Inside the judging chamber: 21 tips for crafting impressive awards submissions

Since their inception in 2015, the Search Engine Land Awards have maintained some of the highest submission requirements and strictest standards among digital marketing awards programs.

The application process requires submitting a number of highly sensitive and often confidential details around campaign budget, metrics, strategy and tactics, tools and resources used by entrants, in addition to laying out a compelling case study within the submission limitations.

As a result, assembling all of the required materials and supporting data is a significant time investment, though one past winners and finalists have concurred is well worth the effort.

About our panel of expert judges

While it’s common across many marketing awards programs to have a judging panel of peers (often, competing agency employees or consultants) for campaign focused categories, we have taken a different approach given the sensitive nature of the data required in our program.

Our panel of judges for the campaign or initiative based categories are comprised primarily of the Search Engine Land editorial staff (employees and contractors of our parent company), who are responsible for the primary task of reviewing and scoring all of the campaign focused categories, in conjunction with representatives from Google and Bing.

For the agency categories, we work with partner organization, who oversees the independent review, client verification and judging following our scoring protocol. Other trusted partners OMCP and SEOinHouse score the in-house team awards, and past winners of the individual awards are invited to participate in selecting successors.

All judges are required to adhere to strict confidentiality standards in order to maintain privacy of sensitive data, recuse themselves from judging any submissions with a conflict of interest or bias.

21 tips to create an award-worthy submission

What impresses the judges most:

  1. When entrants show their work in great detail – whether it’s with charts, significant explanatory data, or includes the framework of the project. Ultimately, a winning entry tells a great story.  – Michelle Robbins
  2. When entries have a new take on a situation or feature and talk about into how their strategy is different from the norm, and demonstrate why is their strategy or tactics are award-worthy. – Brad Geddes
  3. When submissions are succinct but concrete in their campaign summaries, show examples (i.e., ad creative where relevant) and use straight-forward English rather than marketing speak. – Greg Sterling
  4. When applicants are able to go beyond percentages of increases and show tangible results of how the campaign directly impacted the bottom line of the business. Also, it helps to put results into perspective — so instead of simply saying: “Before the campaign, the client was only bringing in this # of leads, clicks, etc — but the campaign raised that number to XXX” offer an example of how the campaign impacted the business overall, and not just the analytics. – Amy Gesenhues
  5. When entrants share a lot of technical data around their case studies. – Barry Schwartz
  6. When entries prove their point with stats, graphs, and especially screenshots of GA/PPC Engine/ other paid search tech providers. Too many just say, “we increased business [some huge number]” with no way to back it up. – Brad Geddes
  7. It really impresses me when entrants show how they retooled, revitalized [a campaign] or did something extraordinary to achieve extraordinary results. Or, how they outfoxed a competitor in a clever way – anything that shows how extraordinary results came from really extraordinary work. – Matt Van Wagner

What judges want to see more of:

  1. Details. More “how we got there” and less of “here was the goal, and here were our results.” An entry cannot include too much information detailing the tactics, time, budgets and resources utilized. – Michelle Robbins
  2. Images from the campaign and data illustrating concrete outcomes. Calling out what was innovative or especially significant or effective about the campaign. – Greg Sterling
  3. Stories around how the campaign was unique from other campaigns the agency and/or client had implemented in the past and the tools used to implement the campaign. Also, did you learn anything from the campaign that you’ve been able to introduce to other campaigns/clients. Were there any unexpected benefits that played out during the course of the campaign? – Amy Gesenhues
  4. I’d love to see more data from our entrants that pinpoint successes or failures in their case studies. – Barry Schwartz
  5. Charts. People say “traffic increased by 230%” but they don’t provide [analytics] data and relevant charts to support the claim. – Debra Mastaler
  6. Entries that show the challenges they had to overcome that are outside of the norm (the scrappy startup against goliath, goliath showing it can innovate still against the scrappy startups stealing market share, etc), which might be market conditions, a business change, etc. – Brad Geddes

What entrants need to stop doing:

