How to Run a Successful Competition on Your Blog - Blogger help, tips and hacks

How to Run a Successful Competition on Your Blog

Get Your Objectives Right
If there’s one tip that you need to take away from this post it is to get the objectives of your competition right before you even begin to design it.

What do you want to get out of your competition?

The answer to this question will shape everything from the prizes you offer, to the rules of the competition, to the length of the competition.

Speaking generally, there are two types of focusses that you might want to have:

Internal Focus - this is where you focus upon the readers you already have and include rewarding loyal readers, increasing pages viewed per visit, drawing RSS readers into the blog, increasing reader participation etc
External Focus - this is where you focus upon readers who you don’t already have - ie drawing new readers into your blog, increasing the amount of links pointing at your blog from other sites, building your RSS subscriber numbers etc

While it is possible to have a competition that achieves objectives in both of these areas - I find that the most successful blog competitions have a primary focus of one or the other. The main reason for this is that a competition that wants to draw new readers into a blog will need to be promoted in a different sort of way to a competition focussed upon regular readers.

For example - if your primary objective is to find new readers - you won’t want to run a competition like I currently did over the weekend that asked people to leave a comment to enter. This type of competition is squarely aimed at rewarding regular readers and increasing their participation on the blog. A competition to draw new readers into a blog would need to have more of an external focus and possibly would involve readers doing something more ‘viral’ in nature to help me promote it.

One last note on objectives - I think it’s worth mentioning that competitions with external objectives tend to be both harder work and more risky. They require more planning and ground work as you need to force yourself off your blog into new audiences. The risk is that if you’re unsuccessful at drawing people in you could either leave yourself with unhappy sponsors (they are looking for exposure) or leave yourself holding the bill for a prize.

There are many ways you can go with prizes (more than I can handle in this post alone) but let me throw a few tips at you:

Sponsor vs Self Funded - there are pros and cons of both having a sponsor supply your prize/s or doing it yourself. This will partly depend upon your budget and your blog’s profile. In the early days of my blogs I generally will fund my own prizes (smaller ones to start with) but work my way up to going with sponsors. If you choose to fund the prize yourself, be realistic about what the competition will bring you. One thing to consider is starting with a small prize and then adding another if the competition really takes off. Changing the rules by increasing the prize is not going to phase anyone who enters - but downgrading the prize from a big one to a small one won’t do anything to help your credibility.

Finding Sponsors - I’ve used two methods to find sponsors - both have worked out for me. Firstly I tend to announce that I’m looking for sponsors on my blog a week before I run the competition. Even on a smaller to medium sized blog this can draw out some good opportunities - you might be surprized who is reading your blog. The other method is to directly approach sponsors with a request for a prize. I’m always surprized how effective this is - particuarly with sponsors who have products relevant to your blog’s topic. If your blog is smaller you need to lower your expectations a little in terms of what sponsors might offer - but that’s ok - you can always grow your relationship with sponsors over time.

Get Expectations Right with Sponsors - it is extremely important when negotiating with sponsors to get their expectations of the competition aligned with yours. This can alieviate a lot of headaches for you in the long run. Some of the things you might want to outlign indlude:

the prize - get a good description and the value in writing
deliverability - are they covering costs of delivering prizes , will they ship internationally, how will this be handled?
benefits to them - what will they get in return. How many posts will they be mentioned in, how many links will this entail, how many readers will see these posts (your normal readership as a minimum).
active promotion - will you be endorsing them or just linking to them? What do they want you to say about them (ie get them to give you a short description of their company or a product that they want to promote).
Getting these expectations right is crucial. Never lie to a sponsor or promise what you can’t deliver.

Relevant Prizes - it’s always hard to tell which prize will be most appealing to your readership until you actually put one up - but in general I find that prizes that have some relevancy to your blog’s topic will do well. While I’ve given away some pretty irrelevant prizes on my blogs - the more closely you can match them to the reason your readers come to read your blog the more on topic you can keep your prize (this helps combat reader disillusionment).

