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How to Run a Successful Competition on Your Blog

Blog-CompetitionYesterday I shared some of the costs and beefits of running a competition on your blog. I ended that post by asking:

“So how does one run a competition on their blog that brings more benefits than it costs?”

In this post I want to walk you through everything I know (and I mean everything) about running a successful competition on your blog – from setting objectives, finding prizes, running the competition and more.

Get Your Objectives Right

If there’s one tip that you need to take away from this post it is to get the objectives of your competition right before you even begin to design it.

What do you want to get out of your competition?

The answer to this question will shape everything from the prizes you offer, to the rules of the competition, to the length of the competition.

Speaking generally, there are two types of focusses that you might want to have:

  1. Internal Focus – this is where you focus upon the readers you already have and include rewarding loyal readers, increasing pages viewed per visit, drawing RSS readers into the blog, increasing reader participation etc
  2. External Focus – this is where you focus upon readers who you don’t already have – ie drawing new readers into your blog, increasing the amount of links pointing at your blog from other sites, building your RSS subscriber numbers etc

While it is possible to have a competition that achieves objectives in both of these areas – I find that the most successful blog competitions have a primary focus of one or the other. The main reason for this is that a competition that wants to draw new readers into a blog will need to be promoted in a different sort of way to a competition focussed upon regular readers.

For example - if your primary objective is to find new readers – you won’t want to run a competition like I currently did over the weekend that asked people to leave a comment to enter. This type of competition is squarely aimed at rewarding regular readers and increasing their participation on the blog. A competition to draw new readers into a blog would need to have more of an external focus and possibly would involve readers doing something more ‘viral’ in nature to help me promote it.

One last note on objectives – I think it’s worth mentioning that competitions with external objectives tend to be both harder work and more risky. They require more planning and ground work as you need to force yourself off your blog into new audiences. The risk is that if you’re unsuccessful at drawing people in you could either leave yourself with unhappy sponsors (they are looking for exposure) or leave yourself holding the bill for a prize.

Prizes

There are many ways you can go with prizes (more than I can handle in this post alone) but let me throw a few tips at you:

Sponsor vs Self Funded - there are pros and cons of both having a sponsor supply your prize/s or doing it yourself. This will partly depend upon your budget and your blog’s profile. In the early days of my blogs I generally will fund my own prizes (smaller ones to start with) but work my way up to going with sponsors. If you choose to fund the prize yourself, be realistic about what the competition will bring you. One thing to consider is starting with a small prize and then adding another if the competition really takes off. Changing the rules by increasing the prize is not going to phase anyone who enters – but downgrading the prize from a big one to a small one won’t do anything to help your credibility.

Finding Sponsors - I’ve used two methods to find sponsors – both have worked out for me. Firstly I tend to announce that I’m looking for sponsors on my blog a week before I run the competition. Even on a smaller to medium sized blog this can draw out some good opportunities – you might be surprized who is reading your blog. The other method is to directly approach sponsors with a request for a prize. I’m always surprized how effective this is – particuarly with sponsors who have products relevant to your blog’s topic. If your blog is smaller you need to lower your expectations a little in terms of what sponsors might offer – but that’s ok – you can always grow your relationship with sponsors over time.

Get Expectations Right with Sponsors – it is extremely important when negotiating with sponsors to get their expectations of the competition aligned with yours. This can alieviate a lot of headaches for you in the long run. Some of the things you might want to outlign indlude:

  • the prize – get a good description and the value in writing
  • deliverability – are they covering costs of delivering prizes , will they ship internationally, how will this be handled?
  • benefits to them – what will they get in return. How many posts will they be mentioned in, how many links will this entail, how many readers will see these posts (your normal readership as a minimum).
  • active promotion – will you be endorsing them or just linking to them? What do they want you to say about them (ie get them to give you a short description of their company or a product that they want to promote).

Getting these expectations right is crucial. Never lie to a sponsor or promise what you can’t deliver.

