It’s fair to say that the main reason to run a competition is to engage more people with your brand. Competitions are a great way to show off your best products, increase brand awareness and gather email addresses to grow your lists.

So, the last thing you want is for someone to win who didn’t even enter in the first place! How can this be possible? Via ‘competition bots’ – services where people pay a small fee for their email address to be automatically entered into every competition the bot can find on the web.

What this means for marketers is a risk of competition web form entries from people who have never been on your site, or perhaps never even heard of your brand! Apart from anything else, this is unfair for the other entrants who love your brand and genuinely want to win your prize!

Another problem with automated competition entries that the addresses used are often temporary and therefore unlikely to engage with your brand at a later date.

Ways to Fight the Bots!

Know the Signs

Always do a sanity check on new email addresses gathered via an online competition. If there’s a high proportion of domains you’ve never heard of, and a low number of typical addresses like Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, then you are likely to have automated entries on your list.

Another warning sign is an unusually higher number of entries.

Terms and Conditions

This isn’t likely to stop the automated entries, but make sure your Ts and Cs specify that any entry suspected to be automated will be excluded from the competition.

Reject Known Bot Domains

Manually or using a programme, check the list of entries for known bot domains and remove them from the list.

Double Opt-in

Consider double opt-in – let people know they’ll receive an email and need to click the link to confirm entry.


This isn’t completely bot-proof but it’s not far off. The best ones are unreadable by bots, meaning they can’t submit an entry.

Free-text Field

An alternative to CAPCHA is a simple question with a free-text answer. If possible, ask people to answer a question based on an image rather than text.

Hidden Field

Bots read the HTML behind your website and will therefore fill in all fields they find. Making at least one of them hidden from human eyes means that only bots will fill it out. You can then simply add a filter to your contact list – everyone with this field empty is probably not an automated entry.

Be careful with this one, though – the more intelligent bots out there are able to identify when a field is hidden to try to trick them.

Entry via SMS or Facebook

Thinking outside the box here, can you ask people to enter in some other way than via a web form?

For instance, automated services can’t enter competitions via Facebook, so consider hosting your competition from there, utilising your ESP’s integration so the entries still feed straight into your marketing lists.

Alternatively, ask them to text their entries – you won’t get a competition bot getting around that one!a