I’m running my first giveaway contest on FamiliesGo! I’m asking people to “help develop the Southwest section of our hotel guide” by contributing reviews of hotels they’ve visited with their families in Southwest states. Those who do can enter to win a copy of a new kids’ book called Arizona Way Out West & Wacky.

The slight glitch: I have three copies of the book at my disposal and only one entry two weeks into a three-week contest. Underwhelming to say the least.

It’s conventional wisdom that contests and giveaways are a good way to steer traffic to your site and also to encourage a desired behavior by your users. So I was thrilled when companies started pitching me things I could offer just a few weeks after launching.

I wasn’t expecting a stampede to my website from my first contest, but I was hoping for more entries than I have books. I’m working on more giveaways already and hopefully my execution will be better.

Here's what I learned for next time:

Offer big prizes

About a year ago I interviewed Angelia Kane, an expert on bootstrapping and we discussed using contests to promote a new business. Had I reread that interview before I planned this giveaway I would have recalled her observation that people often can’t be bothered with small freebies. Items worth $100 or more, she told me, will make people sit up and take notice.

I definitely undershot by offering a kids’ activity book that retails for $10.50. Next time I’ll learn to pick a meatier prize or bundle smaller ones together into baskets with themes like “Take the wrinkles out of holiday travel.”

Lower the entry requirements 

I made several mistakes here. I winnowed out too many people, for instance. The way I designed the contest, from the several hundred people who heard about it I had to draw in those who have stayed in hotels in one of five Southwest states with their kids and who have kids the right age for an educational activity book (and who would take the time to fill out a quick review form to get that book).

My next giveaway has to appeal to my target audience (parents interested in travel). And the barrier to entry has to be lower to draw in a broader group within that demographic.

Moreover, the required action and the prize have to be in better sync. Users might “like” your Facebook page for a $25 to $75 giveaway. But to get them to sign up for your newsletter or commit even a few minutes to, say filling out a survey, I need to hit that $100 threshold.

Get your giveaway partner to help

For the Arizona giveaway I featured a photo of the book jacket, the book’s website and publisher’s Facebook page in multiple places on my website and Facebook page. I also posted about the contest fairly energetically on Twitter, targeting tweets to tourism and other relevant groups as well as to my 750 followers. I also posted the contest on about five websites that list giveaways, two of them specifically targeting moms.

In exchange, all I asked the publisher’s PR person was to feature my Facebook page on her company’s page (which she hasn’t done).

Next time around I would recommend the sponsoring company post its own tweets and Facebook updates about the contest with links back to FamiliesGo! And I would request a link from the sponsor’s website.

Watch your stats

Giveaways can wind up attracting people who are interested in the freebie but not FamiliesGo! So it’s important to watch Google Analytics and tinker to attract the right people—people who are interested in the content, too.           

So far only two of the five websites I submitted the contest to have driven traffic to my site: 20 people who visited the contest page and left the site in less than a minute. I’ll have to see whether these numbers improve with better giveaways and experiment with other publicity.

On the upside, about 65 people have visited the contest page that talks about the contest. Presumably 45 of them found out about the contest on Facebook or Twitter or from my homepage. More than half of these folks stayed on the website for a few minutes and looked at several pages. The contest has also garnered more than 500 views on my Facebook page.

It seems the contest is at least drawing people’s attention to my hotel guide, and hopefully after learning about it, these folks will come back and use it. Also people who are already interested in FamiliesGo! will be on the lookout for other giveaways that suit them better.

In the meantime, if you’ve visited a hotel in the Southwest with your family I’ve got a great activity book your kids will love…