Poorly run Best-Of contests make life difficult for newspaper and magazine publishers who genuinely want to put the work into their own contests. According to Todd Lemke, architect of a 30-year-strong, $1 million Best-Of contest feature, the lifespan of a Best Of contest hinges upon its credibility. “Without credibility, you have no longevity. You need the trust of the voter and the business owner.”
So, what does credible Best-Of contest voting look like? And how can a publisher use what Todd has learned to create their own winning feature? In this article, we’ll dive into the contest voting process and why it’s so crucial to get it right the first time.
Best-Of Contest Voting Should Be Difficult!
Yes, you heard us right. Best-Of contests go against the grain of every piece of web marketing advice you’ve heard over the last ten years. Normally, when you think about increasing web form submissions, you think about reducing barriers to hitting the submit button, such as reducing the number of form fields or eliminating steps in the process that could lead to abandonment.
With Best-Of contests, you need to add some friction to your voting process. In fact, Todd estimates that it takes around 20 minutes to vote in his magazine’s Best of Omaha contest. It starts with email verification. After registering on Omaha Magazine’s voting website, a prospective voter must click a link in a verification email before they can hit the polls. Then, as we mentioned in our 3 Rules for Best-Of contests blog, Omaha’s voters must vote for a minimum of five business categories.
This all started when Todd witnessed simple voting poll results skewed by savvy high school students. “If a high school kid can fool a simple poll, you can rest assured that business owners and others can, too.”
Perception Is Everything
Put simply, people who know that your system can be gamed won’t respect your results. Once this erosion of trust begins, it can be hard to stop among both voters and the business owners who could benefit from your awards. So, think long and hard about quality vs. quantity, and always err on the side of quality.
Todd cites the example of contests that allow you to vote daily for one category without email verification. In cases like these, all it takes is one large company to enter the fray and drive votes with a mass email. And perhaps even worse, it makes your contest seem like a ploy to gain advertising impressions—a big no-no in this space.
Best-Of Contest Voting: Avoid the “Pay to Play” Stigma
We’ve all heard the “pay to play” critique with Best-Of contests. Unfortunately, that’s because in some cases, the lack of control around the process enables fraudulent or unfair voting tactics. Curb these behaviors with proper verification and well-enforced rules, and you’ll have yourself a credible contest that any business can take pride in winning.
Todd likes to counter critics of his contest with a simple request: “Have you tried voting?” His process has enough checks and balances to silence those who doubt his publication’s credibility.
Here are three tips you can use to help fend off fraudulent voting on your ballot:
- Use blanks, not pulldown menus. You want your voters to arrive at your ballot with the intent of helping specific businesses that they truly support. Pulldown menus make it easy to exclude peoples’ favorites or for voters to assume that placements were paid for.
- Add common misspellings to your automated voting software (if you use it). You want to ensure harder-to-spell businesses aren’t penalized in the voting process!
- Avoid ads on the ballot! For much the same reason as excluding pulldown menus, you want to avoid ads on the ballot that can sway voters’ intentions. Think about how this looks to voters, let alone business owners!
As the votes come in, monitor the results for any red flags. If you see blocks of votes that seem suspicious, investigate further and contact the business. When you enforce your voting, word travels fast—and your Best Of program benefits.
Trust Is the Key to Building a Sustainable Best-Of Contest
Since 1992, Omaha Magazine’s Best-Of contest has seen a steady revenue increase year-over-year, including 2020 with the COVID shutdowns. Stand guard over your contest, and ensure that the fight is fair each year. You’ll see growth! Todd adds, “Some businesses that don’t win your ‘hard’ contest will, of course, gravitate toward less legitimate contests. That’s fine. When you work hard to build credibility, other contests are...not a true award.”