Your secret weapon — contests!

Boost website traffic and increase your subscriber base

© 2003 Diane M. Aull

Are you looking to boost traffic to your website? Are you trying to get a subscriber list started for your new e-zine (or trying to build the subscriber list for your existing newsletter)? Have you been running into difficulties accomplishing these goals?

Here’s an idea you may not have thought of. Why not try organizing a contest?

What’s the difference between a contest, a sweepstakes, and a raffle?

Legally, a sweepstakes is a giveaway in which prizes are awarded based on random selection. U.S. law doesn’t allow the sponsor of a sweepstakes to require a purchase for entry.

A contest, on the other hand, involves a test of skill, which could involve such things as a bake-off, writing an essay, selling a certain number of products or completing a scavenger hunt of a website. Additionally, contest organizers may require you to buy a product yourself in order to enter their contest.

A raffle requires you to pay to enter (i.e. purchase a ticket) with the winner being determined by a random drawing. In the U.S., raffles may only be held by non-profit organizations registered with the IRS (such as churches, schools and recognized charities).

And why should you care?

In order to get the biggest "bang for your buck" (and to stay legal), you want to be sure that you’re organizing a contest, not a sweepstakes or raffle. This is because you can require people to do something in order to gain an entry in to your contest to begin with and in order to win any specific prize.

Remember, your goal is to increase traffic to your website and to gain more subscribers for your newsletter. A contest puts leverage to use for you, because you can harness the resources of many people to help you achieve your goals.

Contests involve skill, so they bring out the competitive nature in people. The trick is to get those people competing to see how many signups they can get for your newsletter, or how many visitors they can generate for your website!

So, how do you get started?

To start a contest, first you need prizes.

There are two ways of obtaining prizes. First, you could go out and purchase products (or gift certificates for services) yourself, and offer these as the prizes. It’s a good way to make sure you’ve got the quality and assortment of prizes you want, but it can get expensive.

There’s an easier (and less expensive) way of getting prizes for your contest — get product owners and service providers to donate their products and services to the contest.

Now, why would anyone want to donate their product or service to a contest designed to benefit your website or newsletter?

Actually, you can offer potential donors two benefits:

  • Increased traffic to their own website. When you describe the prizes that are available, you will include a link to their product or service sales page. People who visit your contest page will also visit the donors’ websites in order to find out more about the prizes.

  • Increased sales of their products or services. Many times, people will enter a contest and wait to see if they won a prize. If they don’t win, but have become interested enough in the prizes, they may very well return to the donor’s website to make a purchase. Additionally, if the donor offers additional products or services that aren’t included in the contest, they may find that some contest entrants are interested in and purchase these other items.

If there are specific prizes you would like to offer, you can contact the sellers of those products or services directly and propose this joint venture to them. If you’re a member of a business-related mailing list or forum (and the moderators or owners allow this sort of message), you can post a general message to the membership to solicit donations.

You can also create a donor’s page on your website, in which you invite potential prize donors to contact you if they’re interested in participating. If you do this, be sure to spell out the benefits that they can gain, and any requirements you have for participation.

For instance, some contest organizers require that all prize donors promote the contest on their own website and/or through their own newsletters, in order to drive additional traffic to the contest and "create a buzz."

What kind of prizes should you offer?

Well, that’s up to you. If the prizes can relate in some way to the theme of your website and your newsletter, so much the better. That way, the people who visit and enter your contest will potentially be interested in what your site and newsletter have to offer.

Here’s an idea: write an e-book pertaining to the topic of your website or newsletter. Locate related affiliate programs that you can join, and include links to these programs in the e-book. You can sell this e-book through your site and make money two ways — on the sales of the e-book and again if anyone purchases through the affiliate links in the e-book.

You benefit two ways. The e-book is a valuable prize of interest to your website and newsletter audience (thereby increasing interest in your contest), and if anyone orders through the affiliate links in the e-book, you make additional income!

(If you don’t think you’ve got what it takes to write an e-book, you can hire a ghost writer, or locate an already-written book for which you can negotiate rebranding and resale/giveaway rights.)

So you’ve got prizes. Now what?

Once you’ve got some prizes lined up, create a central contest page, listing all the prizes. Be sure to provide links to the sales pages for each prize.

(Here’s a little hint: if the prize donors have affiliate programs, join them, and make the links to their sites affiliate links. If someone actually purchases their product or service as a result of your contest, you’ll get a bit of affiliate income yourself!)

Now, you could run this as a sweepstakes, but if you really want to get results, you want to organize it as a contest — that is, you want to require people to do something in order to earn prizes. So make sure your central contest page also spells out exactly what they have to do to qualify for each prize or prize level.

For instance, you can award prizes based on the number of new subscribers for your newsletter each contestant refers to you.

Or you can require them to visit the websites of each prize donor and return to your site with the answer to a specific question, which can be found on the donor’s site. The more questions they answer, the more or better prizes they qualify for.

In summary…

Here are the important points to remember:

  • Make sure it’s a contest, not a sweepstakes. Contestants should be required to do something in order to qualify for and win prizes.
  • But don’t make them do too much! You don’t want people to get discouraged and quit, or decide to not enter in the first place, because the contest is "too hard."
  • Get as many prizes as you can. Make sure the prizes are relevant and valuable to your desired site/newsletter audience.
  • Get the prize donors — and the contestants themselves — involved in promoting the contest.
  • Whenever possible, use your own affiliate links to the sales pages of the donated products or services included in the contest.
  • Be sure to collect the e-mail addresses of all contest entrants. At the end of the contest, you can send those who didn’t win "consolation prizes" in the form of discounts or special offers from yourself or the other prize donors.


This article may be reproduced on your website or in your e-zine as long as the content is maintained intact and unchanged (including links) and the following paragraph is included in its entirety, including "live" links:

Copyright © Diane M. Aull, an online consultant for small and mid-sized businesses. For more information about her services, visit NineYards.com or BootstrapSEO. For resources and tools for home based workers, visit Torka's Home for Wayward Girls.

For any other intended use, you must contact me in advance. If you do use this article on your website, I'd love to know about it; please send me the URL!

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