SEO Awards: Do They Really Matter?

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Award events in SEO, or indeed many other digital marketing industries, occur all year round and are often glamorous and glitzy events that see various agencies, companies and industry leaders suited and booted for the grand occasion. 

Whether it’s the UK Search Awards, the European Search Awards, The Drum Search Awards or the US Search Awards, these events occupy a good amount of precedence in many people’s calendars throughout the SEO industry.

But are award ceremonies in SEO and performance marketing in general simply just glorified networking events? Does winning awards in SEO matter beyond team recognition and brand reputation in terms of tangible business gains? Let’s take a look.

Disclaimer: I’ve co-owned and worked at agencies where we have won multiple SEO awards.

The importance of awards of in the SEO industry

The SEO industry has no shortage of award ceremonies that operate all year round. Aside from the few already mentioned, a simple Google search leaves no shortage of listed SEO awards worldwide, operated by agencies, events companies, SaaS companies and independent bodies that business could consider pitching to. Take a look at this list of just some of the SEO awards in the UK alone. There are thousands of SEO awards given each year in the UK. On average, there are around 75-100 awards at each event, with many events each year across the UK, Europe, and the US.

The ultimate question as to whether SEO awards matter really depends on what your aims are as a business or business owner. If you’re heading up a digital marketing department or are running a digital marketing agency then winning SEO awards can play a vital role in distinguishing you from your competitors, getting more industry nous for your work and ultimately, allowing you more kudos when pitching for new business. For new businesses wanting to invest in SEO, awards badges on websites still have the ability to impress. I will never forget when one of my all-time favorite clients said that we were shortlisted because we appeared on an awards list.

If you’re a business owner or department head in an in-house SEO capacity, then awards may play a slightly less important role in garnering new business, however they have equal stature in brand reputation. While in-house growth models are of course different from agencies, ascertaining award accreditation still has the same levels of importance when it comes to digital reputation and areas such as SEO entity enhancement. 

In addition, pitching and winning SEO awards are no doubt a great motivator and play an important role in the professional development, satisfaction and reputation of your business and its team. It also makes a great night out.

What types of SEO awards are there?

Taking a look at some of the award categories across any well-known SEO award ceremony and you’ll see there are plenty of types to potentially pitch for. 

Oftentimes, these categories have overarching themes or types that are split by industry. You’ll typically see award types such as “best SEO campaign for X industry”, and this will cover everything from travel to finance to health. Other varying award types across categories may be “best low budget campaign”, “best high budget campaign”, “best global campaign” and “best creative campaign”. Industries aside, you’ll then have award types given to SEO agencies, software providers as well as teams and individuals. 

Whatever type of business and industry you might be in, and whatever your team setup or budget types you look after, there will be an SEO award relevant to what you do.

Pros of SEO Awards

We’ve briefly touched on this above, though let’s take a look at some of the pros of SEO awards in more detail.

  • Credibility

Brand or agency credibility may be a lofty, intangible or subjective concept to some, but it still matters. Today, the digital industry is incredibly saturated, and winning an award in your field of expertise can really help stand you out among the rest. Not only will this help your word of mouth credentials but will also increase your credibility in the digital space too, which can be great for digital PR and cross-channel visibility in general.

  • Talent attraction

This applies to both brands and agencies, but is probably the bigger driver for brands or in-house businesses when it comes to applying for awards. An in-house SEO team that has just won an award for say “best creative SEO campaign in travel” for a creative piece on hidden gems in South America (for example) will no doubt attract creative talent in the SEO and travel content marketing space. Team-based SEO awards such as these can be a great indicator of positive company culture, creativity, collaboration and cutting-edge work.

  • Client acquisition 

Referring back to our earlier point about saturation in the industry, having an award (or several) to your name is a great way to increase potential leads from clients, particularly if you’re an agency. These award ceremonies typically cover other digital acquisition categories such as PPC and paid social, and so widen their visibility across the spectrum. If you’re seen to be winning an SEO award in front of a potential client who is in attendance for the PPC side of things, this can be a great way to stand out. While many leads may come from referrals, a potential client who is Googling SEO partners may see your award accreditation as an incentive to reach out.

