Wikipedia and your website but…

Wikipedia has a policy on external links

It is strict and here are eight points to bear in mind that will help you decide whether or not you should add external links to Wikipedia:

Don’t link to blogs, networking sites, forums or free hosted sites, sites that require logins or redirected sites

All Wikipedia external links should be to reputable web pages. Blogs, forums and sites that are hosted by free web providers (usually packed with ads and popups) lack the kind of credibility Wikipedia is striving for. Furthermore, you should ensure your content does not require registration or user login.

Don’t supersede an “official” page

If John Smith is a famous person and he has his own website with his profile on then this is clearly the “official” web page for that person and a link to that page would be suitable for the Wikipedia article on John Smith. If you’ve written a profile on John Smith don’t try to supersede this article with your own as it will constitute SPAM. The same goes for the official websites and pages for organisations, business, brand names, et cetera.

Only link to something that is relevant in the long term

Although things change and are updated you should only link to articles that have a long shelf life. Transient information that will be out-of-date in a few days, weeks, months or (sometimes) years are not welcome on Wikipedia. Additionally, do not commit to supplying a web page as an external link if you plan to remove the page or change the structure of your website in the near future.

Don’t create an unbalanced point-of-view

Anything you link to must not be opinionated or biased towards a particular viewpoint. Your link should present facts in a clear and understandable manner.

Do your research

Although noone gets paid to write for Wikipedia the people that are inclined to do so are generally the more knowledgeable ones. So, if you are writing content with the intention of getting Wikipedia to link to it, do your research. Contributors will read the content their articles link to and if it is not accurate they will naturally conclude this reflects badly on their work and ergo remove your link.

Only link to accessible web pages

Accessibility takes on several forms. In this case you would want to make sure that your web page is written in legible HTML or XHTML and renders properly on all major web browsers. The page should not rely on third party plugins such as the Flash Player or an ActiveX plugin.

Always put your link under the External Links section

The Wikipedia linking policy states all external links should be under a heading External Links situated after the main copy of the article. You should not try to create your own custom headings or link from the main copy of the article.

Don’t SPAM!

This is the underlying principal for the previous seven points and is the most important. As far as Wikipedia is concerned SPAM can take several forms but the relevant one for this article is external link SPAMming, that is, adding external links with the intention of improve search engine rankings rather than for the benefit on Wikipedia.

Above all before you add anything to Wikipedia ask yourself, does this link benefit the article? If it doesn’t then sooner or later it will be removed. And even if it doesn’t it probably means it’s on a page that wasn’t worth linking from in the first place. If it does, run through the eight points detailed in this article. A final sanity check it to propose your idea for change to the Wikipedia talk page for that article – fellow Wikipedians will soon tell you if they think you should add your link or not.

If you need help building backlinks, call me on 07843 483 078 or get a quote online now.

Tim Bennett is a Leeds-based web designer from Yorkshire. He has a First Class Honours degree in Computing from Leeds Metropolitan University and currently runs his own one-man web design company, Texelate.