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How to Run a Blog Competition to Find New Readers and Make Your Blog Sticky

One technique that an increasing number of bloggers have been using over the last year to create a buzz on their blogs is to use competitions.

In this post I’ll share 9 tips for running a successful competition on your blog – but first why would you want to run one?

Two benefits of Running Competitions on Your Blog

  1. New Readers – competitions are potentially good for drawing new readers to your blog if you have a way to get the message out.
  2. Reader Stickiness – those readers who are already regulars on your blog can become more loyal, more engaged and/or feel more ownership over your blog after a competition.

My own experience with competitions is that both can be achieved – if you design your competition properly. I’ve been running one over at DPS that attempts to get new members of my forum and to get readers submitting reviews (content) to the forums.

It’s been going OK – but I’ve learnt a few things in doing it that I’ll do differently next time.

Here are 9 tips that come to mind on running a good competition (looking forward to reading your suggestions too):

1. The need for traffic

Sometimes when launching a project that requires readers to DO something you need to have a critical mass of readers before launching. This includes competitions.

I’ve seen a number of competitions in the last 6 months that were launched with the hope of propelling brand new blogs into popularity but which failed to succeed because the competition had no traction because either no one knew it was on or the percentage of those that did were not motivated enough to participate.

This doesn’t mean you need to have an old blog with lots of traffic to have a good competition however. If this is you you’ll need to find someone else’s traffic to leverage to draw people in either by calling in favors from other bloggers, doing something to get attention (a big prize for example) or some other link-baiting type technique.

2. Identify Goals

Before you design your competition you need to work out why you’re having it. What is your aim? How will you measure the competition’s success? Potential goals for a competition might include:

  • Increase RSS subscribers
  • Increase Newsletter subscribers
  • New members for blog/forums
  • Increase feeling of community among current readers
  • To reward loyal readers
  • To create new content (use generated)

Once you have your goals you can then make better decisions around the competition format, prizes, promotion etc

3. Choosing Prizes

A number of thoughts come to mind when choosing prizes for a competition.

  • relevant prizes – match the prizes that you offer to the readers (or potential readers) of your blog. If you have a blog about gaming which is read mainly by people in the US don’t offer a cooking lessons in Australia as a prize (ok, crazy example – but you get the point).
  • worthwhile prizes – the better your prizes the more buzz you will potentially create.
  • don’t over capitalize – which big prizes are great – don’t make them too big without knowing what sort of response you might get. I’ve seen a few competitions that have failed leave bloggers and their sponsors heavily out of pocket when you consider the small response they had.
  • sponsors – one way to share the load with a competition is to have a sponsor/s for it. If you have a decent sized readership you might be able to find a sponsor simply by asking for one – otherwise you’ll need to hunt. The best place to find one is to find a company that closely relates to your blog’s topic. To get sponsors you need to be up front and transparent about what they’ll get out of it and how you’ll promote them.
  • affiliate links – another way to help cover the cost for prizes if you have to pay for them is to buy them yourself is to choose prizes that you can promote using an affiliate program. So on the DPS competition that I’m currently running the prizes are books at Amazon. Last time I ran a similar competition I offset the cost of prizes quite a bit with those checking out and buying books.

4. Make Requirements Achievable for Participants

One of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years is that people can be lazy and unless you have a good way of motivating them you need to make what you ask them to do to be in the running to win your competition achievable. If you do you’ll have a much higher ‘entry’ rate than if you ask too much of your readers.

I saw one competition on a blog a few years back that asked participants to write an 2000 word essay, provide a head shot of the author, link back to the site running the competition, join a newsletter list and all for the chance to win a $20 book.

If you want participants to do something to enter – choose one thing, make it simple, natural and easy and you’ll find the take up to be much better.

5. Make Requirements Achievable for You

Don’t under estimate how much work a competition can be for you as the coordinator. When you get a lot of entries that require you to sift through them all, moderate them, judge them etc it can take a lot of time.

If there’s any way for you to automate processes or find others to help you with the logistics – think about this before you start.

6. Make Entering Valuable

To really get readers excited about entering the best competitions ask them to do something that they’d do whether there was a prize up for grabs or not. My ‘group writing projects’ (examples here and here) are an example of this in that participants get a few things out of participating whether they win or not (ie they get links from ProBlogger to their blogs (and quite often from other blogs), they get to find new readers and they get a little motivation to write something that they might not have thought to write). In fact the first few times I ran these projects there were no prizes but people still participated. Adding prizes to an already valuable thing can clinch the deal.

