SEO Awards: What Constitutes a Success?

SEO Awards: What Constitutes a Success?

19th November 2013

Autumn 2013 marked some momentous occasions within the search world, with October marking the 7th DADI awards ceremony, and in November the UK Search Awards both taking place in London. The DADI awards (The Drum awards for the digital industries) promise to “recognise digital excellence and reward effective digital strategies and campaigns” and the Search Awards promises to “celebrate the very best in SEO, PPC and digital marketing”. And after all, who would blame them.

Both awards ceremonies celebrate some of the very best campaigns to come out of the search world over the last year, not to mention that the Drum also provide up-to-date news across the digital industry; if you were to ask anybody in digital to name 5 online digital news sites, I’m sure The Drum would feature prominently in your results.

I very much enjoyed reading through both the lists of nominees and winners, for the Search Awards and DADI Awards from this year’s ceremonies, as I do every year. After all reading through these lists often provides huge amounts of digital inspiration from some of the best campaigns over the last year, however when I got to the ‘Use of Organic Search (SEO)’ category in the DADI Awards, I have to say I was a little bemused by the winner…

My confusion initially was actually down to the web address listed as the winner, having scanned the list and seen very familiar brands such as: Autotrader, East Coast Main Line, Bathstore, Boden, Brantano, Miss Guided and well

Having never heard of, I went over to the site to have a look. What I was confronted with seemed like little more than a simple WordPress site, with a basic (free?) theme on it, and a fairly clumsy navigation. site navigation example

Now I don’t intend this article to be a witch-hunt or an ‘outing’ of anyone. It’s worthwhile saying here that I have no affiliation to any of the competitors and I don’t wish to appear sour grapes.

I dug a little deeper and saw that the campaign, ran for the client Investec, was named “How agenda21 turned a bank into a top fashion publisher”. Considering this position then perhaps the entry did enough to provide results to the client, and expand their reach into a new market.

Digital Awards Ceremonies: Industry Insight

However what really interested me after seeing win this award was:

“On what criteria do digital, and SEO awards, use to judge a success?”

It was because of this that I reached out to a number of leading industry experts to hear:

  • Whether or not they have entered awards
  • What awards mean to them
  • What they believe should be used as criteria to judge SEO success

Read their responses below…

Pete Young – MediaCom I-Lab

Pete Young

Pete is the Board Director at MediaCom I-Lab responsible for Search & Social for MediaCom for I-Lab (MediaCom’s specialist digital division), as well as wider integration of search with other media such as Offline, Display and Retargeting for our clients.  Further to this he is heavily involved in the industry running Holistic Search (as well as one of the bloggers at State of Digital), one of the founder members of SAScon (one of the leading search conferences in the UK) and one of the initial people responsible for launching the Search Awards in the UK – although this involvement has long since ended.

Have you previously submitted anything for SEO Awards?

Mediacom actively submit a number of our campaigns to awards across the digital spectrum , not just for SEO. For SEO specifically , we tend to consider those that fit a specific set of criteria such as:

  • Industry perception and credibility – We have previously contributed to awards such as the UK and EU Search Awards and been reasonably successful in both (Best use of Local for the UK Search Awards in 2012/Best use of Mobile & Grand Prix at the EU Search Awards)
  • Vertical perception – for example Travel, Finance or Gaming specific
  • Wider marketing and Integration awards – Mobile etc

If so, why did you do so?

Perception in the main. For an agency such as Mediacom, it is often more difficult to be seen as a specialist within a particular channel – and as such vertical specific awards allow us to showcase some of the brilliant work done by the Organic and Paid search teams at MediaCom.  Further to this 3rdparty validation particularly with awards is a great way of building client relationships both with regards to new business and for existing business – and I don’t think this can be underestimated – particularly with regards to new business where trust is such an intrinsic part of the procurement process.

What does it mean for you to win awards?

I think much of this is covered by the response above…

What rationale/criteria do you believe should be used to judge SEO success? E.g. In your eyes, what makes a good SEO campaign

It depends on the awards themselves but I would suggest the majority of KPI’s would be very similar to those expected by clients namely:

