The December comment contest is now over, and I'm in the process of gathering information to get prizes out to the winners. Did the contest prove to be worth the added cost (both in money and time)?
Thankfully we had some generous prize contributors, so I didn't have to take on the cost of the prizes all on my own. Out of my own pocket, I paid for three books (one for each of the top three posters), I'll be paying for shipping to distribute those, a copy of The Writer's Market, and $25 for an Amazon gift card to the winner.
The big cost was actually the amount of time I spent on the site reading and responding to heavier comments, and posting more frequently to give people things to actually comment on.
My unique visitors were actually down a little bit from November. However, the pageview counts were up by nearly 6000 for the month.
I believe we had about 27 commenters this month (low, but better than most months - there were pretty much no comments going on here before). Most of them were new commenters, or ones that hadn't commented in quite a while, so it was nice to see some new "faces."
At the same time, some people who used to comment more regularly were scarce. I heard from one person in particular who said the overwhelming number of comments from the same people was a turn-off (that it looked like a "private club" and they were uncomfortable jumping into it). That was sad, and definitely influenced my future decision regarding contests.
I actually lost several email subscribers in December. Most leaving cited too many updates as their reason for going. A few said the subject matter wasn't relevant to them anymore, and one or two didn't leave a reason. However, I gained more email subscribers than I lost. I don't think that had much to do with the contest itself though, but rather the increased posting that stemmed from it.
Subscribers to the regular RSS feed did increase by well over 100 people (starting from practically just a handful), so that was nice to see. Those increases did slow down significantly during the second half of December though.
This site has actually been rather hard for me to monetize compared to other niches I write in. As you may have noticed, in December, I focused on affiliate advertising and Indeed job ads, removing Adsense from this site. Earnings have been up since then, making around $200 or so in December from this site. It's not much, but it's a start, and monetizing my sites is a primary focus for me in the new year.
While I don't think the contest had a huge direct impact on earnings, the increased subscribers are the ones I credit with most of the affiliate sales that did make a difference.
Was it Worth it?
I'd have to say overall, it was worth the time and money invested. It would have been moreso if I would have more actively promoted the contest from the beginning.
However, I don't think top commenter contests are the way to go in the future. I'll be looking at other ways to build conversations here, trying to get more people involved, without them feeling intimidated or surrounded by too much open competition. I'll likely go back to writing more controversial blog posts, and I'll continue adding new resources to the site (like the recent job board addition). For example, I'll soon be adding a directory of writers guidelines (it will be on a separate domain, but tied to this site). I'll probably start doing some kind of prize in February (I'd rather focus on the e-book challenge for now), but I haven't decided what type of contests I'll be running here as of yet.