How to Run a Simple Contest and Add 500 New Subscribers to Your List

You’re probably sick of hearing it.

You know, the good old one, two, three strategy for after you start your blog and want to grow it.

One – set up an e-mail list.

Two – create a juicy incentive to persuade visitors to sign up.

Three – promote the hell out of it and hope people take the bait.

And the thing is, it’s good advice.

But that’s the problem.

Because it’s good advice, everyone’s doing it.

Which means it’s increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd.

So what’s a subscriber-hungry blogger to do?

Well, when everyone’s doing the same thing, the smart play is to do something completely different.

So what if there were a way to attract subscribers that 99% of bloggers aren’t using?

What if this method could give you a big jump in subscribers, not just a small trickle?

And what if you could learn this method in just a few minutes?

(The exact method I recently used to add 500 new subscribers to my own blog.)

Sound interesting?

Why Traditional Sign-Up Bribes Don’t Work Like They Used To

Long gone are the days when people would hand over their e-mail addresses simply to get your “latest posts delivered free”.

These days, readers expect much more. And a well-crafted incentive like a free report or an e-mail series can help overcome their natural resistance to inviting you into their inboxes.

But traditional sign-up incentives like these often aren’t as effective as you’d think.

The problem is that readers struggle to truly value something that’s being given away to any schmo with an e-mail address.

No matter how valuable the incentive is in practice, its perceived value to the average blog visitor is low.

In fact, this perceived value has been diluted further by the hundreds of mediocre offerings from other bloggers. Readers have been disappointed before and their expectations are rock-bottom.

So to get their attention, you need to offer something a little different.

You need to offer an incentive whose value is so clear and obvious that handing over an e-mail address is a complete no-brainer.

In other words, you need to give them something so valuable, it feels like cash.

How To Give Away “Free Money” Without Going Broke

I started my blog by giving away $1,000 to strangers. That stood out for a couple of weeks, but distributing free money is not sustainable. Even the most profitable sites would be underwater if they wired cash to your PayPal account just for signing up.

But you can take the value of your giveaway to epic new levels if it’s a one-off prize for a contest.

You can create something so irresistible that everyone in your niche wants it, but you won’t go broke because you only have to give it away once, not thousands of times.

Why does it work?

When the average person weighs the value of their e-mail address against the value of the prize, they usually don’t factor in the actual chances of winning.

Think about entering a lottery. Each week millions of people are happy to hand over their money even though statistically their chances of winning first prize are miniscule. They pay the price to enter for the potential of a huge prize.

Same with your contest – with a desirable prize, people will be attracted by the value of the prize, even though they probably won’t win.

So the next question is, what should you offer as a prize that people will desperately want?

Why an iPad is a Terrible Prize (Even Though Everyone Wants One)

The iPad seems to be the go-to prize for any brand running a contest or promotion.

And it usually works because an iPad is something that most people want, even if just to sell it on eBay.

In fact, I bet you’d sign up to a blog – any blog – if that were the prize on offer.

But just because lots of people would give their e-mail addresses for a shot at winning the latest Apple product, it doesn’t mean they would make good subscribers.

For a contest to be successful, the prize must be relevant to your niche.

And since the goal is to get new subscribers to your blog, what you give away should attract people who are interested in what you write about.

Otherwise you’re attracting the wrong people.

For example, if you ran a contest on your dog-grooming blog giving away an iPad, I’d probably be tempted to enter. But as soon as I received your first e-mail blast of high-quality pet-care content, I’d hit unsubscribe quicker than a greyhound chasing a hare because I don’t have a dog, and don’t care about grooming them.

So you need to set up the contest so that if I’m interested in the prize, I’m likely to be the perfect reader for your blog.

How To Create An Irresistible Prize That Will Have Readers Drooling With Desire

So we understand that the prize needs to be relevant to your blog audience.

But how can you make it incredible? How can you make it so obviously appealing that even the most wary of blog readers can’t help but enter?

Let’s cover the two main paths to an irresistible prize.