  • Accountability
    • Did the brand meet its objectives?
    • What impact did the campaign have in terms of traffic/leads/sales?
  • The ROI of the campaign
    Obviously smaller campaigns with smaller clients don’t have the same budgets in many cases – however ROI is often a great way of levelling this playing field.
  • Creativity – At the end of the day, most campaigns will be judged on accountability – however how you got there is just as important. What makes your campaign stand out from your competitors. What did you do that made your campaign work for example Johnny Scott’s (Caliber) campaign for Thomson has always stuck in my head in terms of pure creativity from recent awards ceremonies. It could be more simple, perhaps customer segmentation and localised targeting (maybe something less creative but arguably just as important in a modern day content marketing framework.
  • Thoroughness of the entry – I think this is one thing that many people overlook. I remember being a judge at one of the awards ceremonies, and there was an expectation from certain participants that the winner was a shoe in.  However the substance of the entry was very limited, and didn’t give us (the judges) an insight into the strategy or the effectiveness of the campaign, whereas many others of those that competed in that particular award had really placed a lot of time and effort into sculpting their response – which gave the judges a much clearer idea of the impact of the campaign.

“I cannot emphasise enough the importance of spending time putting together your entries and making sure those that are reading can understand what was done, what impact it had and the reasons as to why you as the entrant should win.”

Finally, are there any awards that you would particularly like to win? If so, which ones?

2012/13 has been a very good year for the I-Lab, however I think as we move towards 2014 I would like to see us look at wider marketing awards something we already do very well at within both MediaCom and GroupM. Search is increasingly influenced by wider channel factors and its how we trigger those as part of the wider channel mix that I would like to see reflected in terms of wins for our clients during 2014 – and I would suggest this means moving towards entering those awards that are likely to have the biggest commercial impact (ie those with bigger reach/credibility etc)


Kevin Gibbons – BlueGlass

Kevin Gibbons


Kevin is the Managing Director for BlueGlass, a strategy-driven digital marketing agency in London.


Have you previously submitted anything for SEO Awards?

Yes – I can’t say I keep up-to-date with all of them, but I’ve previously won a Search Award and have been involved in a number of nominations over the years.

If so, why did you do so?

It’s good credibility for our company to build our reputation and be recognised as doing great work. Plus it helps to strengthen our client relationships by showing them that our work is award winning – and if nothing else it’s normally a good night out!

What does it mean for you to win awards?

Personally I don’t take them too seriously, but from a business perspective it’s always nice for our team to be rewarded and recognised for their hard work paying off and it allows us to say we’re an award winning agency which is never a bad thing.

What rationale/criteria do you believe should be used to judge SEO success? E.g. In your eyes, what makes a good SEO campaign

The ultimate judge of any of our work is always the client. Awards always have a certain criteria that they have to meet, of course – but it can often miss the bigger picture.

I’ve found the nominations we’ve got are sometimes not the ones we expect – sometimes what we would consider to be our weaker entries have ended up as finalists. Whilst we’ve certainly entered awards before where we’ve delivered a huge ROI and increases to client’s revenue, and expected to be a nailed on winner – yet haven’t been nominated. That’s fine, we don’t make the rules – but I think there needs to be a balance between something that is creative/innovative vs effective and results-driven.

My recommendation would be to get the client more involved (if it’s an agency award). A few years ago I had to do a formal pitch for best use of search at the Travolution Awards after all if it’s worthy of an award, perhaps it’s worth spending the time to hear the stories of the finalists in person? In this case it was a joint presentation with the client – so that they could ask us questions both ways, which was great to see!

Otherwise it runs the risk of focusing on a small sample of work – where results may look good in a case study or one-off campaign, but was it turned into a successful long-term campaign with results the client is proud of? That’s what’s most important – and being recognised with an award is always a nice bonus on top, but it makes sense to align those as closely as you can.


Barry Adams – Polemic Digital

Barry Adams
Barry Adams, founder of Polemic Digital in Belfast, general SEO polemic. Award credentials: Double 2012 DANI Award winner and judge for the 2013 DANI Awards, shortlisted for the 2012 European Search Awards (Best Agency), shortlisted for the 2013 UK Search Awards (Best Blog).

Have you previously submitted anything for SEO Awards?

Yes, we choose a number of annual award events to submit projects to. We focus both on local awards like the DANI Awards and UK-wide and international awards like the UK Search Awards, the European Search Awards, and the Irish Digital Media Awards.

If so, why did you do so?

There are a few reasons we submit to, and hope to win, awards:

  • Peer recognition: The judging panels of the awards we choose to submit to are industry experts with a great deal of experience, so we trust their assessment of the award submissions. To be shortlisted for awards (and subsequently win them) by these industry peers is a recognition of the great work.
  • Employee morale: Winning awards for the work that we do is a huge boost for the team’s morale, as it recognises the effort we put in to our craft and vindicates our quality-driven processes.
  • Business development: being able to show a cabinet full of awards helps win new business. It can set you apart from your competitors and gives prospective clients that extra level of trust in your capabilities and your promises.
  • Business retention: when a client project wins an award, the client takes as much of the credit as we do, and we make our client champions look good towards their managers. That makes it more likely we will retain the client and be selected for sollow-up projects.

