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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, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • You’re so right about all the work that comes with generating buzz for contests. It can be exhausting – especially if you’ve got all kinds of requirements to validate and make sure everyone is in compliance.
    That’s why I decided to make my last contest very simple – Submit an original guest post by Apr. 30 – and the top 5 with the most Retweets win the various prizes.
    All I’ve got to do is check the RT score and I’m done. No more late nights checking requirements.
    Darren, I admire all of your hard work that you’ve put into your blogs.

  • One of the easier and most popular way to get more subscribers, more twitter followers, more facebook fans is to run a competition and in return just provide a premium theme, an ebook or your own services like seo conslutancy, blogspot to wordpress migration and other what you are providing.

    If you are popular in this blogosphere then these types of contests will amazingly boost your search engine rankings and tremounds traffic on your blog.

  • What do you recommend for smaller blogs? What if we are worried we might not get too many comments? Is it then better to say retweet to enter or subscribe to the feed or something like that, that might not be so publicly obvious in case there aren’t a lot of entries?

  • There’s something about a competition that makes me, as a reader, want to throw my hat into the ring. It doesn’t even matter if the prize is something I want – I just want to get into the sport of it. Great reminder here that keeping things simple can still yield big results.

  • Thanks for the advise here Darren.
    In fact, I’ve been looking for ideas on how to operate a competition to coincide with the launch of a blog I am working on. Keeping it simple has worked for you, so I have decided to follow your lead.


  • Hey Darren,

    This is a great idea! I never thought about running a contest and over an eBook. Thanks for sharing this with us. Now, it’s just taking action!

    Chat with you later…

  • Thanks for the great post, people love to participate in things that are easy, that is why it is also important not to make your questions too much for readers when conducting surveys or building a mailing list.
    Thanks for the great post.

  • Every time you write on this topic, I’m encouraged to do another giveaway. Now that I have a hanful of items in my store, I might do another giveaway – probably of my short audio book.

    I agree – simple is better.

  • I’ve tried to make a competition on my blog, but it was too small and nobody was interested then.

    Now, I won’t use this method until my blog grows bigger.

    Thanks for the interesting post! I’m sure this will be useful!

  • I’ve tried to build two contests, I did have success initially for two to three days, but failed later on. But still I believe that a contest can almost double you list size at times, so I will start another one, when I grow my audience.

  • Simplicity has great power to influence.
    You proved it again.

  • Ah, the joy of simplicity! I could not agree more. If you’re giving something away make it simple for you!

    Giveaways and Competitions are different in my book. To me a giveaway should be simple, like you’ve talked about here.

    A competition may be a little more complex and include judging… maybe a photo contest or something.

    Whichever you do, make it as simple for yourself as you possibly can!

  • I think you can only feasibly start doing contest when you have at least 100+ daily visitors on your blog or 50+ subscribers.

    Otherwise, your contest isn’t going to get enough exposure, and you aren’t going to get a good return in terms of traffic increase to prizes given.

    However, once you do have a good reader-base, contests are one of the best ways to expand your blog.

  • You can put a competition on your blog for a link(guest post). No prize needed and that’s the principle of a blog carnival isn’t it? Even small blogs can give links.

  • I think it will spend a lot of money to do a competition like this. Is it comparable with those found?

  • This just triggered an idea. Thanks.

  • I totally understand Darren.

    When I ran competition on a forum I used to administrate the amount of activity it created was extra -ordinary. That activity was then used by the users to create posts therefore further helping the forum. It was great.

  • I agree, keep it simple! OK, so mine aren’t simple – they are a reward for participating in a series / challenge. But I hate the ones where there are a million things to do for extra entries (comment, comment on the sponsor’s website, follow the blogger, follow the company, become their friend on facebook, become the sponsor’s fan on facebook, follow them in Twitter, follow the sponsor on Twitter, tweet about the contest, write a blog post about the contest, email 5 friends about the contest, subscribe to their newsletter, and sometimes even more! Bah!

  • Keep it simple, good advice in most things!

    I gave away 17 things on my blog a few weeks ago, and I can relate to the slightly tired-out feeling. :) A great learning experience, tho.

