The contest is over. We got 3rd, losing to both the .com and .net groups. The .com group won with a movie trivia game that they made with leftover data from a CS 156 project and the .net group did some sneaky things with server scripting. Congratulations all 'round.
I think the prof is going to make some changes for next year. He was really, really surprised that people bought domain names (even thought they're only a few dollars). Also, I don't think any of the things we learned in class (optimal linking structure, the Google PageRank algorithm, Markov chains, etc.) helped any of the winning groups very much. It's nice that he tried to add a practical component to the class, but it would make sense to have the practical component build on what we were supposed to be learning.
I certainly learned a lot. It seems like, with the "Internet these days" (I sound so old), it's becoming increasingly important to properly manage one's Internet presence. Making it easy for recruiters to find your resume, increasing your visibility in your field, and making your name strongly associated with your field of expertise are all paths to success that hinge on your Internet presence.
Some of the tactics we tried were sleazy. I didn't really like the begging for links and the click-farming. On the other hand, having consistently updated, relevant content seems like a great way to go. One of the blogs I looked at was the Caltech Admissions blog (PR 8), which has new posts every day. The posts are lengthy, they include pictures, and they're immensely relevant. That, coupled with the Caltech brand name, seems to be a recipe for success.
Certainly something to think about.