Competitions on blogs: who’s the real winner?

Blog Competitions and Prizes At 6.40pm last night, I logged on to Twitter, to see if anything interesting had happened while I was doing the bedtime routine.

What struck me was how many of the recent Tweets related to competitions. Scrolling down to see just two hours worth of Tweets, I saw posts to win cupcakes, tickets to a business networking event, some sleep-related kit, a tricycle, a BlackBerry Curve, some kids’ glasses and a selection of personalised baby gift boxes. Not to mention my absolute favourite: LASER EYE SURGERY. Cos that’s just the sort of thing I want to enter a competition to win from a random stranger on the Internet.

It got me wondering though: who wins when blogs run competitions?

I’m not sure it’s the reader. For every person who wins a prize, there must be a lot of people like me who just feel a bit irritated at constantly being told to visit this site to win that prize, or to RT (re-tweet) the link and follow the blog and name my second child Horace (just kidding) for extra entries. You know what? It’s a £15 box of cupcakes – I’d rather nip to Waitrose and buy my own, thanks.

I’m not sure bloggers really benefit from competitions, either. I recently wrote about a blog that was promoting a £400 competition prize – and the link received 20 clicks from the UK. If you think about what goes into arranging a competition: devising the rules, writing the blog post, setting up the link from their blog to their website, handling the entries and selecting a winner – I’m not sure those 20 clicks justified the effort for the blogger (or the brand providing the prize). More importantly, the contest didn't score the blog a single new subscriber or Twitter follower. So what's the point?

Interestingly, after I’d posted about the competition, the blogger went on to post the link on a specific website where it immediately attracted hundreds of entries from people who trawl the internet looking for competitions and freebies. However, I’m just not convinced this constitutes success either: virtually every one of those entries will be a ‘click and run’ from someone who entered the competition and is already looking for the next contest to enter.

Ultimately, I’m not sure that a day or two of transient traffic that isn’t especially relevant to your blog or business can ever offset the extra effort involved in dealing with the thousands of incoming emails that are generated when you post a competition link onto certain forums or websites.

In fact, we decided against running competitions on the Great Toy Guide website for just this reason – I don’t think the traffic generated by competitions is ‘sticky’ enough (this is web speak for visitors who don’t stick around) to justify the effort involved in putting most competitions together.

I'll freely admit I'm not an expert, and I'd never say 'never' to running a competition, but I do think bloggers should think very carefully about what a competition does for them before agreeing to get involved – what do you want to get out of a competition and what information will you need to know whether that's been achieved?


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. Nadin Hill
    16th September 2009 / 9:53 am

    Interesting post – but rather than being a straightforward observation of the way some bloggers run their blogs, the bit that intrigued me was the 4th paragraph where you admit to being irritated by being ‘told’ to visit this site to win or RT a link. Why so?
    You don’t HAVE to – there is no-one standing over you to make sure you do! If you don’t want to enter the competition, simple- don’t!
    I run competitions on my blog and as far as I’m concerned, the readers either read it or they don’t. They like the content of the blog or they don’t!
    I do my blog for fun, for me. If I come across something that is relevant to my blog content that I think will interest the other mums who read my blog, I will post it or link to it! It’s not like the reader is paying to read my blog like they would with traditional print media like a magazine. Who loses?
    I was the ‘sleep related’ competition you mention in paragraph 2. My blog is called Time Management Mum ( and it’s about my life as a busy mum of two young children and for readers in the same kind of situation. So something to do with getting extra sleep is very relevant!! I know I am feeling more human since my kids started sleeping through the night!
    I’d be interested in what other readers / bloggers think of this post – I gain extra readers through my competitons, so it’s worth it to me. I can see the results through the number of ‘Followers’ that decide to follow the blog, so the results are visible.
    However Sally, I agree with you that I wouldn’t want to win laser eye surgery from a stranger off the internet! That would be a risk too far! Give me a box of muffins any-day!!

  2. NadinHill
    16th September 2009 / 11:12 am

    Hi Sally
    Don’t worry – I didn’t take your post as a criticism! I just wondered why you (and others) would be irritated by competitions?! I agree – a load of comps doesn’t make a blog, and so I’m glad you find my content interesting!
    As far as the hypothetical Flora competition goes, no amount of entries would get me to wear a T shirt with spread on it!! As a mum of two young ‘uns, I already have plenty of porridge, butter, snot and wee on my t shirts thanks!
    (Disclaimer – I do change regularly!) hehe

  3. 16th September 2009 / 10:14 am

    Hey! Don’t diss the cupcake comps! I’m detirmined to win me one of those babies…
    But yes, I have to agree, I think we’re suffering from a bit of ‘competition overload’ at the moment. I think it’s seen as ‘the thing to do’.
    It’s fine to run competitions if you want – but you’re right, you need to be very clear at what you hope to achieve by running them. Just for a bit of fun? Brilliant! But competitions don’t make a blog. No amount of tempting giveaways are going to make up for bad or boring content. I would rather gain readers by writing well then trying to ‘win’ people over by giving them free stuff and encouraging them to endlessly promote my site.
    But that’s just me…
    Most competitions I come across seem to be won by people I know are regular readers of the site in question. Which again, isn’t a bad thing, as long as it’s recognised for what it is – a bit of a giveaway between friends. Not a hard-hitting marketing campaign.