1) Offer a prize with a price tag

This means offering something that already has some accepted value out there in the real world. Something that if won, could potentially be sold to someone else. Obviously an iPad passes this test (although it’s still a terrible prize for most bloggers).

However, although this type of prize would normally cost money, you don’t necessarily have to spend money. Think about what you already sell on your blog (or could sell).

What could you provide that potential subscribers would love?

2) Offer a prize that is in limited supply

Humans are hardwired to react to scarcity. Limited time offers and money can’t buy prizes trigger something in our brains that says we must have it.

For most people, creating a one-off product will be too time-consuming, but the easiest way to create this in your contest is to offer personal access to you.

To make the prize truly scarce though, it needs to be something you’ve never done before, or you’ll never do again, or something that’s unique in some way. This might take a little creativity, but it will make a monumental difference in the type of response you get to the contest.

The Sneaky Shortcut to Creating a Killer Prize Without Spending a Dime

If you’re struggling with creating a suitably valuable and scarce prize, then it’s time to enlist help.

Getting one or more sponsors to donate a prize can really up the ante.

As well as making the prize more valuable, sponsors can also help with cross promoting your contest, increasing your reach and providing validation that your contest is legit.

You’re probably saying, “This sounds great, but why would anyone bother to sponsor my contest?”

There’s more in it for a sponsor than you’d think:

  • They get free promotion from you and the other sponsors. The contest showcases them and the prize they’ve donated to people who will like what they have to offer.
  • They have something new to offer their own subscribers. They can give their subscribers a chance to win something bigger than they could offer themselves, especially if you have two or more sponsors. It also showcases their generosity in donating a prize to you.
  • They get the opportunity to tailor an offer to the new subscribers. The people who’ve signed up to win the prize (which includes their donation) are likely to be good targets for the sponsors’ own products and services. They could create a joint venture with you (affiliate marketing) to create an offer for that specific audience.

If you feel your blog is too small to attract sponsorships, think creatively. Who in your existing network might be a good fit? What could you offer in return? Perhaps you could donate a prize back, or even run a contest for them in the future.

The only big no-no is sharing your subscriber list with the sponsor after the contest. This is not the way to treat your cherished subscribers – keep them to yourself and guard their privacy with all your might!

For my contest, I put up the main prize, which was personal coaching and a ticket to a conference, but I also attracted eight sponsors, who each added a different dimension. Some also offered exclusive access to them, which significantly increased the scarcity element of the prize.

The Two Main Types of Contests (and the Pros and Cons of Each)

Once you’ve picked your irresistible prize, you must decide what type of contest to run.

There are two main types: random draw and best entry.

1) Random Draw Contests

For a random draw, people simply need to give you their e-mail address to enter.

And at the end of the contest, you pick a winner at random.

The obvious advantage here is that it’s simple so you should get plenty of entries.

The disadvantage is that the contest is arguably less interesting because it’s complete luck. Also you don’t get any useful information from your audience that could inform the future direction of your blog.

However, if your primary goal is to get new subscribers, this is the contest you probably should choose.

2) Best Entry Contests

Best entry contests can take several forms.

Most commonly you’d ask entrants to provide a short answer to a written question, such as: “Tell me why you think you should win the prize.”

You don’t have to stop there though. You could ask people to submit photographs, jokes, poems – anything you like.

Just be aware that the harder you make the contest to enter, the fewer people who will make the effort.

The advantage with a best entry contest is that it has more built-in curiosity. As a participant, even if you don’t win you may still want to find out about the submission that came first.

You could even design the question so that the answers help you in some way. For instance, if you’re thinking of launching a new product, the aim of the contest might be to come up with names for that product.

How to Set Up Your Contest Like A Complete Pro

I know what you’re thinking.

This all sounds great, but isn’t it going to be complicated?

Don’t worry, the following step-by-step guide will make sure you don’t miss a beat.

7 Simple Steps To Seriously Successful Subscriber Seduction

In the following steps, you’ll discover exactly how to set up a contest, using MailChimp as an example e-mail provider.

