A 12-Step Guide To Sabotaging Your Own Blog Contests

SMS Text

Sabotage blog contest

If you’re considering running a contest on your blog, it can be a great way to get new readers, build links, earn community goodwill, and position yourself top-of-mind in your niche. There are countless ways to screw up your own contest though. Here are some of the worst offenders.

  1. Giving away something people don’t want. Guess how many people are going to enter your contest if you give away “5 shout-outs on Twitter?” A copy of that e-book you wrote is about as worthless. And don’t EVER give away coupons as a prize.
  2. Making the contest overly complex. Your contest should not cause migraines or seizures. And it should not have a ridiculous overabundance of failure points.
  3. Requiring too much. In most cases, people won’t enter if it takes a Tweet, comment, blog post, Facebook post, and an image upload just for a chance to win a $5 prize. The contest requirements should be in line with the prize value or you’ll have very few entrants and a large number of incomplete submissions.
  4. Not requiring enough. If entry for a valuable prize is too easy, it can actually make people value both you and the prize less. Similarly, I’ve seen many bloggers host contests on Twitter that didn’t even require the entrant to follow the blogger or navigate to the website. Those are huge missed opportunities.
  5. Requiring stupidity/embarrassment to enter. You may think it’s funny to make people tweet something ridiculous for their whole network to see or take a stupid picture to enter, but you immediately alienate a large portion of your community and the ones who do enter may end up regretting it and hold it against you.
  6. Not promoting enough. The best prize and contest setup can’t make up for a lack of promotion. There are a lot of ways to promote a blog contest and if your contest rules can fuel the promotion, even better. I just did a bacon contest where, for an extra entry, people could comment on who they would [hypothetically] share bacon with. I notified each of those individuals to let them know that they were named “cool enough to share bacon with,” with a link back to the contest page, which was very effective in fueling more natural promotion.
  7. Not building community. Is your contest structured to keep you and your blog on someone’s radar after the contest is over? If not, you’re not building anything for yourself. Great contests will at least employ some “captive audience marketing.” This involves making the entrant subscribe or at least follow via social media for a long enough period to really become familiar with the blogger’s writing and personality. If you’re only using that “window of opportunity” to promote your contest, you’re missing the whole point of having a window.
  8. Not giving enough contest details. Many bloggers leave out essential details about the contest, like deadlines, how the winner will be chosen and contacted, what the prize actually is, etc. This can leave participants feeling frustrated and confused, which leads to resentment.
  9. Not following through. Contest holders need to follow through with what they commit to doing as moderator of the contest, whether explicit or implied. This includes things like approving comments or updating leaderboards. I witnessed a contest where the first three successful entrants were supposed to win (which suggested a very short-lived contest), but the contest holder waited 2 months before announcing any winners. There was an obvious disconnect and it frustrated a lot of people.
  10. Not sticking to the rules. If you change the contest rules part-way through, there had better be a good reason, and it better not hurt the chances (or the expectations) of those who have already entered. A good example is extending contest deadlines because you didn’t get the response you were hoping for. That’s your fault, not the entrant’s. Just accept the fact that someone won more easily than you liked.
  11. Being intentionally or unintentionally vague. If your contest is intentionally vague, then you deserve the flack. More often, contests accidentally frame the rules so that there can be a dispute as to who actually won or answered a trivia question correctly or submitted the right answer first. Make sure there are enough details in your rules to avoid controversy.
  12. Rewarding people who didn’t enter. I’ve seen contests where people were required to enter, but the ultimate winner was chosen from among all subscribers, Facebook fans, or Twitter followers – including those who had never even entered the contest. Major buzzkill.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for bloggers when it comes to contests is designing the contest with their own end goals in mind. Bloggers need to decide what their ultimate objectives are (and they should be more specific than “I want to increase traffic” or “I want to get more subscribers”) and then accordingly align contest rules, entry requirements, and prizes with those objectives. Having said that, you may not even have objectives to your contest and that’s OK. If all you’re looking to do is reward your readers or say thank you or give back to your community using a contest, that’s fine. Just avoid looking like a moron in the process. Photo Credit: 3xhumed

Scott Cowley
Scott Cowley is an SEO consultant by night, marketing PhD student by day. He was previously head of SEO at ZAGG and SEO manager at... Read Full Bio
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Carol @NYCityMama

    Ha! Well, thanks for linking me in your “requiring stupidity” segment, but this is what you have left out is that 1) the ppl didn’t need to submit their pictures to me or my site, I was sharing the info on a national contest going on that 2) if you followed me on twitter, read enough of my blog, and got to know me at all and who I am and how I connect with the many readers I do a month than you would know that I posted this BECAUSE I knew my readers and followers would TOTALLY get it and find it funny…which, in fact, they did and retweeted over and over at the time.

    So, yeah, if your readers aren’t used to you posting silly, unconventional things, then by all means, don’t start now, but I know my demo and my audience, and resent you using me as an example when you don’t know or understand either. Thanks.

    • Scott Cowley

      Carol, I appreciate the reply and I know you have a lot of readers and a very engaged audience and you’re obviously doing a very good job.

      I think you feel I’m attacking you personally, based on your desire for me to know you and your writing more. You posted and promoted and brought attention to the contest, but it’s not your own and I understand that. I’m not using you as the example. The contest is what I’m highlighting in the post and I linked to it on your site because that’s where I first found out about it. If you think that the link to your site is bringing the wrong kind of attention, let me know what to link to instead and I’m happy to change it.

