How to win an SEO Contest

The marketing staff at Wix, which are not know for the best SEO in the past, apparently trying to make their brand known as a SEO friendly platform. In order to attack those negative prejudices, Wix started an SEO Contest for the term [seo hero] in Google. WiX states to have over 90 million users in 190 countries! Now, they are claiming to give you $50,000 if you can outrank them. Maybe WiX is right with Web Creation Made Easy, but SEO has never been easy.

To me, SEO contests are a very welcome opportunity for SEO experimentation because most contest are held on completely new-created search terms. So it is very interesting to see, what pages Google ranks when no historical data is available on that given artificially created term.

The search engine has to rely solely on signals that usually don’t have that much of an impact to the rankings. Of course, like in every SEO contest there will be a lot of spam with low value or long term ranking potential, but we can observe, what’s ranking, how long and maybe even why!

As the winner of the German SEO Contest 2015, I will share my experience and knowledge with all SEOs taking part in the current WiX SEO Challenge.

Disclaimer: This article is about the most important short term ranking factors that play the biggest role in an SEO contest. All advice mentioned here should not be applied to a long term SEO strategy or be regarded as generic SEO tipps!

Let’s dive into the ranking factors!
What could determine the ranking within a short term SEO Challenge?

1. Freshness

When search engines such as Google detect rising search volume on a specific term, they must assume that something new happened and that users are searching for the latest news or information on that given topic.

For seasonally popular terms like ‘superbowl’ the metrics are the same as for newly created term or rising search volume like ‘seo hero’ because everybody wants to know which sites are currently ranking best.

Whenever something like this happens, an algorithm named ‘QDF’ will comes into play, which means „Query deserves freshness“: updated or new pages and articles are ranked higher, because they provide newer information to the user. The QDF algorithm was invented by Amit Singhal, Senior VP and Google Fellow, who first talked about it in 2007. QDF has been a ranking factor ever since. A few years ago, fresh pages could even beat very trustworthy and old domains.

To determine, if a search term has rising search volume, you can check the interest over time on Google Trends:

Rising search volume on “SEO Hero” via Google Trends

Conclusion 1: To win the SEO Hero Challenge, you need to keep your site up to date! Regularly post new content or update existing pages to persist in the most relevant pages and thus rank high in the search result pages (SERPs).

2. Trust

Google’s trust factor is a elusive combination of many factors that try to determine how trustful a site is. Google holds a patent on Search result ranking based on trust which was filed on May 9, 2006 and granted on October 13, 2009. There might be more factors, that can show Google if a site is trustworthy or maybe web spam, though.

In the most SEO challenges, the term to rank for is an artificially created one that Google never heard of before. This time (within the WiX SEO Hero Challenge) the term has already been used on 104 pages:

The google.com rankings for the term SEO Hero before the contest started

If you look at current live rankings, many of these existing pages still rank better than most new domains and entries due to their trust level. But according to the official rules, only new registered domains, created on or after November 16, 2016 are eligible for joining the competition. That means that a site can win, even if it will not be ranking on the first position!

I registered a brand new hyphenated exact match top level domain (seo-hero.org) and try to be helpful with my live rankings and SEO tips.

Conclusion 2: In my opinion, the major challenge of the WiX SEO Hero competition is to gain real links, traffic and positive user signals to build trust on the completely new registered domain within the challenges timeframe, without violating googles guidelines by using expired or existing domains or just placing some links on domains which are controlled by you.

3. Content Quality

If you have listened to Matt Cutts during the last 15 years, a sites content quality should be the most important factor, when it comes to ranking on Google. But what is good content?

In the official Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide from Google, they clearly state:

Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here.

In my opinion, most SEOs just changed their minds after they got hit by the panda update. To this date, most SEO texts where nothing more than X% keyword densitity optimized crap content. The magic formula TF * IDF or the more advanced BM25 and tools built around it are currently extremely popular in the German SEO scene. As Google tires to interpret the semantic relation between the terms in a given document, it can be a real advantage to optimize your content semantically. This is sometimes also called ‘Latent Semantic Optimization’.

But how well does an algorithm work, that relies upon statistical analysis of relevant documents, if there were no documents for that term in the past?

Screenshot from OnPage.org: TF * IDF Analysis of the term SEO Hero

With OnPage.org, you can analyze your texts with the help of algorithmic analyses based on the term weighting formula TF*IDF. With OnPage.org FREE, they provide you with five complimentary requests as well as a text assistant, which helps you with creating good content.

Conclusion 3: The TF * IDF values for ”seo hero” have been changing quite a bit, since the start of the challenge. If you want to take advantage of LSO, you need to check the proof keywords regularly to incorporate all relevant terms.

4. Backlinks

Links, links, links. Passed SEO contest have proven several times: The more links the better. But does that rule still apply during times of penguin penalties and messages for unnatural incoming links?

Yes, backlinks still remain an extremely important Google ranking factor. One 2016 study by backlinko found that the number of domains linking to a page correlated more than any other factor with higher rankings.

