The US Search Awards are currently accepting entries for 2019 (Entry Deadline is THIS WEEK!). You should really enter these, but you can dramatically improve your chances if you know what annoys the judges.
How to Avoid Upsetting the Judges
The US Search Awards judging is completely impartial and non-partisan. That is what makes it so effective. I know many of the judges personally and they would be mortified if they were ever accused of bias. They work for hours – sometimes days – pouring over the entries, so it helps to know what will stop them from filing your entry under “Garbage”.
To help you, I reached out to all the judges I know that are connected to me on Linkedin and asked:
I am doing a post for the US Search Awards about “getting under the judge’s skins”. If you want to pitch in, I am looking for a pet “like” and a pet “hate” online… Things that people can mull over when pitching. Two sentences are the maximum I’ll use. I’ll be putting the post together on Monday if you want to be included?
I carried out a similar exercise in Europe and there are differences in the judge’s thoughts (and different judges!) but if I was going to sum this up in one over-riding sentiment, it would be be “show me the money you delivered to your client”. Here are the responses I received.
I love when people include a “human element” in their write up and explain how the campaign impacted their client/site. Graphs and charts showing an increase in revenue are great but did that increase allow the company to hire more people or expand their offices? Show the human element.
I dislike using metrics like “domain authority” or “link juice” to explain a numerical increase. Use terminology so anyone outside of SEO reading the brief would understand why and how a site benefited from a marketing/advertising campaign.
I hate when an application has missing information that supposedly “cannot be shared due to client confidentiality reasons.” If that’s the case, dont enter them.
Just like everyone else, I like when I see an application that covers all the bases correctly, and actually answers ALL the questions without leaving things out. It’s far too rare, and many potential winners have been disqualified due to their inability to follow instructions.
Pet like: When a nomination doesn’t fill out all of the sections they’re supposed to, or include the content that’s required in that section. It makes one less nomination that I have to consider. (Don’t be that nomination).
Pet hate: Folks that think they can get around the word count limits by including an 84 page PDF attachment
Pet like: Entries where they actually understand the meaning of “creativity” (e.g., anyone can build a landing page – describe what you actually did with it that was creative). Also: entries demonstrating your actual results for clients (don’t say “we should win because our agency is super awesome and has been around for 15 years.” It’s not about you!).
Pet hate: Using buzzwords and hype instead of data (hint: vague stats are also unimpressive unless we know was that 10x increase was from 100,000 to 1 million vs. 1 to 10). Also: bad grammar and spelling will get you axed quick – so have multiple people proofread your entry for errors.
Pet Peeve: I hate when it’s obvious the entrant didn’t commit the time and energy into really “marketing” their campaign, team, or tool/platform to the judges. Judges are normal people who can be influenced by exciting language, engaging visuals, great video content and other great tools that we marketers use, and we’re just as easily unimpressed when we see entries that have vague descriptions, goals and results that don’t align, blank fields, and marketing jargon that means nothing.
Pet Like: I really appreciate when entrants thoroughly fill out the entry form, yes, but I really appreciate the entries that include additional information in the attachments that add color to the campaign, team, or tool/platform. Provide us with customer testimonials, video walk-throughs of specific things you love about your tool or platform, screen captures of your metrics, links to your work, or, like one entrant did previously, a video walk-through of the entry and why you think you should win.
Pet like: I really appreciate it when an entry is highly creative. My favorites to read are the small budget campaigns, because anyone can throw money at a campaign and make it successful. Smaller budgets force you to be really creative and think way outside the box.
Pet dislike: I definitely dislike it when entrants don’t fully fill out the form or one time the conclusion actually named a different awards program (it was clear they copied and pasted from another entry form). Needless to say, that entry did not win. But what I dislike most are entries that talk only about percentages but offer no actual numbers. 50 visits to 100 visits is 100% increase, but how you got there is way more important. Even if the increases were small, own it and be honest about why this was still a win. The judges are practitioners; you’re not going to trick us with jargon and fancy charts.
Annoyance: Don’t give the judges a bunch of fluff and no meat. We’re marketers and we know how to read data. By all means put your best foot forward but show us why we should believe you.
Love: We love specific KPIs and results to go with the methods and outlines. Show us you’re really the best and we’ll show the world.
Like: Love when pitches include tangible results. Marry your data with compelling stories.
