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June 3, 2010

Internet Marketing Contest: Lessons We Learned

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Alternate title: How to Do It Better Next Time

This week we opened up voting for the Small Biz Discovery Contest and we thought it was a good time to talk about mistakes we may have made in holding this contest and places we plan to improve in the future.

here for the learning revolution poster

In the past we’ve held contests that asked people to donate SEO services to charity organizations, but in the final analysis, those contests may have had too many requirements and been too complicated to gain any significant level of participation. Major props to those who waded through the complicated rules and came out on the other side with really great projects that helped deserving non-profit organizations. We realize that these participants went above and beyond, and we couldn’t expect anyone else to do as much in the future.

So when it came time to plan this year’s contest, it was important to us that we make improvements to the format, the requirements, and the process. With much brainstorming and planning, we announced a new contest with more realistic expectations, better opportunities for participation, and the same amazing prizes. The Small Biz Discovery Contest was born. So how did we get here and where do we still see room for improvement? What lessons can be taken away from this experiment experience that can be applied to any contest being planned by us or others now and in the future?

Contest Timeline

We knew we wanted the grand prize to be a pass to SES San Francisco in August, so we built the timeline around that fact. We figured the winner would want to know they had the ticket a month before the show so they could make any necessary arrangements for travel and hotel and wrap their head around the fact they were going to San Francisco. So, we had to announce the winners in July. Since we had decided that a voting system was going to help determine the winners, we figured the voting would happen in June. So, to allow ample time for people to write article entries and send them in, we accepted entries for the full month of May.

Now, Susan’s gut feeling is that we made the entry period too long. Rather than four weeks, we may have seen a better response with a two-week entry period. Other than one submission we received before the contest had even officially begun, we received all the articles in the last week or so of the entry period. I should have known better, since I’m living proof — people work on deadlines. If the deadline’s not pressing, it’s not going to get done. By giving people a month to submit articles, we were giving them plenty of time to forget about it altogether. Next time the entry period will be shorter.

Prizes

I may be biased, but I think our prizes are the cat’s pajamas. The grand prize alone is worth $3,240 dollars and hours of networking and education. SES San Francisco is the biggest of the search conferences (meaning first-class networking with the search community) and the presentations always live up to my expectations for innovation and expertise. It’s awesome for getting a base education in Internet Marketing which is key for a small business owner. Plus each category has a runner-up prize: a seat in our SEO training course. And this time around we added a prize for voters, which we hope will attract participation in the voting process. On this front, I can’t think of a juicier prize with this much value for the contest audience, so if you see something I’ve overlooked, I’d love to hear it.

Finding It

Locating information about the contest was an area where we were lacking. If you came to BruceClay.com to read about the contest rules, prizes and deadlines, there was nothing on the home page that would direct you to the right page on the site. The contest was highlighted in the blog, but once those posts got pushed from the blog’s front page, readers would be left to dig through the archives. The contest was promoted in several of our last newsletters, but those are often deleted by recipients after first reading and thus can’t be referred to down the line. So basically, unless you consulted a search engine or knew the URL you needed on the site, you probably weren’t going to be reading about the contest. Next time we plan to feature contests and links to the contest rules more prominently throughout the site, including on the home page, with graphics and calls to action.

Finding Out About It

This is probably the area where we stand to grow the most. We obviously need to talk about the contest on our own site more, but it’s a network of supporters that really spreads the word. Lisa Barone reached out after hearing about the contest so that she could share it with readers at Small Biz Trends. We should have been doing the reaching out, asking others who we’ve supported in the past if they could share the contest with their networks. I suppose I was exhibiting a typical shortcoming of mine. I have a resistance to self-promotion and asking favors. Good traits for a marketer, no?

I’m finding some lessons are making themselves known on their own, but since we’re in the research and analysis mode, how do you go about getting the word out?


Thanks for sharing your lessons with me, and for listening while I share ours. And while we’re in the learning and participation spirit, maybe you’ll take a few minutes to read the articles submitted to the contest and to vote for your favorites. And while you’re at it, tell a friend! ;)

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17 responses to “Internet Marketing Contest: Lessons We Learned”

  1. Dana Lookadoo writes:

    Virginia, I learned about the contest by listening to the podcast via iTunes. Given a packed schedule, vacation and holiday, I learned late. I went to the short url shared and learned it was closed already. I then went to vote, and the voting page was up with placeholders. I wasn’t sure where to go. When I tried to vote, a pop-up asked for name and email address but closed immediately. It was rather confusing.