  4. 16th September 2009 / 10:23 am

    I have to say I don’t mind winning things in comps, especially if it is a spa weekend! But agreed that it is lots of work and the payoff questionable.

  5. Sally
    16th September 2009 / 10:40 am

    @Nadine – yes, you’re absolutely right that nobody makes you enter a competition. Perhaps I should have made that clearer. But I’m not saying “all competitions are bad” or “blogs shouldn’t run competitions”.
    I suppose I’d have 2 questions before running any competition on a blog:
    First, does this competition differentiate my blog? There are lots of competitions around, sometimes running on multiple sites, so I’d want a contest that resonated very clearly with my blog’s content and audience.
    Second, and perhaps a bigger question, is whether it will truly build my audience – I do wonder how many of the people who are asked to ‘follow’ a blog to get an entry into a competition REALLY follow that blog, in the sense of reading it regularly? Are increases in readership sustained over time? Do comments and engagement increase in proportion with those extra subscribers? So if you gain 10% more subscribers through competitions, are you also seeing a 10% increase in engagement?
    I just think bloggers need to go into competitions with their eyes WIDE open, and not simply assume that running every competition will always be the best thing for their blog and their readers.
    @Josie – let’s get real. Cupcakes are just buns with better marketing.
    @Susanna – agreed, I wouldn’t turn down a spa weekend about now!

  6. Sally
    16th September 2009 / 10:44 am

    Sorry Nadine, I just wanted to add:
    I read your blog regularly because I enjoy the content – this post absolutely isn’t a cricisim of your blog, which I recommend to EVERY working Mum.
    I sort of just don’t like being asked to subscribe to your blog or advertise your blog on Twitter to enter a competition. It’s a bit like Flora running a contest and saying if I agree to wear a Flora T-shirt for a day, I get two entries. Except I wanted to wear my Lou Reed T-shirt, thanks. (this analogy comes courtesy of Bad Analogies R Us)

  7. 16th September 2009 / 11:46 am

    Looking at the blogs out there I think some differentiation is emerging. Some are much more geared towards reviews and competitions while others are more about writing and creativity. In my head I can list a number which I think fit under each category. I’ve entered one competition but I had to follow the blog first which I resent unless I value it as a blog I want to visit regularly. I tend to stay away from the competitions and I certainly couldn’t be bothered to set up and organise and run one. I’m not massively into freebies as there’s enough junk in my house as there is (although a free double buggy would be good in a few months time). I can understand why people want to use competitions to drive traffic to their site and they probably enjoy running them. Sometimes it’s a good partnership between a mummy blogger and a start-up mumpreneur. I’ve definitely noticed a few people winning their friends’ competitions which must be a bit annoying for other entrants. But I think there’s enough room for the different types of blogs out there and people get different things out of blogging.

  8. Sally
    16th September 2009 / 1:25 pm

    @Nadine – I think I just use Twitter for chat and connections (I know, get me) and I suppose I feel irritated when sometimes it’s over-run with what are really ads for blogs and competitions. Also, is there a secret to getting kids to eat porridge? Flea looks at me like I’m trying to poison her with cement whenever I offer it to her.
    @Whistlejacket – completely agreed (except for the bit about the double buggy – my baby pushing days are done!)

  9. Liz (LivingwithKids)
    16th September 2009 / 4:21 pm

    I’ve recently decided to limit the number of comps I run on LivingwithKids to one or two a month (but they have to be really special) and also introduce a minimum prize value of £150 in an effort to generate ‘sticky’ traffic and cut down on the ‘click and runs’. While I’ll continue to share opps that I’m given, I’ve decided to be much more discerning in which competitions I’m agreeing to for many of the reasons previously discussed. At the end of the day, it’s sticky content that drives traffic.
    However, having said all that, I’m not going to criticise anyone who chooses to run a competition on their blog every day if they want to. Whatever gets you through the night.

  10. 16th September 2009 / 4:35 pm

    A very interesting debate. I personally haven’t entered any of the blog competitions. I usually only have a few rushed moments to catch up with Twitter anyway, so tend to flick past these ‘tweets’. I’m hopelessly unlucky in competitions anyway, so it would only be a waste of time entering. I’m sure this discussion will run and run…well done for kicking up the dust a little!