Valuable Prizes - this probably goes without saying - but the more valuable your prizes are in the eyes of your readers the higher buyin rate you’ll get. Of course ‘value’ is something that will vary from reader to reader and is not just about monetary value (although this doesn’t hurt). I’ve found that sometimes it’s the simple prizes that get the most excitement from readers - a well chosen book for example can really get a good response. A perfect example of this is the prize I offered last weekend - a 2gb flash drive. That prize is fairly simple and something that many could go out and buy relatively cheaply - yet it drew over 200 entries in two days!

The Wow Factor -
if you’re objective is external in focus (ie to build new readers) then a big and impressive prize is one way to go. For example my recent birthday competition which was a $54,000 giveaway got quite a bit of attention on other blogs and was reasonably successful at drawing in new readers. Of course going this big was risky and a lot of work - like I say, a simple giveaway can go a long way too, but is more effective for competitions with internal focus.

DIY Prizes - if you’re just starting out and don’t have any luck with getting donated prizes from sponsors you’ll need to provide your own. This can be daunting if you don’t have a large budget - but it need not. There are numerous options that you might want to consider including:

a cheap but highly relevant prize - as mentioned above a prize that is highly relevant to your audience can have as much impact as one that is irrelevant but expensive. Pick a new book from Amazon on a topic similar to your blogs and you’ll find that it can do quite well (bonus tip: link to it with an affiliate link and you might make a few dollars to cover the cost of the prize in commissions).
a service - what can you DO for people that they’d find valuable. Do you have expertise that you could offer as a prize (free consulting), do you have a resource that you’ve made that you could give away, do you have a site that you could give some free promotion on…. think outside the box a little into what you could offer a lucky reader.

a ‘re-gift’ - this is what I did over the weekend. The prize I gave away was given to me as a gift by AdSense late last year - but I had no real use for it - so I ‘re-gifted it’. I’ve started keeping these types of gifts in a ‘prize cupboard’ here in my office. It includes books that I’m sent to review, gifts from vendors and even a few freebies that I picked up at trade shows.

The Competition
The actual competition that you run on your blog can vary quite a bit and will largely depend upon the objectives that you’ve chosen for it.

I’ve seen (and run) a variety of competitions over the years. Here’s some of them:

Comment Competitions - where readers enter the competition by leaving a comment. These might be any comment that they like or could have requirements (ie our consulting workshops offer a prize for the most helpful comment).
Subscriber Competitions - where you offer a prize or incentive to those signing up either for an RSS feed and/or newsletter.
Membership Competitions - similar to subscriber competitions - but prizes are offered to those who sign up for a forum or other membership area
Link Competitions - where you offer a prize to someone who links to you. It’s worth noting that these are risky competitions as Google has penalized some who have run them.

Writing Competitions - offering a prize to bloggers who write on a certain topic (for example I’ve run a variety of Group Writing Projects like my Top 5 and How to projects). These can be good for externally focussed competitions as they can have a viral element to them.

Treasure Hunts - where you hide clues and treasures in your archives and readers have to find them to win a prize (good for increasing page views).
Guess the…. Competitions - where readers need to take a guess at something (for example - I ran a ‘guess the key words that people searched for most in Google to arrive at my blog’ competition).
I’m sure you’ve seen other types of blog competitions being run - feel free to add to the list in comments.

Keep entry rules simple - what ever type of competition you choose to run, attempt to keep the rules as simple as possible. I’ve seen people run competitions where people have to jump through so many hoops to enter that the competition flopped whereas simple competitions (ie asking people to leave a comment) can generate massive responses.

Find ways to add value to your blog - good blog competitions not only give your readers something - but they add some sort of value to your blog in other ways. For example, when the community consulting workshops that we’ve been running here at ProBlogger offer the chance to win an iPod to readers that add helpful comments to the consulting posts. The quality of comments that have been written are significant and add a lot of value to this blog.

Don’t Change the Rules - I have seen a number of bloggers hurt their reputations by changing the rules of a competition mid-stream. While I understand the reasons behind it (for example if there are not as many entries as expected) those who have entered the competition with one set of rules can become disillusioned if you then change things. The only time you might want to consider changing the rules is if the competition has more success than you’d expected and you want to increase the number or value of prizes.

