An SEO contest is an activity awarding prizes that challenges search engine optimization (SEO) practitioners to rank themselves among the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN using certain keyword(s). This type of contest is controversial because it often leads to massive amounts of link spamming as participants try to boost the rankings of their pages by any means available.
The organizing body of an SEO competition may hold the activity without promotion of a product or service in mind; or they may organize a contest in order to market something on the Internet. Participants can showcase their skills and potentially discover and share new techniques for promoting websites.
The first recorded SEO Contest was Schnitzelmitkartoffelsalat by German webmasters, started on 2002 November 15 in the German-language usenet group de.comm.infosystems.www.authoring.misc. In the English-language world, the nigritude ultramarine competition by SearchGuild is widely acclaimed as the mother of all SEO contests. It was started on May 7, 2004 and was won two months later by Anil Dash. On September 1 of the same year, webmasters were challenged to rank number 1 on Google in three months' time for the search phrase seraphim proudleduck.
In the first quarter of 2005, people were competing for the term loquine glupe, spawning web sites ranging from shampoo advertising to holiday resorts. The page that won in the end looked rather boring, and used lots of questionable techniques like "keyword stuffing".
Internationally, in 2005 two major contests took place in Europe. In Germany the Hommingberger Gepardenforelle by the computer magazine c't spawned almost 4 million results. The goal was to find out how search engines rank sites. In Poland almost at same time the Polish SEO community organized the msnbetter thangoogle contest. It topped the 4 million but failed to reach its goal to promote SEO in Poland and to get search engines companies' attention for the Polish market. Currently at least one contest is taking place in France.
A competition ran from January 1, 2006 to March 1, 2006 and carried the term redscowl bluesingsky, another set of made-up words. It was sponsored by SEOLogs. Shoemoney won this contest, and since he contributed the winner's money, he donated it to the number 2 winner.
Some webmasters resort to spam, while others use white-hat optimization techniques, like providing good content covering the competition, or optimizing page titles. Most SEO contests expect people to optimize a single web page for a non-existent phrase of two silly words. The main reason for this is to keep existing web sites from getting a head start. But at the same time it makes sure that regular internet searchers won't be bombarded with "spammy" results when searching the web for "regular" information.
Rules and limitations can make it harder to benefit from the ranking algorithm, including quirks, of the targeted search engine. For example, the January 2006 Redscowl Bluesingsky contest issued by seologs.com was open for new domains only. That meant that the contestants couldn't benefit from the ranking advantage old web sites are thought to have over new ones. An example of that is the age advantage Anil Dash' blog page had over the well-received but brand new Nigritude Ultramarine FAQ - respectively ended 1st and 6th in the Nigritude Ultramarine challenge. It was expected that the Redscowl Bluesingsky game would be won by a domain of the style "redscowl-bluesingsky.tld" - bound to attract natural links and to benefit from the fact that the URL is made up entirely of the search words.
Another special rule that fits well with the 'purpose' of SEO contests today is the obligation to 'link back' to the organizing body, often a search engine optimization site. Since a web document's ranking on major search engines like Yahoo!, Google or MSN Search is mainly determined by internet hyperlinks pointing to that document, forcing webmasters to link to a web site is quite a powerful way to increase its web presence. Good example are the contest announced by V7N (using the phrase v7ndotcom elursrebmem) and its counterpart by WebGuerrilla. While the first of these originally required the contestants to link to V7N forums, the second forbids its players to do just that. Instead a special link to Google engineer Matt Cutts' blog is imperative. Because of this rivalry, both the rules and prize money on both these www.SEO-sk.com contests were updated regularly up until the official start date of January 15, 2006.
Two prizes were awarded for the top position in a Google search: one for the top position on 9am GMT on June 7, 2004, and another prize awarded at the close of the contest on 9am GMT July 7, 2004.
There were about two hundred competitors, who deployed a variety of methods, from Google bombing upwards. The competitive conditions encouraged intensive, free use of techniques that would have otherwise been used in a more conservative manner, and it is entirely possible that some normally-legitimate SEOs took a more aggressive approach for the occasion. Weblogs and wikis were hit by the contest, and needed to be constantly policed to prevent "nigritude ultramarine" spam from lowering their signal-to-noise ratio below acceptable limits. Public wiki sandboxes were especially vulnerable.
On July 7, Six Apart Vice President and weblogger Anil Dash was announced as the contest winner. Dash stated that his goal in entering the contest was to "prove that real content trumps all the shady optimization tricks that someone can figure out". Instead of resorting to such tactics, he simply wrote a weblog entry and asked his readers to link to it. Another competitor took this idea further and wrote the Nigritude Ultramarine FAQ, which placed sixth overall, won the "Judge's Choice" award, and remains a valuable source of information about the competition.
As of January 2007, the top two Google results are the blog entry that won the competition and the Nigritude Ultramarine FAQ. The third is the Wikipedia article on SEO contests.
It is known that Google generally tries to detect and penalise dirty tricks, and nigritude ultramarine makes an obvious test case. An important open question remains whether Google has treated nigritude ultramarine specially in any way; the company has refused to comment. As of September 2004, the Google results do not appear hand-crafted, and several insipid pages appear high-although lower than they did during the competition-on the search page.
Comparison of search results for nigritude ultramarine during and after the competition is complicated by the change the competition has caused to the meaning of the phrase. Before, it was purely a nonsense phrase that could not possibly be searched for by anyone looking for any real resource. Now it refers primarily to the competition itself, and is a natural phrase to use to find information about the competition. (As of September 5, 2004, the highest Google result that is an official competition page is SearchGuild's, which is ranked 18th.) It is also natural for someone to search for the phrase to find out why it appears on so many webpages. (The Nigritude Ultramarine FAQ, ranked second as of June 18, 2006, is an excellent resource for this.)
Furthermore, due to the nature of web searching, any web-based reporting about the nigritude ultramarine competition, feeds back and affects the search results in question. This effect was previously noticed in the reporting of Googlewhacks, and takes a more complex form in this case.
Seraphim proudleduck was created by Salmonbones. When the contest ended, over 520,000 results existed for the term. (As of June 2007, about 40,600 still exist.)
Since different Google servers are known to show different results, the search was to be performed from the UK. A bonus prize (a webpage with a PageRank of 7) was going to be awarded to the number one position for the phrase in Google Images. However, in an unexpected turn of events, the contest organizer announced that he sold the SalmonBones.co.uk domain name, and no prize was actually awarded. (The contest winner, Google Blogoscoped, wrote more about this on his website.)
The four required words
This is the first contest that used a quoted expression. This is also the first contest that targeted image search engines (but no image was indexed during the three months). Finally there was a collective subcontest, won by Seosphere that allowed forums to compete.