Outside of agencies, SEO awards for in-house teams can in some cases be a potential route to establishing partnerships, either with other brands or software. If a non-competitor brand adjacent to what you do wants to learn from your team’s SEO prowess, there could be a great opportunity for potential synergy.

  • Team morale

What team doesn’t enjoy winning awards and having a fun night out? When a team is rewarded for their hard work, it validates their efforts and encourages them to continue striving for excellence. This recognition can also inspire other team members within the agency, fostering a culture of achievement and motivation.

  • Marketing and PR Opportunities

Winning awards provides marketing and PR opportunities. Working with your client on the PR can help further leverage exposure and enhance credibility for your agency’s credentials. Awards can be great PR for both the client and the agency.

  • Industry Networking

Award ceremonies can be a great place to network with other industry leaders, potential clients, and even explore career opportunities if you are in that frame of mind.

Cons of SEO Awards

  • Financial costs

Outside of the actual time it takes to put together and submit a pitch for an SEO award, they do incur large costs in their own right. Individual submissions require a fee. Reserving tables for your teams to attend awards can easily run into the many thousands. As can sponsoring awards too, if you’re looking for additional brand awareness outside of winning an award itself. This isn’t of course taking into account the cost of dedicating staff or resources to crafting award pitches and submissions. Some agencies will pay third-party award submission services to enter their awards.

  • Time investment

This blends readily with the factors around financial costs of awards. For brands pitching to win SEO awards, it may feel like you’re putting together something akin to an RFP or new business pitch. You may spend weeks submitting all the information around the campaign or project you’re pitching for, which will of course be in vain if you don’t win. Given the number of SEO awards available, it could almost be a full-time role.

  • Pay-to-play perception

Most search awards (and all other awards) require entry fees, which can create a perception that only those who are willing to pay for tables have a chance of winning. This can marginalise smaller SEO agencies or individuals with limited budgets.

  • Unnecessary for some businesses 

There is of course a large demographic of professionals in the industry that don’t go anywhere near SEO awards ceremonies, simply because they don’t need to. This is because their work and reputation speaks for itself, and they may prefer the mantra of “show don’t tell” when it comes to enhancing their reputation and growing their business. The SEO industry is quite a tightly knit field, and if you’ve been involved in it either from the perspective of an agency owner or brand director, you generally know who is good at their job whether they’re award-winning or not. There are plenty of people doing great work across the industry that fly under the radar and do just fine.  

  • Potential for misrepresentation

We’ll touch on this later in more detail (and some of the controversy around SEO awards), but when we talk about misrepresentation, this alludes to the perception that some may have in the industry whereby there are certain brands or agencies that spend all their time pitching for awards and showing their faces at ceremonies. This may not carry with it a great look, particularly if you’re weighting your priorities to be award winning rather than delivering quality work. A business that is flush with SEO awards may be good at the craft of winning such awards, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re brilliant across the board. 

  • Short term focus

Many awards are focused on the here and now. They recognize what was executed and rewarded by Google in a few months and how much ROI the agency achieved for the client. However, it is much more difficult to maintain client relationships year after year and still yield healthy client returns and satisfaction. Due to the nature of how Google rewards search efforts, something that looks great in the short term may not be as effective in 9-12 months.

  • Subjectivity, bias and transparency

Despite strict policies in place for fair judging and some judging processes being publicly available, there will always be an element of opportunity for personal biases to potentially influence outcomes. Many judges will have either worked at an agency, client side, or as solo SEO consultants and move around the industry, making it very difficult to avoid true conflicts of interest.

  • Validation vs. value

Winning an SEO award can be seen as a form of validation, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to real business value or improvement in search performance for the client.

SEO award tips and strategies 

If you’re serious about pitching for an SEO award, you will need to approach your pitch very thoroughly. This is particularly due to the levels of competition from peers vying for awards themselves. Here are some helpful tips and strategies.