  11. 16th September 2009 / 4:35 pm

    I’ve decided to stop entering competitions full stop. I think I’m naturally over optimistic and immediately become convinced I am bound to win (even the lottery which I enter annually) – I then stomp around the house for at least an hour being annoyed that my prize was ‘stolen’ from me. For that reason I might end up boycotting the blog out of a misplaced sense of injustice…
    Having said that, anyone offering VW camper vans or tickets to Strictly and I’m in.

  12. 16th September 2009 / 8:32 pm

    I have much the same thought about free things with magazines….how many umbrellas, odd-coloured lipsticks and notebooks does a person need? Doesn’t stop me buying them though [blush]

  13. Nadine Hill
    16th September 2009 / 10:19 pm

    …Actually ladies, about the free make up purses. They can be a God send if you have ‘stock’ of them! Here is a good life management tip…
    Just stash those free purses in a drawer because when you have a day when you need a major de-clutter, they come in so handy. I have used the free purses for:
    1. Keeping the kids rogue crayons in, in the back of the car. (when you go to Pizza Hut and other family restaurants they often give out small packs of crayons when you are seated). These crayons always get brought into the car but then stay there cluttering up the back seat. The free purse keeps them tidy.
    2. When you go on holiday, just take an extra ‘free purse’ to keep your sun lotion bottle in. The bottle inevitably gets greasy as you use it and storing it in one of those purses stops the grease from getting on your book / iPod in your beach bag.
    3. When your daughter wants to play ‘grown up’ and muck about with make up, it’s easy to grab a free purse, take some of your old crap make up to put in and pull together a little ‘just like mum’ kit which stops her taking your good make up!
    4. Because I’m potty training I also find it useful to keep a couple of Pull Ups in a free make up purse which then goes into my regular handbag, but keeps them separate from my other stuff and easy to grab when I need. It saves me from lugging round a large nappy bag now I’m almost out of that stage!
    …..I could go on forever but do save these little purses. You never know when you will need one! (the free umbrellas are another story – they create clutter!)

  14. Sally
    16th September 2009 / 9:35 pm

    @Liz – some good points, and I think it’s interesting about a minimum prize value – which of course magazines do all the time. Might be a good approach for blogs, too?
    @HotCrossMum – Oh, I *live* to kick up the dust 😉
    @Dawn – I thought it was just me who did that! I rarely enter contests but if I do, I just sort of assume I’m going to win. Also: please don’t enter that VW van contest, it’ll only lessen my chances…
    @Domestic Goddesque – free make-up purses – so many flippin’ make-up purses.Who needs ’em?

  15. 16th September 2009 / 10:11 pm

    Some of the competitions out there are very annoying, especially the kind that want you to advertise their blog, follow them and link to them – that is the kind of thing which I find disingenuous. I also get really annoyed by people who change the rules after the competition has closed. And don’t get me started on the ‘Wow, I just happened to draw my very best internet chummy, how miraculous’ – people. Use a random generator if you don’t want to look like you’re handing the swag to your mates. Gosh, I have more of an opinion on this than I thought I did 🙂

  16. Linda
    16th September 2009 / 10:20 pm

    I think there is a difference and that a competition on The Great Toy Guide would be more “acceptable” if that is the right word than a badly targeted/marketed competition on a seemingly random blog.
    At, we have had offers of a few toys and some tickets to events/attractions but I have said we prefer review tickets or politely turned them down. Just too much work for a new blog tying to find its feet and prefer to build readership through strength of content. Not currently doing giveaways either tho need to edit site to reflect this.

  17. 17th September 2009 / 6:56 pm

    Sally – don’t worry, I have already NOT won a VW camper van on seven separate occasions this year. I don’t see this pattern altering any time soon.

  18. Sally
    17th September 2009 / 11:38 pm

    @Natalie – thanks for commenting, you make some great points. Yes, that’s a very good point about the field of version – the following/tweeting can exclude a lot of people.
    I’ve noticed a couple of people commenting about the issue of who wins prizes and there is perhaps an argument there needs to be greater transparency in this process – is there a better way to choose a winner, does anyone know?

  19. 25th September 2009 / 3:44 am

    Wow I knew thre was a lot of opinion on this and I am so glad to hear it on here. I don’t mind at all when blogs have a contest but also have great regular content. That is, as long as they simply ask that you post a comment about the product or why you would like it and not ask me to give them my next child or an ovary or something to enter. I think that driving traffic that way is sort of silly, as you said. I am new to blogging but I review a lot of products on other sites so I have offered on my blog to review and give away appropriate content products but really I am bigger on provding the review if it is something really good! Nothing yet so maybe I will just stick to reviewing on other sites…who knows! Anyway I do also like it when people use that site to pull a number. At least you hope they can’t pick their friends! Great post!

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