Relevant Prizes – it’s always hard to tell which prize will be most appealing to your readership until you actually put one up – but in general I find that prizes that have some relevancy to your blog’s topic will do well. While I’ve given away some pretty irrelevant prizes on my blogs – the more closely you can match them to the reason your readers come to read your blog the more on topic you can keep your prize (this helps combat reader disillusionment).

Valuable Prizes – this probably goes without saying – but the more valuable your prizes are in the eyes of your readers the higher buyin rate you’ll get. Of course ‘value’ is something that will vary from reader to reader and is not just about monetary value (although this doesn’t hurt). I’ve found that sometimes it’s the simple prizes that get the most excitement from readers – a well chosen book for example can really get a good response. A perfect example of this is the prize I offered last weekend – a 2gb flash drive. That prize is fairly simple and something that many could go out and buy relatively cheaply – yet it drew over 200 entries in two days!

The Wow Factor - if you’re objective is external in focus (ie to build new readers) then a big and impressive prize is one way to go. For example my recent birthday competition which was a $54,000 giveaway got quite a bit of attention on other blogs and was reasonably successful at drawing in new readers. Of course going this big was risky and a lot of work – like I say, a simple giveaway can go a long way too, but is more effective for competitions with internal focus.

DIY Prizes – if you’re just starting out and don’t have any luck with getting donated prizes from sponsors you’ll need to provide your own. This can be daunting if you don’t have a large budget – but it need not. There are numerous options that you might want to consider including:

  • a cheap but highly relevant prize – as mentioned above a prize that is highly relevant to your audience can have as much impact as one that is irrelevant but expensive. Pick a new book from Amazon on a topic similar to your blogs and you’ll find that it can do quite well (bonus tip: link to it with an affiliate link and you might make a few dollars to cover the cost of the prize in commissions).
  • a service – what can you DO for people that they’d find valuable. Do you have expertise that you could offer as a prize (free consulting), do you have a resource that you’ve made that you could give away, do you have a site that you could give some free promotion on…. think outside the box a little into what you could offer a lucky reader.
  • a ‘re-gift’ – this is what I did over the weekend. The prize I gave away was given to me as a gift by AdSense late last year – but I had no real use for it – so I ‘re-gifted it’. I’ve started keeping these types of gifts in a ‘prize cupboard’ here in my office. It includes books that I’m sent to review, gifts from vendors and even a few freebies that I picked up at trade shows.

The Competition

The actual competition that you run on your blog can vary quite a bit and will largely depend upon the objectives that you’ve chosen for it.

I’ve seen (and run) a variety of competitions over the years. Here’s some of them:

  • Comment Competitions – where readers enter the competition by leaving a comment. These might be any comment that they like or could have requirements (ie our consulting workshops offer a prize for the most helpful comment).
  • Subscriber Competitions – where you offer a prize or incentive to those signing up either for an RSS feed and/or newsletter.
  • Membership Competitions – similar to subscriber competitions – but prizes are offered to those who sign up for a forum or other membership area
  • Link Competitions - where you offer a prize to someone who links to you. It’s worth noting that these are risky competitions as Google has penalized some who have run them.
  • Writing Competitions - offering a prize to bloggers who write on a certain topic (for example I’ve run a variety of Group Writing Projects like my Top 5 and How to projects). These can be good for externally focussed competitions as they can have a viral element to them.
  • Treasure Hunts – where you hide clues and treasures in your archives and readers have to find them to win a prize (good for increasing page views).
  • Guess the…. Competitions - where readers need to take a guess at something (for example – I ran a ‘guess the key words that people searched for most in Google to arrive at my blog’ competition).

I’m sure you’ve seen other types of blog competitions being run – feel free to add to the list in comments.

Keep entry rules simple - what ever type of competition you choose to run, attempt to keep the rules as simple as possible. I’ve seen people run competitions where people have to jump through so many hoops to enter that the competition flopped whereas simple competitions (ie asking people to leave a comment) can generate massive responses.

Find ways to add value to your blog – good blog competitions not only give your readers something – but they add some sort of value to your blog in other ways. For example, when the community consulting workshops that we’ve been running here at ProBlogger offer the chance to win an iPod to readers that add helpful comments to the consulting posts. The quality of comments that have been written are significant and add a lot of value to this blog.

