Using Contests and Giveaways to Boost Website Traffic

Everyone likes gifts and winning something. There is something about the feeling of being faster, stronger, smarter than others, or just singled out from a group to be given something free that?s enticing to all of us and makes us what to come out and play.


Be it a matter of luck or skill or both, there?s hardly ever a matter of contest participants if the prizes and the challenge are right.

The Type of Traffic Contests and Giveaways Bring

Popular contests and giveaways bring quite a traffic boost while the prizes are up for grabs and again when the winners are announced. Constant visitors will be thrilled to join, but a lot of traffic will be made up of new faces on your website.

And these new faces come with their share of contest hunters – the people that only stick around as long as there?s something to win.

While numbers tend to drop after the contest, and the spikes in daily visits do not last, they are still a great way to grow your numbers, reward your devoted followers and get new ones introduced to your products or services.

What Makes a Contest or Giveaway Cool?

First, we have the prizes. It?s not just the value of the prizes that matters. More often than not, their being useful and fun is far more appealing than their price tag.

A 10 dollar book that everyone wants, a funny t-shirt or mug or a subscription to a very popular service or membership site, a relaxing or useful smartphone app are often better ideas than a very prices premium service that none of your users would ever be able to properly make use of.

Then there?s what?s required of participants. It has to be easy enough, while still being challenging. A question that requires them to do research for a few days really won?t do. Remember to keep it fun.

It can still be useful, you could think of a simple 5 question survey that would help you get to know your site visitors better, thus finding out what they are interested. Or you can tap into their creative side to keep things light and enjoyable.

Third and equally important, a contest or giveaway?s popularity depends on your ability to promote it. You might have the most brilliant contest idea, the prizes might be smashing, but if no one knows about your contest, they won?t be a part of it.

Letting your audience know is as important as having the prizes to reward them with. A strong social media community might to wonders to help you spread the word.

Also, searching for websites that promote contests will help you tap into fresh visitor pools. And don?t forget, asking for help spreading the words from partners, readers or fellow site or blog owners also works wonders. People are willing to help if you?re nice to them and muster the courage to ask them to.

Apart from your own efforts to promote the contest or giveaway you’re running, posting it on dedicates sites is very useful. Here’s a list of free sites where you can promote your contest.

Before we go further, here’s a quick action plan to help you run a successful contest:

  1. Decide on the purpose of your contest – boost website traffic, boost social media engagement that would subsequently lead to traffic, engage readers and make them come back more often, reward referrals and so on
  2. Decide on the best time to run the contest – when it’s a contest season (i.e. Christmas, Easter, etc), off-season, on important website celebrations
  3. Decide what type of contest you want – there are many types and you can ask participants to do simple or more complicated tasks, depending on what you want. Step one of this action plan is paramount in determining this thirst step
  4. Think of some cool and desirable prizes – Bonus Tip – if you have several prices, don’t include them all from the start
  5. Start looking for sponsors – to either provide the prizes or pay for them
  6. Think of where an how to promote the contest – social media channels, email blasts, reaching out to fellow bloggers, think time lines as well – how often to repeat the announcement and prompt participants
  7. Get the contest announcement ready, along with social media texts – Tweets, Facebook status update or special contest page if needed.
  8. Be very clear on the rules – you cannot go back on them later on, so make sure they leave room for any unwanted situation, such as spammers or people who try to hack the system
  9. Launch the contest – makes sure you do this at an optimum time – the highest traffic day of the week and highest traffic hour(s) of that chosen day. Bonus tip – Make sure you have no major holidays immediately before or during the contest!
  10. Constantly promote your giveaway – if you just launch the contest and forget about it, so will potential participants.
  11. A few days after the launch – announce the additional prizes, as an extra bonus to the original contest – this will help those still considering their participation to jump in
  12. Keep promoting the contest until the very last moment, making sure you let participants know time is running out.
  13. If an only if the contest is very popular and more prizes are offered by new sponsors – prolong it for a few days; if no one wants to play and you keep extending the deadline, it will look desperate
  14. Announce the winners when you promised you will – try to be as transparent about the process as possible
  15. Keep in touch with both sponsors and winners to make sure they receive their prizes.
  16. Make a point of analyzing participation, traffic and opinions from contestants – it will help when running future contests and giveaways and will be a great way to convince sponsors taking part in your projects is worth it.

What kind of contest or giveaway can you run?

