Be careful what you ask for.
Being a product of your own success has it’s drawbacks. Many webmasters use different tactics to get people to visit their websites, especially in their infancy. Some use the traditional ways of advertising, such as banner ads, text links or an opt-in e-mail campaign. Others use social bookmarking sites such as StumbleUpon, Digg, or del.cio.us. As of late, many owners have started using contests to see how much readership they can bring in.
Now my rule of thumb on contests is that your site should have a healthy flow of traffic before you begin one, or else no one will know about it, and you’ll end up having to pay out of your pocket more heavily (versus having site revenues from frequent visitors help defray the costs of the promotion). However, if they are thought out well enough, a contest can be exactly the PR necessary to create a buzz in the online community. Sometimes you can get better results than even the social networking sites can give you — and best of all — you create free advertisers out of your visitors. Now who doesn’t want hundreds of people advertising your site for you?
There are however, some drawbacks to a really good promotion. Similar to an all-you-can-eat buffet for the homeless, a popular contest can also bring with it lots of headache and unintended consequences. One such contest was a “Top Commentator” contest held over at the website of John Cow dot Com. The rules were simple: be the top commentator for the month, and you would win a nice prize. On the surface it sounded great — it would increase participation on the site and almost ensure a flow of repeat visitors. However, the other side of that coin would be the flood of comments from anyone willing to win at almost any cost. Yours truly was swept away by this promotion, and enjoyed a nice 5-10 post lead from the next guy before the contest even started. However, in the spirit of competition, the contest quickly took a turn for the worst, with contenders one and two leaving comments like there was no tomorrow. Although I feel as though my comments were on topic (oh yeah, I’m different than the others, lol), some could have been consolidated in an effort to not flood the site.
So let this be a lesson to all of you webmasters who wish to delve into the world of website promotion: think out your plan all the way through, and be sure to mention any and all applicable rules at the beginning, so as to not cause any confusion later on. I don’t recommend the “Top Commentator” contest, unless it is a way for you to personally recognize someone who does bring good value to your site and your users agree. But for what it’s worth, Mr. Cow has enjoyed a steady rise to the top from his thoughtful ways of promoting. I wish him and everyone else out there the best in your efforts.