Don’t Change the Rules - I have seen a number of bloggers hurt their reputations by changing the rules of a competition mid-stream. While I understand the reasons behind it (for example if there are not as many entries as expected) those who have entered the competition with one set of rules can become disillusioned if you then change things. The only time you might want to consider changing the rules is if the competition has more success than you’d expected and you want to increase the number or value of prizes.

Choose a period for the competition carefully - the length that your competition runs is important. If you go for a long competition (a month) you increase the chances of participation – but also could frustrate readers who get sick of you posting about it. Choose a competition that is too short (or at the wrong time of the week) and you’ll have readers who miss it completely. There is no single ideal length for a competition – but you should consider the implications of your choices. One hint I’d give is to map out how the competition will run in advance. When will you make posts about it (ie when will you launch it, how many posts will you make during the competition, when will you close it off, when will you draw prizes, when will you announce winners). Mapping it out in this way helps you to see how many posts you’ll make which can help you see how much the competition will dominate your blog during it’s duration.

Lighten Your Load over the Duration of the Competition – depending upon your blog’s size and the requirements that you have for people to participate – you’ll need to find more time during a competition to administer it. I generally either choose periods that I have less on or lighten my load on a week that I have a competition running. Freeing up this time can help a lot.

Keep Normal Posts Flowing – it is really important that during a competition you continue to post ‘normal’ content on your blog. Regular readers will enjoy the competition – but not if it’s at the expense of what they’ve subscribed for, your best content. I attempt to keep my normal posting frequency up during a competition (the competition posts are not included in this) and will often write some of these posts in advance to ensure that I have quality content over that period.

Promoting Your Competition – if your competition is all about your regular readers then you probably don’t need to do much more than post about it to get people participating. However, if your competition has more external objectives then it’s important that you think about how you’ll promote it.

New readers will not hear about your competition if all you do is post about it on your blog. A few suggestions on promoting your competitions:

Take if Off Your Blog – include something in the ‘rules’ of the competition where those who participate need to do something off your blog (and on their own) to enter. A good example of this is a ‘Group Writing Project‘ type post where they write their entry on their own blog. Be a bit careful on these though that you don’t force people to link to you as part of their entry as you can get in trouble with Google. I find that a large % of people naturally link up in these. The benefit of this is that your competition suddenly is being exposed to not only your blog’s readers but the readers of readers. This of course works best when you have a blog which is read by other bloggers (not for everyone).

Big Prizes – I’ve already mentioned the power of ‘wow prizes’. Impressive prizes can really draw people in – although with more and more blog competitions happening I suspect people are becoming a little immuned to this. However a unique prize that is worth talking about in and of itself could also be another way to go.

Promote to Other Blogs – promote your competition to other blogs in your niche. Email other bloggers that you have relationships with to let them know what you’re doing. Also – if there’s some way of involving the other blog/blogger you can increase your chances of them linking (for example – ask them to be a judge and promote their participation).

Do Something Out of the Blue That Will Make People Talk – how about running a competition that is out of the blue and that will make people talk. The problem that I see with some competitions that bloggers hold is that they’re exactly the same as what every other blogger does. While this will be ok for blogs with an internal focus, if you want to draw new readers you’ll probably have more success with a competition that is new and fresh.

Two Last Words of Advice about Blog Competitions

What I’ve written above some of what I’ve learned from running competitions on my blogs over the last few years. I would encourage you to add your own tips below as I’m only one guy sharing from my own experience – together we know a lot more.

I will finish with two points which I’ve touched upon above numerous times:

Keep it Simple - a competition can fun into trouble on numerous fronts the more complicated you make it. Every extra requirement that you make on those entering decreases the likely participation rate, every extra post you do it on it will frustrate an element of your readers and every extra hour you spend moderating and administering it will take you away from the core business of your blog (producing content and building community).

