How to Create a Crazy Contest that Will Explode Your Site

December 26, 2007 - Written by Gyutae Park  

dynamiteIf you’ve been following Winning the Web the past couple of weeks, you know that I launched a very successful contest that yielded incredible results for this blog. For those of you that don’t know, I bought a $400 John Chow review to promote a contest for a free John Chow review. The contest was unique in that readers had to unscramble a code released one letter at a time only in the RSS feed. Sounds like too much work? I later added another prize for a John Cow review for all the lazy folks who would rather rely on chance. Needless to say, the contest attracted loads of attention and links. In just 2 weeks, Winning the Web gained over 225 subscribers, 400+ comments, and a 500% increase in traffic. Winning the Web attained huge success through this contest and I’m sure all of you are eager to learn how I did it. Well the wait is over. I’m going to lay everything out in this post including how I did it, what I learned, and how you can apply the same methodology to launch your own contest that will skyrocket your blog to new levels.

I’m going to outline each of the steps I used to plan and launch the contest. Read everything carefully and you’ll have all the tools necessary to achieve great success with your contests. There’s even a bonus contest idea at the end of this post that will help you get started.

1. Establish goals and metrics
First and foremost, you need to establish your goals and the metrics you will use to measure your contest’s effectiveness. What do you want to improve and by how much? The SMART goal setting strategy is essential here. For Winning the Web, my goal was to increase RSS subscriptions by at least 200 and the average comments per post to 25 in 1 month. Sounds too lofty? I didn’t think so. Don’t be afraid to reach high.

2. Set a budget
Next, set a reasonable budget that you can afford. Your contest strategy is going to be wildly different if you have $5,000 to spend than if you only have $5. The amount of money you are willing to spend is going to depend on how risk averse you are. I was willing to spend $1,500 not because I have money lying around but because I knew that the 200 RSS subscribers I could potentially gain were worth much more than what I was spending. Of course, it was a risky decision but I believed in the quality of Winning the Web and the effectiveness of my contest idea. Generally, the more money you are willing to spend, the more options you will have for your contest. However, there are still plenty of promotional ideas you can use without spending a dime.

3. Brainstorm ideas & find a unique idea
Brainstorming is the most important step of the process. You can have a huge budget and big goals, but they’ll get you nowhere without a great idea. For Winning the Web, I really wanted to leverage the John Chow audience to promote the site. What better way to do that than by offering a free $400 John Chow review through a John Chow review? The concept seemed very simple to me and was almost guaranteed to work because most of the people who read John Chow’s reviews are loyal followers who dream of getting reviewed themselves. A perfect match. Adding a John Cow review to the mix would only spark even more interest. Boy, was I right.

The main idea behind the contest was to increase RSS subscriptions by displaying a scrambled code only in the RSS feed. The first person to correctly guess the unscrambled code would then win a John Chow review. I felt that this would spur on readers to subscribe to the feed and to actively participate since a new letter was introduced to the code each day. For the people who thought that this was too much work, I added a drawing for a free John Cow review to a random commentator during the set time frame. This would increase the number of comments on the blog as well. All in all, it was a complete contest that covered all of my goals and was strategically designed to explode my site’s reach and attention.

4. Set a time frame & schedule
After you polish your idea and work out different angles, you need to set a time frame and schedule. If you make your time frame too short, your contest idea won’t gain enough traction to be effective. If you make it too long, people will tend to forget about it. For most large contest launches, I find that a time frame of 1-2 weeks is optimal. Also, you want to develop a schedule for actions you will take through the duration of the contest. For example, in the John Chow contest, I planned every step in the 2 week contest including when I would launch, when I would add the John Cow review, when I would write follow up posts, and when I would release the names of the winners. Be sure you do the same to maximize the effectiveness of your contest.

5. Implement
You have a great idea and a detailed schedule. Now you just have to believe in yourself and take action. You might feel shaky launching a contest that could potentially fail, but if you’re going to do it, do it boldly. The upside is much greater in my view.

