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Do competitions get your site new readers?

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.


  1. Professional competition-doers existed before the web, of course, but I wonder in the cases you mention, why they are doing it, when (presumably) the prizes are books? The speed you outline and the number of competitions being done means that the people would never have time to read their prizes - I assume that the law of averages dicate that they win quite often! This raises the spectre of whether they only enter the comps to sell-on the prizes (eg on Ebay, to someone who might then feature them on their blog as a prize....).

    I don't do competitions on my blog and I don't have many readers. Occasionally I offer to give away unwanted and unsolicited publishers' review copies of books that I receive. Come to think of it, when I do that, I do get people asking for the books whose names I have never seen in the comments- but they usually claim to be "lurkers" on the blog. I don't do these offers very often because as a private individual I can't afford the postage, often more than the book itself cost (even though I didn't pay for it) if the "winner" is from some distant land.

    I took a huge pile to Crimefest, a book festival, earlier this year, and put them on the swaps table. They vanished instantly, but nobody put any swaps of their own in return. Never mind, I was quite relieved as the aim was to get rid of books, not to acquire more (and in fact I did, of course, acquire more during the meeting....)

  2. You're right, of course, Maxine, there were professional competition enterers, and hobbyists before the web, but websites that list competitions make it much quicker to enter a lot of them.

    My impression is the typical amateur who enters 20-30 a day only wins around 1 to 2 a year - I don't know if that counts as quite often.

    I suspect they do sell on unwanted prizes, but I get the impression there are broadly two kinds of people, those who just aim for high value prizes (which makes sense) and those who just enter anything. Sadly, I suspect the 'enter anything' people are less likely to value a prize like this - which for a reader of popular science books I think is quite impressive.

  3. statcounter allows you to label ip addresses so you can (theoretically - doesn't work for some ISPs and doesn't work on Wordpress blogs) flag up those people who came in for the comp and see how many of them stick around.

  4. Yes, you could track the people, etc, but not worth the time or effort in my case. What I do now is to send a round-robin email to our online "loose federation" of people who read similar types of book when I have accumluated enough books to want to give away. (Let me know if you want to be included, Brian!) Of course, that doesn't bring any traffic to my blog so I suppose, from the point of view of your post, Brian, I'm pretty hopeless! Just as well I don't blog for the traffic!

  5. Thanks, Maxine (and thanks for the offer, but I tend to be overwhelmed with books to read).

    I tend only to feature competitions on the Popular Science site rather than my blog, and then only if a publisher (or in this case the Royal Society) is prepared to do the donkey work - it certainly doesn't do any harm, and in this case draws attention to their Science Books prize.

    I think, on the whole, it is worth doing, but it just amazes me how the people do flood in if and when it gets listed on a competitions site. I would never do this myself - but someone always seems to spot them and list them.


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