Let Your Competitions Evolve - view each competition on your blog as a learning experience. Each time you run a competition you’ll learn a little more about what works and what doesn’t work. Let these lessons shape your future competitions. Also let your prizes and participation rate build naturally. It’s OK to run a competition with a $30 prize and 30 participants the first time around. What you learn from this will hopefully enable you to run one with a $50 prize and 60 participants the next. Let things progress one step at a time.

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. Martin says:

    Some solid advice here, thanks. And just when I was considering the possibilities of holding compos. Good timing.

    So much to think about…

  2. Justin Dupre says:

    I’m running a contest at my post. Over $50 dollars in prizes. You know what? It’s working, and if I can keep it working, I know I will bring in a lot of traffic. Infact to get more traffic, this is like an advertisement. Click my name up there and it goes straight to contest.

    I link to it as the website in my comments for other blogs. Good tactic.

    As for stats on the contest. I went from 10 readers, to over 30 in 2 days. I expect to see 50-75 by the end of the contest. A huge jump!

    Great list of tips though. I will keep that in order for future contests.

    Justin Dupre
    http://www.blogosis.com

  3. Sucker says:

    A lot of great advice in there! I’ll have to run some contests in 2008.

  4. Ko Phyo says:

    Very useful post indeed. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Whew, Darren! When you said EVERYTHING you knew about contests, you weren’t kidding!

    I ran a contest last year that was fairly “off the wall”, yet still simple in concept. I asked participants to write a story using only 6 (yes you read it right) words. (I was based on an idea I saw in Wired.) As a contest idea, it was really simple, and wow, did it go viral!

    The contest was open for two weeks, and I enlisted three bloggers with ‘way higher visibility than mine (I was still pretty new) to be judges.

    As a contest, it was a tremendous success, and the prize was simply to participate and maybe be chosen by the judges. We had almost 500 entries from over 70 different people, and folks are still talking about that contest today.

    But the result was a tremendous jump in visibility for my site, new readers, new friends, and lots of fun.

    I guess my point is, you don’t have to offer monetary or physical prizes, either. If people like the concept, and it’s simple and easy to participate, they’ll jump in anyway.

  6. Sander says:

    Thank you for sharing the Guide to Successful Competition.

  7. Matt Ridout says:

    Great post, have taken your post on board and started my own!

  8. fc says:

    am i the only one seeing the entire post.. at least till “One last note on objectives -” para on the home page itself (as the featured post) minus all the bullets n everything?

  9. Joe says:

    Very insightful post Darren. I too am having a contest right now, so head on over to my blog and check it out… you can win a unique blog design!

  10. 2xKnight says:

    Good advice. It’s a little late for my current giveaway, but it’ll come in handy in the future.

  11. Mike Panic says:

    About 6 months ago JD from GetRichSlowly.org ran what I thought was pretty interesting… he was about to hit 100k spam comments as tracked by akismet and he combined a comment contest with guessing contest. I liked the idea so much that I wanted to do it when I had a chance.

    My blog turned 1 last week and in looking over the stats, I knew that within the next 3-7 weeks it would tip over 15k spam comments, what a great way to celebrate the birthday but to do a guess the… / comment contest. So far the results have been kind of lack-luster and I’m somewhat disappointed though.

    The prize is a $25 iTunes gift card. For those who may be interested, you can enter here: Randomn3ss turns 1! Giving away an iTunes gift card.

    Even if you don’t enter, you may want to track it to see how well the contest as a whole does or does not do. If anyone has any other suggestions on promoting it, please contact me. I’ve done the whole MySpace, forums, header at the top of the blog thing… not sure what else to do.

  12. Great Post. I could probably use it near the end of the year.

  13. Ruchir says:

    “A perfect example of this is the prize I offered last weekend – a 2gb flash drive. That prize is fairly simple and something that many could go out and buy relatively cheaply – yet it drew over 200 entries in two days!”

    Actually I won’t really consider a 2gb flash drive valuable. Your flash drive was valuable because 1) it was as small and thin as a credit card 2) it was from Google 3) it’s not available in the general marketplace…

    Your contest wouldn’t have received such a high amount of entries it as just a normal flash drive…

  14. Kate says:

    I just held my most successful competition over one day with lots of hoops to jump through. That said, it was all about building community and encouraging delurking.

