5 Essential Steps for Hosting an Online Contest or Sweepstakes

kathryn by Kathryn Hawkins on December 30, 2011
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Hosting a web-based contest, product giveaway, or sweepstakes can generate sales leads and build interest in your brand, but they can be a lot harder to pull off than you might think. Read on to learn how to run a successful online contest.

Choose an in-demand prize. What would you rather win: a Keurig coffeemaker or a $5,000 espresso machine? Chances are, more potential contestants will clamor for the high-end machine — and as a result, you’ll gain many more sales leads offering it up than you would by choosing a more practical product. Giveaways work best when the prize has an aura of luxury: Think HGTV’s Dream Home contest or Disney Parks’ five-day theme park giveaways. If the prize is something most people wouldn’t think twice about buying or enjoying, it won’t generate much excitement.

Work with a lawyer to draft a contract. Sweepstakes contests are more than simply drawing a number and giving something away. Every state in the U.S. has its own set of laws that govern the terms of online sweepstakes and how they can be run. Hire a legal expert experienced in drafting sweepstakes contest rules to help you with the wording for your contestant agreement.

Submit your contest on sweepstakes sites. The problem with sweepstakes contests? Most people don’t want to spread the word, which would reduce their odds of winning. Instead, market the contest online yourself by submitting it to some of the many giveaway sites, such as Online-Sweepstakes.com, About.com Contests and Sweepstakes, and SweepstakesToday.com. Some of these sites may require you to place a reciprocal link to your website in order to get listed, so check out the rules for each site before you submit. You can also entice contestants to spread the word by awarding bonus entries when they share the contest link on Facebook and Twitter.

Consider paying for advertising. In order to reach a broader audience, it may be worthwhile to pay for Facebook and Google keyword advertising to attract contestants in your key demographic. For instance, if you’re giving away a Bugaboo stroller, for instance, set a Facebook ad to go out to women who’ve used the keyword “pregnant” in their profiles.

Be transparent when selecting a winner. People who enter a giveaway want to know that they have a fair shot at winning a prize. If you plan to choose a winner at random, use an online tool designed for just that purpose, such as Random.org (which generates a random number based on the number of contestants), or name-selecting plug-ins, such as And the Winner Is… or Pick Giveaway Winner. If you’re using judges to select a winner based on quality (i.e., for a recipe contest), introduce the judges on your website and explain their selection criteria. Clearly outline how you will select winners on your competition rules page, so that contestants understand what their odds are.

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