Content-driven AdSensers sometimes bemoan Wikipedia. They seem to imagine that it ranks well for so many terms because it just has so many pages, and so many contributors, and is so well known. The wiki-mystique blinds people to the fact you can rank higher for terms by just doing some of the same things Wikipedia does.
- Have definition pages.
If your site is about widget repair, and some of that involves widget lock washers, why don't you have a page devoted to explaining what "widget lock washers" are, where to buy them, and so on?
Why does that matter?
It gives Googlebot pages whose primary topic is easy to grasp. It produces SERP listings that do a good job of communicating to searchers exactly what they'll get if they click on your link. That, in turn, means folks who click are highly likely to find what they need, so Google will give that page more ranking love.
It also gives you a nice landing page that can "sell" lots more content to the visitor. Once you know they arrived looking for something so specific, you should be able to tick off all the other pages that are relevant and link to them from there.
- Be coherent When people see wikipedia in the SERPs, they know what they're going to get if they click on it -- some encyclopedia-like explanation of plausible quality. Your website isn't as well known as Wikipedia, so you have to work hard to make sure your SERP entry gives a good clue as to what they're going to get. You don't want a SERP that claims to be all about "mastering pool shots" that actually links to a page describing drinking games for your swimming pool -- when Google sees all the folks who click on that are coming back to look elsewhere, your ranking goes in the crapper. This is where a well-thought-out domain name and carefully chosen URL text pays off. If my SERP's URL looks like www.widgetrepair.com/using-widget-lock-washers, and my SERP synopsis repeats the "how to use widget lock washers" message, and the linked-to page really is about that, then I'm clear about what I'm delivering and Google will reward that (assuming anybody is actually interested in that topic).
If you see people are arriving at your "widget lock washers" page with a search term like "widget painting", figure out why that is. Too many not-on-target SE arrivals probably implies you need to split some content off and give it its own page (with lots of internal links to it, of course). Remember: people finding what they were looking for explains much of Wikipedia's ranking success.
In case you missed it, I'll reiterate an important sub-point here. Your URL is the one thing on the Google SERP that you have 100% control over. Stop focusing on keyword stuffing your URLs and focus instead on using a URL that accurately conveys to the searcher what they'll get if they click on that link.
- Use intra-site links everywhere Lots of people waste enormous time and energy trying to get someone to link to them -- and don't lift a finger to link to themselves. Relevant intra-site links are gold! You don't have to beg anybody for them, you get to control the anchor text, and you don't have to add links back to anybody else to get them. Some people think it's a magic power that Wikipedia has to quickly pop to the top of any long-tail search. It's not. It's the fact that any new page invariably is linked to (with the key term in the anchor text) from one (usually more) other Wikipedia pages.
- Cover up your nav bars Do you feel like you already do use inline, intra-site links a lot? Baloney. Put your hand over the nav bars on your site. Now try to navigate. Can you get to all the pages on your site? How long before you hit a page that's a total dead end. The wiki structure essentially forces Wikipedia content to do things (like extensive intra-links with relevant anchor text) that are great for SEO. Ever get annoyed with how sometimes it seems like every other damn word on Wikipedia is a hotlink to another page? That shows how little you use intra-site, inline links in your own pages.
- Cover up your nav bar -- really! Somebody is saying "but my navigation is really logical and comprehensive, and I don't like the look of inline links." Ever hear of ad-blindness? Well people get just as blind to the navbar. I can put a big, red "CONTACT INFO" link in the navbar on every page -- and every day I will get an email saying "what's your address/phone# over there?" People cannot see your nav bar. Use inline links in the text with relevant anchor text. Santa knows if you're sleeping, but Google knows if a visitor didn't find what he wanted on your site -- and complaining that the visitor should have found the information won't alter Google's ranking one bit.
- Write, dammit, write! Sometimes the most obvious Wikipedia lesson is the most overlooked. I see people sometimes with a product to sell moaning over how they just can't get the SEO tricks right to bring in the free Google traffic. Then I go check out their site and they may literally have less than 10 pages of content. Which part of "Google likes content" did they not understand when they went to SEO school? Often people have extensive product manuals that they haven't even bothered to put online (or almost as bad, they put the whole manual up as a single PDF file), and yet they'll spend hours trying to tweak keyword density, or beg for links. Wikipedia shoves the message of "make some content someone wants to read" in your face, yet some people still don't get it.
- Edit as needed You can't be on WebmasterWorld long before you see people talking about being afraid of changing something on their website for fear it will drop their rankings. Sure, that's why Wikipedia never lets anyone change their pages... Change pages as needed, but most especially(!) to add in links to new relevant pages you've added, so those new pages will get immediate link love. If the last time you added a new page of content, you didn't have to go add inline links to it from at least a couple of other pages, then you haven't learned the Wikipedia Way.
- Make an Authority Page that Attracts Links OK, it is true that wikipedia also benefits from external links. You can compete on that front, too. People will often just link to them because it lets them avoid a lengthy explanation of a term. So supply those pedia-like pages that would be useful for someone who just wants to link to a term definition.
In fact, if Wikipedia is overlapping into your Long Tail content, then why not jump on their back to higher rankings? Look at their page devoted to "widget wuffling". Make your own page devoted to defining that content. But make yours better/different. Supply something they don't. OK, now you've got a ready-made link campaign that will work a whole lot better than begging for cross-links. Use search tools to find all the pages hot-linking to Wikipedia's "widget wuffling" page. Track down those author email addresses and make your pitch. "I noticed your 'widget wuffling' link to Wikipedia and just wanted to point out that it says wuffling was first used in 1857. However, it was actually first used in 1856, as I've documented on my page at [...]".
If you're staying awake, you've just realized that tracking down links to Wikipedia pages can be a real useful research tool for AdSensers in the content business.
Wikipedia dominates rankings for a lot of different reasons, but a lot of those reasons are things you can do as well or better than Wikipedia. And you're not handicapped by a lack of consistent style, a prohibition against commercial or controversial slants, or a horde of random visitors who keep patching your content when you're not looking! Don't hate Wikipedia -- learn from the free lessons they provide.