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How To Run Subscriber-Only Competitions on Your Blog

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.

totalapps

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'; else return $content; } add_filter('the_content','contest_post_filter'); function contest_comment_filter($comment_text) { return str_replace('a12221s', '[code hidden]', $comment_text); } add_filter('get_comment_text','contest_comment_filter');

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.

1website

……. 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.

2rss

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 Digmo.co.uk)

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. Peter says:

    Awesome post!

  2. George says:

    Thanks for the info!

  3. Nate says:

    Great!!!

  4. Amanda says:

    Helped me out a bunch, great post!

  5. Sutch says:

    I spent 4 hours reading your site. Thanks for the good information. I’ll be back!

  6. Barbrine says:

    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?