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How To Run Subscriber-Only Competitions on Your Blog

Posted By Darren Rowse 23rd of November 2009 Blogging Tools and Services 56

A Guest Post by David Cleland from TotalApps.

In 2006 I proudly started my first blog, DigMo! It was technology, it was creativity, it was music and it was education. Despite it being a bit of blog soup I was pleased at how quick the site grew but within a few years it reached a critical point beyond which I really couldn’t get the traffic to grow. The site was frankly far too general to appeal to a specific community.


The site had a massive 80% bounce rate and taking advice from reading the great advice on this site I decided to take stock and critically re-evaluate the future of DigMo!

As a result I decided to split the site and create two separate niche blogs, DigMo! To focus on educational technology and I launched a new site, TotalApps, to focus on Mac and iPhone App reviews. The thought of starting from zero scared me and I looked at ways to get the site up and running quickly.

I decided the best way to draw attention to the blog was to offer regular site competitions. Finding companies willing to sponsor prizes was actually much easier than I initially expected. I tend to target companies whose product I have reviewed and especially if the review has been popular with readers.

With blog authors being urged to declare any products they are able to keep once a review is published what better way to retain your creditability but by passing the review samples on to your readers as a competition prize ? It seems to me like a logical benefit that will add value to your site and grow the community.

The Mistakes

I think it is best to share my mistakes with the Problogger readers and the initial competitions I ran simply required visitors to leave a comment on a post. This didn’t grow the site and managed to result in a massive 70% bounce rate i.e. the users came, entered, and left knowing we would email them if they had won.

The Successes

I decided if I was going to make competitions really work they needed to be of benefit not only to the visitor but also the site and thus I needed to limit entry to RSS subscribers (both email and reader)

The solution was simple and surprisingly successful and will basically work for anyone running a WordPress blog even with a custom theme.

Setting the competition up takes a tiny bit of code adjusting but nothing too difficult.

The Concept

The competition works by placing a code at the bottom of blog posts that will only appear when the entry is read in an RSS reader, i.e. it does not appear on site.

To do this I used a known solution that was pointed out to me by fellow blogger Thaya Kareeson.

There are a few versions of this idea around but this solution works brilliantly on TotalApps. As I haven’t come across any plug-ins that can run competitions this bit of code fiddling is the ideal solution for now.

Getting Started

Open the functions.php file in your current theme folder (I would back this up before adding the code just to be on the safe side).

Paste the following code into the text :

function contest_post_filter($content) {
if ( is_feed() )
return $content.'TotalApps Competition Code (Please note it is case sensitive) : a12221s';
return $content;
function contest_comment_filter($comment_text) {
return str_replace('a12221s', '[code hidden]', $comment_text);

There are two lines you need to change – 1. the line that says TotalApps Competition Code and 5 lines down the code is repeated (a1221s).

I recently ran a competition where visitors could win a copy of Screenflow 2.0. The following screenshot shows the bottom of the post as it appeared in the browser.


……. and this is how it looked in the RSS reader. You should note your RSS Feed must be the full article view (i.e. not just the abstract) for the code to appear.


When the competition closes as I generally ask the sponsor to select a number between 1 and the number of comments and then contact the lucky winners using the email address in the comment.

When a competition closes you can either comment out the code in functions.php by adding /* before the code and */ after or alternatively is simply change the text to “No competition at present”

Offering a reason to sign up to the RSS feed resulted in the number of TotalApps RSS subscribers growing in one month to double the number of readers DigMo! had after 3 years.

Tips :

  • Know what your readers want and try and target prizes appropriately.
  • Make sure you link to your RSS and RSS by Email Feeds in the post to make it as easy for visitors to subscribe as possible.
  • Make sure you make the rules clear and post the winner’s name publicly on site.
  • Where possible have the competition sponsors look after the postage. This not only saves you time and hassle but it is also assures the sponsor the competition is above board.
  • Don’t run competitions for more than a week as most of the comments tend to happen in the first week after that it dries up quickly.

I have to say I am certainly no expert in coding or blogging but am really excited to find a solution that really works for managing the competitions and I am equally as excited to see the number of subscribers grow.

There may even be better solutions out there and if you know of any I would be keen to hear them.

David Cleland is a teacher based in Ireland who runs three successful blogs (TotalApps, FlixelPix and

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.
  1. Thanks for sharing this GREAT tip David !

