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The Win – Win Scenario: Holding Successful Blog Contests

A guest post by Jodi Friedman from MCP Actions.

Do you have contests on your blog? Do you ever wonder why so many blogs are doing contests now? One of the reasons is that, when done right, they are a win-win scenario. You can increase your traffic and readership, create excitement, and help promote companies and products.

If you are new to contests, you may be lost and wondering how to get started. Having run very successful giveaways for both national companies and smaller businesses on the MCP Actions photography blog, I have learned skills to make them even more effective. You can see some of my past blog contests and winners announced here.

Before running a contest, work on building your blog traffic and your presence ion social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. While there is no magic number, you want confidence that you will get entries, making it worthwhile for you and the sponsor.

Next, you need to find companies that want to give away products or services. After doing contests for a while, companies find you. But to start, you may want to try the following:

  • Contact your advertisers – this is a great opportunity for more exposure than a simple banner.
  • If you have affiliate ads on your blog, contact these companies. Again it is a great way to get them more exposure.
  • Have a button on your website or blog that leads to a page explaining the benefits of donating prizes for a contest. You can see one in the right column of my blog.
  • Make a list of items you feel your readers would like to win. For example, since I run a photography blog, prizes I look for range from lenses for SLR cameras, to Photoshop products, to camera bags, to marketing materials for photographers.
    • Once you identify these items, contact the company via email or even phone, and explain what you are hoping they will donate and what you will give in return.
    • Clearly show your web statistics, using a tool like Google analytics.
    • Explain how the contest will be conducted, links you will provide to their site and any advertising you will include.
    • Describe how you plan to publicize the contest.
    • If they agree to donate prizes, make sure to keep them posted during the contest. They may end up sending traffic your way too.
    • Send a thank you note when the give-away concludes.
  • Use your own products for a give-away – if you sell a product, chances are your audience wants to win it. So make sure to give them occasional opportunities to win.

Once you have prizes, you need to organize the contest. How? What? When? Where?

  • Where to host?
    • Blog – My contests work best directly on my blog, using the comment section for entries.
    • For short length contests, Facebook and Twitter are also great venues.
    • Forums – if you have a forum, this is an excellent place for holding contests. But remember, not everyone will be able to see it. It can be a great way to get people to join the forum if you publicize it well at other venues.
    • Mailing list/Newsletter – you can utilize your newsletter for contests, though where to have people enter can be trickier.
  • When to have the contest? How long should the contest last?
    • When to start and end a contest: there is no magic to this. So much depends on your traffic.
    • I like to start contests on my peek volume days, Tuesday and Wednesday. And I usually end them on a Sunday, which is my lowest traffic day. I often take Saturday and Sunday off from blogging, so this is a “free” space on my blog. Plus it gets people coming to check when they might not otherwise.
    • I occasionally have vendors ask if they can do a 1-day contest, which I will allow. The perk to a one day contest is people feel they need to participate right then. Also, no other posts cover the contest up on my blog. This format works great on Facebook and Twitter as well.
    • I shy away from 2-day contests, since they would begin and end in prime time on my blog. I have not found a reason to end at a time of high traffic since these posts are often not filled with content.
    • Again, this is what works for me. You may find something completely different works well for you.
  • How people will enter?
    • Darren wrote an article about competitions and said that keeping it simple is most important. And I agree with this, especially on the entry side of things.
    • On my blog, I ask a simple, yet meaningful question (or sometimes a few). To enter, people answer the question(s) and add your entry to the comment section.
    • Of course if you want to have a photo contest, for example, then you need clear instructions on where to upload photos to, etc.
    • Consider offering additional entries for spreading the word, joining your Facebook Page or following you on Twitter.
  • How can you publicize the contest? Of course there are dozens of ways to get the word out. Assuming it is a blog contest, I usually do the following:
    • Make sure to link to the company providing the prize(s). Remember, you need to add value for the sponsor.
    • Post to Twitter.
    • Post to Facebook.
    • Post to any other social media networks you use.
    • Give extra entries to others that post to social networking sites.
    • For my biggest contests, I will send out a newsletter, but I reserve that for just a few times a year at most.
    • Thousands a day read my blog so many see the contest just by their regular visits or RSS.
    • Ask the person donating the prizes can also send out a post or tweet and Facebook about it.
  • When will the contest winner(s) be announced?
    • Make sure to let your audience know where and when you will announce the winner(s).
    • You can announce winners in a blog post, or to get people on your social networking sites, consider occasionally announcing winners on Twitter of Facebook.
    • Announcements can be short or you can use them as an opportunity to talk more about the products and company that sponsored the give-away.
  • How will you pick the winners?
    • In picking the winner, you can choose based on content, voting or random draw (and possibly other ways but these are the ones I have used).
    • For content, this could be picking the “best” photo or the “favorite” comment. This is subjective and sometimes can lead to frustration. But I see this done a lot on blogs.
    • Voting: On the rare occasion that I do a photo contest, I usually narrow down to the 10-15 best entries (in my opinion). Then I open it up for voting. The perk to this type of contest is contestants help spread the word for you. They tell friends, family and social networking contacts to come vote. This can be very viral.
    • Then there is luck… Picking based on random drawing. Most of my contests are this type. I use either a random picker (like random.org) or I have my kids pick X amount of numbers between 1 and the end number of the contest. This gets my children involved and makes things more personal. For huge prizes, like camera lenses and such, I tend to use the online picker so I can show the results in a screen shot.

