WikiLeaks: In SEO Heaven or SEO Hell?

Summary:WikiLeaks is in the midst of dealing with an SEO nightmare... or are they? Read why the most infamous site on the Web right now has the best possible SEO going for them -- even in the face of site attacks and more.

To start, I'd like to preface this post by saying I'm not here to delve into my opinion of WikiLeaks. Yes, I'm as tired of hearing about them as everyone else, but I'm here to wax SEOic™ on the implications of site attacks that take your site down, the positioning of innumerable site mirrors, and the remarkable benefits of having literally the whole world talk about you. It's not WikiLeaks I care about; it's the interesting SEO (Search Engine Optimization) scenarios their actions have presented where maintaining avenues to their content and establishing (and re-establishing) rankings on the Web are concerned.

As it currently stands, http://wikileaks.org/ is dead. Kaput. No mas. In and of itself, this would single-handedly ruin any and every semblance of SEO value you could hope to get out of a site. I mean, what is SEO without a Web site to 'O'? Pointless, that's what! That's like saying you're going to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich but you have no bread. (Actually, that analogy makes no sense at all in comparison, but you know what I'm saying. :) ) Anyway, in response to all the attacks that keep leaving WikiLeaks' sites crippled, they have implemented an incredible number of site mirrors (alternate Web sites that contain backups of all the content from a central Web site; in this case, WikiLeaks). So, just what does that mean?

Well, it means they're contending with content instability and search engine traffic nightmares. At the moment, when you search Google for WikiLeaks, the top-ranking site is currently http://wikileaks.org/. But as is also currently the case, http://wikileaks.org/ is x_X. Assuming they still own the domain name but are simply out-of-luck when it comes to anyone being able to access it -- when the attacks die down -- they're going to need to start thinking in terms of canonicalization and 301 redirects to help search engines figure out which site has the original content that should be ranked. With so many WikiLeaks links pointing to so many mirrors, it should be interesting to watch WikiLeaks' search engine results for quite a while.

But even with the impending doom of *no one* being able to access their Web site which currently ranks the highest in Google, WikiLeaks has something that only a privileged few have: Continuous world-wide attention. Everyone is talking about WikiLeaks right now. EVERYONE. Basically, that means that any messange™ (that's my little combination of "message" and WikiLeaks founder/owner's last name, "Assange") they put out there will instantly get picked up and curated by many of the most influential sites on the Web and shared everywhere. When you have that kind of attention, you can afford to have the worst site in the world that's dead and full of 404s, yet ranking at the top of Google for your trending brand name.

This is a great case of showing how SEO isn't just about links and on-site optimization. In the case of WikiLeaks, content isn't king; it's the holy grail! When they post something, the world jumps. Likewise, both Bing and Google have now verified that they use social media buzz as a metric for ranking, so with the whole Web (both social and non-social) discussing you, you're going to be sitting pretty and most likely garnering MUCH more traffic than you EVER would through organic search engine traffic alone.

So, with that said, is WikiLeaks in SEO heaven or hell? Well, it's honestly a little bit of both, I feel. Their site ranking number 1 is dead, so that's definitely a problem... but right now, their search engine rankings don't mean jack since it's almost impossible not to hear about WikiLeaks right now and end up on a site mirror of theirs that's currently up. Now, bear in mind that SEO should be approached as a long-term strategy. WikiLeaks may be enjoying search engine immunity for the moment, but one day, they may very well fall back into the shadows of relative obscurity (especially if Julian Assange gets arrested or worse); so, once the dust settles, it would bode well for them to 301 redirect all site mirrors back to their main site. While canonicalization implementations alone would help them take care of duplicate content issues, the real value they stand to gain would come from all the links pointing to the site mirrors. 301 redirect all those puppies to your main site and good-googly-goo! No need to keep link juice flowing to site mirrors if the site they're mirroring is up-and-running (if/when it's back up-and-running, that is). Here again, though... when the entire world is your platform, your information has much more of a direct link to people than any search engine can currently provide.

To conclude, I've left this topic rather open-ended (that is, I certainly didn't cover every SEO base where this situation is concerned) because I'm interested in hearing from you! What are your thoughts? Do you think WikiLeaks will ever have to worry about SEO after the amount of buzz they've generated over the past year? Should they even care, for that matter? If so, what do you think they will have to do to maintain rankings? Pretend this is your site. What would you do?

*Image created using Google's original logo and WikiLeaks' original logo.

Topics: Browser, Security

About

Stephen is a freelance writer and blogger based in Charlotte, NC. His contributions to ZDNet cover topics related to security, gaming, Microsoft, Apple, and other topics of interest with a tech/SMB skew.

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