Friday, 8 February 2013

Friday Rant - Automated entry services

Last night I was watching TV (OK, shopping telly, I'm not proud) and saw an advert for a service that enters competitions on behalf of their subscribers. The subscribers pay £12.95 a month to be entered into around 180 competitions a month. They claimed to have over 140,000 subscribers.

Oh goodness the memories it brought back to me. Soon after the Grape Vine website started (and don't panic if your link to it isn't working at the moment, the site has closed and your link will soon bring you to this blog) I woke up one morning to find that the monthly competition, which usually had around 300 entries a month, had received 20,000 entries overnight with more arriving thick and fast. My email account got locked up for being overloaded before I could stop the entries from flooding in.

And luckily I COULD stop them, because although every entry came from a different email address, only a handful of domain names were being used. Once I blocked those, the entries stopped.

Automated entry services look like a dream come true for somebody who simply wants something for nothing. Just pay your money , sit back and do nothing and win prizes. But 180 entries a month is an average of just 6 entries a day. How many online compers would expect to win regularly with an output like that? And on top of that, just how many of those entries are actually valid? I certainly didn't contact the 20,000 people I disqualified and I'm sure none of the other businesses who find mass entries like this breaking their "no bulk or third party entries" rules do either. So the gullible punters are paying a lot of money to probably get most of their entries disqualified.

Just a few promoters welcome automated entry services because the huge entry numbers make their promotions look successful. But how successful is a promotion where not one of the entrants has ever visited your site, and many don't even know you exist? It's actually possible for a major prize to be won by somebody who has never heard of the promoter. Now a competition is a promotion, that is, it is designed to promote your business in some way, by getting people to buy your product, interact with your site, think about your service in some way which will make then think of it first when they DO need to buy. It isn't just a way of giving something away for no return. So what is the point of a promotion where many thousands of participants don't even know they have participated?

So we compers, who visit websites in order to enter the competitions and, if they merit it, go on to become customers, are fulfilling the aim of the competition, to bring in potential customers, but could well be being outnumbered by tens of thousands of entrants who will never interact with the site.

However there are ways sites can avoid being targeted by these services, and ways compers can avoid wasting time entering competitions that could be targeted by them.

What can you do to avoid them?

As a comper you want to maximise your chances to win and avoid competitions that make it easy for bulk entries to reduce them.

Don't ever be tempted to think "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" and sign up to one. Promoters are getting wise to them so you will be wasting your money. Also if you sign up to one, you won't know for certain which competitions you have been entered for so you will have to avoid all "one entry per person" ones. That will probably leave an awful lot of competitions that you would have loved to have entered without an entry from you at all, when the entry service misses them.

Don't complain about Captchas. They can't prevent bulk entries but they slow them down, and cracking Captchas costs money, so while scammers in Eastern Europe with code cracking software and scores of fake IDs will still enter, the legitimate competition entry services based in the UK who want to make as many entries as possible in as short a time as possible won't devote time and money to trying to get round them.

Welcome sites that get you to register and log in before you enter. That all takes too long for a bulk entry service.

Look out for competitions that require some kind of individual interaction, from liking a Facebook page to writing a tiebreaker. The more individual the response needs to be, the harder it is to automate.

As a promoter, if you want your prize to go to a genuine, happy customer or potential customer, take note of all the advice I've given to compers above. The more people have to interact with you in order to enter your competition, the better your site will lodge itself in their subconscious, ready to pop to the surface when they need your product. Yes, making the competition slightly harder to enter will reduce the number of entries you get, but when it comes to promotions leading to future business, quality is better than quantity!

As well as encouraging some kind of interaction, make sure your terms and conditions include the words "No bulk, automated or third party entries"  so that if you ARE mail-bombed by one of these services you can legitimately delete all the entries.  AND ENFORCE IT. If you have the facility to check IP addresses, look out for large numbers of entries coming from the same one.

Look out for unusual patterns among the email addresses of entrants.  The automated entry services work by allocating an email address to each subscriber rather than using that person's own email address. These  may take the form

firstname.lastname@strangedomainname.com 

so it could be
jane.willis@myukmailbox.com
fred.bloggs@myukmailbox.com
betty.smith@myukmailbox.com

.. . and so  on. The one that hit me had used about half a dozen different domain names, so you will see thousands of entries with the same one, easily identified (and deleted) from among the genuine entries.

As long as there are sites that don't make it impossible for these bulk entry services to operate, they will continue to do so, often flooding small businesses with entries  it takes them days of work and worry to deal with. They are not illegal - but how moral can it be to flood a website with entries to a competition the entrants  aren't even aware exists?
I'm linking up to Ranty Friday over at Mummy Barrow




6 comments :

  1. groan ... So so lazy takes the fun out of comping

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  2. I love comping and it is fun, you see stuff that you would not see if you did not do it yourself.

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  3. Such a shame Jane, iv been comping for about 11 years and took a break for 3 years whilst i had my son, everythings changed so much,so much like and sharing not enough tiebreakers or making an effort anymore. It takes the fun out of it all now :(

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  4. thats not good half the thrill surly is knowing what competitions your entering in the first place?

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  5. I remember a certain lady from West Sussex -a darling - who wrote tie-breakers for you if you sent her something like a tenner!
    I thought that was bad enough.

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