The secret to hitting the Hacker News front page (and what it’s worth)

I’ve been blogging every day for the last couple months, and I’ve watched my traffic climb steadily, primarily due to hitting the Hacker News front page about ten times in the last month. The traffic I get from HN is very valuable to me, as the comments are insightful and people often reach out to offer advice, encouragement, or constructive criticism. So I’ve been trying to analyze why some of my posts hit the front page and some don’t. The problem is the speed at which stories are submitted to HN; it just moves too fast to get enough votes, even in the wee hours of the morning when I often submit my posts. The growth of the site means that the traffic bump for articles on the front page is increasingly large, and that means more and more submitters, but apparently not a proportionate increase in the number of people checking the new page and voting on promising stories. It seems as if the end result will be that you need to do one of the following to get on the front page:

  • Write a really linkbait-y title (bad)
  • Game the system through fake accounts or voting rings (really bad)
  • Be a name author that people recognize (hard)

Yesterday, I figured out that there’s a fourth option: build a small base of people who will submit your stories when you tweet them. The advantage of this is that submitting a story that’s already been submitted counts as a vote automatically. For example, yesterday I decided to just write a very short post about why I decided to stop doing client work that involved Facebook applications. The post was written out of desperation, as I couldn’t think of anything else. I spent about 15 mins writing it, posted it to HN, and went to the gym. By the time I got back, it was already off the new page and I figured that was the end of it. However, I realized that I had forgotten to tweet it, so I did so. Within 5 minutes, it had 15 votes on HN and was halfway up the home page, where it continued to attract votes.

So if you want to get on the HN home page, you need to a) write great content that the HN audience will like, b) cultivate a following that will vote and submit your stuff. You don’t need a huge following (I have less than 400 Twitter followers right now), but you need the right followers. You could cultivate such a following with RSS, but Twitter is much more immediate and you benefit from having a bunch of votes in the first few minutes. Which reminds me: if you were one of the ones who voted or submitted my story, thank you very much. I’ll try to keep writing stuff that people find interesting.

Oh, and my post yesterday had this final result:

  • About 350 points for the HN post, which was on the front page for more than 24 hours
  • The post got picked up on Reddit and garnered more than 1100 points there
  • About 75 comments on HN, 75 on my blog, and 300+ on Reddit
  • Dozens of tweets and retweets
  • More than 100,000 unique visitors (90% from Reddit)
  • 350% increase in RSS subscribers (now at 550) and a 10-20% increase in Twitter followers
  • Several job offers with companies I respect
  • Two contacts from FB reaching out for clarification, including the head of the platform engineering team
  • Some decent revenue from Adsense and Amazon
  • Several very valuable new connections

Not bad for 15 minutes of work.