    I know this will be useful to me :)

  2. It’s sad because I’m using blogger.. nevertheless wonderful and creative way of increasing traffic

  3. Great post David, but i guess you’ll need a lot of rss feed subscribers to do that, i’m planning to launch my blog contest, but i’m paying winners with adspace on my blog because cash prices should come from my own pockets. I don’t think this is growing my blog.

  4. Wow this is really useful tip. I’m gonna try it out for X’Mas

  5. I have done this in the recent past and it did definitely help me increase my subscriber base, but not for long. The key here is, consistently have contests to retain the subscribers, which is never too easy. Site like totalapps can do that with hundreds of new app developers coming in every week, but for others it isn’t really easy.
    I have a Mega giveaway on my blog starting this week and it is “comment-and-win” ;)

  6. Great idea. But it’s tough to get a sponsor who’ll give out prizes for the competition held in my blog.

  7. I’m starting a couple of new blogs next month and I was a bit stuck on ways to get interest. Thank, David, I this could help me. :)

  8. The Thaya Kareeson. link is wrong it should be there is an extra b in the link above :(

  9. thats really great inspiration, thanks for posting it darren !

  10. Contest are a very good idea if you want to further engage your subscribers. I think it will attract more people to sign up to your newsletter and also help further establish a relationship with them.

  11. Hmm, sorry if I’m being dense, but I still don’t quite get how it works. What happens after they get the code? What do they do with it, and how do they enter?

  12. Oh my goodness! I spent my evening searching google looking for a way to do this but couldn’t find the answer.

    Sorry I have so many questions:

    – What about subscribers after the competition was over?
    (Did most remain subscribed to your RSS or did they unsubscribe?)
    – I know you said you decided to run frequent competitions, does that mean they stay subscribed in order to hear about the next one? if so, does that decrease your visitor numbers in general since people read the posts by email and don’t come to the site.

    Thanks so much for posting this great article!

  13. This is an interesting way to run a contest!

    I’m curious what happens when the post is syndicated and displayed on another website though.

  14. This idea really sounds great!
    Presently i am running new orkut invitation giveaway on my blog. I wish i could have implemented this in my present giveaway.
    Anyway i would love to give it a try in my future Giveaways, thanks for sharing :)

  15. This is great tip! I was always thinking how can one actually take leverage of contests and convert it to loyal readers!

    Thank you very much for the tip and sharing.

  16. Nice idea on getting new RSS subscribers. Definitely will try that.

    I ran a giveaway contest on my blog recently as well. But it’s for readers to subscribe as a blog follower via Google Friend Connect. It did better than I expected, with 100+ new blog followers.

  17. This is extremely cool David. I didn’t think there was such a way to do something like that with WordPress only. Sorry to hear about your site in the beginning but glad to see you’re up and running w/two different sites successfully :-)

  18. This is very useful. I have taken part in competitions done by other blogs in the past, but I have never organized one of my own. I will definitely use this page as a reference when the time is right.

    Thanks for sharing!


  19. This seems very interesting to me, though I have a quesion: What happend after you closed your competition? Did people stay subscribed? Did you work with follow-up competitions?

  20. @Justine I think they remained subscribers as the number of subscribers continually grows. I think they remain for the next competition but also that they like the content.

    I view the competitions as a way of getting people to the site so they see the content and stay rather than the competitions being the reason they visit.

    There is a risk that people only read the site via RSS but the fact to enter the competition you have to comment also helps.

    Check out the current competition

    I have added a twitter dimension now too that also works very well.

    @Mike I would really love the photography site to get noticed as that is sort of personal to me. I would love to see the work in magazines and out there for personal satisfaction more than financial gain.

    @Loretta, I noticed if the post is syndicated on facebook the code appears but there are 2 points. Most syndication sites don’t post the entire article and if you find they are then change your feed to abstract only.

    @Livia Check out the current competition, When they get the code they have to go back to the site and enter it into the comments.

  21. Sebastien says: 11/23/2009 at 8:53 am

    I must be missing something here. What happens with the code when subscsrivers see it in the reader? What are they supposed to do with it? How do you decide who won? Very confusing.

  22. I’m running my first giveaway this week so testing it all out. I decided to ask people to become a Facebook fan and leave a comment there. It’s going okay but next time I’ll base it on a comment left on the blog article which announces the giveaway.

    I will pick a comment and just check they’re a subscriber manually:)

  23. Shannon says: 11/23/2009 at 9:52 am

    How did you promote this contest?

