Anyone with a website likes to attract new readers, and one popular way of doing this is through a competition. It certainly draws people to the site, but the question is, how many of them are interested in the site itself, and how many simply want to enter the competition and totally ignore the site?
I'd like to share some observations from the Popular Science site, the science book review site I run. We've just started a wonderful competition with the help of the Royal Society. They're offering a copy of every book on the longlist for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books - a total of 13 books. All you have to do to enter is to sign up for the Popular Science newsletter.
The theory is that this gets people along to the site, they sign up for the newsletter and they maybe take a look around. What's fascinating is watching the newsletter signups come in - and how quick the competition entering information circuit is to respond. There are a number of websites run for people who enjoy entering competitions. It was quite clear that, around 6 hours after the competition went live, our little venture was listed on one of these sites.
Usually about one person a day signs up for the newsletter. Suddenly they were flooding in. Around 50 signed up on the first evening, and this rate continued through the next day. This isn't quite as good as it sounds - a fair number were signed up already from previous competitions. Even so, within 24 hours the newsletter had around 100 new subscribers.
The good news is, this does involve some exposure. Occasionally one of those new subscribers will see something that interests them, either on the site or in the newsletter. They'll take a moment to look around and see what's available. But I suspect that this is relatively rare. Most competition enterers (compers for short) absolutely rattle through their entries. Using a competitions website, they can jump to dozens of competitions in a spare half hour. There just isn't time to look at the what they're entering. So the site itself doesn't get much of a look-in. And though the newsletter may get more of a glance, it may well be deleted without reading.
So are competitions worthwhile? Probably. They do draw some attention that sticks. But I wouldn't put a lot of your time (and particularly money) into them, because there's a lot of churn along the way.