What does it mean for you to win awards?

While I realise, being an awards judge myself, that some awards are compromises made for whatever reasons, I also know that by far the majority of awards in the digital area are truly won on merit – or at least on the ability to demonstrate the merits of a given project. It’s exceedingly rare to see an undeserving project scoop up an award, so I do genuinely believe that in nearly all cases award wins are a sign of quality work.
So for us to win awards means a lot. Like I said before, it’s recognition for the great work we do by people who know our industry and can accurately judge what is quality and what isn’t. We all like to earn kudos for what we do, and awards are a great way to get that.

What rationale/criteria do you believe should be used to judge SEO success? E.g. In your eyes, what makes a good SEO campaign

As a judge I look for results delivered for the client. I don’t care much about the aesthetic aspects or originality of any campaign – I want to see bang for the clients’ buck. I look for added value, for revenue growth, and for a keen awareness of what makes good SEO. If one campaign achieved 25% growth in organic traffic with a budget of £10k, and another campaign in a comparable market achieved 50% growth with £100k spend, I know which one I’d pick.

Finally, are there any awards that you would particularly like to win? If so, which ones?

All of them. Here in Northern Ireland we didn’t submit any projects for the DANI Awards this year because I was a judge and wanted to avoid any implications of a conflict of interest. But it has made it very clear to me that we should exercise no such constraint next year. I intend to win every DANI Award we can submit a project for, and I think our work is good enough to achieve that. I’ll accept nothing short of total domination. 🙂


Kev Strong – Mediaworks

Kev Strong

Starting in SEO way back in 2005, Kev Strong has been a senior online marketing consultant at Mediaworks Online Marketing since 2008.  Kev Strong has worked for some of the UK and Europe’s largest brands; providing unique technical strategies which have benefitted from great success.


Have you previously submitted anything for SEO Awards?

Yes, several times resulting in 15+ shortlists for everything from Best Use of Search through to Best Agency and Best SEO Campaigns across a multitude of award organisations.

If so, why did you do so?

First and foremost, we like to showcase our work for our clients. We are proud of the results and the return on investment we provide for them.  It also assists in promoting Mediaworks and we’ve often found when we are tendering for new business, companies are always interested in knowing what we have done well and why!  There is no better recognition than receiving plaudits from fellow industry peers for the success you have delivered to a client.

What does it mean for you to win awards?

While it benefits Mediaworks in regards to new business and improving the brand image as we continue to go from strength-to-strength, it also rewards our staff with recognition for a job well done.

As consultants working with some of the biggest brands in the UK, we are constantly asked to justify ourselves, and you often don’t get to tell the client about all the people internally who have worked on the campaign making it the success that it has been.  When you do highlight successes month in, month out with fantastic work and results, it is great to receive public recognition for it too.

It is also a fantastic morale boost to the team, which in turn helps us (as a company) to strive further to provide the best service available, continue to outshine our competitors and generate the kind of results that our clients expect.

What rationale/criteria do you believe should be used to judge SEO success? E.g. In your eyes, what makes a good SEO campaign

SEO has continually evolved in the last 8 years I have been involved in it, and the days of relying solely on rankings are long gone.  Any agency that relies solely on rankings won’t be around for much longer.  Ultimately, it’s these types of agencies that have left far too many of our newer clients in their current state – with regards to poisonous Penguin link profiles, ‘Pandarised’ content solutions and the myriad of basic SEO implementation errors.

For myself and Mediaworks, a great campaign for a client has to show:

  • Continual performance in the face of the ever-changing landscape that is search – be that an improvement to rankings, traffic, new customers and conversions.
  • A fantastic return-on-investment beyond projections – after all, they are paying you to make them money, not get them ranking for irrelevant, unsearched 9-word longtail phrases.
  • A constant focus on evolution and safeguarding against future updates by implementing best practises to ensure the next update from Google doesn’t negatively impact them.
  • A focus on working much closer with the brand for the bigger picture; integrated marketing campaigns, user growth and brand awareness.

Finally, are there any awards that you would particularly like to win? If so, which ones?

As for which awards I would love to win, I would have to say that the UK Search Awards will always be an aim for me.  Having had eight campaigns shortlisted at the UK Search Awards in the last 3 years without a win, I definitely consider it to be my bogey awards.