Hate: Don’t misspell anything. Please. No matter how great your pitch is, sloppiness kills kittens.
Echo what Barry and Dawn wrote. In my own words: Like: Addressing the entry questions fully and giving details on how the efforts helped the business being supported in ways other than just more website traffic or social engagements. If you can tie back to revenue or some other business KPI, all the better. Dislike: Incomplete entries. That can include not addressing the questions on the entry form, not including important details or referencing supplemental material without actually attaching the supplemental material.
Like: Entries which are well thought out, presenting a clear picture of the before, after and noteworthy in-between conditions, well supported with evidence. Dislike: Entries which assume the reader is privy to data that isn’t shared, weakening what might otherwise be an arguably great success.
Pet Hate: It is always so tragic when you can see something is award worthy but the applicant has not answered the specific questions. There is space on the forms for extra information but don’t squeeze it into section where it doesn’t fit.
Love: I love it when entrants make it clear which of these makes their entry award worthy. Being successful can be the product of innovation and creativity. However it can also be the result of diligently following good practice. Of course it can be a mixture of all of them too but sometimes I see award entry forms word great ‘good practice’ as innovative. I get the feeling that in these cases they feel innovation is critical to winning an award. In my opinion all routes to achievement are something to be proud of whether that is good client management, meticulous attention to detail, creativity or innovation. None of these things are easy!
I absolutely love when entrants follow the directions for what to submit as it keeps everyone on an even playing field. I am not a huge fan of being given a judge’s login to use a tool or see documentation. If all the necessary info won’t fit in the entry it doesn’t count.
The thing that I like/hate the most is specific numbers in both the goals and results. If you are planning on increasing traffic, conversions, sales, etc. state clearly by how much (absolute numbers or percentages) and follow-up with what the actual results were compared to your goals. Also, just plain carefully read the instructions and actually follow them.
To me, the worst type of entries is the ones with far more word counts than allowed, but not providing the specific information that the entry form asks. Don’t rely on the attachments without providing important information on the entry form, either.
Pet like – “Clearly defined, SMART objectives with results which tie back directly to them”. Pet hate – Use of rhetorical jargon to try to sway the reader with sales buff in an entry. Please stop saying things like ‘Knocked it out of the park’ ;P “.
Like: when people show creative and innovative approaches to classic tactics.
Hate: not showing ROI or just showing percentage growth without any context.
What I love: Truthful numbers, screenshots of graphs and well laid out documents with bullet point objectives I can then relate directly to bullet point results. Remember as a judge I read more than just the short list because we create the shortlist so I read a *LOT* of entries and so when someone makes it easy for me to see what they did, how they did it and what makes them stand out – including tools and real numbers – I tend to award high points.
Pet hate: When the objectives and results don’t actually match no matter how I try and make them align. I need to know what you were tasked to do as an agency or an individual and how you achieved those results. Also inspire me. You lived this campaign but I didn’t – cast your mind back and remember those bright flashes of insight – what did you do and how did it make a difference. This isn’t a box-checking exercise – this has to show how you were better than everyone else.
Like: I increasingly look for clear strategic approaches rather then case studies that “tick all the boxes”. I will prefer a case study that shows what success someone has had with Dynamic Search Ads and can quantify it – as compared to a case study claiming to do DSA, RSA, Discovery Ads, RLSA and dynamic attribution
Hate: Have you ever walked by a real estate agency and wondered why they don’t put all the information into their adverts? Well, I don’t like entries that look like that.
Pet like: very clear flow to the entry (from strategy to execution to results), you instantly get what they set out to do and see how it came together + the results achieved.
Pet dislike: lack of business results! Rankings, traffic, visibility, links etc are useful KPIs – but the goal of an award winning entry should deliver business growth. Make sure you show it in real $, not just % uplifts (which are open to interpretation on the scale of achievement), plus back it up with screenshots if you can to prove it’s credibility.
1. When judging a category, I love to see something tangible. I look at profiles of teams involved and like having a working demo environment or physical site to reference.
2. Creative thinking through diversity always stands out. If the submission describes unique solutions to complex struggles it will grab my attention and bring me back.
1. Although the following could be suggestive, any narcissistic tone gets negative marks. The end goal should be client success or a humble appreciation for the industry.
2. The lack of references or uniqueness are big negatives. To win an award the submission must break ground on something new, create new efficiencies or produce results in ways that are equally impressive as they are unique.