There have been search engine optimization contests before, but they've never really caught on. That can't be said for the latest one, which has SEO companies and others scrambling to rank tops on Google for the term "nigritude ultramarine." The contest even gained a brief mention in the Wall Street Journal last week.
Why that term? Simple -- Google had no listings for it when the contest began earlier this month on May 7.
Since that time, I've seen the term increasingly pop up everywhere on forums, blogs and web sites I visit. OK, I visit a lot of search marketing related sites, so part of this is inevitable. Still, it's appearing in a lot of places
Link Bombing For Fun
Here's an ironic example -- a link from the online photo gallery of a Google product manager and staff photographer Wesley Chan. Look at the bottom of the gallery's home page, and you'll see this:
help smugmug win a fun online contest: nigritude ultramarine.
The link takes you over to a very creative entry in the contest that's run by Chan's hosting company, smugmug.
That link isn't something Chan did himself. Rather, smugmug's added it to the bottom of all their customers' pages. Like others, they hope getting enough links containing the words "nigritude ultramarine" and pointing at their entry will help Google see the entry as relevant for the term.
"The Nigritude Ultramarine link is on every one of our customers' pages and links to my entry for the contest," said Don MacAskill, CEO of smugmug. "We're a fun-loving company and thought it'd be a neat contest to participate in. Google and Wesley have nothing to do with us, the contest, or anything else."
The links at smugmug and those showing up around the web are akin to link bombing campaigns that have gone on in the past, such as the effort to make US presidential candidate John Kerry tops for the word "waffles" on search engines or the one to make US president George W. Bush tops for the phrase "miserable failure."
The difference in this case is that it's fair to say no one is getting hurt. The term never existed before, so no relevant results are being impacted with one big exception: the page that describes the contest itself.
A real test of search engine relevancy would be for the contest information page, arguably one of the most relevant for this term, to be coming up in the top listings.
Using that test, none of the major search engines are winning. The contest informatoin is not in the first page of results at Google, Yahoo or Teoma. But hold most of your blame. The contest page has specifically banned them from indexing it using a meta robots tag.
This leaves the crawler-based search engines entirely dependent on ranking the page in the top results solely off of link data, and I'm guessing not many people are linking over to it using the phrase.
What's In The Results
What is winning? Google has mostly junk. What I mean is that when reviewing the top results, nothing stands out as particularly interesting or unusual. The current number one listing at Google is a good example of this:
Nigritude Ultramarine $$˜
nigritude ultramarinenigritude ultramarine - nigritude ultramarine Nigritude
Ultramarine. Welcome ... Nigritude Ultramarine - Dark Blue 23rd May. Nigritude ...
Why do I call that junk? Compare it to what you might get for a real product:
Apple - iPod
... iPod Software Downloads. iTunes 4 icon. iTunes 4.5 lets you share playlists,
encode in Apple Lossless and convert unprotected WMA files. iPod download icon ...
Now you can feel how artificial the results coming up for "nigritude ultramarine" feel. They have heavy repetition of the target terms (due to heavy repetition on the actual pages), and that doesn't inspire clickthrough.
Most notable among the top results at Google is probably the Google Blogoscope home page, a blog site that's encouraging readers to link to it, and a forum page discussing the contest. These lack the repetition of the other listings because rather than being overt, heavily engineered pages targeting the phrase, they actually have some content about the contest.
At Yahoo, it is basically the same story as Google. Nothing wonderful stands out after a quick skim. The first result at Yahoo might as well be a model for the rest:
nIgRitUdE ultrAmarIne & nIgRitUdE ultrAmarIne nIgRitUdE ultrAmarIne.
Your website here ? just add: to your website and send us a mail. 25.May.2004.
Background Nigritude Ultramarine [ Nigritude Ultramarine” - berberber -
It is interesting to note that the first result at Google is the second result at Yahoo -- a sign that once again "Google Bombs" are better described as link bombs that might explode outside Google.
Dean Machine In The Race At Teoma!
Teoma is much more fun. The official photo gallery of the now defunct Howard Dean US presidential campaign is ranked number two. What's up with that? Here's some quick-and-dirty guesswork.
Remember that smugmug photo hosting site I mentioned earlier, which is competing in the contest? One of their customers is the Dean campaign, as this article from smugmug explains more. They may be responsible for why the Dean site now has the words "nigritude ultramarine" in its meta keywords tags.
Those words in that tag makes the Dean page relevant in terms of actual page content. The Dean page also faces far less competition to rank well at Teoma, needing to out do only 226 matching pages versus 100,000 at Yahoo and nearly 400,000 at Google. Chances are, the Dean site has far more reputation in Teoma's ranking system based on pure link popularity than these other sites.
(As a side note, I couldn't go past the first 11 results at Teoma for this term. Some type of bug seems to be preventing this).
Who Wins? And Is It Really A Victory?
Mark two dates on your calendar: June 7 and July 7. Whatever page is ranked first at Google on June 7 wins an Apple iPod. Those who supposedly show a longer endurance and rank first on July 7 win a bigger prize of LCD computer monitor.
Sadly, seeing which site is tops just for one day, and for one keyword, is a terrible way to measure search engine marketing effectiveness. A good search engine marketer helps you maintain a lasting presence in search engines for a variety of terms. Those terms should bring you a steady stream of traffic -- and traffic that converts into sales or some other particular goal.
Importantly, the contest does nothing to recognize someone who may have gained a top ranking for many days in a row, only to perhaps get dropped slightly for a short time.
Recognizing all this, the contest will certainly let someone claim some fun bragging rights. And fortunately, there is also a "Judges Choice" award for the best listing in the top 100 results that also has unique, creative and readable copy.
Those entering need to be careful. Some pages I've viewed seem to be neglecting the very specific instructions required to win. This involves becoming a member of the SearchGuild.com forum and installing a logo for DarkBlue.com. Both entities are sponsors of the contest.
One thing that might happen is that someone may rank first on the key dates but be disqualified for not having met the contest requirements. If so, expect them to claim victory as an unofficial winner.