The Paradox of Blog Contests: A Case Study

Since John’s too busy getting into rock fights with baby pandas and making an absolute goof of himself at Computex in Taiwan, he’s asked me — along with Jane May — to step in with some guest posts. I’m sure he’ll still check in to tell us about his antics and the fine dining he’s experiencing, but in the meantime, you’ve got me and Jane to keep you entertained, informed, and thinking.

Anyways, I recently ran a contest on my blog where I was giving away a free t-shirt from 1234 Pens. Beyond the Rhetoric doesn’t get nearly as much traffic as John Chow dot Com, so I wasn’t expecting a big response. I was quite surprised, though, that I only got three entries. Yes, only three. Contrast this to the 100+ entries that John got for his evil Nintendo Wii contest.

This comparison illustrates at least three key points that separate successful blog contests from ones that aren’t quite so successful.

  • Size of Audience: Currently, John Chow dot Com has in excess of 5000 RSS subscribers. Beyond the Rhetoric has about 40-50. Repeat visitors make up a large part of the traffic to John’s blog, whereas the primary (60%+) source of traffic for my blog is Google. Needless to say, in order to get a lot of hype and attention drawn to your contest, you need a big audience. And then you hope that it gets viral (as it did with John’s Wii contest). If you have a relatively small audience, there really is no point in holding an expensive contest, because you will not get bang for your buck. If you have a large audience, however, contests are great for moving up on certain search terms (like “make money online”).
  • Appeal of the Prize: The Nintendo Wii, despite being out for a solid six months now, is still hard to find in stores. Everyone and their mother, literally, want to get their hands on one. By contrast, a t-shirt from a promotional pens company isn’t quite so highly sought after. In future contests for Beyond the Rhetoric, I intend on giving away more substantial prizes.
  • Ease of Entry: You want it to be easy to enter a contest. Stephen Fung had a contest where he was giving away the world’s smallest USB flash drive. All you had to do was post a comment that made him laugh, and the “best” comment got the prize. If the instructions are too complex, people won’t bother, especially if the prize is “just” a t-shirt.

Yes, my contest wasn’t exactly a success in the traditional sense, but it was a great learning experience for a budding blogger like myself.

On a side note, I’ve taken these learnings and applied them to my new contest where I’m giving away a USB TV tuner. I’ve addressed all three of the issues described above: by mentioning the contest here, I’ve automatically opened the contest to 5000+ RSS subscribers; the USB TV tuner is probably more attractive as a prize than a t-shirt; and I’ve provided three ways to enter instead of just one. Full contest details are here.

This post was guest-blogged by Michael Kwan. He is a freelance writer based out of Vancouver, Canada.

56 thoughts on “The Paradox of Blog Contests: A Case Study”

    1. Alex says:

      ???? Why ??

      1. la bloga says:

        jeje, sorry, is just a welcome to Michael. πŸ˜›

    2. Andy Dang says:

      You weren’t posting for John. Your just advertising your own blog.

      1. It’s one of the perks of guest posting — you can say whatever you want without holding John responsible AND you get a free mention of your own blog. πŸ™‚

        1. Isn’t that what being a guess blogger is about? Blogging about what YOU do, not what the blog owner wants?

          I don’t see no harm here personally.

          ➑ Don

    3. You give away a tshirt? You idiot. You have no idea about Internet marketing and John does. Simple. Your blog is shit anyway. Just because you can write doesnt mean you can run a successful blog. πŸ‘Ώ

  1. Casey says:

    If you are going to run a lot of contests, especially with expensive prizes, you want to make sure you have good traffic and returning readers. In the end, you are spending money in exchange for more traffic and more readers that will stick around.

    1. Kumiko says:

      Definitely. I’m giving away $100 cash just to try and get more traffic!

      1. Ankur says:

        I propagate reviewsMe’s.

        1. Andy Dang says:

          I was rejected by review me

    2. Andy Dang says:

      I also ran a contest. It actually ends tomorrow. And so far I have 3 people who has joined.

