SEM Contest Results

While the Marketing Pilgrim SEM Scholarship Contest is still going on, it sadly ended for me today. My entry didn’t get the most unique views this week and I won’t be making it the next and final round. I did learn some things and wanted to share some of my experience and the approach I took to driving traffic to the article. Many of the same tactics can be used to bring traffic to any page on your site.

The winner for this week was Ben Wills article The Five Pillars of Social Media Marketing with an impressive 1153 unique views, by far the most for any article in the four weeks of the contest. By comparison my own article drew 435 unique views, which would have been enough to win either of the first two weeks, but not either of the last two weeks. Congratulations to Ben for both writing a good article and getting a lot of people to it this week.

So what did I do and what could I have done better?

Writing The Article

Everything began with the actual article. As many of you probably know my article dealt with practicing good karma as a way to SEO and marketing success. The idea was one that came to me very late the night before the entry was submitted. I wanted something that would be a little different from the other articles I had seen. The thought was that in case it made it past this round it would stand out from the others. It was written shortly after completing another article that I thought seemed too much like the other winners. The article I didn’t use became my post SEO For The Social Web

One of my initial thoughts about the contest was that having a good title would lead to a lot of clicks from people who landed on the general page linking to all the articles. I named the article SEO is Nothing but Karma, though after it had been submitted I wished I had named it SEO Ain’t Nothing But Karma. I don’t know if it’s a big difference, but I think the word, or non-word, “ain’t” makes the title a little more interesting. I also wish I’d stuck to my usual format of keeping the first letter of every word capitalized.

I’d like to tell you I spent some time optimizing the page so it would do well in organic search results and that I’d chosen the topic based in part on keyword research, but I can’t tell you either. It’s my own fault for finding the contest so late in the process and leaving the writing till the very last minute. Were I to start again I would have chosen a topic which would have let me target keyphrases better and also spent a little more time optimizing the page.

One thing I didn’t do that I should have was link out to other sites. I’ve since learned Ben had a good amount of success with this. For some reason I was mistakenly under the impression that we weren’t supposed to link out. I have no idea why I thought that, except that most of the articles in the contest I had read before I wrote mine weren’t linking out. It’s my bad for letting it keep me from linking to other pages as I normally would with a post. Linking to blogs with trackbacks can bring some easy traffic to a page. Readers of the blog will click as will the site owner just to check who’s linking to them. It would have been a good way to bring more unique views and possibly even have gotten another blogger mentioning my article.

The Promoting Begins

The articles went up last Monday and as soon as they did and I had a URL to promote I began emailing people to let them know about the contest and asking them to click. The goal was to get other people spreading the word for me in a sort of viral marketing campaign. I wanted to get that done early to give as much time as possible for the word to spread. Believe it or not my mom was one of the first I emailed. She has a large network of friends many of whom I would never have been able to reach on my own. How far the word spread I don’t know, but I was hearing of people who were checking out the article all week.

Even with the email campaign there were still people I could have emailed that I never did. Some I simply didn’t want to hear from and others were people I didn’t really think would spread the word very far. I probably should have sent emails to them since every click might have made a difference.

After a morning of emails I signed into the forums where I’m a regular member and added a link in my forum signatures to the article. I tried to make the link stand out a little more than my other signature links. I get a fair amount of forum traffic here and the hope was for a week I could send it to the article instead of to this site.

At two of the forums where I am well ingrained in the community I started new threads asking people to check out the article and spread the word. I cleared it with forum administrators before I did since I wasn’t looking to spam either forum. I think this may have been one of the better promotional tactics I tried. The response was very positive to both me and the article and I know of at least a few people who posted links on their blogs or other forums.

A few select members of the forums I sent a message to directly also asking them to take a look at the article and spread the word. I wanted to make sure they saw the link in case they missed my thread and I also though they were in better positions to help spread the link. All, but a couple got back to me at some point during the week and several posted the link on their own blogs.

Modifying This Site

If you spent any time on this blog last week you would have noticed that I had added links to every page leading to the article. The obvious hope was that since the blog draws a good amount of traffic that some people would leave the site via the link. I even removed the AdSense links on the posts that get the most search traffic. Don’t worry I can afford the pack of gum lost from removing the ads for the week.

I also made sure that every post last week had at least one link to the article. My blog has recently been picked up as a partner on the iEntry network, which includes the popular WebProNews and I was hoping that the links would get some clicks when the posts made their way to the WebProNews site.