    Next time — MUCH simpler. :)

    My first giveaway I had my daughter, who was 7 at the time, choose the 2 winners by comment numbers. Next time I’ll videotape her choosing, and announce the winners that way. How high can your little pirate boy count? :)

  • Darren – Also speaking from personal experience: The prize has to be something your community ACTUALLY WANTS. I know it sounds shockingly simple. But I’ve noticed it to be the downfall of so many contests. We have even tried having our community ask for prizes, etc.

  • Great post Darren.

    Of course some more in depth details would be excelent. For example:
    How do you find sponsors?
    What do you offer them in exchange?
    Which sponsors (big or small) are more likely to collaborate?
    Do you really need to be famous blogger (like you Mr. Darren) in order to get sponsors?

    Little bit off topic:
    I have a Facebook Fan Page about soccer and I’m really struggling to find some sponsors for my contests (maybe it’s because I want to offer phisical prizes, and it’s always harder with them and nobody wants to mess with that?) What can I offer to my fans? Any tips?


  • The easier, the better, indeed.

    Good post

  • cool! I agree many a times it’s not the big prize money that matters for people to jump into contests. There are other factors and what better than having a simple one like you mentioned in example. But again, for a simple contest like the one you did to succeed one should have a massive blog following else for the rest there should be an attractive context format to bring on the contestants :)

  • Contests can work extremely well on another level.

    Give away something you strongly believe in, or feel everyone would be better off having. Not only does the contest generate a lot of interest in your blog, but also in whatever it is you’re giving away.

    The icing on the cake is the feeling you get when you’re able to give something you believe in to someone who believes in you.

  • I really like the simplicity of this idea. Keeping it up for a week seems like just the right amount of time to get all of your readership engaged and to make sure that you are giving everyone enough time to enter, yet not too much time to forget about it.

    I will be interested to find out how long-lasting the added traffic will be after each contest. I guess it depends on the blog.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  • I had this inspiration about a year ago that having GiveAways on our blog would double/treble/quadruple readers!!! So I started a book GiveAway every other week. I was initially disappointed because my stats didn’t go through the roof as I had anticipated. No… like any enterprise: slow and steady wins the race… readership grows consistently as long as you keep on posting stuff your readers want to read and share with their friends.

    BUT while I haven’t had a GiveAway that sent my stats through the roof I have found that GiveAways make my readers very loyal, they keep coming back for more… and these guys tell their friends and they become returners and so on… Isn’t that what a blogger is really after a base of core visitors they can rely on through the ups and downs of life and blogging.

  • I also think that creating contests from time to time encourages your readers to constantly check out your site. This is of course, in addition to your good content.

  • I won? Wow! Thanks for the prize! I’ve never won anything before. Now who do I contact about getting that prize?

  • yes,it encourage the reader to come all the time to look is you have a contest in your site,but it will give you hard time to get sponsors for your contest..

  • I’m still enjoying the 2 monitors that I won here on your birthday bash, great gits and you’re right, I won them by only writing a simple blogpost.



  • Big prizes always go down well.

  • I find asking a fun question does two things for you. It gets people to do more than just say ME ME (which tells me they really want the prize.) Then, after the contest, those answers make a great post.

    For example, I’m running a History Channel contest on GlobalShift right now to go with America the Story of Us. So I asked people, if they could go back in time, what historical event would they like to witness or who would they like to meet. I’m getting some fascinating answers.

    After the contest, when I announce the winner,I’ll include a recap of the answers (most popular, most interesting) plus reprints of some of the better comments.

    The people who entered, hopefully will come back, see their name again and be pleased that they were mentioned – that’s building loyalty and that’s the name of the game.

  • I have never tried this but sounds like a good idea and i think it helps me to build a regular readership of the blog.

  • 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!

  • I do weekly giveaways on my site and I’ve found that doing that has helped a bit to build up my readership, as people will subscribe to the feed to make sure they know about the next week’s giveaway (I do a totally different prize each week). Of course some people just subscribe for the contests but at least they have to skim through the other posts to find it each week.

    I’ve found that the dollar value of of the prize is not really proportional to the number of entries. People will enter if it’s something they want (for themselves or a relative/friend) whether it’s cheap or expensive.

  • Amy

    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!

  • So would you usually give away an e-book or something? This is something I have never tried before, thanks for planting the seed.

    Brian M. Connole
    i-Blogger |

  • I gave away a $500 snake in a contest on my blog. I did it in conjunction with a well known and very respected breeder (Brian of I basically paid half and he donated the other half. Getting ready to do another contest with him when he gets back from vacation.

