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Jacques Bouchard

SEO Professionals: How to Get Started with Wikidata

Jacques Bouchard
SEO Professionals: How to Get Started with Wikidata

It's very rare that we see a new player in the SEO and Digital Arena that's as much a shoe-in to be a long-term player as Wikidata is. But with all the value of the medium, it's remained a relatively virgin frontier, one that the SEO community has left it largely untested and undocumented. I feel we're missing out on a tremendous opportunity -- think of it this way:

Wikidata is born of greatness: Launched on October 30, 2012, this is the first new Wikimedia project in six years. You may have noticed Wiki content dominating the SERPS throughout the past decade; it's credible, recognized, and a powerful presence online.

It's had greatness thrust upon it: On December 14, 2014, Google announced the shutdown of Freebase -- Wikidata's strongest competitor. As they did, Google also provided powerful support by migrating all of Freebase's data over to Wikidata, retiring the product on June 30th. That's a heck of a lot of eggs in that basket.

Its future is bright: Rich search results are increasingly becoming the norm for Google, and the Knowledge Graph is more powerful than ever. Marshall Simmonds reported at SMX East 2015 that a full 24% of search results now include this visual. Along with structured data, Wikipedia, and a handful of others, Wikidata is a go-to source for building this information.

The beauty of Wikidata is that it's still in the early stages of development, and there's a lot of low-hanging fruit to be had. Once you've gotten the hang of it, you can build out a solid page on Wikidata in an hour or two. However, if you're new to working in it, there is a breaking-in period. Here's a few things you'll need to do to get started:

Learn How To Fit In With The Culture

citing-freebase-wikidataBear in mind that this is a Wikimedia property, and part of one of the largest, healthiest, and most dedicated communities online. As a member of a collaborative, anonymous, worldwide project, you're going to need to be social -- and that includes playing politics a bit, embracing the medium, and even working with a few jerks along the way.

  1. Embrace the project: Wikidata is a cool project, and there's a lot of altruistic joy to be had by contributing to it in a sincere and well-intentioned way. Use the medium as a way to explore and learn about your interests, while fine-tuning your Wikichops. As you build on this, you'll earn trust and a strong reputation with Wikidata that will help you avoid suspicion and earn the benefit of the doubt if things get shaky at some point.
  2. Beware the editors: With Wikis in general, there's a tendency to throw a lot of babies out with that bath water -- this includes removing sections, merging articles (read: obliterating one and redirecting to the other), and baring the most credible sources from editing an article - namely, those who are professionally connected to a subject. For example, SEO consultant Jonathan Hochman was flagged for a potential conflict of interest when†contributing on a page about Matt Cutts. Marketers and SEO's are particularly unwelcome on Wikimedia Commons, whether our intentions are good or not. Things are a bit more lax on Wikidata than they are on Wikipedia, but I rarely make an change without a different editor checking in on my work. They are watching closely.
  3. Be social: This is just as legitimate a social platform as, say, an online forum. Use the Talk pages to make comments, explain yourself, and propose big changes, ask lots of questions, be nice, and thank people who are editing with you for their contributions. Keep rubbin' those elbows whenever you can.
  4. Don't overdo things: Ease yourself into Wikidata; the editors take note of new, extremely active users, and also when radical changes are happening to entries. Build trust and credibility in the community before drawing too much attention to yourself.

If possible, enjoy the experience. As with†all social sites, becoming part of the culture and owning your experience is the best way to fit in.

Create A Strong Wikidata Account

While this is easy to do, it's important to bear in mind that if you're working for a digital agency, you're probably using multiple Wikidata accounts. This is a good idea -- you'll want a "seasoned" backup in the event that one is deleted. However, follow these three rules:

  1. Create at least one backup account. This way, if your core account is banned or goes under scrutiny, you have a backup to fall back to. However, be aware that multiple accounts, if detected, will be deemed sockpuppets, in violation of Wikimedia's guidelines, and likely removed.
  2. Do not use multiple accounts to edit the same Wikidata listing. This will raise suspicion that you have meatpuppets, or people you've recruited to help support your viewpoints when pushing edits (allies ? objectivity), and will put each account identified by the editors under question or close, indefinite scrutiny.
  3. Create a strong user page. Take the time to build a friendly, lightly detailed page for each account, detailing a little about your personal goals with Wikidata, where you're knowledgeable, and what your interests are. This helps build the impression that the account is managed by a real human being. Don't say you're an agency or an in-house. If you're doing it right, you'll never look like you are.

Create Your First Item

To create an item, do a search for the company you want to change, and confirm that none exists yet. Then, locate the "Create a new item" on the left-hand menu to begin building. It's fairly well hidden if you're already used to editing articles with Wikipedia.


It's important to note that Wikidata is mostly a companion piece to the other Wikis. You can expect your work will be quickly removed unless it's deemed notable by already having a presence in at least one of the other Wikimedia sites (such as Wikipedia, Wikimedia, Wikinews, Wikiquote, or Wikimedia Commons). Also bear in mind that, like Wikipedia, Wikidata is not intended a secondary knowledge base that collects that knowledge and links to it. If you're new, it's a good rule of thumb to add almost no data that you can't back up with a reference or source link.

Step 1: Import As Much As You Can From Wikipedia

Wikidata is extremely new, and more often than not, the article you work on is going to be almost empty when you begin. For this article, I'll be building out the Wikidata property for Stew Leonard's, a local grocery store which began with a typically sparsely populated entry:


Since Wikipedia is the most trusted source, it's a data goldmine for easily populating your article. I'll start by editing the description field in the listing. This should be as short and concise: five to ten words is an ideal target.


