KickoffLabs Blog:

Step-by-Step Guide on How To Create & Run Successful Online Contests

By Josh Ledgard

Jun 16th, 2014

This is the 3rd installation of our contest education series, with the goal of helping you create successful contests that drive real results (AND PROFITS) for your business. Highly recommended are Part 1: How To Create Contests That Boost Revenues – 7 KickoffLabs Customer Case Studies & Part 2: The Ultimate Guide To Using Autoresponders For Contests & Sales In our past articles we went over why contests are an effective means for generating leads and increasing sales through an expanded audience… and have learned how to write awesome autoresponse messages to further engage your leads. The objective of this article is to answer the questions: How do I go about creating a high-converting contest? What would I do to make sure I get a large number of contest entries? We’ll break down the most critical steps so you can learn how to achieve monumental contest campaign accomplishments by leveraging marketing best practices. You’ll also get an inside look at some of our customers recent contest triumphs. Lookout for their real metrics to demonstrate how effective contests can really be. We’re confident to have analyzed, dissected and included the most fundamental elements for running contests that convert. And although these tips can be applied to just about any kind of campaign – remember that what works for one business may not work for another. Our advice is to implement these steps and experiment with different ways to find the best strategies for your business.

Step 1: Before the Contest

First things first. Like any other marketing campaign, planning is essential if you don’t want your contest to fail and end up costing more money than you make up in new leads. A well defined strategy can help guarantee contest success, so take the time to document your intended outcome.

When to run a contest?

Contests are a tried-and-true method for growing your business. But when is the best time to run the contest?

a) If you’re just starting out or are simply unhappy with your number of current customers, and want to generate a buzz to extend your audience.

b) If you already have a large audience and plenty of visitors to your site, but want to drive more traffic and make instant sales.

c) For any business looking to generate leads by growing their audience, now is a great time to run a contest.

What kind of campaign to run?

Will you be running a contest? Where people compete for a prize. A giveaway? Where people enter their information for the chance to win. Usually by random drawing. Or a promotion? Where there are prizes for everyone who signs up. As you think through different campaign types, you must think in terms of your customers.

How much work should they put in to enter the contest?

We’ve seen that the best performing “contests” tend to have less steps to enter. The lower barrier to entry, the more people will likely sign up. So weigh out the pros and cons of each before moving any further.

For the sake of argument, we’ll be using the terms contest, promotion and giveaway interchangeably. Please note that we are talking about the same kind of marketing campaign!

Determine a goal

What are your immediate and post-contest business goals? Starting off with a clear objective will help establish the overall contest strategy.

Ask yourself, do you specifically want to:

  • grow your subscriber list?
  • increase social engagement on Facebook & Twitter?
  • generate immediate sales through coupons and incentives?
  • all of the above?

You’ll also want to keep your audience in mind by answering the questions:

  • Who is your ideal contest entry?
  • What are they going to be interested in?

As you are outlining your goals, identify your KPI’s (key performance indicators) as well. You’ll be using these later to measure your contest success. Some example KPI’s would be an increase in social following, more traffic to your site, or a lift in sales. If you don’t write anything down, you’ll lose the advantage of analyzing and comparing results with the original goal.

Behind the Scenes

Don’t have an action plan? Not to worry! Even if you don’t know exactly what your objective is, contests will help build brand awareness… which in itself is priceless.Take for example, our customer Startup Pirates. They expressed to us in an email:

“We didn’t have clear goals because it was our first try with a contest, but it definitely exceeded our expectations… especially with our increase in twitter followers. We knew it wasn’t enough just to set up the contest page and wait for subscribers. Our only plan was to spread the word, and not just by posting it to Facebook either. You need to understand your audience and know where they are. Engage and try to publish your offer there. Make sure that what you are offering is valuable to them.”


-Rafael, Startup Pirates

By the end of the promotion, Startup Pirates were boasting a 30.9% overall conversion rate, had received 361 quality leads, and had gotten detailed insights about their newly gained audience.

I’d like to emphasize what was highlighted in our 1st contest education series post: It’s not about the number of signups. The real value comes from generating buzz, driving potential customers to discover their brand and honing in on their targeted customer segment. NOTE: The rest of the items in this list are MEANINGLESS if you don’t get the next 2 tips right: Strive to come up with a great PRIZE and incentive or you will most likely not see any measurable success. Fact of the matter is, amazing prizes and incentives are what produce amazing contests.

