August 04, 2010
How To

Tournament Lifts Site Registrations 580%: 4 Tactics to Use Special Events to Grow Audience

SUMMARY: Promoting special online events can boost website traffic and visitor engagement. And if your team has advertising partners, you can turn these promotions into revenue opportunities.

See how an online games website developed one-day tournaments to build site traffic, subscribers and engagement, and then sold sponsorships to the tournaments. Includes creative samples of announcement emails, ads and the landing page.
by Adam T. Sutton, Reporter

Josh Glantz, VP, Publishers Clearing House, is general manager of the team's online division, which includes the online gaming site

At the beginning of this year, Glantz's team was looking for ways to grow PCHgames' audience, as well as offer a new opportunity to advertising partners who supply the site's revenue.

To accomplish this, the team began promoting special events to attract new and repeat visitors to their site -- monthly tournaments for the site's core games.

The team hosted one single-day tournament each month starting in January. The results have been consistently strong, and "have a very long tail," Glantz says.

For example, a late-April mah-jongg tournament netted a:
o 580% increase in the average daily registration rate
o 60% increase in time spent, with 9.6 games played per unique user
o 85x more daily mah-jongg games than average

"By increasing engagement within a tournament and wrapping a sponsor around that tournament, we're really providing engagement for the [sponsor's] brand," Glantz says.

We asked Glantz to explain how the team made these online events a success. Here are the four key tactics the team used:

Tactic #1. Create an event that's central to the site's focus

PCHgames is a free online games website. Creating a promotional event around something other than games was out of the question.

Your website likely has a different focus -- but don't let that deter you. The key is to find an activity central to your site's mission and to build a concentrated, one-day event around that activity.

For example:
o A news website could host a current events quiz
o An ecommerce site could host a scavenger hunt product giveaway
o An online knitting magazine could host an online, real-time sewing circle

- PR is important

When formulating ideas, keep in mind that any press you attract will help your efforts. For PCHgames, the team knew it would be able to pitch articles about tournaments to bloggers in the casual games community. Push to build an event that will appeal to a media niche in your market.

Tactic #2. Require a simple registration

Normally, PCHgames is free to use, even if visitors do not have an account. However, visitors must register to keep track of their scores, maintain site profiles and participate in tournaments.

By making registration a requirement for tournament entry, the team ensured any new visitors attracted to the tournament would grow its base of registered users. They also included an option to opt into the team's email newsletters.

- Make registration very easy

A cumbersome registration form could have been a barrier to attracting a large audience during the tournament. Instead, PCHgames only asked visitors to supply:
o User name
o Email address
o Password
o If they would like to receive email newsletters

Contestants did not even have to confirm their registrations via email. Visitors who wanted to provide more personal information were able to do so in their account profiles on the site.

Tactic #3. Promote event in multiple channels

The team lets its audience know in advance about upcoming tournaments. Here are the channels they use:

- Email

About three weeks before a tournament, the team starts mentioning the event in its "PCHplay&win" email newsletter. The newsletter is sent approximately twice a week.

The newsletters mention the upcoming tournament and invite subscribers to visit the site to brush up on their skills, and to invite friends.

As the tournament nears, the team increases the tournament's visibility in the newsletter, giving it more prominent imagery. The team also sends dedicated emails (see creative samples below) to:
o Announce practice rounds
o Announce the start of the tournament
o Close the tournament with a list of winners and their prizes

- Online activity

The team hosts a week's worth of "practice rounds" that let visitors play games on the tournament page. The tactic gives the team a chance to promote the tournament, and also gives the sponsor an additional week's worth of advertising for the event.

- Website ads and tournament landing page

The team created a large display ad for the tournament for the featured images section of its homepage (see creative samples below). The ad linked to the tournament's landing page. The team also mentioned the tournament on its events page.

The tournament's landing page featured:
o Sponsor's advertising
o Tournament imagery
o Descriptions of the prizes
o A button to "play now"

The "play now" button sent visitors to practice rounds before the tournament, and entered them in the actual tournament on the day of the event.

- Pay-per-click advertising

The team did a "modest amount" of advertising in search engines, bidding on keywords such as:
o mahjongg
o casual games
o free games
o winning

The ads linked either to the homepage or the tournament's landing page.

- Blogger outreach

The team included cash prizes for the top three winners of $1,000, $500 and $250, respectively. The cash was enough to make the tournament a PR-worthy event in the casual gaming blog community, and helped the team successfully pitch several blogs.

Tactic #4. Make the event relevant to advertising partners

The team strove to make the tournaments a valuable sponsorship opportunity for its advertising partners.

For example, the team worked with 1-800-Flowers to create the "Mahjongg Mom-Jongg 1-Day Tournament" held on April 28.

Mother's Day, held on May 9 this year, is a major sales holiday for the floral and gift retailer. The tournament's scheduling and branding made it highly relevant to the PCHgames partner.

On the day of the event, the tournament's homepage featured three 1-800-Flowers banner ads, and an icon in the tournament's logo.

- Offer more than one-day ads

Prior to the event, the team also displayed the sponsors' logos or ads in:
o Tournament-related emails
o Tournament homepage during practice rounds

- Offer near exclusivity

During the sponsorship and the practice rounds, the team ensured little, if any, additional advertising was shown to visitors. This gave the sponsor the sole ad spaces during the tournament, further increasing the sponsorship's value.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from's online tournament strategy

Members Library -- Find a Partner to Accelerate Website Registrations: 6 Tactics from and Xbox

Members Library -- Monthly Contest Doubles Email List Size: 4 Steps to Attract Names that Convert

Blog coverage: Frisky Mongoose

PCH Online

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