Lessons from an SEO Contest

I don’t know all the ins and outs of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but I hope the ‘lessons’ our team of three learned from two consecutive Philippine SEO contests can help fellow bloggers here at Performancing. (One of my teammates was J Angelo Racoma, who now helps manage sites for Splashpress Media – Filipino bloggers like to tease him “blog overlord”.)

Without further ado:

Don’t be content with your rank, changes happen fast – You’re number one in the search results for “fake petunias” today, with your competitors nowhere in sight…but tomorrow they’ll overtake you. We learned this the hard way when our first contest entry grabbed 1st place in Google, only to end up in 5th weeks later. Even more painful was the second entry – from 2nd to 11th.

Don’t go overboard with the keyword density – There has been much talk and debate as to what is the right keyword density for each of the three big engines (Google, Yahoo, and MSN). It is all right – imperative, actually – to conduct keyword research and inject keyphrases into your articles, but don’t be too generous in dishing them out. If the blog content sounds inhuman already – “Fake petunias can be bought at fake petunia shops by people who love fake petunias” – then you’ve probably gone overboard with the keywords.

Here’s good advice from Pholpher’s Perf post: “Don’t spam by stuffing your posts with too many keywords. Three to four times should be enough for blog posts between 400-500 words.”

Don’t forget the images – As mentioned in this earlier post, inserting images and adding alt and title attributes to your posts can give you an SEO advantage.

Link exchanges still matter – One contestant diligently did the rounds of the Philippine blogosphere (IMO one of the friendliest and link exchange-hungriest blogospheres around)…and he placed high in the results. For your link-building efforts, Ryan’s 5 Ways to Diversify Your Links is a heavyweight resource.

Feed scrapers pay the price – One of our contest observations was that most blogs filled with duplicate content (mostly feed scrapers) languished in the SERPs. The same was true for blogs that relied on article directory content, though those that had a good balance between unoriginal and original content did fairly well.

Releasing a WordPress theme can do wonders – Especially if it becomes popular! Getting a free PR 5 or so link from WordPress is simply too good to pass up (not to mention the links from blogs using your theme). Once you’ve crafted a great theme, changing the colors and releasing them as spin-off themes can net you more links. With this tactic, one contestant who entered the competition quite late shot up blazingly fast through the rankings and finished among the Top 5 (if my memory serves me right).

Watch out for hackers – Hackers a.k.a. your competitors? Possible. It happened to us. Don’t let your efforts go for naught; always run regular backups so you can bounce back with a vengeance, and bounce back fast.

Google’s the easiest, Yahoo the middle guy, MSN the hard-to-get – It’s my opinion that Google is the easiest search engine for a new blog/domain to break into. Barely a week with scant content and we were already there. On the other hand, it took us a month or so to appear on Yahoo. As for MSN, well, our entries didn’t appear even after three months.

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Of course, there’s a big difference between an SEO contest and a ‘rivalry’ among blogs in the same niche: the former has a deadline. The latter just goes on and on until the warriors fall one by one by the wayside. Just like in every business, ensuring that your blog outperforms its rivals in the search engine wars requires perpetual vigilance, research, and experimentation.