5 Terrible Mistakes That are Ruining Your Contest

Learn how to avoid common mistakes that can ruin your contests, such as not having a specific goal or a targeted prize.

By Bobby Lenny Johnson ・6 min read
Best Practices
Campaign & Contest Ideas

We all know how effective contests can be at generating leads, increasing brand awareness and boosting revenue.You've probably heard success stories like how Pet Valu generated 12,000 leads with their annual Christmas contest, or how KCLD a small midwestern radio station used a contest to get 24 million views. Whatever industry you're in, contests can deliver incredible results.But before you create a contest, there are common pitfalls you should watch out for. I've seen businesses running contests make these same mistakes over and over again.To ensure that you get the most out of your contest, in this post I'm going to cover five of the most common mistakes that ruin contests, and also show you how you can avoid them.

1. You don't have a specific goal for the contest

Before you create your contest, there needs to be a clear picture of what success should look like. In other words, you need a properly defined goal. That way you and everyone else on your team know what to prioritize and the right metrics to monitor to ensure you're on track for success.Take note that the keyword here is "defined" goal. Meaning, it's not enough to start your campaign with a goal like "Gain more social followers," as this is too vague.You're probably familiar with the SMART acronym for goal setting.

SMART goals are:






You can use this simple framework to create better goals for your campaign.Using the SMART framework, you can turn a vague goal like "Gain more social followers" into a more defined goal such as "Increase our social media followers by 30% within 2 months."Once the right goal is in place, it’s time to set up a way to track progress toward the goal.Usually, you'd have to jump back and forth in Google analytics to monitor your campaign but ShortStack comes with built-in real-time analytics that enables you to make better decisions.Your contest will deliver greater results when everyone's on the same page.For instance, you can tell by the way the following landing page is designed that the primary goal of the campaign is to generate leads. The landing page doesn't ask visitors for social shares or to forward to a friend. It's simply designed to collect useful visitor information.

Built with ShortStack's Giveaway template, View and Create Your Own

2. Your prize isn't specific to your target audience

Offering a prize that appeals to too wide a range of people is a no-no. The business running the contest makes the mistake of promoting some expensive prize that everyone wants, in a bid to get more entrants and attention.

What prize would provide the most value to the people I'm trying to reach?

And it usually works too, the company ends up with a lot of leads but are surprised when there's no correlating increase in revenue.If you have a wide customer base, especially in the B2C space, then you can use a prize with broad appeal. But if you have a smaller, more niche audience, then your prize has to be specific to their needs.To solve the problem of unqualified leads, you must give away prizes that your target audience will find value in. You might end up with fewer leads but those leads will be better qualified for sales, and will deliver a positive ROI for your contest.You essentially have to ask yourself: "What prize would provide the most value to the people I'm trying to reach?"Here's an example of a great contest prize directed specifically at Crypto enthusiasts.

3. Your entry requirements are too high

People enter contests so they can try to get something for free, with little effort. If they judge the effort needed to participate in your contest as too high for the prize being offered, they won't participate.Some contests simply ask too much of their entrants. Bottom line: The less you require of your entrants, the more of them will participate.To pick a good entry requirement for your contest you have to examine your goal and target audience.You also have to figure out what you're trying to achieve with the campaign, and who makes up your audience. Then work back from there to determine what your entry requirements should be.For example, if your goal is to generate leads, then you'll prioritize email signups over everything else. If you're aiming for brand awareness, then you're better off asking for social shares.And if your audience consists of college students, asking for video testimonials might work. On the other hand, “Submit a video testimonial” will be too much of an ask if your audience is made up of 50 year old accountants.This contest from Opploans is aimed at people approaching retirement. Opploans keeps their entry requirement super simple as they know their target audience likely won't participate for anything more demanding.

4. Your landing page isn't optimized for conversions

Another mistake is to not have a dedicated landing page for your contest. When you start promoting your contest, you shouldn't just share links to your homepage and let visitors figure it out from there.Why? They'll land on your homepage, try to find what they're looking for, get confused and leave, rendering your efforts at promotion mute.This is why a landing page is crucial to the success of your contests. It's probably one of the most important parts of your contest because it's where you turn those interested visitors into participants.When designing a landing page for your contests, here's how you can make it perform well:

Include social proof

Psychology tells us that when we want to make a decision (for example, if we want to decide whether entering a contest is worth it) we usually look at what others are doing. If your contests have generated a lot of buzz in the past, or if you already have a lot of entrants, make sure to highlight that in your landing page.

Reduce the steps

The less you ask people to do, the better your landing page will perform. Try to reduce the number of actions you want users to take.

Take advantage of message match

In digital advertising, it's well known that landing pages that match the medium through which a visitor was acquired perform better. What this means is that your landing page will have a higher conversion rate if it's similar to the what brought in the visitor in the first place. Try to use the same primary colors, images and even words, for better conversions.

Be Direct

When a visitor arrives on your landing page you only have a few seconds to convince them that this is worth their time. You have to be as direct as possible. Tell them what you're offering and how they stand to gain by taking action.

Here's a great example of a landing page by Scott Young, his headline tell you what you stand to gain and he only needs your name and email.

You can use ShortStack to easily create beautiful high-converting landing pages like this one.

5. You're not keeping your leads warm

So you've used SMART goals, great prizes, and an optimized landing page to collect leads. But it's not over yet, and a lot of businesses skip this very important stage and miss out on a lot of value.The contest you just ran has to contribute to your business's bottom line in some way.Which means eventually you'll want to get your leads to do something. You might need them to buy a product or service later on and you can also use them to get reviews, testimonials and even to increase participation for your next contest.One of the worst mistakes you can make is to store the leads you've collected once the contest is over and only reach out to them when you want something.Your message will have little impact on them because they don't know your brand well enough and this is why you need to build trust first.You have to keep your leads engaged throughout the duration of your contest, inform them about updates, who won and what's going to happen next.And when the contest is over, set up an automated email sequence that keeps sending them useful content over time.That way your leads warm up to you and when you do finally ask them for something they're more likely to comply.In this email, Chrome keeps their entrants engaged by offering all those who didn't win a discount on their next purchase as a consolation prize. That way they can turn more people in Chrome customers.

Using ShortStack, it's easy to set up an automated email sequence that warms up your leads both during and after your campaign. Learn More.


There's a lot more to running a successful contest than meets the eye, and a lot of mistakes to watch out for. I hope this has taught you how to avoid the most common pitfalls that hinder many campaigns and enable you to achieve the highest return on your contest.

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About the author

By Bobby Lenny Johnson ・6 min read

Lenny Johnson helps SaaS and marketing brands build authority and drive sales with content. He's written for Hubspot, Business 2 Community, and Entrepreneur. You can learn more about him at B2B Content Lab.

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