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Ask the Readers: What is the Value of Online Contests?

online contestsContests are widely regarded as really good ways to increase your online engagement.

They come in all shapes and sizes – from the massively detailed and logistically challenging Great Online Marketing Scavenger Hunts – to the quick and dirty book giveaways and random draws you so often see around the blogosphere.

Likewise, there are all sorts of reasons that you may want to run a contest, from increasing social media engagement to teaching new skills and a whole world of options in between.

Now, some online contests perform better than others, and measuring that performance means knowing what your goals are and how much time and energy you’re willing to commit!

If you’re looking for a quick bump in your blog post engagement – then a simple giveaway can be very effective.

Social media not giving you what you want? Facebook contests, Twitter contests, and Pin it to Win it contests have been around almost as long as their respective social media homes.

Traffic down? A guest posting or other content-centered contest is a great way to see your numbers jump up.

At Firepole, we run at least two online contests a year – the annual guest posting contest in January, and the Great Online Marketing Scavenger Hunt in March – and we always find these to be great ways to deliver value to our audience. Less frequent for us is the one-off contest, where we have something to give away to a lucky commenter – although we have used that technique in the past, like when we were re-launching our podcast.

Whatever type of contest you run, it’s important to have clear goals about what you’re hoping to achieve, and the metrics to see whether or not you reached those goals – whether it’s comment counts, social media shares or backlinks.

And so this month’s ask the readers is about contests.

Do you participate in online contests? Why or why not?

If you’re a blogger yourself – do you run contests? What works best for YOUR audience?

About Megan Dougherty

Megan Dougherty is an alumnus of Mirasee and is passionate about online education, small business and making a difference in the world. You can find out what she's up to and how side-hustles will take over the world at Follow her on Twitter at @MeganTwoCents.


  1. Jim Bessey | SoWrite.Us ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Wow, the reader responses here are VERY interesting to me!

    My website has been hosting writing contests for over a year now, with fairly strong response. These contests DO require entrants to perform certain tasks in order to enter, so they do indeed fit the criteria commentators have outlined as objectionable.

    We have, however, had increasingly stronger engagement as these competitions progressed. Our last contest was a lively hailstorm of comment-replies — running just short of FIVE HUNDRED replies (not individual entries) by the deadline.

    The comments by thoughtful readers here give me some really helpful insights into potential pitfalls to this model. I’m so glad I took the time to read this post and the comment replies, Megan. Thanks!

  2. Wendy says:

    It totally depends on the audience. When I was running a cooking blog, people loved my book giveaways (which I started doing because I simply had too many books sent to me by publishers for review, and even I have to draw the line at how many cookbooks I keep). Another blog I follow is a digital scrapbooking blog and they feature designers and give away a store credit. It’s a key feature of their site. Do I enter random contests? No, but if it’s a neat product, I might comment to win or something.

  3. Carolynne says:

    I am not really into contests but, I did start the scavenger hunt mostly because I knew there were things I could learn and I did. I started but, found that I could not keep up with it and doing what needed to be done for ABM. Too distracting! I am not competitive so games and competitions don’t usually attract me.

  4. Corey Pemberton ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’ve come across plenty of contests that sounded cool, but I’ve never gotten around to entering them. I think the most important reason is a lack of time; I’m trying to pare down on information overload as it is and focus on taking action.

    I do think it’s a cool idea to run contests where people are already motivated to participate. Like with your guest posting contest, a lot of readers already want to contribute guest posts. Making a contest out of it is a smart way to raise the stakes and get the best possible content.

  5. Like some of the previous commenters, I too have little time for contests unless I can see some personal benefit. The one exception is the Online Marketing Scavenger Hunt, because EVERYONE wins. Whatever score you get, you learn so much along the way that it’s always worth it. And it’s a fun way to learn and an incentive to do some things that are scary or normally too much trouble. But I know it’s a lot of work to run it ,so thanks very much!

  6. Marcy McKay says:

    I rarely participate in online contests. I’m trying to find a literary agent for my novel, get my website I’m creating thru Danny up and running, work, family….not enough value for the investment of time it takes. Probably not what you wanted to hear, Megan, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  7. Katharine ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I am one of those who normally hates contests. I made the quality decision to continue with Firepole because of the content, in spite of the contests. During the Scavenger Hunt, I just waited; none of it made sense to me. The one contest I actually won here,
    I actually was only mildly aware of a contest and only responded from my heart because I love this place. I was so shocked when I won and never dreamed I’d be in the running. Hmm.
    I do realize, however, that it takes all types to make a world, and contests seem to boost stats, if that’s the goal…
    And I have stooped to running a teensy contest, once, to help me name my product, which was quite successful, but there was no prize except the knowing, “She chose my entry!” and there never was a promised prize… folks just like winning, I guess, like any child who wants to be first in line, you don’t really get anything but who cares? I WON!…
    Maybe there’s more to it that I fail to see?

  8. My time at the computer is far too long as it is without doing contests. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t like fun. I do. And I am competitive. What I must focus on is my writing and its marketing. Doing others’ contests just doesn’t figure in that.
    That being said, I must commend Firepole for all the helpful things I find here. While I rarely take the time to comment, I’m reading (and applying) what is applicable to my situation and I appreciate your efforts to answer so many readers’ questions.

  9. Debra says:

    I have participated in some online contests, but not a lot. I have to really WANT what they are offering, and really LIKE the folks running the blog. I’m the kind of person that literally never buys a lottery ticket. I consider online contests similar, except that I have to spend my time and effort to enter, instead of money.

    1. Debra says:

      I have to say this probably varies quite a lot, depending on your audience. There are some non-business blogs that I follow, and one of them has used contests a LOT, and was very successful with them. Her audience really enjoyed participating in her contests, and she used that to really boost her exposure and traffic. She reached over 1 million page views in less than 2 years from starting her website (with no previous internet experience). So it works very well for some folks.

      1. Graciela says:

        Personally my time is too precious unless a friend asks me to vote for them in something, then it has to be super easy or I will not do it. If it takes me more than 3 minutes to figure out…no vote.
        But I have been noticing KUSC doing some interesting things for a radio station to get traffic on Facebook. Requests and voting for favorite composers has built their traffic way up! I just make my annual contribution to the station and let all the other people vote and make requests. Although I do listen for the results.

  10. Sherry says:

    I rarely participate in online contests, especially if they are complicated. For instance, today a contest was on my timeline and I was asked to like, share, and tag five friends, then comment ‘”done”. That’s way too much trouble for something that was kinda interesting to me but not a biggie. Also, in the past if I’ve gone to a site and see no obvious reference to it at once, I am annoyed and don’t even try to participate.

    1. marilynctaylor says:

      Heavens, no! It’s hard enough to keep focused on the most important stuff. I have to Just Say No to all the tons of intriguing stuff out there.

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