7. Set a Reasonable Competition Length

Getting the length of a competition right is important. On one hand you don’t want it to drag on for too long (and make your readers sick of it) but on the other hand you want it to be long enough for readers to enter, for the word to spread about it and for sponsors to get their money’s worth.

8. Promote your competition

Unless you promote it – no one will know your competition is on.

Start your promotional efforts with your own readers via your blog and any newsletter list you might have. You might also find it useful to design a button that promotes it in your sidebar or below each post. Write about the competition a number of times over it’s course – without going overboard and making your regular readers sick of it.

Also consider how you could promote your competition to readers from elsewhere. This might include pitching other bloggers, mentioning it in forums, releasing a press release and even advertising it using systems like AdWords or BlogAds.

9. Consider adding a Viral Element

The best competitions let those participating spread the word in some way. This can be difficult to achieve but again the ‘group writing projects’ here at ProBlogger have an element of this in that most participants include a link back to the competition in their entries – which lets their readers know what is going on.

I’ve run a few competitions over the last few years – but am still learning how they run best. Any other tips that readers have from the experience of running (or entering) blog competitions would be gratefully received.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Ashish Mohta says:

    Great points darren,I had been in ur project competition last time and it was really great.Log of people know me now because of that and I know them too.

    The best point i like is “Dont think if your blog has low traffic or its small”.That gives me push if i want to start some competition.I don’t mind sparing my own money for these kind of competition.It has great benefits.

    I will keep these points in my mind and come back to read it again when i start something.

    Regards
    Ashish

  2. Chris B. says:

    The 1st tip in this post is the need for traffic. I have a brand new blog. How much traffic do I need to be generating before it would be beneficial to run a competition on my blog?

  3. moi says:

    There’s so many great sites that never get looked at and so many junk ones that get thousands of visitors a day.

  4. Brody says:

    We’ve been experimenting with contests on The 9513 for a the past couple of months now, the results have varied so far, but I think they’re beneficial.

    At the beginning of January we decided to give away an iPod Shuffle filled with music from artists who wanted to participate. The only requirement for entering was leaving a comment, which had been seriously lacking prior to January. Throughout the month we saw a slight increase in traffic, nothing too significant, but we had an enormous increase in the number of comments that we received. Some people left a comment just for a chance to win the iPod, but the majority of comments were insightful and we started seeing people coming back. The contest ended at the end of January, but we’re still seeing a lot of the previous commenters coming back nearly everyday and participating in the discussion. Also, since January has ended we’ve see a significant boost in traffic.

    For February we decided to give away tickets to a high profile concert. To enter we gave anyone who signed up a unique url that pointed to our site. Whoever promotes their url the best and sends the most traffic to our blog by the end of the month will win the tickets. The contest has sent a decent amount of traffic, but only 8 people are participating, which is kind of a bummer. We thought by giving away the tickets during SXSW we’d have a bigger audience, but I guess geographic limitations were a bigger factor than we had planned on.

    In addition to the previous contests we give away a t-shirt to three random commenters at the end of each month to help boost the community.

    But yea, contests are a learning process, but they’re definitely beneficial if done right.

  5. egon says:

    I’d like to hear a reponse to Chris B’s question too, I was kind of wondering that myself. I don’t want to offer a good prize but not have anybody know about the contest.

    I’ve actually been considering a contest for the past few weeks but haven’t really come up with any details yet, this post helps, thank you.

  6. kailani says:

    I’ve run a few contests that I felt turned out pretty well. Like you said, the main thing is to get the word out. Give some sort of incentive for people to link back or help to promote it in some way.

    Also, it’s important to follow up with anyone who has concerns or questions. It makes them feel like they matter.

    I have gained a lot of new blogging friends doing this. Definitely worth the time and effort!

  7. MetroDad says:

    I’ve run a few competitions on my blog (in fact, I’m running one right now.)

    However, my goal isn’t necessarily to increase traffic. I don’t try to make money off my blog so I don’t really care. However, I do enjoy the fact that the competitions usually bring out the readers who don’t necessarily comment. I like having them be part of the community of my blog and the competitions allow them to comment without having to put too much thought, time, or effort into it.

    At the very least, they’re a fun way to reward people for coming to my site and putting up with me!

  8. Darren, I ran my first contest back in January (blogging since June ’06), and I must say, as a means of getting better known and improve readership, it was definitely a success! The contest was to write six-word stories – something pretty simple and easy for most people to participate.

    A few things I could add or expand on your list.