      1. I’ve had two entries for mine! Hah!

  2. Matt Jones says:

    The Rich get Richer..

    1. Andy Dang says:

      It’s because people think this way that they give up trying, and therefore, the poor becomes more poor.

  3. Thanks for helping me out Michael!

    1. Michael Kwan says:

      I’m glad to see you got the Adsense working. Good luck. You’ve got a great blog so far.

  4. Jay says:

    So what do you think about a “review my blog contest”, such as the one I’m running at my blog? Writing a review is a bit more involved than leaving a comment, so I suppose the barrier to entry is higher. But $100 is a respectable prize.

    1. I agree with you. The prize must be in relation to the prize.

      1. oops!
        …in relation to the effort.

      2. Andy Dang says:

        I’m trying to build my own brand of shirts. I am also giving away a shirt as the prize. Can’t get more relation than that.

  5. I know what you are talking about. I’m also running a contest(up to $280 in money). But I made some rules that may have been too tough. So, I changed the rules without penalizing the any entries.

    For example, it was open with not limit in entries but it’s now limited to 200 entries after June 1. They need a blog. That was there first. The theme is “200”: 200 entries = 200 words = $200

    I asked for 200 words for the review and now I lessen to 20 words($100) with a lower price. The more words the people write, the bigger the prize($200). It’s fair that way with the effort put in it.

    I also added 5 secondary random prize($10/each) and 3 instant winners($10/each). So, I added $80 more.

    Like you, I’m learning a lot and it’s fun anyway. I do like contest. πŸ˜€

    I’m patient and will get the 200 entries. It’s a “Spread the MIS specification” contest after all.

  6. IGIZMORE says:

    Nintendi Wii hmmmm πŸ˜• , john would have got a bigger audience if he gave away a PS3 . And michael next time you have a contest give away PSP coz they have a huge craze and can do loads of stuff like act as a universal remote and all … check out my site for more details πŸ˜‰

    1. Michael Kwan says:

      You have everything completely backwards. Joe Average is much more interested in the Wii than the PS3. Sales figures don’t lie.

    2. Andy Dang says:

      Does that need two comments?

  7. IGIZMORE says:

    A wii hey πŸ˜• . John would have got more contestants with a ps3 . You micheal can give away PSP coz their is still loads of craze about it . I know coz i write about it πŸ˜› , it can act as a universal remote , game boy emulator , play ps1 games , movies , music and loads more ❗ ❗

    1. Ankur says:

      Does that need two comments? πŸ˜•

  8. Alex says:

    Nice article Michael. I have not done any contests yet, but will keep these tips in mind when I do

  9. You learn fairly fast online. It’s easy to measure the success by the number of entries.

    For a new blogger such as myself what do you feel would be a good contest to consider.

    Obviously exposing my blog is of great importance. I appreciate anyone’s comments.


    1. Ankur says:

      Its all about what you can spend and what type of audience you have.

      1. Thanks for the comment.

        On another note I took down the “favorite this Technorati” link today and now I have no clue where to find it can anyone help?

  10. vik says:

    OH GOSH! I’m seeing “J0HN’s RECOMMENDATION” ads on here again. LO!

  11. Ankur says:

    I want to add one point – Use 😈 ReviewME’s from John chow!

    But seriously, if you are giving away good stuff, dont reviews work great?

    Any second opinions?

    1. Andy Dang says:

      You mean have John review me? Gosh, the $400 is much more expensive than the prize.

  12. Sofcore says:

    Here’s a newbie question… Does one need to already have a certain amount of traffic before running a contest (to generate more traffic)?

    Just thought I’d ask because I have a good contest idea, but I don’t want to waste it.

    Take it easy!

  13. James says:

    Fully agree with the point about traffic. Competitions don’t really help build traffic unlike forums, where you can get ppl to invite more ppl. If you have few ppl who know abt the competition, don’t expect a miracle…..

  14. Pingback: Revenue Blogging
  15. Aaron Cook says:

    Good post Michael.

