Google can be tight-lipped and enigmatic when it comes to the way their algorithms work. However, they can get information to the SEO community by having high-profile workers talk about the SEO process. The statements they make aren’t official, but they give us a glimpse into the decision-making process Google uses. A recent statement from Google’s John Mueller suggests the company doesn’t look kindly on “SEO contests.”
For those who may not know, an SEO contest is when an organization offers a prize to SEO companies for influencing the ranking for a specific keyword or phrase. In theory, the competition will generate a lot of backlinks to the host’s site, and the Google search results for the term will be significantly altered. The practice can be effective, and Google doesn’t outright ban it, but the company isn’t happy about it.
Last week, John Mueller sent out a tweet discussing SEO contests. This action is strange because his comments with SEO guidance often come in response to a question. In this situation, no one asked; he just brought it up. It is believed that this Tweet was made in response to an SEO contest on Wix.
Tacitly acknowledging that SEO contests aren’t banned, John Mueller wrote, “SEO contests are pretty useless. SEO contests never reflect real life-performance, they generate a ton of spam that negatively affects the whole ecosystem, they’re a big waste of time & effort. The smart approach to SEO contests is to ignore them.”
The point he mentions about spam is valid. SEO contests bring in people who will try to use black hat SEO tactics as part of their campaign. These actions inevitably result with people receiving a lot of spam email and spam comments that feature links to keyword-rich pages.
Mueller’s comment that SEO contests “negatively affect the ecosystem” reflects Google’s overall concern about these efforts. These tactics generate inauthentic traffic and engagement, and that messes with the algorithm. Learning algorithms, such as the ones used by Google, depend on the data reflecting real-world uses. Any campaign that encourages people to take actions they usually wouldn’t, breaks the assumptions the algorithms work with. It means search results, in general, suffer, because the algorithm has a skewed baseline for regular activity regarding a particular keyword.
Mueller’s final point, that “the smart approach to SEO contests is to ignore them” is valid for businesses and agencies. Any company that sees gains from this tactic will soon find them reversed. Once Google detects the inauthentic activity, they will adjust the algorithm and rankings accordingly. Google already came down on SEO contest before by adding restrictions about what was acceptable and what could result in SEO penalties.
For SEO marketers, these contests are a way for businesses to get free services. If they offer a substantial prize, they can get multiple agencies to work on their project, but they only have to give the prize money to one. In the end, a lot of agencies will find it a “big waste of time and effort,” as Mueller would say.
For more recent news about SEO tips, tricks, and advice, read this article on how Google treats sites with low-quality pages.