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The Importance of Search Engine Optimization

Cnoteboat January 26, 2015 User blog:Cnoteboat
Google Searches

Good SEO means a search for "Who is Walter White" shows Breaking Bad Wiki as the #2 result.

Hi there! My name is Charlie Boatwright and I'm an analyst in the Analytics Team here at Wikia. Part of my role involves investigating research questions pertinent to Wikia using the data we have available to us. One of the first topics I was assigned to look at is the attributes of Wikia article pages that drive pageviews.

One of the biggest drivers is what's known as SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, which is the process used to make it easier for wikias to be discovered and indexed by search engines. That way, search engines can properly rank a wikia's "relevance" and "importance," based on that search engine's criteria, in order to show the best search results possible for a user's query. For example, when a user searches "Who is Walter White" in Google, Google's algorithm returns a list of most relevant pages they believe answer the question. In this case Wikia ends up second.

Why is SEO important?

SEO is critical for a wikia's visibility. Search traffic is the source of more than 80% of all pageviews across Wikia communities, meaning if your community isn't seen by a search engine then it won't be seen by users looking for content like yours. When I say "seen," what I mean is that search engines need help understanding the content on your wikia. SEO is also important because of its intrinsic link to user experience: a site with strong SEO will always have a very good user experience. This post will give you guidance on what to focus on as you create content to make it more accessible for search engines.

What do search engines look for on a page?

There are three major factors within an editor's control that our internal research has shown to have the largest impact on SEO: Content, Links and Images.

Content is king

Articles should be written in clear, concise sentences and should contain, at minimum and whenever possible, a few paragraphs of content. As an author you have to think "Who am I writing this for? What kind of question does a user ending up on this page want answered? Does my content answer that question?" If you can answer those three questions, then your content is probably in decent shape. It should also go without saying that content should always be unique, because crawlers have the ability to recognize when content is copied over from another site and will punish websites for infractions like that.

Authors should also be wary of too much content on a page. Excessive content on a page can have a similarly negative effect on the user experience, as well as search engine crawlers, because too much content can dilute the value. At that point, you, as the author, should consider splitting a page into multiple mini-pages that focus on the different aspects of the original main page.

Paragraphs vs PVs

Lots of content on a page means that page views go up, but too much content on a page can hurt views.

Because of the limited ability of crawlers to "see" a page, pages with limited content that is highly formatted, like data tables, tend to be de-valued by search engines as not containing "valuable" content. These tables should be accompanied by at least a paragraph or two describing the content in order to help search engines properly rank the content.

When thinking of a title for an article, the author should ask themselves, "What is a user searching for that would land them on this page?" Google Trends is an easy-to-use tool that can provide an author with guidance on the best way to name their article. For instance, if you are writing about vehicles found in Grand Theft Auto, a quick Google Trends check shows that users search for the word "cars" more than both "vehicles" and "automobiles". If you decide to title your article "Vehicles in Grand Theft Auto," then your article is less likely to be seen by a user because search engines are less likely to rank your page as high when a user searches for "cars."

GTA cars

Google Trends shows that "GTA cars" is searched for more than "GTA vehicles." Page titles should take search trends into account.

Links are critical

External links that point to your wikia from other high quality sites are the equivalent of SEO gold. Links to your wikia signify to search engines that your community is a credible source of information. Outbound links to other sites from your wikia can enhance a user's experience, but too many links to other sites has the inverse effect of driving users away from your content and harming your SEO. The reason is that search engines and crawlers will rank your own content as less authoritative, and you run the risk of the community being seen as spammy.

Internal links, which is adding links to one page that lead to another on the same wikia, add immense value and should be used liberally to connect your users with the rest of your wikia. Not only can it enhance a user's experience, as they can easily find more articles about content that engages them; but it also plays a major role in a wikia's SEO, as it provides search crawlers with access to other articles on your wikia and gives each article more weight. After all, search engine crawlers cannot use the search function to find content! There is a limit to how many links you should have on your article page, of course. After a certain point, too many links hurts a user's experience since it makes the article look like a link farm.

BlueLinks by PVs

Lots of links are important for SEO, but too many links can hurt SEO.

Dead links, commonly known on Wikia as "red links," are links that lead to pages that don't exist yet. Red links should be used with caution, as red links can hurt a wikia's SEO. All of our research points to the fact that more red links lead to fewer pageviews. At the same time, red links are a core function of the user generated content (UGC) experience on Wikia, as they allow readers and editors to identify pages that still need to be created. If administrators believe that a page will not be created without red links, then those red links should be used. After all, it signifies that more content can and should be created, and more content on the site is always better for SEO. However, once a page has been identified as needed by a red link, its creation should be treated as a priority in order to turn the link blue.

Images: the importance of description

Search engine crawlers are bots and cannot actually see images. As a result, if an image is uploaded to your wikia without a description, it will not be included in the ranking of the wikia. From a user experience perspective, a well placed image can add incredible value to the wikia's content—but, in order for it to factor into the community's SEO, it needs to have a clear description so that the crawler can understand it.

Conclusions

Content is the beating heart of each and every community, from the titles to the paragraphs of original writing. Links are the veins that become the portal for users and crawlers to access the rest of the content. Images add some muscle to the user experience and crawlers' rankings. Like all things, too much of a good thing can hurt: massive pages dilute content, bad titles can get lost in search queries, too many external links drive users away from your Wikia, and images without descriptions go “unseen.”

What are things you do that enhance your communities SEO? Are you already using some of the suggestions above? We are currently working on gathering more granular data and hope to release a more data-driven post as a follow up in the coming months as well!

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