How to Set Up an Online Contest That Wins Leads (Plus the Common Pitfalls to Avoid)

colored background with colored text saying winner, winner, winner

Looking for a big boost in leads? Followers? Brand recognition? 

That calls for one of the oldest marketing tactics in the book—the contest. Even though they’ve moved from a mostly physical entry-form-in-a-box format to the online world, very little about them has changed. And thanks to the scale and reach of the internet, an online contest can be more effective now than it ever was. 

After all, who doesn’t like a contest? By giving away a name and an email address, you can win a prize. And if you lose? No big deal. Entering only took a second. 

For companies, contests are a great way to increase website traffic, grow their email list, get more social media followers, and even build awareness around their brand or a new product. For the cost of whatever you’re giving away and maybe a bit of your marketing budget, a well-executed contest can pay off big time. 

In this post, we’ll cover what you need to know about how to host a successful online contest, including important considerations, how to set up your contest, and the pitfalls you want to avoid.

Plan your contest

The first step of throwing a successful contest is planning. You’ll want to answer a few key questions before you do anything else. Questions might include:

What are the goals of your contest? 

No one throws a contest for the sake of giving something away. They’re doing it with a goal in mind. So spend some time to define what you want to accomplish. Are you trying to increase the size of your mailing list by collecting email addresses? Maybe you’re trying to grow your social media following? Maybe it’s turning social media followers into email leads so you have a better way to market to them? 

Having a clear goal will help you determine how you run the campaign and even what you’re giving away.

What kind of contest are you having? 

Most contests are quite similar in the way they work; a person provides contact information in exchange for the chance to win a prize. But to make them even more effective, you can have them align with a theme. For example a flower shop might want to throw a Mother’s Day contest. See if there’s a way for you to align your business and contest to a holiday or event. 

What are you giving away? 

The prize is basically your whole contest. So you want to choose something that will get your ideal lead’s attention, but doesn’t necessarily cost an arm and a leg. For example, a company that offers online guitar lessons giving away a guitar would likely generate a lot of signups. It’s definitely something their desired customers want, and it isn’t prohibitively expensive. 

leadpages giveaway template
Start your own contest with this this template!

What’s your budget? 

Contests are a great way to make your marketing dollar go far. The best way to establish what your budget should be is to work backwards; once you’ve defined a realistic goal for your contest, ask yourself what the outcome of that is worth to you. Is a $500 guitar worth 50,000 new social media followers and email leads? Don’t forget to account for a bit of advertising spend. 

What are the rules of your contest? 

It may seem obvious, but the rules and regulations of your contest are really important. You’ll have to establish details like age and location restrictions, timelines and expiry dates. Will you allow more than one entry per person? Will the winner be picked at random, voted on, or is there an element of merit to the contest? Can current customers enter or is it for new customers only? Different countries, states, and provinces have specific laws around contests, so you’ll want to look up local regulations for the areas you’re running the contest in. 

Setting up your contest

With your goals set, your prize in hand, and your rules laid out (and reviewed by legal, just in case), it’s time to make things happen. There are a few moving parts to creating a successful online contest. You’ll need to create a social campaign (both organic and paid), as well as a landing page to collect the email addresses to enter. 

Your social campaign

Social media is the most effective (both in terms of reach and cost) way to advertise your contest. So create a handful of posts about your contest for each of the social media platforms you’re using for your business. Be sure to include all the important details like how to enter, the link to your landing page, when the contest ends, and who can enter. An image or graphic of the prize you’re giving away can be an excellent thumb stopper on social media. And make sure that your copy and images are optimized specifically for the social media networks you’re running the contest on.

madre mezcal homestead contest email and instagram graphics

If your budget is tight, you can run your campaign entirely organically (that is, without spending any advertising dollars). But, that will come with certain limitations. The first is that algorithms used by most social platforms will hide your posts from some of your audience. The other limitation is that much of your current audience may already be customers, so your contest won’t reach those coveted new leads. 