Encouraging The Word To Spread

I wanted to continue to check on the forum threads and anyone who had posted a link for me so I spent a certain amount of time each day checking in and thanking people who had commented on the forum or commenting myself on other people’s blogs. Aside from wanting to sincerely thank everyone for the support I was also hoping that by showing thanks it might encourage more people to tell others about the article or post the link somewhere.

One place I found where the link had been posted was at the High Ranking forum. It was posted by someone I know at another forum and after checking out the posts in the HR thread I could tell the thread was going to die out. I immediately signed up for an account at HR at stoked the thread a little to help keep it more active. It worked for a day or two and I think I helped get a couple hundred more views on that thread. How many people clicked on the link within the thread I don’t know. I had been planning on joining the High Ranking forum for some time anyway so this seemed like a good opportunity.

What I Didn’t Do

For the most part that was my effort. I did bookmark the page at del.icio.us, but since I haven’t really been an active part of that community I didn’t expect the bookmark to go far. I also posted links here and there when and where I thought they were appropriate. Mostly though I wanted to test the strength of the social network I had built and see what it could get done.

One of the things I didn’t do that I have found out others, including Ben did, was to run a PPC campaign. While I didn’t specifically optimize the page I most likely could have found some inexpensive long tail phrases that could have driven traffic to the article for little expense. It had crossed my mind during the week, but I only have limited experience with PPC advertising and wasn’t sure I could use it successfully. Looking back I probably could have run a decent campaign and brought in more traffic over a few days or even all week.

The thought had also occurred to me to do a few spammy things like blast out some comment spam in an effort to get both links and clicks on the article. The thought didn’t last long since that’s simply not my style and I thought it would be ironic to use spam to promote an article on karma. I also didn’t want to do anything that could cause problems for the Marketing Pilgrim site even though I’m sure the site is strong enough to weather some spammy links. Mostly though it’s not something I believe in doing and I hate getting that kind of spam here. I really do believe in the idea of doing good things so it didn’t make sense. It simply crossed my mind during the week when I was wondering what else I could do to promote the article. Regardless of how it would have worked, I’m glad I stayed away from the spammy side of things.

Thoughts For Next Time

I don’t know whether or not Marketing Pilgrim will be running a similar contest in the future, but I hope they do and I would gladly enter again. I would hopefully be more prepared for it and be aware of the contest earlier. I would like to be able to spend more time researching keyword phrases and optimizing the article to increase search traffic to it. Having more time to review it for it’s content would be nice as well, since I found a few awkward sentences during the week and a few more edits would have made for a better article.

The keyphrases researched could also have been used to run an effective PPC campaign. If there’s a next time I would probably start the campaign on the same day the article appeared and run it all week. With the proper research and choice in keywords the campaign wouldn’t have to cost much and could drive more search traffic to the page.

I would certainly link out more and choose carefully what sites I linked to. I’ve discovered quite by accident that by linking out from this blog that some sites will send quite a lot of traffic over a few days when I link to them. A few well placed links to the right places could easily have brought in 100 views and possibly more if it helped spread the link.

I would also hopefully have a stronger network. While I was able to spread the word I realized that most of my network is outside the marketing industry. Had I known a few more well positioned marketers they could probably have spread the word more effectively than my entire network. While I am grateful to those that helped this week, their influence could only go so far. Imagine if I had an A-list blogger in my network. One or two links from them could have driven many more views that the total of my current network could.

In addition to building a stronger network in general it would be in my best interest to become more involved in social media sites like Digg and del.icio.us. While I may not build myself up to the point that I could get something dugg directly to the front page on my own, it’s possible I could build a stronger presence in those communities and perhaps even know some of those who can get something out in front of more people. A front page of Digg article could have won the contest by itself. Even a profile at MySpace could have sent tons of traffic to the article had I become part of the community there and managed to build a presence.

Final Thoughts On The Contest

I’m not quite sure how to access my success or lack of success. I obviously didn’t win, but it’s hard for me to decide if the 435 unique views is a good or bad number for the week. I don’t know all the numbers for each article, though my guess is it would be somewhere in the middle and somewhat above the average. It’s just a guess, but that total would have been enough to win two weeks of the contest. Only one article reached as many as 800 views. It’s perhaps not a bad number for someone who had never tried this before. Hopefully Andy will release some of the data so those of us who participated could better gage how we did against the competition.