However, these instructions will work just as well with other providers, like Aweber, GetResponse, Constant Contact, etc. Some of the details will be a little different, but the overall method is the same.

(If you don’t have an e-mail provider yet, I suggest using MailChimp – then you can follow the steps laid out below.)

Step #1: Sign up for a MailChimp account

Skip this step if you have an account already; if you don’t, you can sign up here.

Step #2: Create a new list

You’ll need a temporary list for the duration of the contest, so that you can treat people who enter your contest differently from your regular subscribers at first.

(You can merge these new subscribers into your regular list easily when the contest is over.)

Here are instructions for setting up a new list in MailChimp.

Step #3: Create a simple sign-up form for contest entrants

To allow people to enter your contest, you’ll need a custom form.

Create a new form and add the appropriate fields according to whether you chose a random draw, or best entry contest.

When you’re done, you should see something like this:


In the bottom right is the code you need to paste into your site to embed the form in your blog.

Step #4: Create a contest landing page

The next step is to create a dedicated landing page for the contest on your site. This is the page that people will be directed to from any promotion, e.g., via social media.

I recommend using a WordPress page, not a post, as it keeps it separate from the regular flow of updates on the front page of your blog, and gives it a more permanent home.

Use power words to write a compelling introduction to your contest, being as brief and clear as possible. Explain what’s on offer and the benefits of entering.

The following is an example:


Once that’s written, grab the code snippet that you created in step 3, and paste it into the page. (Use the “Text” editor rather than the “Visual” editor within WordPress so that the code remains intact.)

Here’s a pro tip to make the form a little nicer: By default, MailChimp will set the button to read “Subscribe” and in the form builder you can’t change it. To make it more appropriate for your contest, after you’ve pasted in the code, search out this section and change value=Subscribe” to value=Enter Now!”:


Once you’ve done that, your page should look something like this:

Step #5: Customize the sign-up process for contest entrants

Once you have a contest page, the next step is to change the list sign-up process to confirm that people have entered your contest, not just subscribed.

(Don’t worry, we won’t touch the process for your main list, just the new one we’ve just created.)

Two steps are involved. First is the “Opt-in confirmation e-mail” – which people are sent to confirm their e-mail addresses. You should modify the text of this e-mail to explain that clicking the link will confirm entry to your contest as well as subscribing. This is easy to do:


Second, and more important to help spread your contest, is the “Confirmation thank you page.” This is the page that people see when they click the link in the e-mail you just modified.

We want to be able to customize this page to encourage entrants to share the contest, and for this you’ll need to make sure it’s hosted on your own blog (instructions here.)

The following screenshot shows you the important settings:


We’ll focus on Twitter shares, so head to and sign in with your Twitter account.

There you’ll be able to create a tweet which shares your contest. Make sure you add your own Twitter handle to the text, and a link to the contest page on your blog.


Click on “Generate New Link” and on the next page you’ll see a code snippet to add to your thank you page. Adding this will make it easy to tweet a link to your contest with just one click.

Now, if your audience isn’t on Twitter, you could choose a Facebook share button, or some other method for people to share. Get creative, but be sure to make it easy.

Note: You can scale up the social sharing of your contest by using a premium service such as Contest Domination (affiliate link). This gives entrants an extra chance of winning each time they share and simplifies some tasks like picking a winner. However, you can absolutely run a successful contest without it.

Step #6: Set up a conversation with your entrants

The last set-up step is to write a welcome e-mail to your new subscribers.

This should be short and to the point, but you can gain tremendous value from it by asking a simple question. Your e-mail might read:

Thanks for entering my contest – I wish you the best of luck.

Whilst you’re here, I’d love to ask you a question:

What’s the biggest thing I could help you with in [Your Blog’s Topic]?

If you could hit reply and let me know, I’d very much appreciate it.

Good luck again,

[Your Name]
If you can find out what your subscribers need help with, that’s the future content of your blog right there.