This post was an overview on running contests. While it is not a full e-book on how to run contests, I hope you picked up some useful information. Please share what works for you in the comments and expand on ideas explained here too.

This post was written by Jodi Friedman, who runs a successful Photography and Photoshop Blog. Jodi is the popular creator of Photoshop actions and Online Group Photoshop Trainings for Photographers. MCP Actions provides great products and resources for both hobbyist and professional photographers who want to improve their post processing and take their photography to the next level. If you are serious about the quality of your images or your photography business, visit MCP Actions.

You can also find Jodi on Facebook, Twitter, and through her RSS Feed.

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. Adarsh says:

    I am holding a contest right now for blogussion theme. it is a free give away. I contacted Alex, the designer of blogussion and he was fine with it. I just want to give it to someone else since I bought it and haven’t used it.

    B.T.W I did not feel like reading much of the post because you seem to promote your blog too much within the post.

  2. Wilson Usman says:

    I am so glad I read this…I am actually having a contest for people to win Tony Hsieh’s new book Delivering Happiness: A Path….and I really couldn’t get any involvement. Only a few people took action.

    Thanks for the tips I’ll know for the next time.

    Hey and if anyone wants to win the book they just have to retweet the post to have a chance to win the advance copy.

  3. Amy says:

    I just learned this weekend at a blog conference, where a lawyer spoke, to be careful where some states a “lottery” is illegal, (like Utah where I am) there must be equal opportunities for all people to enter. So making requirements for extra entries (like “tweet about this for an extra entry”) is technically illegal because not all entrants will have a twitter account..etc. Just something interesting to think about.

  4. Yes, starting a contest on a blog can boost your blog traffic and fame. But it is not an easy task for new blogger to run a contest.

  5. Hey Jodi,
    Awesome Post man. .You are right, every one is doing contests on there blog and it’s really win win situation for contestants and blog owners.

    Thanks for sharing this great Post :) !!

  6. Jean Sarauer says:

    I’m a newish blogger so have only held one contest on my blog so far, but I’ll definitely be having more.

    I was just starting a newsletter at the time, so one of the requirements was that people leave a comment telling me something they’d like me to write about in future newsletters. Readers liked having the chance to give input and maybe win a prize, and I sure appreciated getting those good ideas from them.

  7. Woo… Thanks for a complete show down of all the needs for creating contest, I have copy and printed out on my notepad for my future reference if I’m going to create a contest, again thanks for this great info.

  8. Hey, great article! I’ve got a quick question:

    I know you say there’s no ‘magic number’ for the appropriate amount of traffic to build before holding a contest. However, for us total newbs out there, is there at least a ballpark figure? I’ve been thinking about running some sort of event eventually, but I really have no idea what an acceptable level of traffic might be.

    Thanks for any help, and for the great post :)

  9. Wonderful tip coverage!

    Something I’ve done is run abit of a bigger longer event. When I reach a certain amount of followers, that’s when the event starts. I alert the masses when it’s about to begin (usually about a week in advance) so they are enticed to follow or check the blogroll daily to see. And they’re also enticed to follow to activate the contest.

