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Since Wikipedia was founded in 2001, people worldwide rely on the online encyclopedia to expand their horizons and read information on just about anything. As true as that is today, however, the site’s traffic trends tell a very different story.
Over the years, its traffic has been decreasing, a pattern that swiftly accelerated in 2019. We'll look into how, and why, Wikipedia is experiencing such a decline.
Over the past 24 months, Wikipedia has lost billions of monthly organic visitors to zero-click results. What are zero-click results? It's when a user searched in Google, and found a direct answer to his or her search (often at the top of the first search results page) without needing to visit any actual site.
When looking at its desktop traffic alone we see that in January 2019, the site won 2.2 billion visits, a number that dropped dramatically to 1.9 billion by January 2020 (a decrease of -14%).
While the site still has billions of monthly visitors, those visits are becoming increasingly more difficult to win as evidenced by the decline. While zero-click search results are primarily responsible for this trend, they aren’t completely to blame for the site’s traffic drop.
Google introduced Knowledge Graphs and Direct Answers in 2015, which is when the decline in organic traffic to Wikipedia was first noticed. This change took away any need to click on a specific link to see the desired results; therefore, search queries began ending with “zero-click” results.
While this has been very convenient for searchers, as traffic to Wikipedia shows, it has been less than ideal for businesses. Out of nearly 890,000 monthly searches worldwide, only 30,000 actually become search visits to a website.
Here's a quick look at a basic search of the weather forecast in Los Angeles.
After Googling "weather in Los Angeles", the data above was provided by weather.com. However, it's obvious that any searcher is able to get the answer to the question without clicking through to the actual site.
The impact on traffic is staggering – only 15% of weather in Los Angeles searches actually result in a click and a consequent visit to weather.com.
This means that 85% of people see this weather forecast display at the top of the page, and never follow through to click on any search results.
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To better understand this declining trend, let's look at Wikipedia’s top 20 organic keywords. Wikipedia’s most valuable search keywords are for celebrities, movies, and TV series.
The natural next step is to dive into its top-performing keyword, "Freddie Mercury", to see what traffic patterns show.
Although Freddie Mercury died in 1991, long before Wikipedia was founded, his name has become the site’s top-performing keyword in 2020. A quick Google query of his name pulls up a plethora of information about him, including his Wiki page, YouTube videos, and loads of news articles.
But, 71% of those searches end there, without a click to a specific site.
Looking at the organic mobile traffic for the search reveals zero-click results have cost Wikipedia’s English language subdomain tens of millions of organic visits.
This whopping decline has been more apparent on mobile devices when Google shows an answer. This is because on mobile the search results don't often show any other results, whereas on desktop, other results are displayed below.
In 2015, Google was able to steal over 550 million clicks from Wikipedia in six months, and here we are five years later watching that trend accelerate at breakneck speed.
While many factors are contributing to that decrease, the vast majority of Wikipedia’s traffic has been lost to Google’s zero click results, emphasizing just how much power Google has over search traffic.