You might even get some ideas for a paid product you could create. This type of insight into your subscribers is priceless so don’t miss out on the chance to start a conversation.

Step #7: Test, check and click publish

This goes without saying, but check your work before launching it!

Anyone can follow this process, but it’s easy to miss a step or get something slightly wrong. So do a test entry from a second e-mail address and make sure you’re totally happy with it.

Once you’re happy the process is smoother than silk, you’re ready to launch and the real fun can begin.

How To Make Sure Everyone and Their Dog Knows About Your Contest

Regarding promotion, the pros’ rule of thumb is to spend at least as much time promoting your content as writing it.

Since this exercise is all about getting new readers to notice your blog, you should plan to double or triple the amount of time you spend creating your contest as you did promoting it.

Whether you’re a marketing pro, or just getting started, the following methods should be part of your contest promotion plan:

1) Mail your existing list – even if it’s tiny

This is common sense, but it’s often overlooked when the focus is adding new subscribers.

Your existing subscribers are your closest allies, and they likely all have a network of contacts that might love your blog too.

Get them to enter, and ask them directly to share. They will have to enter their e-mail again, so make the sharing bit easy for them – another good time to use

Don’t worry about having their e-mail twice – when you merge the contest entrants to your existing list, any duplicates will be ignored.

2) Advertise the contest on your blog

This is another obvious way to promote your contest that often gets forgotten.

Make sure that you put the contest in front of all of your regular visitors.

A link in the sidebar, header or footer would work – or all three depending on your blog’s design. (Don’t replace your standard sign up form though, as you want to give visitors the maximum number of chances to subscribe.)

It’s also a good idea to write a post announcing your contest, and promote it in the usual way to get your readers fired up to enter and hopefully share the contest.

3) Step up your social activity

If your usual social promotion involves sending out a single tweet when you hit publish, it’s time to get serious.

You need to create an engaging set of updates that people actually notice. If you’re wondering where to even start with that, check out this list of 10 Twitter tips which will transform your tweeting.

A specific tip for sponsored contests is to say nice things about your sponsors and make it easy for them to retweet and share – for example:


Mentioning two or more sponsors in a tweet not only shows how great your prize is, but it also allows sponsors to easily promote each other, as well as your contest – a win for everyone.

For example:


This was retweeted by one of my sponsors to her 18.4k followers. Not only is she promoting the contest, but all my other sponsors get a little exposure too.


4) Ask your sponsors to promote the contest

As well as tapping into their social media followings, if you’ve got the right relationship with your sponsors, they may well promote the contest to their own subscribers or through their own sites or blogs.

For example, one of my contest sponsors named Karen Marston from Untamed Writing wrote a great post, mentioning my contest at the end, as well as showcasing all of the other sponsors.

It’s easy then to repay the favor and share again…


5) Reach out to other bloggers

With a great contest to promote, now might be the perfect time to ask other bloggers for a link or request that guest post. If you do, make sure you add a link to your contest in the author bio – you can check the end of this post for an example (and an opportunity to win).

Yes guest posting is hard work, but it can make a huge difference to how many entrants you get. Since you’re doing this thing, you might as well go all out.

Don’t stop at these tactics though. Now is the time to go into promotion overdrive and really maximize the exposure of your contest – after all, you’re giving away an epic prize, so people should know about it.

How To Run Your Contest For Maximum Impact

Your promotion machine is in gear and your contest is getting lots of entries. What else must you do to make your contest a success?

1) Engage generously with your entrants

A simple way to have more engaged subscribers is to actually engage with them. There’s no shortcut or hack; engagement is a two way process.

On Twitter, make sure you thank anyone who tweets about your contest. If they use the automated tweet you created, it contains your @handle, so you should find them in your notifications.

Since you crafted a great question in your welcome e-mail, you should get plenty of responses giving answers. You need to follow up and reply to all of them, being as helpful as you can.

This doesn’t mean you have to personally solve the thing they need help with, but if you can point them to a great link, or offer some of your experience, it will do wonders for your reputation and seriously increase the likelihood of that person becoming a raving fan.