Choose a period for the competition carefully - the length that your competition runs is important. If you go for a long competition (a month) you increase the chances of participation - but also could frustrate readers who get sick of you posting about it. Choose a competition that is too short (or at the wrong time of the week) and you’ll have readers who miss it completely. There is no single ideal length for a competition - but you should consider the implications of your choices. One hint I’d give is to map out how the competition will run in advance. When will you make posts about it (ie when will you launch it, how many posts will you make during the competition, when will you close it off, when will you draw prizes, when will you announce winners). Mapping it out in this way helps you to see how many posts you’ll make which can help you see how much the competition will dominate your blog during it’s duration.

Lighten Your Load over the Duration of the Competition - depending upon your blog’s size and the requirements that you have for people to participate - you’ll need to find more time during a competition to administer it. I generally either choose periods that I have less on or lighten my load on a week that I have a competition running. Freeing up this time can help a lot.

Keep Normal Posts Flowing - it is really important that during a competition you continue to post ‘normal’ content on your blog. Regular readers will enjoy the competition - but not if it’s at the expense of what they’ve subscribed for, your best content. I attempt to keep my normal posting frequency up during a competition (the competition posts are not included in this) and will often write some of these posts in advance to ensure that I have quality content over that period.

Promoting Your Competition - if your competition is all about your regular readers then you probably don’t need to do much more than post about it to get people participating. However, if your competition has more external objectives then it’s important that you think about how you’ll promote it.

New readers will not hear about your competition if all you do is post about it on your blog. A few suggestions on promoting your competitions:

Take if Off Your Blog - include something in the ‘rules’ of the competition where those who participate need to do something off your blog (and on their own) to enter. A good example of this is a ‘Group Writing Project‘ type post where they write their entry on their own blog. Be a bit careful on these though that you don’t force people to link to you as part of their entry as you can get in trouble with Google. I find that a large % of people naturally link up in these. The benefit of this is that your competition suddenly is being exposed to not only your blog’s readers but the readers of readers. This of course works best when you have a blog which is read by other bloggers (not for everyone).

Big Prizes - I’ve already mentioned the power of ‘wow prizes’. Impressive prizes can really draw people in - although with more and more blog competitions happening I suspect people are becoming a little immuned to this. However a unique prize that is worth talking about in and of itself could also be another way to go.

Promote to Other Blogs - promote your competition to other blogs in your niche. Email other bloggers that you have relationships with to let them know what you’re doing. Also - if there’s some way of involving the other blog/blogger you can increase your chances of them linking (for example - ask them to be a judge and promote their participation).

Do Something Out of the Blue That Will Make People Talk - how about running a competition that is out of the blue and that will make people talk. The problem that I see with some competitions that bloggers hold is that they’re exactly the same as what every other blogger does. While this will be ok for blogs with an internal focus, if you want to draw new readers you’ll probably have more success with a competition that is new and fresh.

Two Last Words of Advice about Blog Competitions
What I’ve written above some of what I’ve learned from running competitions on my blogs over the last few years. I would encourage you to add your own tips below as I’m only one guy sharing from my own experience - together we know a lot more.

I will finish with two points which I’ve touched upon above numerous times:

Keep it Simple - a competition can fun into trouble on numerous fronts the more complicated you make it. Every extra requirement that you make on those entering decreases the likely participation rate, every extra post you do it on it will frustrate an element of your readers and every extra hour you spend moderating and administering it will take you away from the core business of your blog (producing content and building community).

Let Your Competitions Evolve - view each competition on your blog as a learning experience. Each time you run a competition you’ll learn a little more about what works and what doesn’t work. Let these lessons shape your future competitions. Also let your prizes and participation rate build naturally. It’s OK to run a competition with a $30 prize and 30 participants the first time around. What you learn from this will hopefully enable you to run one with a $50 prize and 60 participants the next. Let things progress one step at a time.

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