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The Wikipedia SEO Profile Killer

Stephen Logan

by Stephen Logan on 20th September 2011

In recent weeks somebody has been tampering with the links and profiles on dozens of SEO-related Wikipedia pages including Aaron Wall and Barry Schwartz. This is nothing new of course. It’s an open platform that is almost entirely reliant on visitor contributions, as such anybody can anonymously adjust content as they deem fit. But what does this mean for the future of Wikipedia profiles, and the appearance of SEO on the site?

In the case of the SEO, profiles are being stripped of their links and some are being nominated for deletion.  As such the recipient loses any of the value that they may have been receiving.  Now whether this is being done to damage competitors or attack the industry is unclear, but it does perhaps expose the risk of creating a page that is accessible to the world and can be edited by anyone.

The SEO Profile Killer and Johann Hari Scandal

Now this reminded me of the recent shenanigans involving Johann Hari, a columnist at the Independent newspaper. As well as serious accusations of plagiarism, Hari was found to have maliciously edited the Wikipedia entries of a number of fellow journalists.  This wasn’t simply a case of stripping out a few links, he was actively engaged in attempting to damage or inflate the reputations of professionals to better serve his own viewpoints.

This provides the perfect example of both the power and fallibility of Wikipedia as an information resource. Some might deem it improper to use it as a promotional tool, particularly if you are only seeking a link or to bolster your own status. As such, perhaps it’s no bad thing that a few SEOs have seen their profiles removed or links taken away. Others though might suggest that as a global hub of knowledge, it should have as many entries as possible – just as long as they aren’t promotional or inaccurate.

Inherent Risk of an Amendable Public Profile

Unfortunately Wikipedia is easily abused. This is why academics will never use it as a primary source (although can potentially use citations within articles) and most take the information with a pinch of salt. But if your profile is attacked, going unnoticed by yourself or the moderators, it can still seriously damage your reputation. This is perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of the Johann Hari saga.

Whilst he might claim that it was only to expose journalists, the truth is that anybody reading his amendments could potentially read it as truth and therefore alter their opinion of the subject – perhaps irreparably. If the articles are fallacious, then this can be hugely detrimental.

In terms of the SEO attacks, the biggest question that appears to have been raised by the perpetrator is one of deservedness. Do people who are well-known within the industry really deserve a profile page on Wikipedia? Whilst I know the names of Barry Schwartz and Aaron Wall, 99.9% of the world don’t – and probably have no interest in what they do or say. The apparent lack of ‘significant coverage’ from independent sources is the real crux of the issue.

The discussion on the page relating to Barry Schwartz’s removal sheds a little light on the problem. Barry argues that he has been cited in a number of newspapers and blogs whilst also appearing in news stories on NBC. However, a number of users have counter-claimed that these are only snippets or unverifiable and therefore don’t hold much weight when judging notability.

So does an SEO really need a Wikipedia page?

After all, there are plenty of industries of a similar size that don’t have their notable professionals featured in Wikipedia, so why should SEO be different? There aren’t pages dedicated to the leading dentists; however, there will undoubtedly be those who appear at conferences or write on the subject that have a certain notoriety – essentially the Barry Schwartz of the dentistry world.

On the flip side though, if the profile has been created and verified, then why remove it? How notable do you really need to be? This is where arguments of potential bias and deliberate vendetta-style attacks can seep in. After all, why is an accurate (presumably) profile being recommended for deletion otherwise?

It’s a strange situation, but one that could only ever be made possible on such an open public resource. There is a major distinction to be drawn between the actions and even motives of Johann Hari and the user targeting SEOs (for one, Hari used a false name). Whilst both may have personal issues with the intended target, at least the latter is working by the Wikipedia guidelines and is even attracting additional support.  Johann on the other hand was simply out to serve his own needs and use the online encyclopaedia as a weapon.

There is so much information on Wikipedia that effective moderation is almost impossible. As such it is reliant on the public to fill the gaps. Invariably this creates its own issues, as demonstrated in both these cases. What Johann Hari did was wrong, and he is by no means alone in this kind of tampering, but without knowing the motive, it’s difficult to pass judgement on the SEO profile killer.