Number of referring domains correlated with position on google

Over-optimized keyword-rich anchor texts are ignored or increasingly weighted negatively. The question remains to be asked: Can Google really determine which links are good and which are bad in the short time frame of the contest?

Conclusion 4: In an SEO competition, every link is a good link. But in the WiX SEO Hero Challenge, each participant must comply with the Google guidelines, so using PBNs or expired domains will lead to disqualification just as will link spamming, blog comment spam or profile links from forums. I think ultimately only the participant who will create the most compelling content and organically acquire really good links will succeed.

5. Hubscore

Most SEOs still think that outgoing links could harm rankings more than they could help. The misconception of losing linkjuice or pagerank still keeps many inexperienced SEOs from linking out to other pages. But this is not the best idea!

According to the HITS algorithm, a predecessor to the PageRank algorithm, every linkgraph creates to positive poles: One is considered as the authority and is the page with the most incoming link. But the second pole originates on the hub where the most relevant pages are linked. Hubs can lead users to the best resources and are therefore very valuable to search engines.

Conclusion 5: I will continue linking to the best SEO Hero pages, even if they are competing with my site. Greedy webmasters are not adding value to the web, so I hope nobody will rank highly without any outgoing links.

6. Social Signals?

It is still unclear if social signals actually boost your rankings. Several ranking factor studies showed a positive correlation between facebook likes and good rankings, but correlation != causation.

In the German SEO contest 2014 I experimented with social shares and tried to boost rankings with a lot of +1s from Google+, but they have not shown any positive impacts. So let’s state clearly: Social media is not SEO.

Conclusion 6: In my opinion, social media can drive traffic and spread your content across influencers or even customers, which will maybe lead to more incoming links or traffic signals or even brand searches which definitely have positive effects on your rankings.

7. Exact Match Domains

The so called EMDs (exact match domain names) had a significant ranking boost within search engines over the last 15 years. But if you look at current rankings, especially on SEO contests like SEO hero, EMDs seems to have lost their previous positive bias and are not ranking just for their exactly matching keyword terms. In 2012 Google officially announced an EMD update to prevent low-quality ‘exact-match’ domains from showing up high in the search results.

Microsoft’s search engine Bing is known for still giving EMDs a bonus, so there are currently only partial match and exact match domains within the top results for SEO Hero:

Conclusion 7: Ranking best with an EMD is the same as ranking best with any other newly registered domain. You have to build trust first — there is no domain bonus anymore!

8. Brand Signals

Google loves brands that’s for sure. Certain user behavior leads to so-called brand signals which can positively impact a site’s rankings. For example: Brand searches clearly show Google that there is a real demand for a specific brand and if brand searches are combined with generic terms (like ‘zappos shoes’) Google can attribute higher relevance for that brand to the generic term.

High CTRs are know for pushing rankings, as besides brand searches, a significant higher CTR could also be interpreted as a brand signal. Users tend to prefer well-known websites when it comes to clicking on a SERP. A lot of traffic through links or even unlinked citations of the brand name on trusted websites can influence the brand recognition within the Google search.

With nearly every website about ‘seo hero’ mentioning WiX, some of them even linking to the official Wix SEO Hero Contest page, no wonder Wix.com is dominating the first three results in google.com:

Conclusion 8: Brand signals could really boost your SEO Heros’ rankings, but besides WiX, who can really build a brand around that term? Starting on a fresh domain is really hard when it comes to brand signals.

9. Creativity and Usefulness

This is very hard to quantify or analyze in terms of a metric. Pages that provide real value have a better chance to collect positive signals. But what is useful within an SEO contest?

I tried to build the most useful page with the live rankings that are requested via google.com from the New York data center from a desktop search, just like the judge will be doing to determine the winner. To provide the best experience, I automatically check the registration date of the ranking domains by the mean of a whois service and their first appearance in the web from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and mark all non-eligible domains.

In the 2014 German SEO contest, I tried to boost my rankings with branded searches, but Google refused to pick them up fast enough, now they show up in Google suggest, so they won’t be recognized as unnatural, but I think this will not work within the needed timeframe.

Conclusion 9: Creativity and usefulness still is the best but hardest way to earn good rankings! You need to build a site that is so useful that even your competitors will link to it :) Be creative!

10. First-mover advantage

In marketing strategy, first-mover advantage, or FMA, is the advantage gained by the initial (‘first-moving’) significant occupant of a market segment. Being first on a newly created search term can really help — there won’t be any competition — however there were already a lot of pages for ‘SEO hero’ when I started, so it wasn’t exactly the “wild west”.

I was quick enough to pick up the last available EMD, but made it into the top 20 only once for a few hours. Most eligible domains are currently ranking beyond position 100.

Conclusion 10: If you start quick and gain traction in the contest that can be a great head start. Ranking well early in an SEO contest can lead to more traffic, which can lead to more signals, links, etc. Your competitors will analyze your website and maybe link to it to show topic-related expertise.

This post have been published first on SEO-Hero.org