How to Earn Trust with Wikipedia and Web Directories

Image of Scott Baradell
Scott Baradell
Published: Dec 21, 2020
Last Updated: Jan 4, 2022

In February 2005, immediately upon founding my PR agency as a solo consultancy, I successfully listed Idea Grove on Wikipedia. The glowing reference included links to my brand-new, bare-bones website.

I followed up this listing by adding my site to a wide range of web directories. Search algorithms at the time saw directory listings as signals that a business was established and legitimate; the more directories that linked to your website, the better your company's search position for industry keywords.

Idea Grove was soon ranking No. 1 in searches for "Dallas PR firms" and similar terms.

Those were simpler times, of course. 

Wikipedia and Google Get Smarter

Soon enough, an overwhelming deluge of companies and SEO practitioners got in the Wikipedia and directory game, forcing Wikipedia and Google to get smarter. Wikipedia updated its policies and protocols, and Google improved its algorithms.

Wikipedia began to enforce stricter (if not always consistent) standards of "notability" as a requirement to be included in the encyclopedia. It also classified its outbound links as "no follow" links with search engines to prevent SEO firms from gaming the resource. And it implemented a broad "conflict of interest" policy that discouraged individuals, companies and their representatives from editing their own entries. This basically shut marketers and PR professionals out of Wikipedia -- at least theoretically.

Google, meanwhile, updated its algorithms to devalue links from directories. That doesn't mean directories are useless; they remain a small but not insignificant ranking factor, especially for local businesses. And being in the right directories has value that extends beyond SEO.

How to Handle—or Not Handle—Wikipedia

Although Wikipedia links no longer carry the SEO benefits they once did, Wikipedia's higher standards for entries have made the encyclopedia an important gatekeeper for determining what companies and people are "notable" or "prominent."

As just one example of Wikipedia's clout, Twitter says Wikipedia is an important gatekeeper for determining whether an organization or individual is worthy of a Twitter verified badge -- the famous blue checkmark.

So, how does a marketer go about getting their company in Wikipedia? The short answer is ... it's complicated.

I love Wikipedia, truly. It's a wonderful resource and amazing achievement. Heck, it's the third-most-trafficked site in the world.

But it's like sausage -- sometimes you love it a little less once you know how it's made.

Wikipedia is a sprawling community of more than 130,000 volunteer editors with competing agendas, axes to grind, varying perspectives on who and what deserves a Wikipedia listing, and an even wider range of ideas about how those entries should be written.

More often than not, though, the wisdom of the crowd prevails over time. That's why Wikipedia, founded in 2001, is both the father of crowdsourcing and crowdsourcing's greatest success story.

For most of its history now, Wikipedia has taken a strong position against PR agencies, SEO and ORM firms, corporate marketers or anyone else who has a financial interest in a Wikipedia entry to create or edit that entry. The current policy states as follows:

Conflict of interest (COI) editing involves contributing to Wikipedia about yourself, family, friends, clients, employers, or your financial and other relationships. Any external relationship can trigger a conflict of interest ... COI editing is strongly discouraged on Wikipedia ...

For example, an article about a band should not be written by the band's manager, and a biography should not be an autobiography or written by the subject's spouse. There can be a COI when writing on behalf of a competitor or opponent of the page subject, just as there is when writing on behalf of the page subject ...

COI emerges from an editor's roles and relationships, and the tendency to bias that we assume exists when those roles and relationships conflict.

Wikipedia does make exceptions for what it calls "uncontroversial" edits by COI editors, but these exceptions are extremely limited in scope:

Editors who have a general conflict of interest may make unambiguously uncontroversial edits. They may ... remove spam and unambiguous vandalism, fix spelling and grammatical errors, repair broken links, and add independent reliable sources when another editor has requested them...

The bottom line is, creating or editing your company's own Wikipedia entry is highly discouraged and can lead to your entry being removed or your account being blocked.

Wikipedia Risks and Rewards

Having said that, the surreptitious creation and editing of Wikipedia entries on behalf of clients is a staple of the online reputation management (ORM) business, and if you run a simple Google search for ORM firms, you'll find many who freely promote their Wikipedia services.

Should you partake of these services and create Wikipedia entries on the sly? You could -- but it's important to know the risks. 

An agency called Wiki-PR boasted a few years ago that it could create Wikipedia entries for companies through its "network of established editors." It claimed clients like Viacom and Priceline, along with many smaller companies. Wikipedia ended up identifying and banning Wiki-PR's editors and pulling down hundreds of Wikipedia entries. It was an embarrassment for those involved -- although the practice has not stopped and probably won't.

If you want to participate in Wikipedia, I would suggest the best way to do it is to do so transparently. Create an account, identify yourself, disclose any conflicts of interest in your account profile, and then edit away. If you are careful, incremental and make every effort to be objective, your participation may be accepted. 

Josh Greene, a PR pro writing for the PRSA Maryland Chapter's website, recommends the following:

You can directly edit the article yourself, although Wikipedia prefers that anyone who works at a company/for an individual leaves the editing of that article to someone else. If that’s the case, you can visit the article’s Talk page, share a sentence or two at a time of your drafted content and the applicable sources, and request that another editor make the change.

If you’re drafting a brand new article, the process is similar. Visit Wikipedia’s Request an Article page and share why you think a topic needs its own article, and provide content and sources.

Strategies for Earning Trust Through Directories

Although web directories are no longer a core pillar of SEO, identifying and listing your company in targeted directories still has value -- particularly for local businesses.

First, per Search Engine Journal, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this a reputable site? Put another way: if a customer saw me on this site, would they view my business as more – or less – legitimate?
  • Is my target audience likely to visit this site? If not, it’s probably not worth listing your business.

SEJ goes on to list the directories it considers most valuable for local businesses in 2020, including:

  • Google My Business
  • Better Business Bureau
  • Yahoo
  • Bing Places
  • Yellow Pages
  • Hotfrog
  • MerchantCircle
  • Nextdoor
  • eLocal

In addition to these general directories, which all receive strong traffic, there are also hundreds of niche directories for specific industries to choose from.

If the idea of posting and maintaining directory listings on many different sites seems a bit overwhelming, services such as Yext can handle much of the heavy lifting for a small monthly fee.

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