What if Wikipedia carried advertising?

By Al Mackin topicIcon Weekly Wrap

It carries no advertising, achieves over a hundred billion page views every year and - according to some research - is returned in 99% of searches.

Wikipedia is a website like no other and data recently released on the top one hundred most viewed pages has shown what people look at on the site. Despite its geeky origins and very low-key designs the site was reliant on celebrities and the entertainment industry for much of its traffic in 2012.

  • The top one hundred English pages on Wikipedia accounted for almost 1.1bilion page views in 2012.
  • The site received over 106 billion page views in 2012.
  • 63% of the top 100 is taken up by celebrities, famous people or entertainment based pages.
  • Out of the world's top brands only four online brands appear in the top 100 (Facebook, YouTube, Google and Apple).
  • Windows 8 is the only product in the top 100, with 1% (7.9m) views.

wikipedia page views in 2012

A breakdown of the Top 100 Wikipedia page views: Brand 81m, Celebrity/Famous: 369m, City / Country / Region: 79m, Entertainment: 312m, Information: 205m, Product: 7m, Seasonal Event: 37m

The Wikipedia long tail effect

Visits to the top one hundred articles represent less than 1% of all Wikipedia traffic, so where do the other 99% of visits go?

As of October 2012, the last month Wikipedia has published figures for, there are over 1.5million different articles written in English.

A popular subject such as One Direction may be spread over multiple pages, such as their discography page, profiles on individual band members and pages on each of their tours or albums. TV shows may be split over tens of pages that cover characters, seasons or popular episodes.

To get in the top 100 a page will need to have received over seven million views over the year, so beyond the top hundred there are hundreds of thousands of pages that still get a good volume of traffic but that don't make it to the top list.

  • A Wikipedia page received an average of 6,198 views per month in December 2012.
  • Take out the 1bn page views for the top 100 and the remaining 1,582,346 pages received an average of 5,506 views per month.

how wikipedia has grown - total number of pages on Wikipedia

Wikipedia has grown from 1 page in January 2001 to 1,582,446 in October 2012 (the last available data published by Wikipedia).

Is Google a threat to Wikipedia?

Google is undoubtedly a huge driver of traffic to Wikipedia, and analysis by Intelligent Positioning states that on a sample of 1,000 Google searches Wikipedia is returned on the first page for 99% of those terms. Although some have said this study was flawed there's no doubt that Wikipedia dominates many informational, noun and entertainment searches.

Wikipedia carries pages for almost all of the major online and offline brands but despite the huge interest in them they only account for 7% of the Top 100 traffic. One of the reasons why brand traffic is so low is that the search engines do a far better job of pointing users towards the brands' official site, or in the case of Google returns a reference to the brands G+ page.

If you'd carried out a search on a singer or band a year ago you'd have got the standard ten search results with some images or video results thrown in. Now a search for "one direction" gives you:

  • Information on the band, the members and their label drawn from Wikipedia.
  • Concert and ticket information drawn from a third party.
  • A list of the bands songs and the album.
  • Related artists.

Clicking on data within the above sections keeps you within Google, driving more searches and taking the user to pages where adverts are shown.

I'd expect to see the search engines continuing this claw back of traffic and the building of walls around searchers. This is evident in the inclusion of Google+ pages in the search results, the long-time use of local and the inclusion of third party data within the Google search page.

With Wikipedia's reliance on entertainment and celebrities this will make it harder for them to grow during 2013.

celebrities on Wikipedia

34% of the top 100 (most visited) pages on Wikipedia are on celebrities or famous people. 369m in total with 79m of those page views on dead celebrities or famous individuals.

What if Wikipedia carried advertising?

A site that receives billions of page views has enormous earning potential but Wikipedia has a strict no advertising policy. However the idea of carrying adverts isn't alien to it as founder Jimmy Wales said over ten years ago:

If Wikipedia were to become wildly successful, in terms of web traffic, then it would be easy to introduce just enough (and hopefully non-intrusive) advertising to continue to cover expenses - Jimmy Wales, 2001

If the site was to carry adverts how much could it expect to earn? I've calculated some worst case and best case scenarios using a conservative advertising rate of £5 per thousand advert views (the Daily Mail rate card is £20 per thousand advert views, which means that on some of their popular articles they're generating tens of thousands of pounds).

Wikipedia currently receives just shy of twenty billion page views per month across all languages, which increased ~15% over the course of 2012, so I've assumed an average of twenty one and a half billion page views per month in 2013.

Wikipedia Advertising Worst Case:

One advert per page

£1.29bn per annum.

Wikipedia Advertising Best Case:

Three adverts per page (with 30% degradation in rate card)

£2.32bn per annum.

Taking away from their total revenue will be additional bandwidth costs to serve the adverts, management costs and they could expect a decrease in visitors due to both advertising and the slower load speeds associated with a banner heavy site. One of Wikipedia's strengths is it's simple interface which makes it both easier to find information and much quicker for the user to load the page.

There's scope to add to their revenues by pushing up that average CPM and if they were to follow Google by creating an auction based cost per click model they could maximise revenues further. There may be only be a handful of top brands in the hundred most viewed pages but if advertising was opened up then a huge number of brands would be interested in taking space on the site.

Thanks to Johan Gunnarsson for pointing me in the right direction for stats, and for creating the raw data in the first place.

how the entertainment pages in the top 100 break down

Almost 30% of the top 100 traffic is categorised as entertainment: Movies get 110m views, TV gets 29m, Books get 155m and Music gets 13m.

what brands feature in the top 100 wikipedia pages

Just 7% of the traffic to top 100 pages is related to brand: Facebook gets 32m, Google gets 18m, YouTube gets 17m and Wikipedia gets 12m.