    Plus, I invented something new in the process, so I feel good about that.

    It did cost me buckets of page view income though…

  15. eve says:

    Thanks for these tips, I will be using them in my upcoming contest… still brainstorming the topic and rules though!

  16. Speaking of bloggers doing things that are illegal – changing the rules of a contest after it started is SUPER illegal in the states, and probably elsewhere too. People really need to be careful and know what they are committing to before they launch a contest.

  17. Andy Komack says:

    Great post Darren. I have been putting together a contest for a client and this is great food for thought (and a nice way to show the client that other people have been thinking about this strategically).

    I submitted this post to bloggingzoom.com – http://www.bloggingzoom.com/Blogging/How_to_Run_a_Successful_Competition_on_Your_Blog/

  18. elamb says:

    The implication is that you actually have traffic.

  19. Great Advice! We are doing a contest all wrong on our blog. We have started a fitness/weight loss challenge for our readers.

    To be honest, we did it more to act as motivation for my wife and I, then a contest. Which serves us right because no-one has signed up yet.

    http://www.gentlenibbles.com/swingdown/

  20. Ray Fowler says:

    I ran a fun contest at my blog last September. I had received visits from 99 different countries, so I ran a “Guess the 100th Country to visit” contest. It brought in some new readers, but was mostly just fun for the current readers of the blog. I gave away a self-funded $25 Amazon gift certificate for a prize.

    I now have 145 countries that have visited, so maybe I should run a “Guess the 150th Country to visit” contest next.

  21. Lightening says:

    Fantastic!!!! Thank you SO much for this article (and the one preceeding it). It couldn’t have come at a better time for me!!! :-)

  22. CatherineL says:

    Thanks for the great info Darren. I think my biggest worry would be holding a competition and having nobody want to enter at all.

    The competitions that I’ve been put off entering in the past are the ones where you have to write about the competition and link to it.

    I don’t like them because I don’t think my readers would be interested in reading about them – unless the prize was really amazing. And if the competition is that big, they’ve probably already read about it on other blogs anyway.

  23. Friedbeef says:

    I’ve given out private beta invites as prizes, and it really depends on the product- that worked extremely well for me for Joost with >400 ppl participating, but I had less than 10 for Pownce

  24. Gerri says:

    I wish I had read this before I put up my a post for my first giveaway. It is for a 125×125 two month ad spot on mattnutts.com. I am doing it as a thank-you to my readers. The next time I run a contest I will have the points in this post close at hand. Thanks Darren.

  25. Arnel says:

    I’m not currently running a competition in my blog as of now but planning to have one in the near future. thanks for your wonderful article, I will definitely follow what you’ve stated here.

    Thanks!

  26. Just started a competition on my blog right before I read this post. I need to be on top of this RSS feed quicker…

    Useful information!

  27. Now I feel that I made it too hard – running a complex contest, $500 prize from my pocket (more if car owners also chime in). Six-months long… much longer than your “long” example of one month… well, now I have time to try to promote it and maybe some large site will follow the competition.

    But now I am tempted to have a very simple, one-week contest with no cash prize at the same time!

  28. Article God says:

    This is a great article. I gave it the thumbs up on StumbleUpon…

    I think the main way to make your contest successful is to stand out from the crowd. By differentiating your contest from all the others you’ll get more people to take notice. I think building the buzz factor is what gives your giveaway the chance to go viral. Something outrageous is the best way to generate sign-ups with the least amount of effort.

  29. Emma says:

    All good points. Contests really do take some time to manage. I’m having an RSS contest right now. With some pretty cool prizes.

  30. Thom says:

    Great Article very well put.

    If you want to promote your competitions think about posting them to social networking sites like Facebook & Bebo.
    Give people the opportunity to share your competition with all their friends.

    http://apps.facebook.com/competitions
    http://apps.bebo.com/competitionsapp

  31. Craig says:

    It’s our first birthday next month and we’re planning on running a month-long set of competitions to celebrate. This article couldn’t have come at a better time!

    Thanks so much, Darren.

