Glad Encyclopedia Britannica Is Alive – Now If I Could Only Find It On Google

Like many, I’m sure, I read with sadness the news that the Encyclopedia Britannica was closing yesterday (only the print edition, as it turns out). Then surprise, as I didn’t realize EB still existed. I sure never found it when helping the kids with their science projects. Perhaps there’s a lesson there?

Helping the kids during science fair time each year always makes me chuckle because of the requirement they make use of an encyclopedia as one of several resources. The school’s instructions reassure that an online encyclopedia is fine. Phew, because the only print one in our house is an old British set from like 1920 that makes you laugh to read it.

Wikipedia is OK, we’re told. That’s what we always use as one of the sources. Because, you know, what other encyclopedia are we going to use?

This year’s project involves a Newton’s Cradle. We’re working on it right now. Do a search for Newton’s Cradle, and what do you get tops at Google? Yeah, this Wikipedia page:

So there you go, that’s the encyclopedia requirement covered.

If the Encyclopaedia Britannica has a page about Newton’s Cradles, I can’t find it within Google. Heck, I can’t find it using EB’s own search feature, though I do get an awesome amount of Google ads:

Now that I’m reminded that Encyclopedia Britannica still exists, I’ll probably do the $70 subscription, so that my kids and I have access to it. But, I suspect I’ll be the rarity.

Instead, if EB is really going”all-out digital,” as it writes today, then I’d sure like to find more of its content when I’m using the primary research tools that most people who seek information do: search engines, either Google or Bing. That means putting more of its content out online.

That potentially cuts into the subscription income. But there are ways to make some of the content visible and keep some back to still make subscriptions viable. I hope they’ll be explored. We could use a good alternative to Wikipedia, which means a good visible alternative, not one lost in the corner of the web.

Postscript: I should add that one key reason, I belatedly realized, that I don’t find much EB content is that it simply might not write about as many topics as Wikipedia. It does appear to have some articles that are available, such as this one on Slovakia — which is indeed listed in Google. It just doesn’t rank well for a search on “slovakia.”

As for why it doesn’t, I (or others) would have to do a lot of digging into the structure of the site. But the chief reason is probably because unlike Wikipedia, few think to look for content on EB and therefore link to it. Links play an important voting mechanism for pages to do well with Google.

The more content EB has out — both in terms of topics is doesn’t already cover, as well as content that might be held back, the more successful it should do IF people start exploring and linking over to it.



  1. says

    Danny, I believe it’s more complicated than that – the Encyclopedia Britannica folks are NOT STUPID. I think the Google “blessing” of Wikipedia is something that is far deeper than most people, even most SEO aware people, realize. That in order to rank like Wikipedia, you basically have to *be* Wikipedia. The number of people who have tried to replicate the formula – notably including co-founder Wales – and failed, is testimony to that.

  2. says

    Hi Danny, this news got me thinking the other day too. EB is an incredibly well respected print resource so why hasn’t that translated online? They’ve watched wikipedia grow and grow and, you’re right, the EB doesn’t even cross my mind for online searches. Yet their content is vetted, sourced and academically sound – they should be #1, only returning to wiki if there’s no result.

    Ironically the first link I find to after an OSE search was from the Wiki page about the EB. In other metrics, the site is decent with a 93 domain authority but you’re right the link’s just aren’t there on the scale of Wiki (althought it’s not a bad place to start from).

    EB needs a new strategy of free v premium content. More than that, it needs a strategy. Currently the site is ugly from the free POV – ads sit incongruously and the navigation is terrible. On the homepage I get an ad for the SEN – I’m not looking for entertainment, I’m looking for knowledge (there’s also car insurance and Maltesers).

    Thats the free stuff – which is marked with authors so could be well placed for a future dip into rel=”author” (assuming any of the professors have G+). There’s this suspicious statement in the top right that “members get more” but the landing page doesn’t seem to offer much more. I found my article, I read it, I learned. What more would I want from an encyclopedia?

    I guess, what I mean by all this is that there is a real and important place for the EB in the future. Wiki needs competitors and the differentiator is the EB’s vetting process – perfect for people who want a more definitive or academic article. Yet no-one is graduating university with the EB in their minds as an online resource – that is a huge culture change to acheive without changing any of the EB’s core values. Good luck to them.