Next, I'll add the CEO of Stew Leonard's to the listing. As shown below, a drop-down will autosuggest valid entries as I type:


Wikidata is set up so that I am unable to save a listing until it's completed in a way that the Wikibase software identifies as valid. At that point, "save" turns blue:


I'll also want to add a reference (not a qualifier) to each item that shows I've imported the data from "English Wikipedia", to help protect this data from editorial removal. References are used to cite the source where I found the information, while qualifiers are used to to further describe or refine the value of a property given in a statement.


Let's say that next, I'd like to also add the founder (Stew Leonard Sr.), but because there's no property for it in Wikidata, I can't add it (yet). You can see below that the save text is grayed out, and that Stew Sr. is not on the list.


Unfortunately, the community works on predefined lists of properties and entries. This means that if there's no property existing and you want to add one, you'll need to go to the community to discuss its creation. This is rarely worth the time and effort initially, as it's time-consuming to have the discussion, and in a case like this, you'll probably need to create a Wikipedia article to accompany it. It's also worth noting that if there's a Wikidata article on something, you can probably assume it'll be usable as a property too; this knowledge can sometimes be used creatively to make a listing work for you.

If the company has an image on their Wikipedia page, be sure to include that on the Wikidata listing - logos are prime real estate in the knowledge graph. Format the entry using the property "logo image" and the filename only. For Stew Leonard's, I'm using Stewleonards.png to populate my entry.

If you don't have a logo yet, you can upload one to Wikimedia Commons, and reference it immediately. However, to prevent the image form being deleted a few weeks later, you'll have to get approval to release the image under a Wikimedia Commons License. If you decide to do that, the copyright holder, specifically, will need to send an e-mail releasing the image to that license. You won't be able to write as someone representing them, but you can use this handy community-approved e-mail template to fill in the blanks,so all they have to do is send the e-mail along to permissions-commons@wikimedia.org. It works for me every time:

I hereby affirm that [I, (name here), am] the creator and/or sole owner of the exclusive copyright of both the work depicted and the media.

I agree to publish the above-mentioned content under the free license: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.

I acknowledge that by doing so I grant anyone the right to use the work in a commercial product or otherwise, and to modify it according to their needs, provided that they abide by the terms of the license and any other applicable laws.

I am aware that this agreement is not limited to Wikipedia or related sites.

I am aware that I always retain copyright of my work, and retain the right to be attributed in accordance with the license chosen. Modifications others make to the work will not be claimed to have been made by me.

I acknowledge that I cannot withdraw this agreement, and that the content may or may not be kept permanently on a Wikimedia project.

Step 2: Learn From Similar Listings

Wikidata is just one of many structured data projects; there's also countless other databases exist, and can be cited as sources in your Wikidata entry. Additionally, every category of item (for example, companies, musicians, or politicians) seems to have its own unique set of databases built around them, and this can provide a lot of inspiration as you flesk our your entry. I also keep a list of high-quality Wikidata articles I like to reference when I'm building new ones to use for inspiration.

Let's walk through this: For Stew Leonard's, I'm using Albertsons, Walmart, and Apple as my benchmarks:

From Walmart's item, I checked for a VIAF (Virtual International Authority File), and found that while Stew Leonard Jr AND Sr was listed, the company itself was not -- not helpful. Like Wal-Mart, however, Stew Leonard's does have a Freebase identifier -- and since that's a Google property, I like to list it even though Freebase will eventually be shut down. From the URL "https://www.freebase.com/m/071r2l", I use /m/071r2l as my identifier in Wikidata. In cases where I reference an non-Wiki database source, I also add a reference that includes a URL to the original.

citing-freebase-wikidata (1)

From Albertsons' item, I discover a great way to build out my current headquarters location data. While mine currently only lists the city where the headquarters is listed, the community has added four excellent qualifiers (not references) in this listing that really make the data rich. Using data from Google Maps, I can upgrade my listing accordingly.


This should be a great resource for Google, as right now, the city is the only thing that displays when I search for "Stew Leonard's Headquarters", while Albertons shows a much richer listing.


Apple, my fallback, has an exceptional Wikidata page that I skim through whenever I'm building a company page. In particular, it lists a wealth of†databases. This helps me smooth out my entry quite a bit, and gives me some final ideas.

Step 3: Add Social Media Profiles

As you're adding your own data to the mix, be sure to include the website URL and any social media profiles. As of the past couple months, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube all have their own properties, while Pinterest and most smaller social media sites do not, and can be listed using the property "website account on". Use the format below, list†the social media URL as a reference, not a qualifier.


In the past, I've seen cases where adding these profiles in Wikidata leads to them appearing in Knowledge Graph listings later on. And this also goes over surprisingly well with the community -- I add a substantial listing along with the social profiles, and I've never had any kickback from the community for doing so.

Bonus Section: Useful Links

Wikidata's documentation is very sparse, and there's very little third-party information about the site. This has made it much harder for me to†learn the ropes with this community as it is with, say Wikimedia or Wikidata. To speed you on your merry way, here's a short list of helpful tutorial and FAQ links that I wish I'd seen my first week (but mostly didn't come across until I'd been doing this for almost a year):

Wikidata is still very new, and the best practices developed around it are in their earliest forms. If you've been doing a lot of work with this, I'd love to hear what works for you, what your tips are, results you've seen and also anything you disagree with. Leave your comments below; I'll stop by often to keep up my end of the discussion.

Jacques Bouchard is a Digital Content Strategist for DragonSearch. He specializes in SEO and content strategy, with niche expertise in recruiting and also in home improvement. When not Googling his life away, you can find him on road-warrior weekend adventures, blurring the line between the culinary arts and medieval alchemy, or at home taking care of his cats, various fish tanks and garden. You can reach him via @JacquesBouchard on Twitter.

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