How to Host a Winning Blog Contest

Virgin Blogger Notes is having its very first contest this week, so now seems like a good time to talk about how to run a contest on a blog and why you should even bother.

First, let’s get into the why you should bother part.

Simply put, contests liven things up and can boost your blog in lots of ways. A well-planned and well-promoted contest can:

  • Create a buzz on social media, forums, and other blogs to draw in new visitors.
  • Entice readers who get posts in an RSS reader or via email to visit the blog, which could lead to product sales.
  • Grow a blog’s subscriber base or email list.
  • Add more social media followers.
  • Get links back to your blog from other sites who are talking about your contest.
  • Increase comments on a blog.
  • Build relationships with other bloggers if you offer a product of theirs as a prize.

Not to mention, contests are just plain fun, and who doesn’t want to have more of that?

If you decide to have a contest on your blog (and I hope you do, and I hope I win), here’s how to make it a winner:

Know Your Objectives. Obviously, you want your readers to have fun and someone to win a cool prize, but you want your blog to benefit too. Spend some time thinking about exactly what you want to accomplish. Do you want to:

  • Bring new visitors to the blog?
  • Build your email list?
  • Add subscribers to the blog?
  • Get reader feedback for an upcoming project?
  • Get more Facebook fans?
  • Reward existing readers for loyalty?
  • Have more people follow you on Twitter?
  • Get readers comfortable with commenting?

Pick the Prize. Once you know your objectives, it’s time to choose a worthy prize. It doesn’t have to break the bank, but it does have to be something that’s appealing to readers in your niche. You might even want to see if someone else will donate a prize or sponsor the contest. Just be sure if you go that route that you have a solid agreement on things like shipping, advertising, and promotion. If you’re feeling stuck for prize options, I did some Googling and found that blogs had recently given away things like:

  • Books and ebooks
  • Gift certificates
  • Tech gadgets
  • Free passes to courses and membership programs
  • Tickets to entertainment events
  • Free consultations and other professional servies
  • Trips
  • Clothing

Set the Rules. When you know your objectives and the prize, it’s easy to create the entry requirements. Just be sure to put yourself in your readers’ shoes to make sure you’re not asking them to do anything unreasonable or overwhelming. Depending on your objectives and the prize, you might have entrants:

  • Retweet the contest post.
  • Follow you on social media.
  • Subscribe to the blog.
  • Opt in to an email list.
  • Write a comment or essay explaining why they should win the prize.
  • Provide feedback on something.
  • Enter a piece of writing, picture, or some other item for readers or judges to vote on.

Set a Deadline. This is often determined by the entry requirements. If people need to write or create something, make sure you give them enough time.

Communicate. Read over your contest notice before it’s posted. It should include:

  • An attractive description of the prize.
  • Clear details about the entry requirements.
  • A firm deadline.
  • How and when the winner will be chosen and notified.

Promote. Your objectives will determine your promotion strategy. If you’re seeking new visitors, you’ll promote the contest more heavily off the blog. If your goal is to encourage existing readers to participate in a creative contest or provide some sort of feedback, most of the promotion will take place on the blog or in emails. Either way, a contest is like a party on your blog, so make sure the right people know they’re invited and how to get there.

Post Regular Content. Don’t think that running a contest is a ticket to write nothing but, “Hey, check out our contest” posts every day. Make sure readers get the same quality content they deserve while adding in occasional reminders either with the regular content or as additional posts.

Wrap Things Up. Announce the winner and deliver the prize exactly as promised. Be sure to thank everyone who participated.

Evaluate. When the contest is over, take a peek at your stats. Were your objectives met? If not, can you pin down a reason? Not enough promotion or maybe promoting in the wrong places? Too many hoops for readers to jump through to enter? A lame prize? If things didn’t work out so hot this time, that’s okay. There isn’t any failure here – there’s only feedback.

Try Again. Hopefully, contests will be part of a long term strategy to grow your blog and keep things fun and interesting for your readers.

Your turn: Have you had a contest on your blog? What things have you seen given away in blog contests?