Yes, that means you have to deal with more e-mails than usual, but it will be worth the effort. If Seth Godin can answer all of his own e-mails, you can answer these.

2) Give Them One Last Chance – Then Make Someone’s Day

As your contest draws to an end, you’ll want to do a final set of reminder promotions.

Hopefully you’ll have a late flurry of entries, then it’s time to pick a winner.

If you’ve used a best entry contest, then read through all of the entries, and pass judgment (it’s your contest, so you decide who wins).

If you want to choose an entrant at random, it’s a little more effort, but not too difficult. The easiest way is to export your list from MailChimp to a .CSV file which you can open in Microsoft Excel or Google Docs. There will be a row for every entry.

Select a number at random between 1 and the total number of rows to choose a winner. has a super easy tool to do this, right on its home page.

3) Write A “Winner” E-mail Your Whole List Will Want to Open

Now that you have your winner, it’s time to let them know by e-mail.

If someone has entered a contest – then gets an e-mail telling them the winner is announced inside – are they going to open it?

You bet they are, so you can expect an insanely high open rate for this e-mail, Make sure you make the most of it.

Remember though, that when they do open it, almost everyone will be disappointed because they didn’t win. So offering a consolation prize to everyone is the best way to turn around that disappointment.

Offering a time-sensitive discount for a product which is closely related to the prize can have the double benefit of providing a consolation prize, and increasing sales of the product. This could be a great win for the sponsor as well as everyone who entered.

Even if you don’t want to sell anything at this point, you need to prove the value of your blog to subscribers. You must be clear about the value you bring to them.

One argument against using contests to grow your list is that subscribers are only in it for the prize and will quickly unsubscribe.

To prevent that, now is the time to provide an insanely valuable piece of content for free, exclusively to contest entrants. This shows people not only the quality of what you provide, but also more detail about the type of content they can expect.

A great option could be to take a group of your best blog posts, add a little commentary and compile them into an information-packed e-book that’s useful to subscribers and gives them a chance to get up to date with your blog archive without trawling its archives.

A simple notification e-mail then might look like this:

Subject: Are you the winner of [Contest Name]?

Hi There,

Remember you entered my [Contest Name] contest?

You probably want to know who the winner is, right?

Well before I announce who it is, I want you to promise not to close the e-mail if that winner isn’t you, because I’ve got a fantastic consolation prize for everyone that didn’t win.


Ok, drum roll please.

The winner is…

[Winner’s Name] [Some detail about the winner, especially if it was a best entry contest]

OK. I guess that means that you probably didn’t win.


Everyone who entered gets:

[Follow up offer from you or a sponsor, offering a time sensitive discount or deal on a related product – link to details] [Awesome piece of content created by you to showcase your blog – link to download] [Your regular sign up incentive so contest entrants don’t have to re-sign up to get it – link to download]

Even if you didn’t win the main prize, I hope you agree these are a worthy consolation.

Thanks again for entering, look forward to speaking to you again soon.

[Your Name]

By providing awesome free content and a consolation prize, you should have happy subscribers who are eager to hear back from you.

It’s Time To Get Serious And Create A Contest Where Everyone Wins

You know that building your list is essential to creating a successful and profitable blog.

And a contest is a great way to make your blog stand out and give your e-mail list a serious boost.

Do it right and everybody wins: the winner wins, you win, the sponsors win, and all of the entrants win too.

So when will you get started?

Everything you need to run a contest that delivers tons of new subscribers is laid out right here.

Will you drink it in, get inspired, then file it in your favorites list to gather digital dust?

Or will you take action?

Because blogs are like contests. You’ll never win big unless you get in the game.

About the Author: Rob Young is founder of The Hundred Dollar Club – A thriving community of small business owners, authors and bloggers. You can join for free, and enter his contest to win professional contest software, an exclusive 1-1 consultation so you can run your own contest like a pro, and a copy of Jon’s Six Figure Roadmap.