Asking for Upvotes on ProductHunt: How to Get Bumped From the Daily Top 5
There’s no doubt that having your product featured on Product Hunt can have a huge impact on the successful launch of your startup, and this effect is multiplied when you make it into the top 5 hunts for the day and wind up in the daily newsletter. But, if you try to game the system by asking for upvotes, you’ll learn very quickly that Ryan Hoover is dead serious about what can happen if you trigger their voting ring detection, a lesson learnt the hard way this past Thursday by Sticky9.
On Thursday, a product went up on ProductHunt called Sticky9 — an app that takes your instagram feed and turns it into physical products (magnets and so-forth).
It was hunted by Violeta Nedkova, who is ranked #12 on Product Hunt by the (unofficial) Product Hunt Leaderboad. Nobody really knows exactly how the quirky PH algorithms work, but basically her 26,000+ followers on Product Hunt will see her hunt the product and the odds are in your favour that they will react positively to this. In short, it wouldn’t have hurt their Product Hunt journey to have Violeta be the one to hunt them. (Side note, bugging Violeta to hunt your product is a sure fire way for it not to happen)
And Sticky9 did do quite well for the first few hours, managing to hold onto the #5 position. Then they started to promote their Product Hunt listing and this happened:
By the end of the day, they were ranked #20, despite having more votes than the product ranked at #6.
Rule #1: Don’t Ask for Upvotes
In many ways, Product Hunt is a self-moderating community. If you are lucky enough to be hunted to the front page, the only way you’ll get to the top of the heap is if the rest of the Product Hunt community like your product. But there are some rules for conduct on their FAQ page, and maybe the most important is the one that says not to ask for upvotes:
May I ask people to upvote for my product?
Please don’t. People should upvote things they genuinely like or find interesting, not because they were peer pressured to do so. Feel free to spread the word and bring friends into the discussion, but asking or incentivizing people to upvote may trigger the algorithm to drop the product in the ranks or remove it from the front page entirely.
You really can’t get much clearer than that.
I’m not sure where it began, and I don’t know what e-mails were sent out, but Sticky9 have over 100k followers on instagram, so when they shared this photo, it picked up over 250 likes in a pretty short time. A few team members also excitedly shared the news on Twitter, and a few people promoted a live event to celebrate their Product Hunt launch. Nothing wrong so far, in fact you’ll see that Ryan Hoover and ProductHunt actually favourited some of those tweets.
The Live Broadcast
The live broadcast (now made private) was specifically focused around the 100 upvotes moment (when PH tweets your link out with an animated gif), and how exciting that moment would be. For the most part they were pretty careful not to ask for upvotes, but a couple of times it did slip out, and to be honest they were doing everything except asking for upvotes.
The stream was very focused on reaching the 100 upvotes milestone and there was even talk of awarding something special to the person who was the 100th upvote. This latter part is really a no-no, as it essentially becomes incentivising people to vote.
Being Spanked By Product Hunt
Now, as far as I know, there’s no magic button that the Product Hunt moderators have to spank you with when you’re asking for upvotes.
I have seen a tweet where Ryan mentions it’s partially automated and partially manual, but as far as I know, they don’t flick a switch that turns every upvote into a downvote.
But the algorithm knows.
I don’t want to go too much into how the Product Hunt voting ring/spam detection works, because a) I don’t really know for sure and b) I’m not writing you a manual for gaming it, but there are two things to know:
1) Direct Links to your product page don’t trigger voting ring detection. Forget what you’ve been told. It may have been true at one stage, but apparently this has no impact on whether your product gets hit with the spamhammer. After all, when Product Hunt tweets about your product, it uses a direct link.
2) If your personal following contains a lot of people who don’t use Product Hunt, they will be signing up for the first time to vote for you. I imagine it’s pretty easy to detect “50 new users signed up for PH today and voted for one product and no others”. In fact, Ryan Hoover has even confirmed this is part of the logic.
So, you can imagine that someone with 100k instagram followers, 15k Twitter followers and a huge customer database to draw on, probably had a lot of their followers visit Product Hunt to give their support. Even if they didn’t ask for upvotes, even mentioning that they were on Product Hunt could trigger the voting ring/spam detection with the influx of newly registered users who only voted on Sticky9.
Which at first seems a bit counter-intuitive — Makers are essentially punished for onboarding new users into the Product Hunt ecosystem.
A Discovery platform, not a launch platform
But, this does start to make sense once you stop looking at Product Hunt as a launch platform.
Okay, so yes Product Hunt has participated in several launches (Snoop Dogg’s latest album comes to mind) and most of us in the startup scene now realise the importance of including Product Hunt as part of a broader launch strategy. But, if we go back to its very roots, the site was created to discover products, not to launch them.
And you do really have to give it to the team at Product Hunt for their integrity in this regard. There’s no ads on the site, there’s no way to pay to get listed or to pay to get to the top on a given day. Yes, sometimes the Product Hunt team really engages and evangelises for certain products and makers, but that’s because these are products and makers that the PH team are excited about. It’s real.
If Product Hunt’s value proposition was “to help launch your Product to lots of people”, then onboarding new users to upvote you is only going to enhance that value proposition. They’d have a wider audience to expose launches to.
But, if you consider that the primary value proposition that Product Hunt offers to the world is to “discover the best new products”, then maintaining the integrity of daily rankings is far superior in the long-term to onboarding a few new users.
So How Do I Get in the Top 5?
Okay, so you’re not going to ask for upvotes and you’re going to be careful about leveraging your existing community. You understand that Product Hunt is all about product discovery and not product launches. What you want to know is how you get to the top of the daily rankings. Well, fortunately for you, there’s one easy step you have to follow:
Create an awesome product that people will get excited about.