      My opinion is that the campaign and contest is harmful to Diesel reputation. They may have a whole community excited by the idea of “being stupid” but to an outsider, it feels insulting. It doesn’t matter if I don’t “get it” because I’m outside the community.

      Your final point is spot-on. Do what’s consistent for your audience.

      • Carol @NYCityMama

        Hi Scott -Thanks for the reply. To be clear, I agree with your points on contest and giveaways in general.

        As I witnessed the Diesel campaign unfold, both online and off, I understood immediately how it could be offensive to some, and in this we agree. However, I embraced it because it appealed to my personality, which in turn appeals to most of my readers and followers. This seems to be the case for the audience that Diesel was aiming to reach as well, as the overall campaign, including a few events that they hosted around it received not only celebrity support, but a huge attendance as well. In short, Diesel might not have appealed to some, but it did to many others.

        The campaign in this sense can be considered controversial because it pushes the envelope and forces the company/marketer to question themselves, the voice and image they want to portray, as well as a sense of trusting that their audience will get it, embrace it, and know to have fun with it, at the risk of the reaction of a few others.

        I loved this post, I thought the campaign was funny, quirky, and uninhibited.

        I guess my overall goal, as maybe was Diesel’s in this case, was not to appeal and have the entire community out there embrace me for playing it safe, but rather embracing me, despite not being so. I don’t think my audience would expect any less : ) But then again, my brand is consistent with who I am, and that’s why it has worked for me thus far.

        Thanks again Scott for the conversation!

  • Kiesha

    These are all great tips – I especially agree with the fact that requirements must be simple – they must coincide with the prize. A big prize might require a little more work, while a small prize, not so much.
    I’m glad you’ve mentioned following through – waiting 2 months to hear about contest results is crazy and not sticking to the rules is just cheating. Everybody who has ever thought about holding a contest or givewaway definitely needs to read this.

    • Scott Cowley

      Thanks for commenting Kiesha!

  • MarkDB_SEM

    WOW @NYCityMama, a word of advice; take a breath before responding to criticism. Generally responses driven by emotion in heat of the moment tend to become an incoherent, barely readable mess like the above.

    It may have been an idea to approach SEJ directly and ask that the link is changed to the Diesel contest page or removed, explaining why, rather than ranting in a comment.

    • Carol @NYCityMama

      Excuse me Mark if my response sounded like a “rant” to you, often times when people disagree with a counter argument that is exactly what it is labeled. I, on the other hand, think it makes complete sense. Had the author done more than just google the word “stupid” and come up with my post, had they taken the time to actually read the post, and then taken the extra effort to link Diesel directly themselves, as opposed to my blog, had they demonstrated due diligence, then well, we wouldn’t be hearing accusing people of “ranting”, now would we?

      To note, despite my my not being on board with how they handled this particular usage of example, I am neither ranting, nor lacking in breath. I don’t see anything wrong with leaving a public comment, if anything, to those less confused by my “barely readable rant” as you call it, let it serve as an example of what happens when experts fail to research carefully before passing on their advice.

      • Ann Smarty

        Disagreeing and even ranting is perfectly fine here as long as it doesn’t offend anyone.

        When reading Carol’s comment, I for one thought it was very well-put, I didn’t think it was a mess.

        To be clear, I am fine with changing the link and /or anchor text. Just post here (or email me at asmarty (at) blueglass.com) what it should link to.

        An SEO in me is saying that a link with “stupid” in anchor text from the powerful blog like ours is better than no link at all – but that’s for you to decide:)


    Great Post! What is the best time frame for a contest? I’ve seen large corporate contests last 3 months but what about a start-up or a small to medium business with a shallow following? Is 180 days to long?

  • Scott

    We have thought about doing a few contents in 2011. This is a great set of tips. Thank you!

  • Info

    Great tips but I have yet to figure out why people don’t read the “eligibility rules” before they enter. LOL

    • Scott Cowley

      Good point, especially for international companies that don’t want to spend enormous shipping costs for a low-value prize.

  • Michael Real

    I had seen a contest run by a popular blog that gives a prize not all people can have and expect those people that cannot have it to join the contest.

  • Dainis Graveris

    I am just launching my own contest actually – I still try to understand how to market it to get a lot of responses, while I enjoy the rules you need to avoid, still just avoiding those points will not get you far – even that contest promotion article didn’t answer clearly to question, how to promote contest, few good tips though.

    In my opinion..it depends from community..hugely from social media networks, interaction and of course blog popularity. While I am trying to understand my mistake, when for 6000$ worth prizes i am just getting like 100 retweets and 50 comments, I am again and again understanding that promoting is huge art.

    It’s the same marketing even if you don’t sell anything. Ah sorry, I am probably repeating myself – you mentioned building community and not promoting enough as problems, but yes, there is no short term answer to it, loyal and responsive people comes by time..and it’s so hard to get them..so easy to loose.

    I really enjoyed your article, made me thinking what I did or didn’t do! Thanks for great reading!

    • Mazakaro

      Ya Dainis it depends the community, target and blog popularity.
      But id depends mostly to marketing strategy

  • Mediahuset Nova

    Thanks for the post…

    its really nice???