Gordon Campbell – Powerhouse Fitness

Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell is an online marketing consultant based in Glasgow, Scotland.  He currently works in-house with a leading online fitness equipment retailer and in his spare time he works as a consultant for various Digital Marketing Agencies.


Have you previously submitted anything for SEO Awards?

I have never put any of my own work forward for an award but I have submitted the work of others.

If so, why did you do so?

I submitted other peoples work for an award as I felt that they deserve recognition.

What does it mean for you to win awards?

There are a lot of SEOs out there doing amazing work but don’t tend to shout about it.  Perhaps this is because they don’t feel the need for validation or maybe they are too busy working with clients.

What rationale/criteria do you believe should be used to judge SEO success? E.g. In your eyes, what makes a good SEO campaign

There is definitely an elephant in the room when it comes to awards and many people feel that awards are won as a result of who you know and popularity rather than the quality of the work that you have actually produced.

In the ideal world it would be excellent if we could judge awards based on what is important for that particular business, and most of the time, that is revenue generated a result of increased search engine rankings. However, these figures are not always available so it can be extremely difficult for judges to remain completely objective.

The style of judging would have to depend on the specific award. If you are judging a one off PR style link bait campaign you would need to look at directly measurable metrics such as backlinks generated, quality of backlinks and social mentions. It is also important to judge this type of campaign based on creativity.

It seems extremely fashionable at the moment among some SEOs that keyword rankings don’t matter as much now, this was particularly true after results became more personalised and echoes of it can be heard after we were hit with 100% (not provided).  I believe this is wrong(at this point in time) and that we should still pay attention to ranking for the correct keywords that are likely to lead to sales for our clients.

It sounds obvious but we should also use increased search presence as a way to judge who should get an award.

Finally, are there any awards that you would particularly like to win? If so, which ones?

I would like to win the award for the sexiest man in search, I think I could win it as long as Barry Adams or Chris Gilchrist from HitReach don’t enter.

In all seriousness, I’d love to win the Best use of Search for Retail award, it would be great for my CV.


So, with the input of some fantastic industry peers, it seem as though we have reached some sort of conclusion.

Awards, it seems, are entered to:

  • A galvanised medium to develop a reputation amongst peers and within the industry
  • To validate expertise in a certain field or vertical
  • They assist in boosting employee morale and strengthening client relationships
  • To help to win new business (validation) or to retain existing business (gratification)

The criteria that should be used to judge SEO is not easily defined, however some key elements stand out above which echo my beliefs:

  • ROI – Nearly all of the respondents recognised this as a key criteria. As with any marketing discipline or channel, the return on what you invested is a crucial measure of success. Additionally, as Pete Young put it, it helps ‘level the playing field’ between small and large budgets/campaigns – allowing varied entries to be judged on a fairer, more comparable basis.
  • Focus on The Bigger Picture – Certainly something that may not have come up if the same question was asked 5 years ago. However, the maturation of the SEO industry is something that both Barry and Kevin alighted to in their answers. To them, developing an SEO campaign that is integrated with all other marketing activity and that is relevant and ‘on-brand’, is certainly a valid criteria in my books.
  • Creativity/Innovation – Perhaps a controversial one this, as SEO may not be viewed by all as a particularly creative discipline. However, I strongly disagree. I believe that some of the most effective SEO campaigns that I’ve seen and/or been involved in creating are through truly creative or innovative approaches to an otherwise regimented process. This is particularly true in not particularly exciting verticals such as finance or law…
  • Abiding by Best Practice/Performance in a Changing Search Landscape – Interestingly two points made by Kev Strong were things that I had not previously considered, but are likely to both become more and more relevant in judging future SEO awards. The launch of Panda and Penguin have uncovered a number of shady tactics that may have been sold at a premium at one point in time, and even won awards themselves! These may now be adversely effecting these clients, causing investment in moderation of duplicate/poor content or mass link cleanups for poor links. Moving forward I wouldn’t be surprised to see a ‘Sustainable SEO practice’ or similar criteria included in award entries.

What Criteria Do You Think Constitutes as SEO Success?

So, State of Digital readers what do you think?

  • Do you disagree or agree with any of the points made above?
  • What do you think is a good criteria to judge SEO success on?
  • What awards would you like to win?


Written By
Ned Poulter is CEO & Founder of Pole Star Digital, a Digital Marketing Consultancy he runs alongside a number of entrepreneurial ventures. He spends his time developing and overseeing digital strategy for a number of well reputed international clients, developing creative approaches to achieving organic search results, increasing inbound traffic,...
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