This was the first recorded SEO Contest, created by German webmasters in the usenet group de.comm.infosystems.www.authoring.misc. Started November 15, 2002 by Steffi Abel, this contest chose a keyword that did not appear in Google and was started to examine how Google looked at HTML construction. The phrase is now used to mean something that can't be found in the search engines.
The first english language SEO competition was nigritude ultramarine which was created by darkblue.com and run by SearchGuild. SEOChallenge as it was called was won by Anil Dash on July 7th, 2004 having started May 7th, 2004.
This SEO Contest presented by Salmonbones had prizes of 1,000, 300, and 200 British pounds as well as a bonus prize of a website and 1 year of hosting. The winner was whoever ranked highest for "seraphim proudleduck" on January 1st, 2005 at 1am in the UK. Sadly, the prize money in this contest was never distributed to the winner, Philipp Lenssen, for which the contest owner later apologized.
Needing to top google by March 1st, the winner of this contest hosted by webmaster-forums.co.uk would receive a link from a PR6 website and free hosting for a year, while the runner-up would get free advertising in the forum.
Another German contest, the goal of this SEO contest was to figure out how search engines determined rankings. Sponsored by Computer Magazine, the contest was run from May 15 - December 15th, 2005.
Polish SEO contest intended to promote SEO in Poland and get the attention of search engines. There were some small prizes like an MP3 player, and SEO book, a cup, and even an honorary title of “Polish master of positioning internet websites 2005.” The contest ended on October 1st, 2005.
Run from February 15th - May 15th, 2006, this contest had prizes of $100 for Google, $20 for MSN, $20 for Yahoo, $20 for A9, $20 in Google Images, $20 in A9 Images, and $20 in Ask Images. It was sponsored by milliondollarscreenshot.com and was the first contest to use an expression in quotes and targeted image search, even though no images were shown in the time of the contest.
More made up words, this SEO contest was sponsored by SEOLogs. Shoemoney won the contest but since he had put up the money for the contest, he gave the money to the runner.
This competition from John Scott on the forum v7n.com was won by Scott Jones with second place Jim Westergren. The winner gave 50% of the prize money to a charity supporting Celiac Disease. The branded keyword v7ndotcom and secondary word elursrebmem (membersrule backwards) were used. The contest was announced December 20, 2005 and ended on May 15, 2006 at 12PM Pacific. There were prizes totaling over $9,000 with $7,000 to the winner and this was the biggest SEO competition at the time. Greg Boser didn't like one of the rules of this competition that required a link to V7N so he offered the same prize in exchange for linking to Matt Cutts blog instead. Greg ended up awarding his prize to Scott Jones. One major accomplishment for this contest was that it drew mainstream attention from the WSJ.
Run from March 1st - December 1st, 2006, CarCrasher offered monthly $500, $200, and $100 prizes and on December 31st, the prizes jumped to $3000, $2000, and $1000. There were also prizes like a Plasma TV, Sony PSP, and even an iPod.
Sponsored by European Internet Marketing company Eastpoint, this contest went from January 15th 2007 - May 1st 2007. The keyword they chose was "globalwarming awareness2007". This actually explains one of the domains that showed up in the SERPs for the Wix SEO Hero competition early on, as it was likely one of the competing websites back in 2007. A friend of mine Benj Arriola actually won this one. The prizes included a Citreon C2, a Caribbean Cruice, a plasma TV, $500, and $100.
This one was sponsored by the UK Webmaster World Community and launched February 1st and lasted until April 1st, 2008. The keyword was seocontest2008 and the prize was $1000 for the winner and $100 for the next 3 participants.
Running from June 1st - August 31st, 2008, this contest targeted "busby seo challenge" and was sponsored by an Australian society, Busby Web Solutions. Prizes: $5,000 for the winner, the second prize: $2,000 and for the third prize: $500.
A second challenge from Busby targeted "busby seo test" with a prize of $5,000, 2nd place $2,000, 3rd $500, 4th $250, and 5th $100.
Winner: Hellas. The contest ran from March 15 - August 15, 2009. 1st place received $1000, 2nd $500, and 3rd got $250. The targeted keyword was "sulumits retsambew" which is webmaster stimulus backwards. Backwards seems to be a common trend in these contests.
This contest literally for SEO Contest in reverse was from September 10th til December 15th 2009. Organized by PromoJunkie, there were prizes of $1000, $300, and $200. Some guy who went by Handsome won.
Winner Scott Paxton. The keyword was "Club Penguin Walkthrough". Contest began on March 25th and went through June 22nd. There were lots of prizes totaling $8,684.04 for the winner with $1,000 in cash, $2,859.80 in prizes for second including $250 cash, and $1,769.80 in prizes for third including $100 cash.
Now of course there's the Wix SEO Hero competition with $50,000 on the line. Be sure to stay up-to-date with all the latest SEO Hero news.