    Now $250 might sound like a lot, but the benefits for my site and reputation are immeasurable. For example my adsense (dirty word?) earnings went from around $25 to $35 per month to over $100 on average.

    I think it worked so well because it gave my audience something they wanted. If I had tried for example to give away something like your ProBlogger book I would have probably failed miserably and lost readers. Sure I would have gotten a few signups for a chance to win, but they wouldn’t likely become community members.

  • I run a fun little competition on my humor blog called What’s That Wednesday. I photograph only a small part of an object and ask readers to guess what the object is. I give away a magnet with my blog logo on it, as well as a novelty item such as a box of bacon bandages. It’s become a surprise hit because people like the challenge of guessing the right answer before others and being awarded something silly that they can show their friends and family. It costs me about five dollars plus postage.

    Somehow the magnet has become a grand prize of sorts. People love bragging about it if they win. I love running the contest, but I don’t have an object every Wednesday because it’s hard sometimes finding an object that’s not too easy to guess.

  • Guess you’re right. Simplicity is one of the key elements for success.

    I’ done few competitions before this and now I realized some mistakes that I’d done. Thanks for advice, pal.

  • I love running contests for my readers of my photography/photoshop blog. My last one had nearly 2,000 entries and the one this week is just over a 1,000 but does not end until Sunday.

    I find these are a win – win for the companies involved as it gets them new viewers, often is viral, and gets my readers excited and coming back for more.

    Darren – if you are reading this – I have guest blogged for you on DPS and would be happy to do a follow up guest post for you on contests for Pro Blogger if you are interested. I could go into detail about finding products/services to use for contests, how to promote them, etc… Just a thought – contact me at [email protected] if you are interested. And if you ever want to give away any of my products in a contest on DPS, I would support that effort 100% as well.

    Thank you for all you do for the blogging community.


  • Darren, what about the video tips you promised to publish?

  • I have a competition on my site now – for 100 personalized postcards. No one has entered yet. Please come and enter!

  • Georgia

    Glad this came to my inbox today. I have been thinking about hosting a contest. Like that simple is better!

  • 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?

  • I’m sharing someone else’s idea, since I thought it was fabulous.

    The Whimsical Bohemian, at:

    Runs an event each year, titled OWOH, or, One World, One Heart. The rules are simple. 1) leave a comment (and the end, a winner will be chosen by a random number generator), 2) run the contest on your site, and 3) provide a prize for the winner on your site.

    This community is largely art-related bloggers, so most of the prizes were one of a kind hand crafted items. This contest is exciting, and generates a great deal of buzz. the Whimsical Bohemian creates a link list for everyone who’s signed up (For 2010 she had over 1,000 participants).

    The best part of the event, is it creates a huge social event, encouraging like-minded bloggers to visit each other, and get to know one another through their sites.

    I found this too late this year, but I am looking forward to the OWOH event for 2011, which will probably begin end of 2010.

  • I agree with you: Simple is better

  • Keeping it simple goes for any kind of reader engagement.

    And I just had a little epiphany here… about getting discussions started…

  • I have a lot to say about contests. I run one every week and choose what readers have to do based on what I’m looking for. Sarah Prout even told me, “a8forwomen, you have the best giveaways!”

    Weeks 1 and 2, comments on posts, best one wins. Looking for content ideas. Worked great. Hard as heck to pick the winner. Week 3, follow me in some format (wanted more followers). This past week, I asked them to answer the question, “How do you get your other to be more interested in intimacy?” (It is for some research I am doing.) Random generator will pick the answer. Too hard to choose one. You should see the answers I’m getting. They are great!

    So, that’s how I’ve done it to now. It is basically my advertising budget. At some point, I will get prizes donated, but I choose those based on their ease of delivery (ie by email) and also so that support the essence of the brand we are trying to build at Anonymous8.

    The purpose of every week, contest runs Wed morning to Tuesday night is to build repeat visitors…
    More to say on this, but that will be all for now.

  • MAKE THEM SIMPLE is the best way to make your blog successful. There’s a lot of blogs that are too complicated and readers will not have time to browse the whole blog to read what they want to. Making it simple means it’s very conducive and easy for the readers to be attached to the blog especially if the topic and always new and interesting.