6. Spread the word
Let everyone know about your contest. If it is truly unique with an attractive prize, people will come flocking to you from everywhere around the web. Do everything you can to promote the contest. Buy reviews on prominent blogs, inform all the contest blogs, advertise on forums, use social networking sites, tell all of your friends, and generate buzz. Without the proper promotion, your contest will not get the attention it needs. In order to promote the Winning the Web contest, I bought reviews on John Chow and John Cow, I wrote quality posts that got Stumbled and became Hot Topics on Sphinn, I notified all the contest blogs, I launched an advertising campaign with creative banner ads, and I asked friends to blog about it. Promotion is key.

7. Stay on it
Contests are not something you just implement and forget about. You have to monitor the progress of the contest and interact with participants on the regular basis. The contest post at Winning the Web received over 194 comments and I did my best to reply to readers and answer any questions they had.

8. End with a bang
You’ve put so much effort into hyping up your contest so don’t blow it by letting it die when it ends. Email participants thanking them for taking part, dedicate a post to the winner of the contest, write posts detailing the progress of the contest, and provide an analysis of the effectiveness of the contest once it’s over (like this post). If you want to keep the results that you’ve seen during the contest, you want to do everything in you power to keep attention on your site once it’s over.

9. Analyze results
Did you meet your goals? Was your contest successful? Using the goals and metrics you established in step 1, analyze your contest, tweak, and repeat. Contest should be an important component in your marketing toolbox. I know it’s one of my favorites.

Below are some of the results I’ve seen in the John Chow review contest here at Winning the Web. Can you beat my record? I’d like to see all of you try. With some creative thinking, you can all do it!




BONUS – Free crazy contest idea
If you need some help thinking of a great idea for a contest, I’ve included one below. I was hesitant to release this information because I planned on using it for myself, but I just have too much on my plate right now and I’d rather have a reader at Winning the Web take action instead. Let me know how it works outs for you.

  • Best video contest for a readers who can come up with the best videos on why they visit your site. The Share Your Gmail Story inspired this idea and it can work well for your own site if you offer a valuable prize. You’ll then have a collection of viral videos you can use to further promote your site.

I’m looking forward to participating in your contests!

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Posted in Articles, Contests, Internet Marketing
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38 Responses to “How to Create a Crazy Contest that Will Explode Your Site”

Steve McGrath on December 26th, 2007 Subscribed to comments via email

So, each new RSS reader cost you $6.66($1500/225) that’s if they did not unsubscribe after the contest.

I got my own contest right now for free publicity on one of my site for the 10 fastest bloggers. I did spread the word on contest blog(rule 6) but I still got 2 spots left plus the 3 randoms(too late to enter). I had to change the schedule seeing people(rule 4 and 7) were not taking the opportunity. What is so hard in leaving a comment with just your blog url and anchor?

Btw, I did not unsubscribe 😉

DotDriven on December 26th, 2007

I have to admit I liked this contest ;). But even if I didn’t happen to win, I honestly think it was very well done and a great strategy for building winnningtheweb. I admit I hadn’t heard of your blog before the contest but since visiting every day since, I am glad I have. You post a ton of great ideas and tips and I am pretty sure it won’t be long before you are one of the “guru” destinations and people will be using your own contest ideas on your blog lol ;).

Thanks for the breakdown! Looks like it was a great turnout.

Keep it up!

Bruce on December 26th, 2007

I never entered the contest, but thought the idea was great when i first heard it. I even wrote a post about buying your way to A-list status.

Of course the real test will be to see how many of the subscribers continue to stay subscribe now that the contest is over. I’m sure some will leave, but perhaps if you keep enough of them then it will provide a decent ROI.

Alan Johnson on December 26th, 2007

Contests such as this one are indeed a great way to gain new subscribers and the ball is now in your court, since the real challenge will be keeping the subscribers once there is no incentive. And, as usual, content will be the name of the game.

Alan Johnson

ImageGag on December 26th, 2007

Congrats Gyutae on those numbers, especially the RSS subscribers.

I’m slowly losing this “If you build it they will come” mentality. I didn’t realize that even higher prize value contests still have to be heavily promoted.