    1. Publish the rules (and you’ll need some), time frame, and everything about your contest in multiple posts starting two weeks ahead of time.
    2. Have at least SOME history of commenting on a number of other blogs. That way, you are at least known a bit more than if you only lurk. This is a prerequisite to:
    3. In my case, it was appropriate to ask a few other key (meaning ranked as far above mine as I could get) bloggers to participate as guest judges. Several accepted (I’m convinced this is solely because of #1 above). The result is THEY would publicize it on their blogs, effectively multiplying my ‘marketing’ (that viral element you mentioned.)
    4. One important key to motivating participation is to have people post their contest entries on their own blogs, then providing a link to your contest kickoff post. All bloggers want more links, and this provides them in both directions. And don’t exclude those without blogs: make sure they know they can post their entries via comments.
    5. Keep everyone informed with REGULAR (i.e. daily, if there is lots of activity) report posts. It’s like the National Enquirer: people want to know…
    6. I had no prizes to offer, but by having guest judges, it became just as valuable to the winners AND participants. I would suggest NOT spending any actual money on prizes (unless money is no object… in which case…)

    And to Chris, I say concentrate on my #2 for a while. Patience in that area will reap benefits!

    Sheesh! Sorry for being so long-winded! :-)

  9. Jim says:

    What timing! I’m just winding down my blog’s first competition, where I’m offering a small prize ($10 iTunes gift card) for the best haiku poem summarizing original research. I’ve been really pleased with the number of entries and by the creativity of scholars who usually can’t summarize what they study in a few sentences, let alone 17 syllables.

    I realized that traffic would be an issue with my contest; with only a moderate readership I wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having no entries. I think I made a good decision by waiting to post until a grad student blog carnival was about to happen – timing the start of the contest with the launch of the carnival drove considerably more traffic to the site. It also helped to post to an academic listserv where I knew the contest would be on-topic.

    I think you’re also right about creating value beyond the prize itself, Darren. Of course $10 to spend at the iTunes store isn’t going to change anyone’s life, but the novelty of shrinking years of work and often thousands of words into a haiku seemed to draw people in, offering them a new way of self-expression as well as the chance to clarify exactly what the point of their research is.

    I’m already looking forward to the next competition!

  10. Simonne says:

    About one month after starting my blog, I hosted a competition there. I wanted to have a Tip of the month contest, where people would send me their most helpful tips and tricks. Guess what the prize was: a link from my shiny new blog, with barely any traffic at all, and with PR 0. And do you know how many entries I got? Equal to the blog’s PR. Half year later, I still do not consider running any new contest yet. Not until I’ll have at least 500 readers in my feed.

  11. Its actually a risky job doing a competition. I mean, you can run out of cash. Hey, Darren, do you know how those people conduct competitions like “look for a boogy code in my feed” thing ? I’m really curious. How do they do that ? May be XML gurus or something.

    And, I think the competition 13 year old David does is the easiest. Selecting a random dude from the crowd. Its easy both for us and him. Cool.

  12. Jon Symons says:

    Hey Darren, why don’t you have a “Group Writing Project” for contests? We all create a contest and then submit them to you. Then we can all go and enter everyone’s contests…would be a blast!

  13. engtech says:

    Absolutely bang on. I’m on my second contest at the moment: http://engtech.wordpress.com/2007/02/15/group_writing_contest_2_win_amazon/

    I felt that my first contest was a resounding success with 22 participants.

    I’m hoping to beat that number this time.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the #1 thing I’ve gotten out of this is reader stickiness. I’ve seen the participants reading each others blogs, and I feel a monthly activity like this is a foot hold to developing a community.

  14. lornadoone says:

    As someone who has participated in one of your writing projects, I can attest to the fact that competitions can make your blog more sticky. Even though I rarely comment, I have some sort of relationship with this blog because I was allowed to be a part of the writing project. It’s better than the loyalty cards they give you at the grocery stores!

  15. engtech says:

    Also, I was surprised that I couldn’t find a clearing house for these blog contests.

    I created one on Fan Pop if anyone is interested in promoting their own contest:

    http://www.fanpop.com/spots/contests-for-bloggers/

  16. Michelle says:

    Ten good tips.

    I started hosting a “Write-Away Contest” and after two rounds–one in January and one in February– here are my suggestions:

    * I make the writing topic rather broad to encourage entries.

    * I invite another blogger as the Guest Judge for the month’s contest which has helped to promote the contest and at the same time promote community–it’s been a successful aspect. Chose carefully–find someone who’s willing to take on the task and be a good sport and someone who will help promote the contest. I also do a phone interview with them early in the month then publish the interview in conjunction with the contest as a bit of link love and community building.

    * Allow entrants to submit posts from their archives. Don’t require new posts, it’ll generate more entries.