Maybe he or she is keeping egos in check, maybe they have a grudge against the industry and its practitioners or perhaps they are simply looking to uphold the quality guidelines of the site. It’s unfortunate for those who have seen their pages decimated, but ultimately it is up to the community to decide what stays and what goes. As such there isn’t a great deal that anybody can do except make sure that all citations are in place, regularly check their page for updates and fight their own corner when necessary.

Thanks to Rishil for identifying the culprit removing SEO profiles.

Stephen Logan

Stephen Logan

Stephen Logan is our Senior Content Marketer at Koozai. With four years experience writing exclusively for the search engine marketing industry, he has amassed a wealth of industry related knowledge. He will be breaking news stories and contributing compelling SEO related stories.

5 Comments

  • Katie Saxon 20th September 2011

    So out of interest who is the SEO killer?

    It just seems petty and weird, even if someone is only notable within the SEO community, they are still noteworthy. I know Wikipedia isn’t the best or most reliable research tool, but it can be a good starting point and if you know nothing about SEO, surely being pointed in the direction of industry big wigs is a good thing?

    Personally I’ve never gone down the route of trying to use Wikipedia for clients (or myself being entirely un-noteworthy), and I doubt many people are, but it does go to show how cautious you need to be if you do rely on a public forum for links. Although something tells me Mr Schwartz et al will do just fine without the benefit of the links from Wikipedia..

    Reply to this comment

  • Mike Essex

    Mike 21st September 2011

    Annoyingly the user in questions has deleted their profile, but they had marked about 20 different SEO people / topics for deletion, most of which then got removed.

    It seems like if someone was noteworthy in any other field they would be fine (e.g. a leading doctor). But Wikipedia naturally dislike SEO’s as we’re seen to want to game their site.

    It’s still great for clients, and a good way to get a branded term, but even there the policy is often hypocritical with smaller brands showing profiles and other brands being deleted within seconds.

    My main issue is when established profiles get deleted. If they’ve been fine for years why remove them – which is what happened in this case. A systematic case of SEO profiles being removed over a 48 hour period.

    Reply to this comment

  • Nick Daws 21st September 2011

    I’ve had this happen to me also. As a working freelance writer with over 100 books to my name, I felt I should have a modest Wikipedia entry for the benefit of people who wanted to know a bit more about me. My entry lasted around two years, then it was marked for deletion because I was ‘not sufficiently notable’.

    My entry was then taken over by my namesake, a moderately sucessful lower league footballer. No disrespect to him, but if you do a search online on my name, you will find a lot more entries devoted to me than to him.

    I find it ironic as well that a number of websites and even other Wikipedia articles linked to my article before it was deleted, and many still do – but now those links (even within Wikipedia itself) go to the Wikipedia article about Nick Daws the footballer. No doubt a few people will be puzzling over the fact that he is credited as the author of Living & Working in Italy, among other books! Over time I’m sure this has happened to other people as well, and is another good example of why Wikipedia entries should never be treated as gospel.

    Thanks for an interesting article, by the way.

    Reply to this comment

  • Dean Cruddace 21st September 2011

    I was not aware of the journalist and his manouevres towards his own opinions, thanks for sharing that one. As you rightly highlight though such an open platform is open to abuse and they must be under attack several hundred times a day from visitors looking to edit for their own personal amusement through to others looking for quick links.

    It’s a bit of a double edged sword really, gaining a link within the Wiki can add a little weight whether it is branded or not but there are so many other sources I would never place stock while thinking of Wikipedia as my first port of call. A sitewide link however is a different story ;)

    I did read the usertalk that has been going back and forth between Barry and others looking to stand on Wikis codes and I can empathize with Barrys frustration and I could not help thinking at the time that this has a DMOZ editor feel about it all. Personally I would let it go. But as user looking to delete Barrys profile I would take a longer harder look at Barrys sources of notation and consider my position. I dare say a lot was skim read with a foregone conclusion.

    Is there a positive to all of this?

    I would say yes, Wiki has inadvertantly just increased Barrys noteability.

    Is there a negative?

    Yes, Wiki has just exposed more flaws and presented (at least to me) a more inward looking approach to what is supposed to be open to all, but in actual fact comes down to the decisions of a few.

    Reply to this comment

  • wikipedia writers 23rd September 2011

    The editors at Wikipedia need a severe beating I tell ya!

    Reply to this comment

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