What Do You Think Of SEO Contests?

If you remember, a couple of months back I participated in the Marketing Pilgrim SEM Scholarship contest. Earlier today Andy Beal, the man behind the Marketing Pilgrim site, emailed those of us who had entered asking for feedback about what we learned from the contest and what we thought of the contest in general.

I’ve previously written about the results of the contest and my strategy and tactics for getting people to view the article I had entered. You can view the anatomy of a search marketing scholarship contest and compare how well everyone did in driving traffic to our articles.

Thinking again about the contest today has me thinking again of the value of seo contests. They are clearly linkbait for the site running the contest, but what about those who participate? Is it all about the prizes or is there something to learn, win or lose? Can participating in an SEO contest improve your skills as an SEO?

SEO Contests In General

No contest can ever hope to completely capture what we do as SEOs in the real world. The only thing that does that is real work and I doubt many would put aside paying work to enter a contest that required the exact level of work. In the end the real contest is the jobs we do each and every day and in that contest there is no one winner.

I’ve often seen complaints about contests, usually by those who didn’t win, that it wasn’t fair because all you needed to do to win was ‘A” or anyone could have done ‘B’ or I wasn’t able to use ‘C’ since it was against the rules. The complaints would be valid were the contest attempting to replicate real world SEO, but again that task is close to impossible. A contest can not test everything. The particular rules of a given contest may favor some group, while the rules of another contest may favor a completely different group.

The Marketing Pilgrim SEO Contest

The recent Marketing Pilgrim contest did not test every skill an SEO might have. For example given we only had a single week to drive traffic to our articles, a comprehensive link building campaign for organic ranking made no sense. The benefits of any links would not have been felt until after the week had ended. On the other hand PPC was able to have an immediate effect. Any organic SEO needed to be on page and targeted towards long tail search phrases.

The recent contest called upon skills in viral and buzz marketing. It called upon the reach and strength of social networks. It tested your ability to launch a pay per click campaign. Andy has asked if perhaps next time around a longer time should be given to attracting page views and visitors. In such a scenario more focus could be placed on link building and long term organic traffic.

A longer contest would not necessarily be better or worse, but simply different as I mentioned to Andy. Participants would apply some of the same skills as in this past contest, but also a new set of skills including organic link building campaigns. A different set of on page writing might be called for with focus on a different set of keywords.

Would a longer contest encompass all of an SEOs skills? No. Traffic would still be focused on a single page instead of an entire site. Contestants would not have the opportunity to grow the site itself in an effort to build authority. A longer contest would not be a perfect contest. What it would be is different and once again likely interesting and fun.

I enjoyed the last Marketing Pilgrim contest and learned a lot about where I am as an SEO. It gave me a benchmark for my own skills and made me think in ways I had not needed to think before. In many contests winning is the only reward. In the Marketing Pilgrim contest participation was the real reward. Win or lose I am a better SEO today for having taken part.


No contest can hope to be a complete measure of SEO skill nor should any attempt to be. An SEOs abilities are ultimately measured by the work we do for our clients and for ourselves, which is as it should be. Contests though, can test a subset of skills and which skills are tested are determined by the rules of the particular contest. The Marketing Pilgrim contest required a certain skillset. The next one may require a different set of talents. Neither will measure everything, but both will allow participants to test where they are and learn where they might go.

There are many SEO contests that hold no interest for me as a participant. They do not make use of abilities I either have or want to improve. I may follow them out of curiosity, but I don’t participate. They ar still perfectly valid contest. They are just not for me. The Marketing Pilgrim contest and hopefully future contests asked me to use techniques that I wanted to test. It also asked of me to try things I had not previously tried and thus gave me a chance to grow.

Thanks Andy for the contest and I look forward to the next one.

So what do you think of SEO contests?

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  1. That’s why I liked Andy’s contest. It wasn’t about ranking a page for a mde up term. Those aren’t for me, but even they require a certan skillset.

    This contest did require you to write an article and since the winner was ultimately chosen based on the quality of the article you did need to write a good one. I imagined this contest as how it would work after creating a new landing page and wanting to get traffic to it quickly for some reason. Maybe because you’re running a limited sale or because you need to sign up as many people as possible for a timed event.

    I think this contest did measure something more inline with what an SEO might do than rank for a nonsense term. I also think if you look at the people who entered this contest compared to the rank for nonsense ones you can see a difference in the general abilites of the contestants.

    I know some will disagree and contests really aren’t for everyone. I certainly don’t think winning one makes you a good SEO and that losing one makes you less than the winner.

    Overall it was fun and worth the work to me. And assuming I would have the time I would likely enter should Andy run another one.

  2. I think they can be fun. But some claims that they are an experimental ground that others can learn from by looking at what the winner done compared to what the losers done doesn’t make sense, because an SEO contest doesn’t provide anything that looking at any other sites appearing on any other search term would provide.

    Plus, The search terms used in SEO contests tend to usually be a search term that at the time of the start of the competition returned no results. So basic SEO, even bad SEO (link spamming/keyword stuffing) could see the site appear top over a short time, enough time to win the competition.

  3. I said pretty much everything in my blog post but I just wanted to add that the quality of the article didn’t really matter in the first round. Page views and only page views was the metric. I think you did a great job of promoting your article through forums and the blogosphere. Also your title was good and grabbed some attention. Bottom line :”Overall it was fun and worth the work to me.” And I appreciate your encouragement. thanks

  4. Thanks David. I liked your article as well and thought you had a catch title too. I like a lot of them actually. It’s always good to hear things from different perspectives.

    I realize the quality of the article only came into play if you won for your week, but I assume everyone who entered was trying to write a quality article.

    I did make use of socal networks and contacts for the most part and still kicking myself for not running even a small PPC campaign. I don’t think any of us was going to beat out Ben though. He far surpassed everyone else during the week and of all the articles I’ve read I also think his was the best so I think his victory was well deserved.

    It really was fun like you said and a great learning experience. Completely worth it to me too.

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