  24. Hi David
    thanks for article much interesting.
    Very interested in the the idea of control contesters via rss entry and offer them info not showing at web site.
    I am going to try it with a couple of code lines on my own blog for this an other posible uses.
    Many thanks for publish this useful article Darren , will try to implement and try to increase my readers via email with your aid.
    bst regards.paco

  25. C’mon, this is not the quality we are used to here.

    This is very short and confusing.

    really weird post lol

    oh well…

  26. A good thing to do if you intend to run competitions is to work with a lawyer on a standard set of “conditions of entry” for the competitions. Issues that may need to be worked out include geographic area of eligibility (in the case of hard goods and some software), standards of eligibility amongst other things. I would also make sure you find out where you must publish winners’ names such as whether your blog is sufficient or you must publish them elsewhere like a newspaper for example.

    A friend of mine who owns a medium-size business had run in to trouble with the regulatory authorities regarding how he ran a competition in his business.

  27. I want to tell all of you guys out there why you should run a top commentator competition on your blog. There are a few reasons (some pretty obvious), but I strongly believe that this is a stroke of brilliance and that is why I am doing it at my blog.

  28. Thanks for the idea. It’s interesting.

    Rita blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide

  29. My site is actually I blog a lot about WordPress and also give away top notch WordPress plugins for free.

  30. I think the information presented will be useful to many people a lot.
    That’s a good effort you have put on the network through your blog. I appriciate your work.

  31. The last bit of code actually made me think, i had to read it afew times to figure out what it does, so i thought i would post it here.

    DARREN, Can you get your guest posters to analyze the code so readers understand what they do? – as you know, most of the readers are not coders – and its best they understand what each bit does before they use it.

    function contest_comment_filter($comment_text) {
    return str_replace(‘a12221s’, ‘[code hidden]’, $comment_text);

    – this removes the comments on your blog using the code word (sites doing competitions like this without using this code simply look like its overrun with spammers)

  32. Great idea, this surely will increase the RSS subscriber but the most important thing that you do not mention in this article is how to maintain the subscriber after contest.

  33. Thank you for this useful and important article. This is now looking perfect.

  34. That’s a good idea to make readers bookmark and return to the blog

  35. A slice through the heart of a “Blogger user”, great code.

  36. HI David,
    I was happy and surprised to see your post here; and pleased to see you used ScreenFlow as your example contest! Thank you. Since starting our blog, I’ve been searching for ideas to help build up subscribers. This might be just the thing. I will definitely try this.
    Thank you for the great tip.

  37. Super idea. One question, what do we put in the place of a12221s when we change it?

    I’m not a coder so have not clue.

  38. The one thing I love the very most about this site is the willingness to share success and failures. The successes are great to read about, but the failures are invaluable.
    I usually get a few things I can use out of each article. Putting my RSS and Email feeds into each post was a nugget. My site hasn’t gotten that much traffic yet, as it’s only a month old…but it will. Contest are a great way to generate interest. I’d ask everyone who registers to put it on their twitter, too.



  39. Hi David and Darren:

    I’m glad I saw this post; it’s a lot of useful info. I’ll have to read it again simply because I’m at the library now. Running a competition on your blog can generate a lot of interest. people like to win stuff.

  40. Thank you for this great new feature, I appropriate on your work.

  41. Thanks for the idea. It will make my job easier without having to register an autoresponder. A method that save money a lot.

  42. charley says: 11/24/2009 at 10:47 pm

    this is really wonderful. trust me if you can effectively create good competitions, your feed subscriber base will really grow in the shotest possible time.

    gracias David

  43. Contests are really important to grow the blog.I have received good amount of the subscribers running the contests on my blog but I was not aware this type of solution which you have mentioned here.

  44. As always I end this post inspired – thanks for sharing! Now to find some good sponsors!!

  45. I have done this in the recent past and it did definitely help me increase my subscriber base, but not for long. The key here is, consistently have contests to retain the subscribers, which is never too easy. Site like totalapps can do that with hundreds of new app developers coming in every week, but for others it isn’t really easy.
    I have a Mega giveaway on my blog starting this week and it is “comment-and-win” ;)

  46. Great tip David!

  47. How do you know how many subscribers you have? I know that services like FeedBurner show how many subscribers you have that use them (FB), but what about readers who subscribe using the site’s “built-in” feed, rather than one of the mainline readers? (For instance, I used Thunderbird’s built-in RSS reader – which, btw, shows me your entire site, sidebars and all, so I still see your ads! – and manually copy-and-paste the feed address to subscribe. How can those whose blogs I read know that I am subscribed?

  48. We need more posts like this!

  49. I don’t understand this…

  50. Your posts are the best! Always helpful!

Comments are closed for this post.