Growth October 11, 2020

How I got to the front page of Hacker News, and the takeaways from it 🔍

Luca Rossi @luca

Hi guys! Last week one of the articles from my 🌀 Refactoring newsletter got to the front page of Hacker News! 🎉

My post on HN

I had already tried a few times without success. I will share a bit on what I did it this time and a few takeaways.

How I made it

  1. I used a catchy title (that wasn’t misleading though). It wasn’t SO clickbaity, but was legitimately weird, and I think people like to click on weird stuff (I certainly do).
  2. I posted late afternoon, around 18:00 CEST. I had read this is the best time to have more chances to go to the top. To be honest I don’t think timing matters that much. In hours with less visitors you should also have less submissions, and viceversa, but you never know. It’s like superstition at this point.
  3. I immediately asked 3 friends (really, 3) that I know are already active on HN if they could upvote the post.

The post jumped to the first page after a few minutes. Having tried other times, I suspect if it doesn't within 10 minutes, it never will.

Traffic

  • The post stayed between 5° and 10° position for about 2 hours, before sliding rapidly towards second page. After reaching the second page, the traffic dropped dramatically.
  • During the first 2 hours, it amassed about 4K visits.

Engagement

  • The post sparked a heated debate in the comments, with a lot of negativity. I read HN a lot, I know it’s not a very supportive community and I kind of expected this, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt anyway. However, I learned a lot from the feedback, and I am grateful for it. It was just hard to read sometimes.
  • I replied to a lot of comments, that in turn generated more comments. That has kept the post on top for longer.
  • As for subscribers, the traffic brought about 20 to 30 subscribers. I expected a few more, not lying here — I don't know if this the normal conversion rate for this channel (HN) or my newsletter did a bad job at converting 😄

Final thoughts

  • The experience was useful and I will continue submitting all my posts on HN. I have tried only 4-5 other times, so the rate of submissions/front page is good so far 😊
  • I think by writing consistently you will hit a home run sooner or later, and that might bring 100s of subscribers if the post is in line with the target and stays on top for several hours.

Question for IHers

  • Do you have similar experiences with other platforms, such as Medium, Hackernoon, Dev.to, etc? I write there as well, but they never really had much of an impact.

p.s. this is the original post I sent to HN. If you like it and want to subscribe, I would be super happy 😊

  1. 3

    Just to share another story - the first day or so I created a HN account was my first ever, and only, post on HN front page.

    I was literally running late to work, debated even trying to share something because it was definitely going to not matter or get any views, read a few things people posted that morning, said “why not” and shared an article I wrote the night before.

    The title was boring - “On Old Age”

    I posted at 7am central time

    It stayed on the front page the entire day

    Added 60 subscribers and 9k views

    I had no friends to up vote it

    It did spark a debate - can you like Cicero despite all his negative qualities?

    Soooooo - I think a lot of this has to do with luck as well. So don’t let it beat you down if you try and try and it doesn’t connect. Everything I’ve posted since then had zero interest.

    Part of life is trying and waiting for luck to come your way. If you are making things that are valuable to an audience or niche of people, luck might eventually turn your efforts into something.

    But, if you are not trying and putting in effort at creating value , luck won’t be able to do anything for you.

    If interested the HM article is here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24637930

    1. 1

      Great story! Also, 60 conversions out of 9K is pretty consistent with my experience. It's a low rate TBH, but good absolute numbers anyway 😊

      1. 2

        Totally agree on It being on the low end for subscriber count relative to views. But I wonder if that is just part of the “viral front page” characteristics of people?

        I say that because you said 20-30 for 4K views; so double that and we are pretty close on a percent conversion using the same source?

        The read-time average for me was also down that day. I could see how traffic from a front page like HN is less effective in terms of getting subscribers than an equivalent view count from Google rankings?

        Just a guess, but still worth it obviously if it happens.

        1. 1

          Checking the read-time average is a great tip! Definitely a good metric to track quality of the audience. 🙏

  2. 3

    Regarding conversations, HN has been low for me, even with a few post ranking high, but never on the front page. I’ve heard a lot that you don’t get users via HN. Reddit has been good - subscribers, users - as long as you are helping the community and not spamming. Hackernoon I had an article with 20k views, but few conversions from the about me at the end. Could be because it was hidden at the bottom.