There are plenty of things you can do to pull off a successful contest or giveaway. From sharing travel photos or favorite music, to answering questions or being among the first to take a particular actions, the possibilities are unlimited.

When you decide what you want to reward, you have to next think of how to award the prizes. If you?re thinking of rewarding the first 10 or 20 that do something, than it is easy. If it?s a limited few selected at the end of the contest, then you have several options.

Selecting random winners

If the contest is only supposed to be fun and get a group of people to play, without showing their prowess in a certain field, you can randomly select your winners. The most commonly used way to pick random participants is, a site allowing you to randomly pick numbers from a list.

To keep things transparent, you can actually record the whole process and posted in the winner announcement post as a video.

Picking the best based on their skills

You can of course select the best contest entry, based on some required skills or creativity. You can be the judge of the contest or ask for more people to act as jury. Having more people decide who the winners are makes it look more professional, more objective than having only one person act as jury.

Bonus Contest Type – Group Writing Projects

While not as popular as they used to be a couple of years ago, group writing projects are still very effective ways to give away prizes and mix your traffic boosting efforts with your link building strategy.

Group writing projects require participants to write a blog post or article based on a given theme. It can be a starting phrase or a general theme. They also require the blog entry to mention the group writing project, which means links to your contest announcement and your website.

They mostly work because a lot of bloggers face a writer?s block and need new ideas to write about. A few prizes also help them decide to take part in the project.

If you decide on such a contest, don?t forget the Group Writing Projects blog, a website dedicated to promoting such contests. They will post about it on their website twice – when you announce it and when you announce the winners, and also share it on their social media streams.

Where to Get Contest Prizes?

It?s not hard to convince a site owner that contests and giveaways are a great way to promote their work, get more traffic and possibly more links. The problem are the prizes – finding the money to invest is not always as easy, even if the total value is not earth shattering.

The alternative is to find sponsors for your contests. Think of a few products or services your site users might be interested in and approach the owners, inviting them to sponsor your contest. In return, you will promote their products in high visibility articles – the contest itself and the winners announcements.

Depending on the sponsor, they will want to provide all or some of the prizes. See who?s got what to offer and decide based on what would attract your readers more to join and play their part in the contest.

When to Run Contests?

The occasions are plenty – holidays, anniversaries (of your site or other accomplishments), your birthday, the beginning of spring, low traffic periods because everyone is either too busy or too lazy (this happens during holiday seasons a lot, especially in the summer, when everyone only thinks of their fast approaching vacation).

You can either turn a certain contest or giveaway into a yearly tradition, or just run them any time you feel the boost in traffic is needed.

Examples of successful contests

Here’s an example of a really simple contest run by Darren Rowse, the man behind Problogger, on his photography blog:

It was easy to participate in, and although the prizes were not overwhelmingly numerous – two ebooks for participants to choose from, it got over 1500 responses.

A more complicated contest, with several questions for the participants to answer and other tasks to increase their chances to win is the one ran over at the MCP blog.

While more difficult to take part in, but also offering an interesting prize package, this contest also became quite popular, with over 700 participants.

If you decide to go with Twitter contests, here’s a good and simple example of how to mix it with blog interactions – a Christmas retweet contest by Blogsessive. If you want a sneak peak of other types of Twitter contests, some of them even offering a MacBook every day, read this post.

And for those of you who prefer Facebook, here’s a nice post of some of the best ever Facebook contests and another one focused on airlines only. Keep in mind we’re talking big brands here, so these should be used as inspiration, not as something to measure your results against! But if this was not enough, try to find your inspiration in this post of Facebook contest ideas by AdHound.

My take on contests

I have been using contests over the years on several websites: a business blog, a travel site and a magazine for women. The traffic boosts were interesting, the links I got from group writing projects were quite valuable, but more importantly, some new readers kept coming back, therefore the results were not just short term, they had long run value.

I have noticed the easier you make it to join, the more people will compete, but sometimes, the most interesting, most engaging contests are those where they are required to take their time and think a bit. The extreme – asking them to read all the philosophy books out there to come up with an interesting answer, has a huge potential for failure.

Tim Soulo is the Chief Marketing Officer and Product Advisor at Ahrefs, a leading tool trusted by hundreds of thousands of SEOs and marketers worldwide. His SEO-related data research studies have been cited by media giants, including Inc, TechCrunch, and VentureBeat. He's also a regular speaker at some of the largest industry conferences around the globe, such as PubCon (US), BrightonSEO (UK), and the Digital Marketers Australia Conference (AU).