Wednesday 28 September 2011

When the automated entry services strike!

If you read Compers News, you will see that Pam Crampton, Steve Middleton and I write the "Ask the Experts" column, inspired by the question-and-answer sessions we have taken part in at Derby comping days, and in May we wrote about automated entry services.

These are not new to the comping scene - they have been around for years. But in the past, they entered postal competitions on behalf of their subscribers, reducing the cost of sending the entries by printing out all the names and addresses onto paper or postcards, packing them in boxes and delivering them by courier. In the last few years, most promoters, encouraged to do so by the Institute of Promotional Marketing, have introduced a rule that says something along the lines  of "All entries must be hand written and in individually stamped envelopes". Nowadays it  would cost the entry service just as much as any other comper to send each entry, so they can't offer the "bargain" prices for postal entries to their subscribers, so they have turned their attention to the Internet where entries are effectively free.

I don't need to tell you what they are, how they operate or which sites they target - you can read full details about them in the campaign being spearheaded by Loquax and supported by Accolade publishing on the Loquax Blog and  Superlucky Di's blog

So what I WILL do is tell you what it is like to be on the receiving end of one of these services.

Every month, I run a competition on the Grape Vine website. The prize is just a small one - a six month subscription to the magazine for compers that I produce, The Competition Grape Vine.
The aims of the competition are
  • to reward existing readers
  • to introduce the magazine to new readers
  • to encourage people to request a sample copy of the magazine in the hope they will like it enough to subscribe
  • to be a little bit of fun for all compers
  • to thank my comping friends for their friendship and support 
Every month I get between 350 and 500 entries, many from regular entrants who try their luck every month. So I was horrified to wake up one morning and find that I had had around 17,000 entries - how was I going to check them all to see if they were correct? How would I be able to see if any contained sample requests? Entries were still flooding in faster than I could  believe possible.

As I started to look at them, though, I realised that although the name of every entrant was different, they appeared to have come from only half a dozen domains. For instance, an entry from John Smith might have come from  or or or and so on. And when I opened these messages, I found that none of them - apart from the very first one I'd received that night - had the extra line in the message that indicates it has been sent using the form on my website. In other words,  none of those 17,000 people - only by this time it was 20,000 and  still increasing - had visited the site. None had had the opportunity to look around, think "That looks interesting, I'll send for a sample and I might subscribe." None had read about the other comping sites I recommend, or maybe told their friends about the site they had just discovered. In other words, there was nothing in it for me!

Since none of the entries had used the form on the site, none of them was valid, so I spent a little time working out all the domains that had been used, blocked all mail from each of them and then set about deleting all the bogus entries. To this day, I hope that no genuine entrants  sent in entries during the time the automated ones were coming in, as I might have deleted those by accident too.

So what was the effect on me? Well, it took me several hours to sort out the mess - time that, as a one woman business, I could ill afford to waste. I lost several nights' sleep, getting up several times each night to check that it hadn't happened again, and I had to spend more time working out a way of stopping it from happening again. Captcha codes can deter the mass entry services, but they can't prevent them -  Captcha-cracking software is on sale for as little as $20  -  so I introduced a task that depends on the entrant's  name. Now an automated service would have to divide up their subscribers alphabetically if they were to target me - that takes too long so they move on to other sites.

Speaking as a comper myself, I've been comping on the Internet for many years now and spend a lot of money online - and (apart from Amazon, which is something of an addiction for me) every penny of that is spent at sites I first visited in order to enter a competition. That is what websites want, that is why they run competitions, and if the people entering the competitions never visit their sites, that is exactly what they won't get. And if the competitions don't bring them customers, they will soon save themselves time and money by stopping running them. We compers don't want that! So please, please, will you all get involved in the campaign to stop automated entry services. There are suggestion about action you can take on both the blogs I have mentioned above.


1 comment :

  1. Just as an addendum, I apologise for using the word "several" several times in the same paragraph.... it looks as if they were doing a BOGOF on it at the OED this week!


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