    I usually do about 5 giveaways, one a day, back to back, BUT also include other reasons for their efforts to click. I include a game so to speak so there can be more interaction rather than just comment. Sometimes it’s a mini link party, other times it’s a niche related question, etc.

    Here’s an example. I wouldn’t rate it ‘simple’, but the format does seem to draw lots of fun lovin’ attention. :)

    http://funkyjunkinteriors.blogspot.com/2010/05/2000-followers-event-draw-1-for.html

    Donna
    http://funkyjunkinteriors.blogspot.com/

  10. E. Foley says:

    I’m pretty sure Facebook cracks down on contests. You used to be able to do them, but not anymore.

  11. I have run my own contests and gained a few hundred extra readers as a result.

    I’ve also sponsored quite a few – that way you can get quite a lot of backlinks especially if one of the rules of entering the competition is you have to blog about the contest and it’s sponsors.

    Andrew

  12. I’m working on my Twitter presence over the next few months…

    :]

  13. Jodi

    Thanks for sharing

    I started doing contests a few months ago.

    My blog ‘Serge the Concierge’ is about Food, Wine, Travel and my giveaways so far have been cookbooks.

    They are often cookbooks that I previously reviewed or whose author I interviewed.

    A number of publishers have done more than 1 contest with me.

    I often launch my contests on Friday, write a reminder on Wednesday and close on Sunday with third piece to announce winner in following days.

    Should I change my launch date?

    Should I vary the gifts?

    My next contest should be a week-end stay for 2 in rural France.

    Thanks in advance for your feedback.

    Serge
    ‘The French Guy from New Jersey’
    http://www.sergetheconcierge.com

  14. Fred Kapoor says:

    In my opinion the blogging competitions are something really positive for bloggers. Competition is a way to encourage and at the same time to demand more effort from the bloggers to produce better content and better blog design in order to have more attractive, useful and worth visiting blogs. Besides, it is an opportiunity for bloggers to show their work and their posts.
    Good article.

  15. Josh says:

    Thank you for posting such a comprehensive guide to running a contest. I still feel like my site is a bit to small for one. I figure, a decent size readership and/or community is a must. I think it might be worth a try as a way to grow a readership.

    If you have a moment pop over and see what we are doing. Any tips or criticism are welcome.

    http://www.slantlab.com/?p=204

    Keep up the great work!

  16. krissy knox says:

    Jodi, thanks for the information! It helped a lot. I find it interesting that there are several ways to choose a winner for contests. I have never used any other way than picking someone whose content I liked best. And those bloggers who I know have never done anything else but the random thing. I believe I’ll continue to pick winners for contests based on content, unless I have an absolute time crunch. Anyway, Jodi, thanks for a fabulous post!

    krissy knox :)
    follow me on twitter:
    http://twitter.com/iamkrissy

  17. Roshan says:

    Hi Jodi,
    I hear about hosting contests to attract visitors, but never though about all things and plannings involved. My blog is pretty new and I have to build it up to have a contest or something like that. For now, I can do to attract visitors is giving away free stuff, and I really think that I should start working on it.

    Thanks for the share! :)

  18. One of my clients http://thewatchlounge.com gets sent Swiss made luxury watches to give away on the site. They usually bring thousands of RSS and Twitter sign ups but, unfortunately, lots of them drop off after the contest.

    Any ideas on keeping the contestants sticky?

    Ramsay

  19. Marcie says:

    Great information for contest beginners!

  20. Evita Ochel says:

    Hi Jodi – Thanks so much for this.

    I have good enough traffic I would say on my site, and I have done a few contests, with some pretty useful prizes and only had a handful of people enter. I did a lot of what you recommend above and to no avail, it made me scratch my head each time.

    Even though I have the sponsors for it and would like to do more contests, I am shying away from it now as it generates so few entries.

    But I have seen them working amazingly on other people’s sites who are not even as popular – so I am really stumped.

    Any thoughts on this?

  21. Julius says:

    In addition to your products, you can also provide your service to some extent as your prize. This lets you establish an event better relationship with the winner and would give possibilities for future projects

  22. money dream says:

    Your idea is very interesting, lots of ways to attract visitors and bring in a lot of sales, the contest was the most favored people. thanks

  23. Glen says:

    It’s something that I have not created yet, a competition.

    I will definitely run one hopefully in the next few months, I will definitely bookmark this for future reference.