Thanks for the heads up and for sharing your numbers.

Tyler Cruz on December 27th, 2007

Great post Gyutae, especially the risk talk (you know me and poker…). Now that your ball is rolling though, make sure that you keep it going or you will lose 99% of the momentum…

Free Blog Reviews on December 27th, 2007

That was a great idea and posting your graph charts to back up the claim was really nice as well.

Scott Ross on December 27th, 2007

I loved the article. I did become obsessed with finding the many instances of spelling John Chow as John Cow. There are at least five you might want to fix.

Gyutae Park on December 27th, 2007

Thanks for the feedback guys. I’ll definitely be trying to sustain my current numbers with quality content and more promotional methods.

I actually meant to say Cow in those instances. John Chow and John Cow are 2 different people.

Oussama Messaoud on December 27th, 2007 Subscribed to comments via email

This is totally cool! I just started a competition on my blog, and then I went to read through my RSS reader and found a post from winningtheweb about launching contests. 🙂 Needless to say that I literally jumped to the post and read every single letter of it.
I loved the way you are presenting the results and sharing the experience. Thanks for that!
May I immediately apply point 6 of your article, and use this occasion to promote my just-launched contest ? I’ll daily give 15 EntreCard credits to a random newsletter subscriber of that day.

Money Guru on December 27th, 2007

Contests are always a point of interest for many bloggers. It helps build the initial momentum. Now the actual result will be to retain them. Best of luck and it’s a nice blog you are brewing here.

Jason on December 27th, 2007

Very nice. I’ll probably use that video contest idea. The bigger the prize, the better. I’m sure some video gurus can come up with something cool.

Gyutae Park on December 27th, 2007

@Oussama Messaoud
That’s a great idea. Those entrecard credits are in high demand these days…

@Money Guru
Thanks. I appreciate it.

Sure, I’d love to see how you use the video contest to your advantage.

Nick on December 28th, 2007

Hey Gyu, I’m really curious to know how long this influx of traffic will last now that your contests are over. Please keep us all updated on this!

sven on December 28th, 2007

As long as there are people who ask this question and check back how the contest crowd developed, well there won’t be a big drop I guess 😉
So, I gonna use this place now to post my incredible 1,99 contest here.

Andy on December 28th, 2007

I have one running right now that ends on the 4th. Feel free to hop in.

Oussama Messaoud on December 28th, 2007 Subscribed to comments via email

Your post really inspired me and I am making big changes in my daily EntreCard credits contest in order to try and improve the results. Feel free to have a look at the new contest rules. Any comments are welcome.
And thanks again for the inspiration.

Gyutae Park on January 3rd, 2008

Sure, I’ll keep you updated. Traffic has plateaued a bit compared to the weeks of the contest, but it is definitely a lot higher than it was before.

Hm, interesting contest you have there. $1.99? That’s a start. 🙂

Great contest Andy. I can see that it’s going well for you already.

@Oussama Messaoud
Awesome. I’m glad I could be an inspiration to you. I hope your contest is going well. Those Entrecard points seem to be really popular these days.

Jagat Jyoti Saikia on January 3rd, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

Thanks for sharing in the idea… can u please share your views on stumbleupon… and how to work around it?

David Hong on January 4th, 2008

225 subscribers in 2weeks? wow that’s some improvement. Your alexa graph shows how much traffic the site has received. Did you expect this much traffic when you advertised at

Tinh on February 12th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

Great post, i think it only works with rich blogger as junior or new blogger can not afford a contest

Gyutae Park on February 12th, 2008

Hey Tinh,
Thanks for commenting. That’s simply not true. There are tons of way to get creative and think of great prizes on a small budget. You can provide a service, offer advertising, or get other companies to help you out.

Dr. Teeth on April 17th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

Thats really good info..
I hope to see the same result at my blog contest this month

Armen Shirvanian on October 15th, 2008

Contests that are being created at various places can be thought of almost like internet gatherings, where much activity occurs and the theme of the contest is kept in the group’s mind.

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