How to Run a Contest That Builds High-Quality Backlinks

Posted in: Content | Digital PR

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What initially comes to mind when you think about a contest? As digital marketers, we usually think of contests or giveaways as a time-honored social media strategy. Social media contests are carefully crafted blueprints for driving audience engagement or generating leads. But what about running a contest as a top-of-funnel, digital PR strategy designed to build backlinks back to your site?

Contest marketing campaigns can be a fruitful link building strategy––when executed thoughtfully. With contests, the production overhead costs are extremely low, while the potential to secure a high quantity of backlinks from authoritative media outlets is high. With link building campaigns, we’re often asking ourselves “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” Well, with a newsworthy angle and a jaw-dropping reward for the winner, contests can produce gallons of link juice with minimal squeeze!

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Our Go Fish Digital digital PR agency put our heads together to compile a list of the biggest contest do’s and don’ts. But first, here’s a quick rundown of the types of contest campaigns the savvy content marketer can employ and contest ideas for each.

Binge-Watch Campaigns

title graphic for a Disney binge-watch contest campaign

Binge-watch contest campaigns are essentially job postings––but the job task at hand is binge-watching movies, a series, or other televised events. Entrants have the potential to win a tempting prize or bookoos of cash just by sitting on their couch and watching their favorite content! 

In this Disney binge-watch contest, Disney lovers applied by sharing why they love Disney movies and why they’d be a perfect fit for the job role. The winning binge-watcher was tasked with quickly watching 12 classic Disney movies (from Alice & Wonderland to The Lion King) and their respective remakes to win $1,000. Upon completion, the binge-watcher reported back on which version was stronger for all 12 movies, the original or the remake.

Binge-watch campaigns often earn strong media pick-ups due to their shock factor––entrants can earn a high reward for completing tasks that are both easy and fun. Movies or shows with cult followings and hyper-loyal fan bases are strongly encouraged! Think Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Disney, or Marvel. 

Photo Contests

 title graphic for a face mask photo contest

Content marketing is a visual medium and contest campaigns are no exception. Photo contests have the potential to perform very well under the right premises. They offer a low barrier to entry, prompt more engagement on social media, and work wonders when it comes to user-generated content.

This “Mask-terpiece” photo contest example asked entrants to submit a photo of their coolest, most creative face mask for a chance to win $1,000. The company featured 25 finalists on the contest page, where viewers could vote on their favorite masks. The contest was innovative, relevant, and interactive, which drove some pretty amazing results in terms of traffic, social shares, and backlinks earned!

Job Postings

Job posting contests consist of entrants filling out an application and the winning entrant(s) will be responsible for completing some form of task. We can use the word “task” liberally here as it can include almost anything. A few contest ideas involving job tasks could be:

  • A beer distributor asking a winning applicant to give up alcohol for six months and report back on their experiences
  • A company undergoing a rebrand asking applicants to create a new logo
  • A hospitality chain asking winners to stay at their hotels around the world for free and report back on their stays

Job postings can require larger investments and more resources, but they also have the potential to be extremely successful since they often include head-turning sacrifices or once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

Contest Do’s & Don’ts

Now for the pièce de résistance––here’s what to do and not to do when it comes to running a contest that builds high-quality backlinks.

Do: Incentivize Entrants With an Eye-Catching Prize

Avoid brand-specific prizes like gift cards or “X months supply” of products or services. These rewards are often viewed as overly self-promotional within the world of content marketing. They’re usually not enough to appeal to a wide audience of entrants and will typically be overlooked by journalists during the pitching process. In contrast, a $1,000 cash prize or a week-long beachfront stay combined with an engaging contest concept has the power to stop journalists in their tracks and cover the content on authoritative media outlets––leading to backlinks aplenty.

Don’t: Give Entrants a High Barrier to Entry

If entrants have to jump through fiery hoops to enter the contest, they’ll be less incentivized to participate, no matter how enticing the prize. Time is precious. Make sure contestants can enter easily, with a low time commitment. For example, opt for entrants to submit photos (likely already stored on their camera rolls) or short written submissions, rather than time-consuming assets like a produced video or long written submissions the length of a research paper.

Do: Create a Contest Concept That Aligns With the News Cycle or Pop Culture

The contest concept should have a timely hook, punchy title, and strong tie-in to the current news cycle to encourage entries and pick-up from top journalists. For example, the Mask-terpiece contest above was not only visually creative but included a topic that leveraged the pandemic news cycle. A binge-watch contest campaign that ran this past fall 2021, “Get Paid $1,000 to Binge-Watch Space Movies,” garnered several backlinks from top-tier news outlets by aligning with the billionaire space race.

Don’t: Create a Contest Concept That Is Too Generic or Too Broad

Topics that are overly general or don’t have a strong tie-in to popular culture typically aren’t unique or relevant enough to gain worthwhile media coverage, which limits the contest’s ability to earn backlinks, organic traffic, and submissions. A contest idea like “Share your dream wedding for a chance to win X” is much less powerful than a concept like “Get paid X to give up TikTok for a year.” The latter is specific, compelling, including a highly relevant (and addicting) online platform, while the former is a bit too generic and wouldn’t pass a uniqueness check.

Do: Create & Pitch a Contest Around a Timely Event or Holiday

Journalists are hunting for creative content to cover around viral events or holidays, so a contest that seamlessly aligns with said event is low-hanging fruit. A pet costume contest before Halloween or a basketball slam dunk contest before March Madness are two strong examples.

Do: Set the Right Deadline for Contest Submissions

Be smart about your deadlines for submissions. After posting the contest on your site, leave more than enough time (six to eight weeks) for a digital PR team to pitch the contest to relevant reporters and earn coverage before the deadline. Contest exposure through top-tier media coverage is typically what sparks traffic and submissions because exponentially more people will have eyeballs on the contest.

Don’t: Give Unclear Instructions on How to Apply

Provide a clear Terms and Conditions section and step-by-step instructions on how to apply. If entrants are unclear on where they need to go or what they need to do to enter the contest, then they’ll drop like flies. Include any eligibility restrictions, such as age or geographic location, on your contest page. Clarify any other contest parameters, like a maximum number of entries or any types of content that won’t be permitted.

Do: Leverage User-Generated Content With Permission

Once permission from the individuals is granted, share the content of contest winners and finalists on your site and social channels to engage your audience and build your following. Under copyright laws, the entrant has sole rights to their original content (photos, artwork, written stories, videos, etc.), so make sure you’ve been given explicit permission to share the content before posting. These details should be clearly outlined in a Terms and Conditions section.

With that, you have the tools you need to start producing engaging contests online. As part of your link building and digital PR strategy, contests can be an effective way to attract new audiences, increase brand exposure, and give your SEO a boost! What will your next contest look like?


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