    However, I did return to vote, but it didn’t appear there was a lot of participation.

    So, suggestion: more lead time, no intermediate voting pages, and don’t hesitate to ask your friends to help spread the word!! Great concept!

  2. Virginia Nussey writes:

    This is exactly the info we need to improve the process. Thanks so much, Dana, for taking the time to give us your input! Hope you’ve gotten a chance to vote now that the voting page is functional :)

  3. Virginia Nussey writes:

    So I’ve done a little digging and it seems that you may have uncovered a bug in our voter drawing pop-up. Are you blocking pop-ups on the browser? Just wondering since we want to get to the bottom of this. Thanks for pointing it out!

    I also wanted to explain the reason we decided on an “intermediate voting page”, or a single page where the voting happens, if that’s what you’re talking about. We thought about having the voting on the individual articles, but if people are only allowed one vote, how would they know if they’ve read all the submissions before voting on the page they’re on. I could see a scenario where I get pointed to one of the entries, read it and decide to give it a vote, but then I click to the next one and decide I’d rather vote for it, but my vote’s already been spent. We thought a single hub page for voting would eliminate that issue. Thoughts? (If you were referring to the place-holders on the voting page, that was just bad planning! No excuse there!)

    On the more lead time issue, that’s an interesting point. It’s funny since Susan thought we might need to shorten the entry period in the future so that deadline pressure reminds people to get on it rather than put it off and forget. Lots to think about!

  4. Kristi Davis writes:

    I heard about it by the iTunes, your RSS feed, and a few other places so I KNEW about it. I even emailed myself out it. I even have two paragraphs typed out. I just kept putting it off and then the timeline was after a holiday weekend and wow, my holiday weekend was busy. :)

    So it was all on me here. I would have loved to go but…. If it was shorter that might have convinced people to write it quickly.

  5. Jan Tincher writes:

    The prize is awesome for internet marketing.

  6. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Okay, so another vote to confirm Susan’s suspicions! Thanks Kristi! :)

  7. Rick @ Private Label Rights Ebook Store writes:

    I had noticed the place holder issue with the voting page as well. I did shot a quick email via support in regards to it.

    It appeared to me to be a slight timing issue where promotions was slightly ahead of development.

    Within a few hours after sending the email I was able to vote. So this could possibly represent the low participation in voting.

    Great you have posted your experience. It is great to be able to educate yourself and us on some of the small things you just don’t think of the first few times around.

    I am just a new follower and was late to get involved in the contest. Hopefully next time around :)

  8. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Thanks, Rick. You nailed it on the timing issue for the voting page. :) And super thanks for your feedback when you saw the problem! It’s nice to have a hand of support while taking baby steps.

  9. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Right?! That’s what I think!

  10. Mike writes:

    Interesting. We also plan to run a competition and glad I found your post. Good advice.

    Thanks

    Mike

  11. Brent Rangen writes:

    “I could see a scenario where I get pointed to one of the entries, read it and decide to give it a vote, but then I click to the next one and decide I’d rather vote for it, but my vote’s already been spent. We thought a single hub page for voting would eliminate that issue. Thoughts?”

    Having an annual contest, what about assigning it a permanent easier to remember URL? contests.bruceclay.com or as a sub folder. Could build up link equity fairly fast and probably dominate SERPs for all “SEO contest” keywords after awhile. I think usability is probably thing to really concentrate on with article voting. Separating it completely might be an idea to look into. Happy Mooonday!

  12. Jennifer writes:

    Thank you for this post. Not only does it help y’all evaluate where you are and what you need to change, it helps the rest of us identify areas we should be focused on.

  13. Joe writes:

    forget the contest…..can I have a date with Virginia?

    LOL

  14. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Thanks, Jennifer! I was hoping it was a win-win situation. :)

  15. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Well, there’s always the awesome SEO party dinners at SES San Fran! ;)

  16. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Thanks, Brent! We decided not to go with a sub-domain because then any link equity wouldn’t filter through to our site. Still, I concede that some further thought should be given to the exact sub-folder we’ve put the contest pages under. There was probably a reason, but I don’t know it off hand. :)

  17. Brent Rangen writes:

    Good one Joe, you might have some competition though! At least it’s not like Twitter there is no way THAT many good looking women are using Twitter =)

    I suppose the sub domain/folder would be acceptable especially if you guys are doing multiple contests per year. Might be easier to promote year round then. I know most people try to avoid sub domains like the swine flu



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