    Regarding community feedback, HN and Reddit can be downright mean. There are a lot of people who like to tear down. I’ve had the same feeling as you. Indie Hackers and Medium are the best. The community I find is supportive about your hard journey of building a business. I have the feeling folks are more behaved since their real identity is more visible on these platforms.

    1. 1

      I think the biggest thing with HN is that the content needs to be the right fit with their community. I've had no success with certain topics and exponentially more with others. Other than being tech-related, I'm not really sure what makes it "click" there, but there definitely seems to be something to it.

    2. 1

      I have had a good experience with Reddit. Good conversion, and also good community. On Medium I really never got much traffic so I can't say. Maybe I should find a publication and post there.

      Overall, Indie Hackers has been the most supportive — even though I mostly write of something (engineering management) that doesn't appeal to everybody here. On absolute numbers, instead, Reddit has been the one bringing more conversions

      1. 1

        How do you approach and convert on reddit? They typically don't like being sold to and I've been having a rough time.

        1. 1

          I always try to write 2-3 paragraphs, not only send the link. I try to create a little bit of context, telling a small story, creating some value in the post itself, before people clicking on the link.

          It has brought maybe 50 subscribers (out of 150), but tracking is challenging because people that come from the app count as direct. To track them precisely you should add UTMs to the link and use Google Analytics (not Substack analytics) — didn't know this at the beginning

          1. 2

            The google analytics trick is great. Thanks!

            Could you share any examples of your posts? I've tried something like you described but, I am not sure if it is my product or the subreddits, I keep getting taken down even without adding my website link.

            1. 1

              I think it really depends on the subreddits. Some are very strict, while others are more permissive. I have been writing on r/SoftwareEngineering and it has always brought good conversions.

              This is my most successful post 😄 reddit post

      2. 1

        For Medium I get a few hundred views when I personally publish. When I've published under publications, the numbers sky rocket depending upon the pub.

        1. 1

          Ooh that's nice to hear, I will look for some publications to publish under!

          1. 1

            When looking for a publication, see how many followers they have to understand how large your distribution will be. Also, a lot of pub now require you to be paid. My goal is to get a lot of people to read articles, not get paid, but the bigger pubs seem to all be moving to this.

            For example, a recent article I got 4.2K views and made $22. Rather have had 7K views, but the pubs/medium need to make money.

            1. 1

              Got it! 4K would be nice anyway 😄 did you find a good conversion rate to subscribers (even just as medium subscribers)?

              1. 1

                No, never saw good conversions, but the articles are general tech ones and my About Me link is at the bottom. Here is an example: https://medium.com/better-programming/how-to-send-emails-from-firebase-with-the-trigger-email-extension-27c593ca1157

  3. 2

    Wow! That was a nice read :) thanks for sharing!

  4. 2

    Can I share this to my community?

    1. 1

      Of course! And if you think your community could be interested in the newsletter and want to mention it, I would be happy 😊

  5. 2

    Hi, thanks for sharing your experience! I wanted to ask someone this for some time, hope you won't mind answering :) Is it ok to post articles on HN which are not strictly in the tech domain? I was not sure and was afraid of getting banned so I did not venture. Thanks anyway.

    1. 2

      There are guidelines at https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html . In short it is "anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity", and not politics, religion etc.

    2. 2

      Absolutely! On HN you can find pretty much anything.

      For instance, I checked right now and there is an essay on Franz Kafka sitting comfortably at 5° position, with 37 upvotes

      Franz Kafka

      1. 2

        Lol I saw that post and assumed it was about Apache Kafka!

      2. 1

        Thanks! That is interesting :)

  6. 2

    A former company I worked for used HN a lot to build brand awareness and was on the front page around once or twice a month. The traffic is nice but it was more about the branding part en becoming authority in the field.

    1. 1

      I agree. On other communities, such as IH and Reddit, you have less traffic but way higher engagement, and you have the feeling of building real connections.

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