What’s the prize?

This is the first most important piece of advice in our checklist… … What will you be rewarding your winner(s)?

a) Be creative and try to come up with a prize that excites your target audience. Whatever prize your company decides on; make it memorable and desirable to potential leads. It doesn’t have to be a million dollar prize. Just be sure that it’s worth a lot more than the effort of signing up and sharing with friends. Our advice is to resist giving away prizes that are irrelevant to your business — looking at you free iPad and gift card giveaways! Sure you’ll probably get a ton of signups, but are they going to be the best leads for your business? Not likely. Offering a prize that is related to your industry and generates real enthusiasm is proven to increase targeted contest entries.

b) Make your contest more attractive by giving away multiple, tiered prizes — 1st, 2nd, 3rd place or runner-up rewards. Try giving away one prize at random and another to the person with the most signup referrals. People will feel greater odds of winning and can potentially boost your contest engagement.

What about the incentive?

The second most important piece of advice… There has been a huge culture shift and people have become more and more impatient. If you want people to share your contest, offering an incentive for customer instant gratification is a must. People want to know what’s in it for them NOW. And not just any kind of incentive, it has to be one that inspires people to share and is of value to them. Be the first to give something of value. Offer up a digital download to an ebook or a discount code for their next purchase. All of your contest participants should receive the incentive. Ensure the incentive is related to your industry or niche. When setting up incentives, I’m always reminded of this helpful quote by Bryan Eisenberg:

“For you to achieve your goals, visitors must first achieve theirs” Click here to tweet this advice twitter bird blue 32

Behind the Scenes

Co-Ed Supply recently ran a contest using the KickoffLabs marketing platform. Offering a highly desired prize package, they were able to get exceptional results. The prize itself has a strong appeal and speaks directly to their target audience. Although they asked us to keep their signup numbers private (just too juicy!)… Using our exclusive Viral Boost feature, Co-Ed Supply garnered a whopping 138% viral boost. This means that each lead conversion brought in an additional average of 1.5 more signups. In plain english: people were sharing like crazy!

coedsupply viral boost

“Give them a reason to share. If you give them value for telling their friend about your brand, they will take on the role of brand advocate for you and tell your story in a more authentic way. “ Marissa-CoEdSupply

– Marissa, Co-Ed Supply

Set a budget

How much money is going to be dedicated to the contest campaign? How much are the contest prizes going to cost your business? What about expenses for acquiring leads via PPC ads? You’ll want to calculate all of this ahead of time so you know how much the contest is going to cost you and aren’t over-limit. Use this information later to determine your cost per lead. We know that most businesses don’t have big bucks to spend on marketing. Heck, we’re a bootstrapped company ourselves. Keep reading for more practical, effective, often costless strategies that you can easily implement with your contests.

Create a reference point To correctly measure the impact on your business, you’ll want to establish benchmarks for your email list, social accounts and other critical business metrics — such as conversion rate or weekly/monthly visitors. Write these down, or better yet create a spreadsheet and put in your pre-contest numbers there.

Pre-Contest Benchmarks

Depending on your type of business, there are several other metrics that you can use to gauge success before running a contest.

Contest duration Before publishing your contest, you’ll want to settle on how long the contest will be running. Determining the right time frame will help obtain the greatest results from your contests. End the contest too soon and miss out on extra signups. End the contest too far into the future and risk losing the interest of your audience. As a general practice, we’ve found that anywhere between a minimum of 2 weeks to a maximum of 6 weeks tend to perform the best. However the absolute, best performing contests are ones that achieve a perfect balance between contest duration and a sense of urgency. Urgency drives action in a world of distractions. Try experimenting with different contest durations to find what works best for your business.

Trademark Antiques

Going, going, gone… a great example of urgency in contests.

PRO TIP: Consider running continuous monthly or weekly contests to regularly drive traffic and leads. Contests don’t have to be a one time campaign!

Protect your business Most prizes have a relatively small value – a free ebook, a free product, etc – But if your prize has a high dollar value (and depending on the locale where the contest is run), it may be subject to limitations or taxes. Avoid creating legal problems down the road and inform yourself with what you can and can’t giveaway. Also to note, apart from monetary and location restrictions: every social network has their own set of rules for running campaigns. I suggest you familiarize yourself with their contest guidelines as well:

We’ve seen countless contests go off without a hitch. But if you plan on giving away an expensive prize package or other are unsure about country or state limitations, your best bet is to find the right legal advice from an attorney.