  32. Craig says:

    Actually, can I ask a stupid question?

    How does one run an RSS competition? Is there a way to see IP addresses and advertise that or something more simple?

  33. Emma says:

    @ Craig, I’m sure your question was meant for Darren. But I’m having an RSS contest right now. It’s the featured post on my blog, and I just put a message on the bottom of my feed for my subscribers. I’m sure there are more advanced ways but this is effective enough. It’s about getting people to sign up and giving something back. Emma

  34. Martin says:

    we have just launched a huge competition at our site and it seems to be a great success so far!

    http://www.rlslog.net/releaselogs-birthday-competition-prize-list/

  35. Well, my competition offering a total of $750 in prizes is getting some traffic looking, but maybe people don’t want to lift a camera in order to get that money or to do some good, because not enough are participating. It is at http://Super-Cars.PlanetThoughts.org. If folks see a reason there is not more participation, please let me know! Thanks.

  36. Daren

    as usual you hit a home run with your post. Your blog inspires me to do bigger things with my blog. You touched on everything I was thinking and then some.

  37. Bud says:

    Thanks Darren for the great tips. My first contest went so well I decided to start a second one to help get comments on my blog.

    Bud
    http://www.budcalabrese.com

  38. Great advice. I actually purchase and read a lot of technology, marketing and web related books, and i have hundreds here on the shelf, all of which are only read once. I guess as these are in perfect condition, and as long as they are on topic, you could use things such as those as prizes in competitions you run.

    Thanks for the advice :)

  39. James Mann says:

    I have decided to run a blog competition but wasn’t sure where to start until this morning. I was reading up on the feeds I store in Bloglines and came across a post on Blogging Tips by Jason Blanton who linked to post he had made at successforyourblog.com where I found the link to this post.

    Now I have all the info I need to do this right. Thanks for the powerful post Darren

    P.S. I noticed that benefits in your first paragraph is a typo. :)

  40. Meanna Blog says:

    HI Problogger. I decided to try out a blog competition myself using your eternal blogging wisdom http://www.thisblogwillpaymymortgage.com/?p=38 thanks again for all the great problogging advice mate.

  41. Darla says:

    One thing to keep in mind regarding having sponsors give the prize is that you need to be able to depend on the sponsor being good to their word about providing/sending the prize. Some of the people in the work at home moms groups I’m in have had a problem with this. It can be very embarrassing if the prize sponsor doesn’t follow through for you.

  42. Contests are something I’ve been thinking about and wanted to ensure I got absolutely right if I were to do one.
    Since you’ve so nicely laid out the key fundamentals I feel much more prepared to move forward. Excellent work and great blog…

    You can consider me a regular now…
    Cheers,
    Walter Schwabe
    http://www.fusedlogic.blogspot.com

  43. Will Fealey says:

    We have just run a win an ipod nano competition and its given average success, we offered free entry if you invited your facebook/gmail etc friends to our site. Got some good amounts of people via the competition.

    Well worth it. For the price of £107, better than google adwords for a day!

    If anyone is interested the site/blog is http://FastStudentCash.com . We will be having more competitions soon.

    Cheers

  44. Jake says:

    GREAT info! Just what i was looking for! I ran a little contest on my blog when i first got started blogging and it SUCKED! This one will be much better and hopefully starting next week!

    This post is just what i needed to read!

    Thanks!

  45. Great article Darren. Your article was just what I needed to read as I may have a contest coming up shortly.

    One note though. I found a spelling error at the bottom of your article.

    Where it says: Keep it simple – a competition can fun into trouble. You mean “run”, right?

  46. Isabel says:

    Great article Darren, just started in new post new company and my 1st project was to create spec for a competition draw for kids who complete the prerequisites for health assessment which is all done on line….I have been banging my head against the wall till I saw this article it gave me a clear example of how to define the objectives…Thank you very much

  47. Mark says:

    Great post! We’ve started to run a competition and got some of these things working (probably more luck than judgement though!). We’ve got some great ideas now for the next competition which we’ll run from the start of May.
    Thanks for your advice and guidance on this!