  • Story telling

Tailor your entry around a good story: The nuts and bolts behind what makes SEO a successful enterprise isn’t always that glamorous. Whether it’s complicated technical SEO work or formulating content from large keyword research projects, it can be difficult to frame this in a manner that suits the glitz and glamour of an award ceremony. Instead, go right back to the beginning of what you did. Aside from gaining growth, what was the origin story of the campaign in question? Was there a unique pain point you were trying to address? How did your work contribute to the storytelling or image around the brand in question?

  • Financials and numbers

Back up your work with numbers: While good storytelling is paramount, this is still SEO and there does need to be some tangible numbers behind everything. Traffic, impressions, clicks and conversions are all well and good to feature (and you should include these), but is there a standout statistic that really wowed your team at the time and highlights the brilliance of the work? It might be around spend on the campaign in relation to the results. It might even be something leftfield like seeing an unexpected increase in conversions from a particular niche demographic in a particular location. Again, look to tie back your numbers to a compelling story where possible. 

  • Research past winners (and losers)

Assess previous winners and know your audience: Take a look at some of the winners from previous awards in your category. If you can find information on this entry, look for parallels in the type of work it was, the results it delivered and how the entry was framed. Each award ceremony will have their own culture, standards and touch points that the judges in question care about. Look for ways to emulate this structure and make it relevant to your entry. I would reach out to past winners, who doesn’t like to talk about how successful they have been?

  • Keep the waffle to a minimum

Keep your submission concise: Judges will likely be looking at potentially hundreds of entries to any given award category, ceremony depending. Whatever the format of your award submission, be it PowerPoint, Google Form submission or in a Word doc, make sure the important features of your entry are rolled off early on and the submission doesn’t waffle. Detail is important, but where you can, keep your pitch concise, clear and to the point.

  • Peer review

Get a few third-party opinions first: We all might think some of the work we do is great, and in some cases, it will be. However, we are all guilty of living within our own bubbles. Third-party opinion, be it from a client or industry peer can be invaluable as to how you frame your awards submission. Finding the right person to give the work or the submission angle the right feedback to make it really stand out can be invaluable.

Controversies over SEO award ceremonies

Aside from the potential for misrepresentation of your brand or business, there are some controversies and potential pitfalls around SEO award ceremonies. Judges of some of these awards are often well-known figures in the industry and given that the SEO industry is relatively small, and most people know each other (particularly at a senior level) there are elements of vested interests and the potential for nepotism. Some award ceremonies have also come under fire for featuring the same line ups in terms of judges and attendees. Throwing your brand around an award ceremony that lacks diversity, be it minority groups or new faces in the industry, might not be good for your PR. 

As with any awards ceremony in any industry, schmoozing of judges and sponsors may potentially sway the levels of objectivity in these awards. Awards are also sometimes sadly a case of “who shouts the loudest”, with those willing to go above and beyond to elevate their social media and digital PR profiles through whatever means in order to get the right level of exposure, often fairing best. 

In some ways, this is no different to award ceremonies in other industries. The SEO industry can at times appear a little insular and introspective, and this can often manifest itself at award ceremonies where you have the same individuals and same agencies repeatedly rearing their heads. 

If you’ve got some really good work to show off that you think is award worthy however, find the right award ceremony for your brand and audience and go for it.

Conclusion: are SEO awards worth the effort?

While it might be tempting to use the classic overused SEO phrase “it depends” in this instance, we would argue that on balance, getting involved and pitching for an SEO award is worth it overall.

Every business should have some work in its arsenal that has been delivered that they are proud of enough to consider it award worthy. Of course, many businesses, agencies and individual professionals who are in the SEO sphere do perfectly fine by delivering good work that delivers solid results and revenue. Having a shelf full of awards certainly can’t compete with that. 

However, the reputational benefits that awards bring, whether that’s looking from the SEO industry itself or for your brand in general, may come in handy one day in generating more leads, talent and business opportunities. While the award pitching and ceremony process can be a resource drain, having an award or two from some coveted ceremonies is better than having none. 

SEO awards: additional resources

How to Win an SEO Award – Majestic

Best Digital Marketing Awards to Get on Your Radar – AgencyAnalytics 

The Don’t Panic Guide to Entering Awards – Don’t Panic

Guide to Successful Submissions for Marketing Awards – Leapfrog

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