Step 2: Setting Up The Contest

Ok, so you’ve figured out the initial campaign strategy. It’s now time to create your contest and ready it for publishing. While you could technically manage your contest campaign “by-hand”… Taking advantage of the right marketing tools to build, monitor and track the contest will make your life a lot easier. Contest marketing platforms, like KickoffLabs :) will help you drive conversions, manage leads and accurately measure success.

Craft awesome copy

Before any kind of design work, start off by writing the copy — the actual words you’ll use to entice and convince people to sign up for your contest.

Keeping the copy short and conversational are the keys to higher engagement. Write a short, understandable description of the contest prize and steps to enter. Don’t leave people guessing what your contest is about!

  • Use bullet points and bolded text to emphasize the benefits in signing up.
  • Pay extra attention to your headlines and calls-to-action.

Once you have your copy written, read it out loud to yourself to see if your words flow naturally. Double-check grammar and use spell-check.

Create a dedicated landing page for capturing leads

Once the copy is complete, it’s time to design and set up a up a basic, yet intriguing landing page. A lot of your potential contest entries may come from outside of social networks, so ideally this would be where you send people. Driving traffic to a dedicated landing page will give you the power to maximize the effectiveness of the contest. For the landing page, it’s important that you include these 6 fundamental elements:

  1. Attention-grabbing headline. The title text should immediately capture your visitors interest and briefly describe the unique selling proposition of the contest.
  2. A graphic of your prize. Show people an attractive, high-quality image of the prize and further entice people to enter.
  3. Entry & prize info. Provide some quick details about the prizes and contest mechanics. The primary purpose of this information should be to get people excited!
  4. Contest entry form. It goes without saying that participants need a place to enter. Keep form fields to a minimum by only asking for the essential.
  5. Clear call-to-action. Make it extremely obvious where people should click by using a strong contrasting color to make your button more prominent.
  6. Social proof & social share. Increase chances of your contest going viral by including Facebook Like, Twitter Follow, & Google +1 buttons, and ask people to share promptly after signup.

Take into account that there may be many variations of this design that also work well and your contest page doesn’t need be structured exactly like this. These are simply best practices in terms of the 6 elements that should be on your contest landing pages, but aren’t the only way to build a high converting page! Start creating your contest now with KickoffLabs :) If you’re using KickoffLabs (high-fives!) for your contest: to create any new campaign, simply log in to your dashboard and start by clicking “New Page”.

Start Your KickoffLabs Campaign

Whether you plan on directing visitors to a dedicated contest landing page or using our embed and widget options capture leads directly from your site, all campaign data will be accessible from your landing page dashboard. PRO TIP: Don’t rely on only one marketing channel to generate awareness. Build a landing page and do outreach on multiple online destinations for increased visibility and conversion rates. From the contest landing page get people to sign up, share and follow your social accounts for future marketing efforts.

a) Install KickoffLabs Contest Box on your existing website! Make sure people know about your contest no matter where they are visiting on your website. KickoffLabs Contest Box is a great way to call attention to your promotions without taking up too much screen real estate and without having to update the site design. KickoffLabs generates an embed code that you can easily drop into your site’s header area so you can keep the lead’s experience on your website!

kickofflabs contest box

b) Integrate with an existing form with KickoffLabs AnyForm!

Contests and giveaways usually attract a lot of incoming links and social shares. Hosting the contest from within your site will help visitors find out about your current promotion. Plus you get the added SEO benefits from having a higher engaged audience directly on your website.

KickoffLabs AnyForm

Design your images

Beautiful images are key to capturing people’s attention. Cause a visual stir by including one or two custom images that showcase your prizes or contest.

KickoffLabs Contest

Make sure the designs are clean, pleasing to the eye and not too distracting from the prime objective = collecting the contest entry! If you don’t happen to have a designer in-house, try hiring a freelancer on Upwork or Fiverr.

Make sure your contest works on mobile We’ve mentioned in the past how half of all emails are being read on mobile devices. Which means you might miss out on half of your conversions if your contest isn’t optimized for viewing on mobile devices. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of your contests being fully responsive and translating into a great user experience.