Image by LuMaxArt

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17 Responses to How to Host a Winning Blog Contest

  1. Shari May 11, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    This is a great idea! I have an ebook for children that would make a great contest give away! Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. virginbloggernotes May 11, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    Your ebook sounds like a perfect prize. If I had known how easy it was to run a contest and how much interest it generates, I would have run one sooner. It seems like everything in blogging is like that with me. I always think it's harder than it really is.

  3. BrandonBurgh May 11, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    Hey Jean,
    Thanks for the detailed post on this topic. I've had thoughts about this on the backburner for a week or so, now, but I keep feeling I need to get more active commenting on my blog and then I'll be ready to take the step up. I don't know. Thoughts ?

    Thanks,
    Brandon

  4. virginbloggernotes May 11, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    A couple weeks ago I likely would have agreed with holding off, but I've changed my way of thinking. From what I've been seeing and experiencing, a person might just as well jump right in and get started with things because that builds positive momentum. You've got some excellent content up on your blog and a contest could help people discover that. Hmmm, just thinking out loud here but maybe as an entry requirement you could have people leave a comment on their favorite video/post because that would get them into your content plus build comments across the site.

  5. Mike Roosa May 11, 2010 at 5:40 pm #

    Very good stuff. I'm working this out right now. Just put up a contest yesterday and it's definitely getting some buzz. I see you are using Headway. How do you like it?

  6. virginbloggernotes May 11, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

    Excellent contest you've got going on at your site, Mike. You've got great prizes and easy-to-follow instructions. I really like Headway although I'm only using it to about 1/10 of it's capabilities. I won a free header design (I love contests!) so am waiting for that to get done before I start tweaking things. I need to watch the training videos though. I think it just keeps getting better and better.

  7. Mike Roosa May 11, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

    This is the 4th site I've built with it but haven't really expanded upon this one yet. I think the other 3 were much better designed but this one hasn't gotten much love yet.

  8. virginbloggernotes May 11, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    You could probably write tutorials after setting up four sites with it!

  9. BrandonBurgh May 11, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    Hey Jean, for some reason, I can't get my replies to your reply working above with disqus. It works fine for original comments like this, it seems, but not a reply. Hmmmm.
    Anyway, thanks for the insights above…I'll need to get brainstorming. :)

    Brandon

  10. virginbloggernotes May 11, 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    Hmmm, the whole point of Disqus is supposed to be their nifty threaded comments feature. Not so nifty at the moment :(

  11. Kaizenvision May 11, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

    Great Article! WOW! Very informative & instructional with the Objective, the Prize, Setting the Rules, Evaluating it for the next one… WOW!
    I hadn't thought of a contest and I am thinking a bit like Brandon…even though I saw your response to him about jumping in…hmm….

  12. virginbloggernotes May 11, 2010 at 10:11 pm #

    Well, my ulterior motive here is to make it easy for everyone to run contests so I can enter to win lots of cool prizes :) It's tough to make the call sometimes on waiting vs. jumping in. I've typically been more of a “waiter” when it comes to trying different things with blogging, but I'm really seeing the value now in just getting out there and trying things/taking action. That said, I do understand wanting to spiff things up on a blog to get ready for the extra traffic that comes from contests, guest posting, etc.

  13. Sally Neill May 14, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    Hey Jean, wow I can't believe how helpful this post was to me, recently I have been trying methods of driving traffic to my site and someone suggested a offering a prize, but I felt I had nothing of true value to offer, thanks to your post I am going to go and source a really great prize and try this method out. Sally :)

  14. virginbloggernotes May 14, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    I'm so glad to hear this post helped you out, Sally. When you're ready to run a contest, feel free to send me a note on the contact form here and I'll be happy to include a blurb about it and link to it in the newsletter and tweet it out for you too.

  15. alexwhalley May 17, 2010 at 12:14 am #

    What a fantastic guide Jean!! I have bookmarked this and the moment I am ready to offer my first prize – I will be following this post and actioning! (I am unable to guarantee that you will win though?!)
    Although – for cake? who knows…….

  16. virginbloggernotes May 17, 2010 at 1:29 am #

    I might be able to arrange something with that cake, Alex :) Glad you found the post helpful, and I wish you great success in your future contest endeavors!

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