Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is not happy with Similar Web, the traffic measurement website which recently published data showing that Wikipedia has lost a lot of traffic from Google.
Similar Web initially said it believed Wikipedia had lost 250 million desktop visits coming from Google in just three months.
The research company then published a second blog post, which said 550 million clicks had been lost:
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales agrees that there is a traffic drop to Wikipedia from Google, but contends that it is a long-term issue, and not a sudden drop.
Wikipedia’s desktop organic search traffic is suffering, and the losses are much bigger than previously thought. Over the last five (5) months, Wikipedia lost more than 550M desktop organic search visits, more than a 20% decrease!
Not so, Wales tweeted late last night:
3/ Later this month, a blog post will take a comprehensive look at the question. In the mean time, back away from the clickbait! :)
— Jimmy Wales (@jimmy_wales) August 19, 2015
If you take a look at Wales’ long-form statement about SW’s numbers, it turns out the underlying truth is … complicated. Wales takes particular issue with Business Insider’s headline on our initial story about the traffic drop:
The headline in particular is almost certainly wrong: “Wikipedia suddenly lost a massive amount of traffic from Google“.
But then he confirms that traffic from Google to Wikipedia is down:
We know there is a longterm issue with decreasing traffic from Google but this article makes it seem like something new and “sudden” and “massive” has happened.
The alleged decrease in traffic happened between March and July, according to Similar Web, so whether that counts as “sudden” or not is a matter or interpretation, as is whether a loss of 550 million visits is “massive”:
Wales also tweeted a report on Google referrer data to Wikipedia. It concludes: “No direct data shows a decrease in Google traffic; in fact, direct referrals from Google have been increasing in the last few months, rather than decreasing.” The report uses “pageviews” as a measure rather than “visits” (they are different types of clicks and are thus not directly comparable.)
It shows that pageview traffic has declined:
However, Google referrals as a percentage of all Wikipedia’s traffic have gone up:
That would suggest there have been no changes at Google that have hurt Wikipedia. But because that last chart is delivered as a percentage of Wikipedia’s traffic rather than the actual number of traffic, it’s hard to say whether it shows that Google is sending more or less traffic (i.e. Google could be sending a greater percentage of a declining whole — in which case Google traffic could still be down.)
We asked SW for comment but did not immediately hear back. But we’d love to know what’s really going on. (Please email [email protected] if you have any clues.)
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