    * Submit your contest to competizione which lists blog contests: http://musing.typepad.com/competizione/

    * Be strict on rules. If the entrants don’t make the deadline I’ll publish them anyway in a separate list so they still get a link but they’re not in the running for the prize. If you can’t enforce rules like including a link back to the contest you’ll lose credibility.

    * I pick prizes that support my blog. I’m blogging about motherhood in Alaska so I try to find Alaskan gifts that you can’t find in Australia.

    Here is the list of winning entries from this month’s contest as an example of what I’m talking about. I’ll be hosting again in March.
    http://scribbit.blogspot.com/2007/02/our-lovely-write-away-contest-winner.html

  17. Alan says:

    I think the prize cost based on the number of entries was quite good for the contest that Engtech had. I have only run one contest with results were acceptable but nothing spectacular.

    I would suggest your first contest be something very easy for participants to enter and have a medium value prize to balance the risk (out of pocket expenses) and prize allure.

    I only had 8 people enter the contest, looking back I think the prizes were fine but the steps required to enter were too complicated. I like the idea that Brody had of just requiring the reader to leave a comment. I can’t think of anything simpler than that!

    In case you are interested, here is some info on the contest I was talking about…
    http://hackedgadgets.com/2007/01/01/hacked-gadgets-new-year-contest-winner/

  18. Henry says:

    This is unbelievable timing for me as well!

    I just launched a competition blog for the “Best Post of the Day” that I could find. This is just for fun so the the prize, a “Winner’s seal” is also just for fun. I am just setting it up with initial posts explaining the objectives of the blog.

    I hope one day this is going to be a successful one.

    http://postawards.blogspot.com/

  19. Ruziklan says:

    I have found it quite funny that people are excited about timing of your post like engtech [13] or Henry [18]… taking into account the number of your readers and number of contests running around globe it would be surprising if no one did that :-)

    Personally, I have run short competition last November (http://lorinc.blog.sme.sk/c/68469/Vyhodnotenie-hier-s-komentarom.html – just mentioning it, BEWARE, it is not in English, but in Slovak), although it was not writing contest, rather set of mathematical games to be played by participants by choosing their strategy. Entries through form or by e-mail, together 36 players. No prize at that time. I was profiting from being a member of community for some time and the contest had almost no impact on the traffic. But it was fun, perhaps even more for the organizer, me, than for others.

  20. Axel says:

    Thanks for your great article, Darren. We discuss a competition in Germany and your tips are very helpful for us.

  21. Waigs says:

    Please design a logo for this site http://waigs.de/win-a-prize/.
    you could win a nice prize

  22. Bud says:

    Thanks for the great information Darren. I am starting one today on my site today after reading your article. I will post an update when I am done to let you know how it went.

    Also if you want to check it out my site is http://www.budcalabrese.com

  23. Gaj says:

    I want to run a simple competition on my site to generate a mailing list for the sponsor of the competion who wants to give away quite a lot of prizes.

    They just want me to collect a list of email addresses and for users to answer a simple question (multiple choice). Is there a plug-in that will allow me to do this or does anybody have a creative idea of how I can make it more interesting?

    Thanks,
    Riyaz

  24. Gizmo says:

    Great post. I am running my first contest and it’s starting off pretty slowly. I have three prizes and three entries! Ugh.

  25. I want to setup a giveaway to launch my new blog.

    I would like people to simply subscribe to my rss feed and then i will pick a few random people from the people who signed up.

    I have my feed setup in feedburner but cant see any details for the subscribers???

    How exactly would i be able to see who has signed up to be able to cont act them and announce the winner??

  26. Kayla says:

    I recently a bout 2 months ago created a blog contest blog. For new members and traffic. Also its a nice change from the traditional blogging.

    Quite slow now: http://likeitwinit.com. any feedbacks?

  27. Spin Diva says:

    Great information. I am preparing to run a contest for which I do have a prize and I’ve been debating how to do it. I don’t want to spend hours reading long winded responses, more traffic for me and my readers is a good thing so I may follow some of robert’s advice above to have readings do certain things like advertise the contest in their own blog and maybe apply to blog via email. I don’t have a newsletter yet. I want it to be fun and attractive to people so that they participate because its easy. We’ll see. I”ll keep reading. Thanks.

  28. Great post with some very useful tips to learn here! Thanks for sharing. I am about to run my own blogging competition and will keep this in mind.

  29. I have just launched my blog competition

    http://www.murraynewlands.com/index.php/blog-competition/

Trackbacks

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  3. IndianPad says:

    How to Run a Blog Competition to Find New Readers and Make Your Blog Sticky…

    How to Run a Blog Competition to Find New Readers and Make Your Blog Sticky posted at IndianPad.com…

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