PRO TIP: Facebook gets a little weird when working with apps on mobile. Our suggestion is to direct mobile visitors to your dedicated landing page. Good news is that, unlike a lot of other platforms out there, ALL of our themes are fully responsive and are viewable on every kind of device.

Set up a contest autoresponder It’s your second chance to make a good impression. An effective autoresponse email will help keep your business top of mind. This is where you’ll include the contest incentive that will automatically be sent to new contest entries. For more in-depth tips on exactly what to include in your messages, be sure to check out our guide on writing powerful autoresponders.

Step 3: Promoting The Contest

This is undeniably an important part in making sure your contest performs well.

Contest success depends largely on your marketing efforts.

Don’t assume that you will receive traffic just because the prize is highly desired, or the page is designed beautifully… You have to be proactive in generating excitement, before and during the contest. Promote the contest through email, blogs, social media, forums, internal links & ads.

Start off by announcing your upcoming contest a few weeks in advance to build anticipation. Inform your current audience and begin to create a buzz.

The day your contest starts, send out a reminder with the contest links for people to enter.

During the contest, post frequent updates. Use this as an opportunity to build relationships and encourage sharing. For all your contest promotion messages, be sure to include:

  • contest start and end date
  • contest entry details
  • an image of the prize
  • the incentive details
  • a noticeable call-to-action

Add a link from your website home page

Make sure everyone who visits your site has the opportunity to enter the contest by adding links or widgets to your home page.

Send an email newsletter and announce the contest to your current list

Email is still one of the most effective ways of reaching your audience. Create an email newsletter and reach out to your current subscribers. This gives you the opportunity to promote your contest to existing fans and allows your customers to engage with your brand.

Spread the word on social networks

It goes without saying that you should be promoting your contest on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, etc. Post, tweet and share to as many social networks as you can. Create links to your contest that are relevant to each site – good descriptions and images on Facebook, hashtags on Twitter, images on Pinterest – and help get the word out. It’s an excellent way to turn fans and followers into real leads.

Behind the Scenes

Our customer, PetFlow.com leveraged both their internal email list and their Facebook fans during a 20-day contest to achieve a massive amount of entries. Their campaign received over 15.9k conversions in under a month!

“We promoted our campaign to our FB page and our internal email list and saw great results. With KickoffLabs it’s super easy to make everything look pretty and very professional. “ Rob-PetFlow

– Rob, PetFlow.com

Write a blog post

Write up a nicely detailed blog post about your contest and share the post with your online communities. Add the pertinent links to drive traffic from your blog post to your contest page.

Promote the contest on forums and communities

If you are a member of an online community, and it’s relevant, announce your contest there. Do this in a non-spammy way! It’s not going to look very attractive if you are only promoting your business. If you just publish without engaging the community, don’t expect them to engage you back. Like all things to do with marketing, you have to earn people’s trust by first providing value.

Reach out to influential bloggers in your niche

Do your homework and only reach out to blogs that revolve around your niche. Don’t push your offer but rather hint at the benefits for their readers. For a positive response, it helps to have previously engaged with the blogger; whether by commenting or connecting through social. Once again, if you’re only there to promote yourself, don’t expect to see any measurable results.

Use PPC to drive more entries, via Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads & Google AdWords

You don’t need ad spend to run a successful contest… But if you do have the budget to run ads, creating targeted ads specifically for your audience demographics can help give your contest an immediate boost. Using paid advertising for your contest can be done two ways:

a) If you have NO audience whatsoever and are starting off with a contest to build one.

b) To test effectiveness of contest ideas before releasing the contest to your mass audience. When creating your ads, be sure to include:

  • A great headline
  • Contest info (i.e. a contest, giveaway, promotion, etc…)
  • Image of your prize or contest
  • Clear CTA’s on how to enter NOW
  • A link back to your contest site

Using Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, or Google AdWords you’ll also be able to set a budget, so that you can acquire potential contest entries without spending too much money.

Behind the Scenes

MakoHaus is another one of our customers that has recently seen strong gains in audience and participation by running contests. They use an ongoing contest strategy, where they are constantly offering a prize to people who refer friends. To the date, they have collected over 2,700 quality leads and counting!

