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My Secret to Running Successful Competitions on a Blog

Posted By Darren Rowse 23rd of April 2010 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

One of my favourite ways to generate a little reader engagement and buzz on a blog is to run a competition.

Giving stuff away never fails to create a little excitement among a blog’s community and it is something that creates goodwill among your loyal readers.

I must have run 50-60 competitions on my blogs over the years but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about which ones work best it is this – MAKE THEM SIMPLE.

A couple of years back to celebrate the anniversary of ProBlogger I ran a series of competitions here on ProBlogger that gave away tens of thousands of dollars of prizes to readers. The competitions were a big success in that they generated loads of buzz – but by the end of the week of giveaways I (and Lara who helped me administer it all) were exhausted.

We’d spent time finding sponsors, liaising with those sponsors, coming up with ideas for the competitions, writing posts announcing the competitions, moderating the competitions, choosing winners, announcing the winners, liaising with winners, liaising again with sponsors to arrange delivery and then on a few occasions mediating between sponsors and winners who had disputes.

I remember asking myself at the end of the week whether it’d been worth it? I think it probably was – but for all the buzz we got we had to put in a lot of work.

In stark contrast to this rather complex system of contests that we put in place that week I’ve also run some very very simple competitions on my blogs over the years.

The most recent of these is on my photography blog – a competition where readers can win one of two E-books simply by choosing which one they’d prefer and leaving a comment to let us know their answer. I launched the competition at midnight on Wednesday and by the time I woke up the next moment almost 700 people had already entered.

How much work was involved? Not a lot – I simply asked the author of the E-book if he’d give me some copies to give away (something that costs him nothing and will generate him some sales), wrote up the post and posted it. Next week I’ll choose the winners randomly and let the author know who to send the prizes to.

When I say this is a ‘simple competition’ I mean it on a few fronts:

1. The prize is simple – I’m not giving away anything expensive, it’s not even a physical product! The beauty of competitions with such simple prizes is that

  • they cost you nothing
  • they’re still attractive to readers (I actually find as many people enter these as do competitions with big prizes)
  • they’re easy to deliver

2. The requirements to enter are simple – choose between two options and leave a comment. It couldn’t be much simpler and as a result the participation rate is very high. The more you require people to do to enter the more hurdles you put in front of them (and the lower the participation rate).

Big and spectacular competitions can create a lot of buzz and be worthwhile – but don’t discount the simple competition. They’re less work, less risk/cost and can still generate some great goodwill and buzz among your readers.

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 and LinkedIn.
  1. Darren, this post was great and right on time. I currently have a contest going on now to give away a free Mother’s Day bouquet with free delivery. What are other simple but effective prizes?

  2. Simple is almost always better! The most successful contest I’ve ever run was for a shirt. Seems complicated, but I got the shirt printed by a Print of Demand site, who shipped it straight to the winner!

    The whole thing set me back I think about 10-15 bucks. Not quite as good as your free (for you) eBook prize, but it generated enough buzz to make it worthwhile!

  3. Darren – This is a great point – and something important to remember.

    Coming from a Radio background…Stations I have worked in could run the “Big corporate promotion” and have a one in a million chance of winning…or the simple – win a free cd/t-shirt and maybe a couple movie tickets.

    It always seemed that the winner of the big corporate prize was always like “oh great”…but the winner of the simple smaller contest got more joy from the thing!

    So I would argue your same point – its not always the big bells ans whistles – because sometimes, they seem too good to be true!

    Thanks for the post!

  4. Thanks Darren.

    @CJ Bowker: This would limit your base to those with Twitter and willing to retweat. Perhaps limiting the comments and only showing “The last ten” might be a better way – even if you only have ten!

    What is the feeling regarding advertising the prize/competition? Could this generate new readers or would this just spike the traffic. How would you get “readers” and not just “surfers”? Could this be in the prize? If the prize is “specific” enough perhaps?

    Granted that you are always going to get people like @Jean Sarauer ;)


  5. For us we’re trying to make everything as simple as possible – from how the contest is constructed, as well as the rules. We think it’s important that the rules are easer to understand as well.

    Thank you for another great post.

  6. I have yet to run a competition, but it’s definitely something I’m planning on doing soon. People love free stuff, but it can be very difficult to run a successful competition, as you mention. Most people will comment if it means they can win something for free. However, balancing when you do it is very important. If done too much, it won’t build much buzz at all, because you do it all the time. You also have to calculate how many people you think will comment, because a comment from someone to win a competition must be given a value since you’re paying for each comment through your prize.

    Great way to get people to pay attention to your blog.

  7. A friend of mine that I know locally has pursued an education in event planning. Being part of spectacles is one of the more glorious and entertaining things you can get involved with these days.

    The blogosphere has many rules that apply as well.

    I’m contemplating hosting a few carnivals myself, just to see what I can pull off, out of eldritch curiosity. Who knows? It could be fun..

  8. Kind of makes me think about never entering one of your competitions. I’m suprised you didn’t sponsor the competition yourself.

    Though I think this advice applies more towards you Darren. An Ebook from you is similar to “gold” as far as information goes. A nobody like myself couldn’t offer the same.

  9. Just started my 2nd contest on my site, first one wasn’t too successful in getting new subscribers, etc. Any feedback on the promotion or setup of my giveaway would be awesome!

  10. A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never remembers her age. One of my favorite birthday quote.

  11. Thank you for the info. Really appreciated. I mostly have got to trawl through lots of garbage to track down a little good information! Any one know the most impressive web-site to get more free stuff from the Us?

  12. A rare 1970s-era Mercedes-Benz C111 show car has gone on display at the company’s museum at Brooklands, but it almost didn’t make it. According to reports from across The Pond, the truck transporting the vintage concept car from Germany to the UK was hijacked by criminals looking to make off with the C111. The attempt was thwarted, but though now repaired, significant damage was reportedly incurred to one of the showcar’s gullwing doors and to the front fender.

  13. Extremely insightful, and educational. I really do not normally make remarks, as I’m type to a website lurker, but I believed it deserved a word or two. Thanks for giving.

  14. Good ideas… I’ve done this several times and it does generate more action to the blog. I usually give away Flip Cams.

  15. This is a great article. I have now left the rat race, never to look back. You’re right that the only way to make any decent money is by running your own business!

  16. Great site here. So many blogs like yours cover subjects that aren’t found in magazines. I don’t know how we got on 12 years ago with just print media.

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