How My First Article Ever Topped the HN Front Page
And how you can do the same with yours.
A few months ago, I worked up the courage to finally write an article, and actually publish it.
I’d known for years that I was supposed to be writing as a maker on the internet.
But I never knew what to say. Or why people would listen. Let alone how to get eyeballs on whatever I’d write.
But after we released teaser pages for HookFeed and Minimalytics, something changed. We had buy-in! People were signing up for our beta lists and we had our first mini-win. Most importantly, we had momentum.
I never expected the following to happen, but a few months later in reflection, I feel prepared to pull out some nuggets that will hopefully help you do the same.
Not only did the article perform great on day 1, thanks to the boost from HN. But the fact that it was posted on Medium, and also spread around the web has helped to sustain traffic.
~10,200 Article visits
~3,900 Minimalytics.com click-throughs
~2,300 HookFeed.com click-throughs
~20,250 Article visits
~8,000 Minimalytics.com click-throughs
~4,250 HookFeed.com click-throughs
These are pretty incredible numbers considering the article only took 1-2 hours to write — and we had zero audience/following at that time. Plus, the fact that, about 30% of visitors to our pre-launch sites end up signing up for our beta list.
How it Topped HN
Hacker News can be a confusing place. A black box of strange ranking factors and strong penalties if you don’t follow their unspoken rules.
The only way I know of to get to the top is the following:
- Write good content. No getting around this one…
- Use an amazing headline. If you want the tippy top — your article needs to stand out in the list.
- Get upvotes/momentum immediately from influential people (with high “karma”) after taking your article live.
I’ll focus on #3. It’s the main reason our article hit the top, and it was fully pre-meditated.
Upvotes from influentials? When you had no audience…?
Yup. That’s right. We’d been chatting with some “internet-famous” people in the month or so leading up to the post, and leveraged our new relationships to grow the reach of the post.
We asked around for help editing the post and Justin Jackson was kind enough to help out.
Medium is an incredible writing platform and makes collaborative editing super easy.
When the post went live, he was auto-notified by Medium and ended up tweeting it to his followers — and also upvoting the article on HN. His karma was high enough to push the article to the front page of HN, where it picked up steam (thanks to the title and more upvotes) and rose to the top 10.
We also mentioned a few other “internet-famous” folks, Drew Wilson and Josh Long, in the article when describing the impact of their book on our business. When I notified them about their inclusion, they also supported the post on Twitter/elsewhere.
This wasn’t our first time talking to Justin, Josh, or Drew. We’d been talking for weeks/months about various bits here and there over Twitter or Email. And we’ve talked to many other entrepreneurs.
We help whoever we can, however we can, and it breaks down barriers for future collaboration.
You should be talking to your heroes already. Don’t wait until your product is “ready.”
Medium has been an incredible launching pad for our early blogging efforts. And it has only improved over time. A large portion of traffic in the first few days of a new article comes from referrals from Medium category pages and cross-links at the end of other articles.
This cross-linking also continues long after an article is published, and if you manage to make the Top 100 authors in a given month, you get a dedicated editor for your next month’s posts, plus inclusion in their emails to other readers/authors.
Based on this, as well as the results we’ve seen from friends’ and our own posts’, I think you’d be crazy to not start out blogging on Medium.
That being said, now that we’ve launched HookFeed, it made sense to start a product blog on the domain. We post in both places depending on the desired audience/reach of each article.
Not to mention the writing/commenting experience on Medium is fantastic.
It makes us want to write more.
The Obvious: Content, Title, Promotion
Looking back, the title and content were very compelling. I wouldn’t want to write every article as a How-To-Do-Something-Awesome post, but in this case it worked. And it seems like this sort of content performs well on news aggregation sites like HN.
The hard part is getting to the front page, which is typically only possible if those with high ‘karma’ upvote your article in quick succession immediately after posting there.
Nothing is going to get to the front page consistently unless it is good content. That should go without saying.
The Bad Parts
Desire for More
As soon as we hit the #20 spot, we wanted more. We told ourselves we were happy…but we followed that up with, “What if we hit # 15?” And then #10. And then #5. And then #1.
We sat in front of our computers all…day…long staring at Google Analytics and Medium, amazed at the traffic, and also bummed that we weren’t rising higher.
The excitement about front-paging was quickly overrun with negative emotions about why we couldn’t hit the top, or why we were starting to sink down the page.
Disappointment with Future Posts
When your first post does awesome, you tend to compare all future posts to that one big win.
I suppose it’s a bit like peaking in high school.
Each of our subsequent posts has done great, but not in comparison to the first. Had we never hit HN, we’d probably be ecstatic about the thousands that have read our writing over the past year. On the other hand, had we never hit HN, we likely wouldn’t have witnessed first-hand the possible reach of writing online.
Here are the stats for the rest of our 2013 Medium articles:
As you can see, most articles settle around 2-3k visits with “reads” and recommendations varying based on length, promotion, timing, topic, etc.
Some articles take off. Some are duds.
Justin Jackson said it best in one of our early chats:
The formula seems to be:
Good unique content + amplification = traffic.
I’ve been able to get some “mediocre” content good traffic, and I’ve also seen good content not get much traction.
Do your best to be happy with what you have, and know that every article is another brick stacked. The payoff may not be immediate, but it will come soon enough.
I’m Matt Goldman. I’m building HookFeed: alerts and analytics for your Stripe account. I’m also writing a book about how to launch a kickass software product with my partner Joelle and Michael Sacca.
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