Running a contest to build links

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This isn’t a new concept and I know I didn’t invent the idea but I just wanted to share with you how I used a contest to build links, traffic, and visability to one of my sites.

The basic idea is this: Create a contest of some sort like “Top 5 _______ Bloggers” or “Find the best ______ bloggers”, promote the heck out of it, and hopefully get these blogs to link to you. I did this recently for a site of mine and I was very overwhelmed with the results. Let me break it down for you.

1. Identify the top blogs in your niche. Nearly every niche has some blogs that stand out above the others. If you spend any time reading blogs in your niche you will quickly learn who the big players are, who other people quote and link to, who has a lot of twitter followers, and so on. Depending on your niche you might find 5 good ones and you might find 50 good ones.

2. Start connecting with them before you run the contest. This could be anything from replying to some of their tweets, commenting on their blogs, sending them emails, or friending them on Facebook. Basically you just want the to know who you are and recognize your name and that you aren’t a total tool. If you are a regular commenter on their blogs (good, quality comments BTW, not garbage) and have had a few Twitter interactions with them they are much more likely to give you some links and visibility.

3. Create a winners badge. This doesn’t need to be anything super extravagent. Just a some sort of image you can give out to your winners to put on their site. Since I am terrible with graphics I had a friend of mine create one for me for $50. He is just starting college learning graphic design and if you want him to do some work for you let me know and I will give you his contact info. I went with a 150×150 graphic since that fits nicely on most blog sidebars.

4. Decide on your judging criteria. I went with 4 different criteria on this one: Public vote, Social engagement, Site analytics, and my own thoughts. For social engagement I just used some readily available numbers (number of twitter followers, Klout score, etc.) and for site analytics I used stuff like PR, inbound links, Alexa score, and stuff like that.

5. Figure out some sort of prize. You don’t need a prize but I decided to give away prizes for the top 3 blogs. Depending on the niche you could always just use the badge as a prize. The prizes I used will end up costing me about $130 or so. Not huge prizes but pretty nice in my niche.

6. Run a poll asking for people to vote for their favorite niche blog. There are a bunch of WP plugins you can use. I used one called WP-Polls. It wasn’t perfect but it did the job. I was trying to find the top 5 blogs and started with 12 options for people to vote for. I also took suggestions from readers and they had a couple more I included. Then I opened it up for voting.

I ran the poll for about 2 weeks and had over 1000 voters give a total of 1500 votes. I tweeted it out almost every other day, mentioned many of the top bloggers in the tweets, and promoted it. When the nominated bloggers saw they were nominated nearly all of them who were active on Twitter shared it with their followers. And nearly all of them put a post up on their blog telling their readers to go vote. Love them backlinks!!!

7. Pick a winner and notify them. When the poll was over I took those results, combined them with my other criteria and picked my 5 winners. I wrote up a big, long post explaining how I picked the winners, why I choose the top 5, what I liked about them, what they could have done to improve their rankings, and so on. I also sent an email out to the winners giving them their badge image to post on their site. I game them the whole HTML code to make it easy that of course contained a link back to my site.

So what did this get me? Well, I spent $180 total on this project and in the end it did result in a bunch of links from a lot of different blogs. So that was a victory. It also raised the visibility of my site in the blogging community. Many of these bigger blogs have weekly posts where they link out to the best content on other related blogs and some of my articles have made it into those. I have also gotten quite a few blogroll links out of it . And my twitter profile has gone up quite a bit. I have a lot more followers and get more responses to my tweets now. I think this contest was even mentioned on a local radio show.

I went into this project wanting to get some quality links from some of the bigger blogs in this niche and overall it was a big success. It was $180 dollars well spent and now I just need to figure out how to replicate this with more of my sites. It wasn’t perfect and there are a few things I can do better next time though:

1. Be more clear about the selection and judging criteria. I got a few emails from people complaining they weren’t included, that the voting was rigged, that some sites didn’t deserve to be on the poll, etc. If I would have made the whole process more clear from the beginning I think it would have cut down on that.

2. Be more clear about what the winners should do with their badges. I just put the code in the email and told them they could use it on their sites if they wanted. A few of them have and a few haven’t. And a couple of them removed the link. I think if I worded the email differently I could have gotten more of them to keep the link on and put it in their sidebars of their blog.

3. Spend more time connecting beforehand. I have no idea how many of these bloggers knew my blog existed before this contest. If I had spent more time up front connecting with them I think it would have been beneficial. I only spent a couple weeks really doing this and maybe I should have spent a couple months.

There you have it. $180 spent, a lot of new links built, and some great visibility for my site.


  1. I do this often but I use giveaways of some type. I collect links by requesting bloggers to mention the giveaway – and they almost always do. If you plan ahead you will end up with a landing page with good anchor text that can be used for other purposes once the contest ends.

    It's amazing how well it works.

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