  24. Jodi says:

    In response to some of the questions:

    - How much traffic do you need 1st? This really will vary based on your specific blog. A lot has to do with the loyalty and interest of readers. Lately I get 600-2,000 entries depending on the prize(s), dates contest runs, and just overall interest. I have 3,000-4,000 unique visitors a day. So for example, say you have 1,000 unique visitors and run a contest, and it gets 10 entries, that would mean you should rethink things. If your blog gets 50-100 viewers a day, and most want to enter, you likely could do small scale contests. But if only 10% of 100 people enter, then you will have trouble getting prizes. Make sense?

    - To the person who said they do most of this (Evita), and have little results, what type of traffic do you have? What type of interactions do you usually get to other posts? What type of prizes (value) do you have? Maybe the prizes are not targeted enough? I would need to hear more to help you pinpoint things. Not ever blog is going to be successful at giveaways. But you may just need to do some tweaking too.

    - Frequency and start date question (Serge): Experimenting makes the most sense. So much has to do with your audience and traffic. My highest traffic days historically are mid week. So to make it win win, I like to give the sponsors exposure. So I usually start on a Wednesday, but sometimes a Tues or Thurs. And my lowest traffic is Sunday. So a good day to announce winners and get a little traffic for people coming to check. But I do vary this occasionally.

    Hope this helps.
    Jodi

  25. My blog is running its 7th Giveaway and it has been a hit! I realized that cloth diaper giveaways are most popular among my readers, and get many referred readers. Therefore when choosing a sponsor, take note of what your readers would be most interested to win.

  26. Peter Park says:

    This is awesome. I’ve been really wondering how to go about having a contest. What would be of value?…and that sort of thing. Thank you.

  27. Great advice here. I’ll definitely reference this post the next time I decide to run a competition!

  28. I agree with Julius on giving away services for prizes. Depending on your niche, free consultations or advice can be far more valuable than a physical item, especially for new bloggers or bloggers with a smaller audience and budget.

    Ben

  29. TwoWishes says:

    One key step missing from the above lists — follow through to be sure the sponsor actually sends out the prize.

    I enter blog contests regularly (who doesn’t like free stuff?), and in the past year or two I have been chosen as winner roughly 10 times. Of those 10 contests, the MAJORITY (6) never actually sent out the prize. This has been true for large blogs with brand-name corporate sponsors, small blogs where the sponsor was a personal friend of the blogger, and everywhere in between. If I care enough to justify the extra time and effort, I will follow up with the blogger and/or the sponsoring company, but even that does not guarantee results. For my biggest “win,” a Hoover product, I followed up with the blogger (who apologized and gave me the name of the PR company), the PR company (which never responded), *and* the Hoover PR department (which denied any responsibility for blog contests).

    End result — the blogger gets a bump in traffic, the sponsor gets free publicity, but the “winner” is left with only a bad feeling about the whole situation. It’s possible I’m just spectacularly unlucky, but a few blogging friends say they’ve either had or heard of similar experiences.

    I also suspect there’s something illegal about failing to deliver on contest promises, but the Internet is such a tangle of rules and jurisdictions — who knows?

  30. I run a series of contests called “What’s That Wednesday.” In it, I photograph a small part of a larger object and ask my readers to guess what the object is. It’s become quite popular because it’s unique, fun (though some people say it hurts their brain) and the reward is simply to be the first one to guess the object. Competition to win is fierce.

    I do give away small token gifts for the correct answer, usually a magnet with my blog logo on it and a novelty item such as bacon or eyeball bandages.

    I remember writing about the first contest that “this could either be really awesome or really stupid.” It turned out to be the former.

  31. Dan Wedin says:

    I’ve used Wildfire on Facebook. Have you used any other automated contest sites?

  32. Rich says:

    I have a quick question about the legality of running contests.

    I know that some countries do not allow lotteries. Does the fact that you are not charging for entry get around this?

    I would be interested to know if this has caused anyone any problems.

  33. Tiffany says:

    This post was very insightful. There are many variables to consider before running a contest.Thanks for posting!

  34. Tinh says:

    How useful this guideline is. I have done several contests which were successful and sponsors loved it. The most important thing is to find the most relevant sponsors and the prize must be something of their high interest to draw more readers.

    E.g: If your readers are bloggers and wordpress theme, hosting, banners would be interesting too.

    Just my ideas