Contests – Why Contests ROCK Social Media and SEO

Contest and Games Revolution on Scoopit

Panda and Customer Friendly

Google’s ongoing campaign to improve the web’s content quality called Panda loves customer engagement. When more people visit your website, stay longer and view more pages the Panda is happy.

This post shares tips to create contests for social media and SEO impact. Visit and contribute to the Contest and Games Revolution on for more tips.

Contests For SEO and Social Impact

A new contest faces three challenges:

  • Awareness.
  • Trust.
  • Curation.

I dislike sweepstakes, random drawings, because they are more regulated. Contests requiring SKILL provide more freedom and value for content marketing, social media and SEO.

Creating Contest Awareness

Awareness has several dimensions including how cool your contests is, the prizes and who is entering or judging. If your contest is new finding high profile judges in your business segment helps create legitimacy and PR. If your prize total is a big number, say $10,000 in cash or equivalent the WOW factor helps increase social shares. If you’ve run the contest before ask for testimonials.

When I was a Director of Ecommerce we created a fiction contest and cash was an important prize, but not most important. Being PUBLISHED was the most important social prize well outranking the cash.

We played up how winners of each runoff week (see below for more about runoffs) would be including in an anthology book. Turns out getting published was a shared dream. Tapping into shared dreams can make your contest go viral.

Creating Trust

People are inherently DISTRUSTING of contests. People start thinking the contest favors YOU, that they can’t win. In our fiction contest I discovered that writers were highly sensitive about (c) copyrights. Seeing that fear I set up the contest so we would LICENSE stories not own them.

I also included personal information – that I am a writer and share fears of my content being stolen (my posts are stolen all the time btw). Changing the way we protected copyrights (and not letting lawyers dictate policy) increased our applications 3x. No idea what will create trust for your contest, but good idea to error in THEIR (those entering) favor in your Terms and Conditions.

Don’t let your lawyers write your terms either. If you are nervous have them REVIEW your terms but then use HUMAN language not lawyerese. Lawyerese will lower response by half and speaking in tongues hurts the rest of your marketing.

NEVER let lawyers dictate an outward facing webpage ever. Keep lawyers in an advisory role where they belong. I read up on contests regs and laws before launching my first one and would advise the same for anyone contemplating taking the law into their own hands.


Contests generate an amazing amount of DATA, input and feedback. We made sure to LISTEN and change things that were confusing or making potential players mad. The more you use THEIR words (previous players or other non-employee advocates) the better you sound.

When great stuff comes in, RESPOND with a non-canned answer. I didn’t set up auto-anything. I confirmed receipt in an email from ME and it was never the same email twice. I also published my email all over the place to help create trust. Contests are PERSONAL things, so be sure to personalize. Use Martin.Smith(at) or something similar so spam bots can’t lift your email and add to your spam.

Contest Sequence

Here is the template we’ve used successfully several times now. These steps are designed for maximum social and SEO impact:

Stage 1: Application
Application is when you announce the contest and have a form applicants can enter by filling out. Your contest may need several weeks for t in order to get word out and most applications will come in before deadline.

Stage 2: Cut Down
Based on published criteria the initial applicants are cut down to a “competition” group. The Competition group is announced and all applicants thanked in some way. Best idea is content on your site somehow as even if an application isn’t selected sharing the application can encourage social linking.

“Profiling” of applicants can be tricky since some content may not be up to par, so you may create a simple badge noting the year and the contest and “contestant” as the label.  Badges don’t commit you to anything, may go viral as contestants help spread the word (by sharing their experience and badge) and helps even non-winners feel appreciated and cared for (very important).

Step 3: Competition (Semi-Finalists Run Off)
Pick 2 to 5 applicants and run them off with social voting determining who goes forward. If you have 100 semi-finalists have voting competitions every 3 days. We had stories voted on for a week and that is too long now. Social is so entrenched a week is now an eternity. Vote for 3 to 4 days and then put up the next group.

Be sure to build in a “Staff Pick” or some other kind of override in case you love something but the mob doesn’t. The Competition stage is where the traffic really comes so make sure the page is in a place you can benefit from the traffic (i.e. embed the poll inside a page on your website).

Step 4: Finalists
Voting will cull semi-finalists down to 3 to 5 as “finalists” (I like “most votes” as the overall criteria because that can keep even dull competitions exciting). If you use “most votes” be sure to create a leaderboard to tally votes. You want contestants just out of the money to continue to push for votes. Also if you have a boring competition where one entry is running away then the run away winner has to worry about how they fit into the “race within the race”.

Determine who from these finalists wins by using a high profile panel of judges. High profile judges give legitimacy and helps get the word out as they may bring their social nets to your contest.

Step 5: Awards & Profiling Winners
Make sure one of your contests outputs is to create profiles on your sites with special badges indicating who won. These profiles become the source of continued social support and they create legitimacy for the contest. If I have a page on YOUR website I am sure to push social to it. This action also moves your closed loop website to User Generated Content “Platform” and believe me you want that (Read Platforms Crush Websites).

One modification cool Social, Mobile and feels like local (SoLoMo) modification is “run off” live after presentation by finalists. Mobile is HUGE in voting especially if you do a live “vote off” so make sure your contest pages look good on mobile.

I use PollDaddy for polls just make sure to select the 2nd to highest security level. You can go all the way to capcha if you think you will be spammed heavily (all contests get spammed). ALSO, remember to embed the poll inside of pages you SEO care about during the competition stage.

Following this contest template helped double traffic at and made our ecommerce team money back in the day. What about you? Do you have favorite ways to run contests? Do you have favorite contests? Share your feedback and we will curate in.

Thanks, Marty

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