  1. Skipping over crucial details – or leaving details out entirely. When a link profile grows by 300%+ throughout a campaign, but there was nothing in the summary about an outreach plan for link acquisition … it looks a bit like the results of the campaign were not necessarily from the tactics, work, ingenuity, etc. but merely from buying links. – Michelle Robbins
  2. Padding their discussions, using marketing jargon or bloated writing. I’d also like to see less self-congratulation. – Greg Sterling
  3. Using language like world-class, best-in-class, etc to define your campaign. Talk specific numbers and results. Using flowery language to build-up the campaign takes away from actual/quantifiable results. (In other words, let the numbers speak for themselves.) – Amy Gesenhues
  4. Giving us URLs to look at supporting materials or data elsewhere. I would like to see all the information, supporting data and charts submitted in the online entry form as required. – Debra Mastaler
  5. Focusing on ‘clicks’ as a measurement of success. Tying results back to client business goals catches my attention. – Michael Stebbins
  6. Not differentiating on strategy or tactics. While it’s important that we see ‘best or standard practices’ are in place in an account, we are also looking for a detailed explanation of strategy that truly differentiates the work from others… For example, an account testing new ad extensions / formats or a landing page that breaks convention but delivers impressive conversion data. – Brad Geddes
  7. Leaving some optional fields (results & KPIs) blank. I was surprised at the number of empty spaces left on some forms! It often comes down to extra details like providing before and after backlink counts, describing disavow procedures and other tactical aspects of SEO campaigns that push one entry over another. Your campaign may not have been link related but showing you put in a lot of extra effort to come to a positive result may help your entry stand out to the judges. It might not be the focus of your submission but some of the entries/companies are very close. As a judge, you have to take all aspects of a campaign into consideration. No detail is too small to include, more data is better. – Debra Mastaler
  8. Claiming increases of 200% when you really mean 100%. A 100% increase means you doubled your number. Going from $100 to $137 is not a 137% increase. It is a 37% increase. I’d like it that when you say ROAS, you show the formula you used to calculate it. A 1000% increase is almost always ignored as a metric. It is the opposite of impressive – it is suspicious. It most likely you were doing very little before and now you are doing a little more than nothing. – Matt Van Wagner

Michael Stebbins, the Director of standards body OMCP, who has been judging team categories in the Search Engine Land Awards for three years, shared this final bit of advice: “Make a checklist of the award criteria and ensure you’ve covered each requirement before submitting. When I see significant qualifications missing, or vague references to success that aren’t backed by numbers, the score has to drop.” says Stebbins.

How Search Engine Land Awards applications are scored

In order to provide complete transparency into our judging process, we wanted to share greater detail around how our awards categories are judged and scored.

All submissions are individually reviewed and scored within our secure online platform by the judges, with the first round of scoring producing a shortlist of the top rated submissions.

Each required element of the application is rated on a 1 to 10 scale, 10 being exceptional, with incremental points (.25, .50, .75) allowed. Our scoring process is weighted objectively to avoid bias and places an emphasis on verifiable results, innovation and best practices.

Most of the campaign and in-house team focused categories in our awards program are weighed heavily on measurable results, which account for 40-50% of overall score. Innovation and creativity is valued greatly at 20-30% of score, and expertly implementing a smart strategy utilizing Best Practices contributes another 20-30% to the overall score. Other factors which account for a small portion (less than 10%) of the final score include points and deductions for degree of technical difficulty, expertise demonstrated, effective use of budget and resources.

Updated requirements and new criteria for the Agency of the Year categories, including agency size, clients served and client retention rate will be factored under the Best Practices scoring group.

The individual awards categories place an emphasis on thought leadership and overall industry contributions as part of the innovation and creativity score.

In 2018, the two new categories for research initiatives by agencies / individuals or software tools and platforms will be scored on slightly different scale:

  • Innovation – 40%
  • Quality of insights – 40%
  • Actionable recommendations – 20%

Once a shortlist of finalists has been confirmed, a second round of review takes place for the top three scores in each category, and additional review is required for final scores within .5 points of other submissions within the category. Ties, albeit incredibly rare, are subject to an additional round of scoring on results and innovation.

The early entry deadline for the 2018 Search Engine Land Awards is March 31, 2018 at 11:59PM PST. The FINAL entry deadline to submit is April 13, 2018. Review the categories and criteria here and start on your entry today.

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