    “On a side note, I’ve taken these learnings and applied them to my new contest where I’m giving away a USB TV tuner.”

  16. Aaron Cook says:

    Ooops, somehow the rest of my comment didn’t post. 😯

    I meant to add this after your quoted statement…

    And that’s what it’s all about! Learning from what hasn’t worked and making it work the next time. That the simple and time-tested recipe for success and wealth. πŸ™‚

    1. Andy Dang says:

      I say learn what didn’t work from others so I wouldn’t have to make the same mistake myself.

  17. Well, unless its a really amazing prize, I’d suggest giving something away that is strongly related to your site. Unless your blog is about t-shirts or pen companies, I doubt it’ll be a big draw even if you have lots of traffic. I’m currently running a linking contest for a free $15 iTunes Gift Certificate on my site that promotes free stuff on iTunes. There’s a direct link with the topic and its something that the readers want. My main problem has been the entrants not following the basic rule that they need to link to my site in order to enter, something I didn’t expect.

    1. A physical prize restrict more the number of entries than money(PayPal) unless you target only a certain geo market.

      For example, does the iTune certificate work in Canada or valid just in the U.S.

      Me, I targeted blog only for my current contest but giving money made it less restrictive.

      One standard solution for every contest won’t work. Experimentation will be the key.

      “My main problem has been the entrants not following the basic rule”

      I know because on my first contest, the winner did not followed the rule and got $100 instead of $150(bonus of $50). I wanted to fair to the others that did followed it. I even email him but he did not read his email. Still, he was glad. πŸ˜€

  18. I think the prize incentives depend entirely on the viewer audince. A blog review on john chow would certainly be more valuable to some people than the new i-pod. For example on kumiko’s blog, she’s offering neat prizes to anyone who reviews her new domain and judging from the response, everyone is joining the band wagon…

  19. I tried several types of promotion, but I think there are too many promotions at the moment! So it’s tough to get an audience for them! Also, many readers DON’T have blogs, too.


    1. “Also, many readers DON’T have blogs, too.”

      At first, I did not know how many entries I would have but I still set a minimum after a certain day.That’s why I made the rule for getting a minimum of 200 entries(blog).

      So, if a reader knows a blogger(good friend), they could share the prize. One write the mini-review(20 words minimum) for my product and the other post it on the blog.

      I did not do that with my first contest and only got 5-6 entries. The winner still got my $100. The result was good because one company is “looking”, not official yet, into integrating my MIS specification into it’s hard drive based media player.

  20. Get someone famous to talk about your contest — that’s bound to get you more entries (if the priZe is right)! πŸ˜‰

  21. hey folks – all this “make money online” business is a complete waste of time. we should be buying Australian forests


    have a look at this story,23599,21796335-2,00.html

    “farmer paid $1 million for doing nothing at all”

    😯 😯

  22. Mike Panic says:

    Back in March, a month after my blog was launched, I ran a contest to win a 1GB USB flash drive, which was sponsored by another blog I own. The requirement for the contest was simple – sing up for the email newsletter (via feedburner’s email subscription service). Not only did I make it easy to enter the contest, I knew I’d get more readers, as I stated that I would randomly pick a winner after 100 people signed up. In the first 2 days more then 65 people signed up, the last 10 or so took two full weeks. None the less, I was able to finally give it away and get 100+ new people getting my email newsletter via RSS feed, thus increasing my total RSS reader subscriptions.

    Since then, I’ve had less then 5 people unsubscribe from the email list. I will be running another contest shortly, same basic guidelines.

  23. I run contest on my other sites. As was mentioned above, the prize needs to be related to what your site is about. I’ve found this to be most effective over a period of time.

    ➑ Don

  24. Zac Johnson says:

    I run promotional contests all the time on my blog. Cash prizes to top commenters and reviewers. I’m sure you will get a ton more contest entries after this post Michael.

  25. green says:

    Sometimes contests are a big disappointment for me

  26. Michael says:

    contests are sometimes hard to get going, this will help me next time I want to start one.

Comments are closed.