“I actually had more entries than I thought… When creating a campaign, the target market has to emotionally relate to the perceived value. Before sharing the campaign to your mailing list, experiment on facebook ads with strangers to collect data and see if they understand the value. Start small. Once you have good results, then go big and let everyone know about your campaign. Build. Measure. Adjust!” Viet-MakoHaus

– Viet, MakoHaus

Step 4: During the Contest

Keep on promoting the contest

On average, only 16 percent of posted content reaches fans and followers. To ensure the campaign reaches as many people as possible, continue sharing the contest across your internal and social channels.

Track resulting conversions and sales

Monitoring your contest is crucial to obtaining accurate results. You’ll be able to measure if you hit your initial campaign goals. KickoffLabs gives you access to the most important metrics for analyzing campaign performance. Track leads in real-time and even be instantly notified for each contest entry signup. For deeper analytics, you can also connect your Google Analytics account to and get more data and insights about your new customers. Find out how to connect Google Analytics to your KickoffLabs pages here.

Thank influencers for sharing

If someone is helping out your contest by sharing and sending referrals, wouldn’t you want to know who they are? Of course you would! These are the best kinds of customers — the people that generate word-of-mouth marketing on your behalf.

Influencer email

Send influencers a personalized thank you email offering your praise for driving additional contest entries.

Step 5: After the Contest

The contest has come to an end and it’s time to notify your audience of the winner(s). Along with your announcement, try keeping your audience engaged with ongoing promotions that are relevant to your business.

Choose the winner(s)

Notify the winner(s) immediately and ask them for permission to use their picture in the announcement and for possible future marketing material.

Announce the winner(s)

Update the current contest page or create a completely new landing page to showcase the contest winner(s). Make an event of the winners announcement.

Send out the prize

If it’s a digital prize, send an email with the prize download link along with a personalized thank you. If it’s a physical prize, send it out in a beautifully packaged box. Use pen and paper to write a personalized thank you or something that will make the winner feel special. Encourage the winner to share their experience online by creating a review of your product.

Add emails to your subscriber list

Export the emails of your newly gained audience to 3rd party services for additional marketing. Continue the sales process by pushing signups to your Mailchimp, Klaviyo or other email marketing service and send people through additional autoresponse funnels. With KickoffLabs you can automate the process of following up with different customer types on autopilot.

Leave up the landing page or redirect it home

Leave the contest landing page up indefinitely and generate post contest leads by including calls-to-action that are relevant to your business. We still get a flood of visitors to our past contest pages. Leverage all the traffic your site receives by continually collecting signups through landing pages.

Announce the next contest

Encourage your newly gained audience to stay up-to-date by announcing plans for your next upcoming contest. Will you be running a contest every month? Every other month? Let your audience know and keep them engaged!


Congratulations, you’ve just planned, created and completed your contest… Hopefully you took each of these steps and made it your own! By that, I mean transforming them to work for your business. If you want to achieve the full potential of your contests & promotions, remember to use this checklist in combination with the advice from our previous articles: Part 1: How To Create Contests That Boost Revenues – 7 KickoffLabs Customer Case Studies & Part 2: The Ultimate Guide To Using Autoresponders For Contests & Sales

KickoffLabs Roadmap for Contest Success

What makes KickoffLabs the perfect marketing tool for managing your contests and entries?

  • Launch a beautiful contest page in minutes with our pre-built optimized themes.
  • Analytics and metrics to see how your contest is performing in real-time.
  • Publish to Facebook, WordPress & anywhere else on the web with a single click.
  • Identify and reward influencers that drive the most entries…

These are only a fraction of the powerful features included with your KickoffLabs account. Ready to start growing your audience? Signup for your free trial and start building smarter campaigns today!

In Summary

If you create a contest and expect to see great results without putting in the work, you’re destined for failure. By following the outlined steps above, you’ll greatly increase your chances of a achieving a highly successful, high-converting contest. And although we’ve researched the best performing elements, you may not need to implement every last detail. Repeating what was mentioned earlier: experiment with what works best for your business and contests can quickly become another indispensable part of your marketing arsenal. Best of luck with your contests!

If you have any suggestions or would like specific tips for your campaigns? Send us a comment via social or email us and tell us what you’d like to learn about.

P.S. We absolutely love seeing our customers succeed (it’s why we’re in business). If you have a great success you’d like to share with us, drop us a line at support@kickofflabs.coms

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