If your budget allows, paying to boost your posts to a larger audience can greatly increase your reach. The cost of boosting those posts can vary quite a bit depending on how many people you want to reach and how granular you want to get with targeting. 

Social amplification

There’s another way to increase the number of people that your contest reaches without paying; ask entrants to tag others on your post and/or repost to get additional entries. The drawback is that it means that you must choose the winner from social media rather than capturing their email address. This is fine if you’re just trying to grow your social media following and engagement. But you’ll miss out on your ability to send well-targeted email marketing campaigns to them. 

Your contest landing page

The best landing pages are simple and express an offer clearly and convincingly—contest landing pages are no different. Tell them what they can win up front, add a big clickable CTA button, and even include a countdown timer to sprinkle a bit of FOMO on the offer. When the visitor clicks the CTA, they’ll be prompted to enter their name and/or email address—and boom, you’ve got yourself a new lead. 

Start your own contest with this template!

If you’re a Leadpages customer, we make this really easy. We have simple, fully customizable landing page templates designed for contests and giveaways.

Leadpages Landing Page Builder

Create Unlimited Landing Pages with Leadpages

Confidently grow your business by turning clicks into customers with high-converting landing pages you can easily DIY.



Engage your non-winners

If your contest has been successful, you’ve generated quite a few high-quality leads. And while only one of them will win the giveaway, you still have an excellent opportunity to engage everyone who didn’t win. 

leadpages thank you page template
Get started with this thank you page template!

Give them something away for free as a way to say thanks. That could be a free week of your service, a valuable download, a discount coupon, or anything else that acknowledges the effort they put into entering the contest. Plus, it increases the chance that they’ll become paying customers.  

Common contest pitfalls to avoid

Imagine giving away something pricey—like an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe—but not spending enough to advertise it. By skipping a key ingredient in a successful contest, they’ve paid thousands of dollars for what amounts to a trickle of leads. That’s a big miss. Below we’ll explore a few things to avoid when you’re creating your contest.

Giving away the wrong prize

Who wouldn’t want to win an iPad? Or cash? Truth is, pretty much everyone would enter a contest offering either of those as prizes. You’d be swimming in entries. 

And that’s the problem. 

When you offer a prize that everyone wants, you’re going to attract a large number of unqualified leads. They won’t be interested in your business or your product. And that’s going to sink your future conversion rates and send your unsubscribe rates through the roof. 

Choose your prize carefully. Make sure it aligns with your business offering. That way, when you follow up with other offers, the lead is more likely to engage. 

Little-to-no marketing

A contest that nobody knows about (or enters) isn’t going to help you reach any goals and may even cost you more in the end. Take the time and budget to create a proper campaign—even if that means you need to hire some help to do it. The time and effort you spend on marketing will almost certainly pay off. 

Making your contest complicated

It can be tempting to offer first, second, and third prizes, make your contest merit-based, or add other elements to make it more compelling. But sometimes compelling = complicated. Every element that you add to the contest can create unforeseen logistical hurdles, or even spur backlash amongst contestants. Having a single prize is all you need to make your contest successful and it keeps things simple and streamlined.

Creating too many hoops to jump through

Most people realize that they’re probably not going to be the winner of your contest. So few are going to put in more than a few clicks’ effort to enter one. Make it easy to enter your contest; a CTA click, typing their name and email address, and a submit click. 

Caveat: If your objective is to increase your social media following size and reach, you can ask for additional actions like tagging a friend or reposting in exchange for multiple entries. 

Considering throwing a contest? 

We say do it. 

Contests have been an effective tool for lead generation for as long as they’ve been around. With good reason: they’re easy to put on, cost-effective, people love them, and most importantly, they work. Using the tips above, you’ll be well-prepared to host your own successful online contest and even avoid some of the most common mistakes that people make when hosting them. 

leadpages giveaway template
Start your own contest with this template!

Want to make things even easier? Start a Leadpages free trial and get access to all of our fully customizable websites and landing pages—including a selection of giveaway pages—to get your contest up and running today.