While I’m certainly disappointed not to win and I would have liked to get more views than I did (my goal was 700 unique views) I was happy to have participated in the contest. It gave me a chance to test the reach of my current network and provide a baseline for the future. It was also the first time I’d ever tried to focus my marketing efforts on a single page and try to get traffic to it in a short period of time. Most of my marketing till now has been a long term strategy for this site. Very different tactics involved in each so it was good for me to test myself.

I’ve been able to see first hand some of the things that work and how much they can work and I’ve also realized some of the things I should have done, but can easily do next time. Next time doesn’t need to be a contest either. Everything mentioned here could easily be applied to an article I want to promote or to a page on a site selling something. Many of the tactics discussed here could work in a link bait campaign for instance.

Being relatively new to the world of search marketing this was a good test for me to assess my current skills and identify where those skills need improvement. There’s nothing to bring out your skills or lack of them like some competition. While I would have enjoyed winning it may prove even more valuable to have lost. It would be too easy to rest on my laurels had I done well and assume I didn’t need to work on a few things. Let’s face it no matter how much we know or how well we do something we could all stand a little improvement.

Sometimes there really is no greater success than failure.

Thanks again to Andy Beal for running the contest and Andy if you read this please do have another contest. It was both fun and a great learning experience and I would gladly participate again. Thanks also to everyone one who showed support this week and had a read of my article. It has been greatly appreciated and it’s been great to have received such a positive response. Thanks to everyone who entered. I had fun competing against you all. And congratulations to all those who made it past this first round of the contest. Good luck to everyone in the next round.

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6 comments

  1. You could only get Dugg for this contest if you were Kevin Rose. The site was blocked from being dugg the last week, obviously from someone spamming it or it was perceived as spamming (10-20 stories a week 3 weeks in a row).

    Other than that, as I said earlier, contests are won by those, who have the largest network of people, be it friends, bloggers or forum fellows. Except for when you got money to burn on PPC, I guess.

  2. I hadn’t seen that about Digg, but it makes sense. Still there are plenty of other social bookmarking sites that could have been put to use. Of course to use them right you would need to be an active user for a period longer than the week of the contest.

    I agree a big part of this is who’s got the strongest network, but I think there are things you could still do outside your network to get views. A site like Marketing Pilgrim should have enough link juice for any page to get some long tail searches right away. I would imagine the site is spidered frequently. I know my own article has been ranking #1 for various terms which include both ‘seo’ and ‘karma.’ Unfortunately for me they aren’t searched much.

    I also think the link out for trackbacks could have brought in a good number of views. I’ve linked out to certain sites to reference an article and had 10-20 views on my post by the next morning. It’s not necessarily the most targeted traffic, but for a contest like this it’s about the unique traffic and not so much the targeted traffic.

    True buying traffic through PPC is another way to overcome a lacking network. But it’s perfectly valid and if done right you wouldn’t need to spend much money. Imagine finding keyphrases you could get for $0.20. If you were willing to spend $50 you could bring in 250 views to your article assuming the phrases you bid on were searched that often in a week.

    I agree this probably came down to who had the strongest network, bit there were certainly ways you could have gotten an extra few hundred views. Wouldn’t have been enough for me to win this week, but would have any other week.

  3. I paid $10 for 65 visitors in two days and it says the CPC is 0.15. If I had spent $200, I’d beat the winner just from PPC :)

    The marvelous thing about PPC is that you can spend a large budget quickly, if you set a large daily budget, high max default bid and use the “Accelerate” option.

  4. Unlucky steve. Would have been hard to beat the number of hits the winner got. So you can take some comfort knowing that you must have done something right if would have won any other week.

  5. Yuri $200 isn’t a bad investment for $6000 in prizes. I think my not taking advantage of PPC was a mistake in the contest though I probably wasn’t going to buy the 700+ clciks it would have taken. I agree with you that a lot of this contest came down to the strength of your network, but if I had applied a few of the techniques that I didn’t attempt I think a few hundred more visitors would have been possible. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered for this week, but it would have in any of the other weeks.

    Matt as much as winning would have been nice it really was about the experience for me and what I was able to take away and learn from the contest. It’s provided a baseline for me about what I can do and it’s proven to me the value of social networks online. The majority of the views to my article were actually direct to the page, which I suspect were the emails that were sent out. And many of the people who received emails are not people who had ever heard of seo before. Shows the power of an offline network affecting online results.

    It was ain fun and interesting contest and I’ve heard there will be more from Marketing Pilgrim in the future. I’d be glad to participate again and test some new theories and try out some new techniques.

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