The truth about posting to Hacker News

I was reading today a post titled “How I got my first 1000 users in one day“, detailed how its author managed to get over a thousand new users in one day, with the main takeaway being “get to the front page of Hacker News” – quite appropriate, since I found the post on Hacker News. In the comments about the post, some people were complaining about spamming and being exploited by evil companies and entrepreneurs who post to HN in the hopes of reaching its audience.

As someone who might fall in that audience, allow me to debunk some preconceptions on how stories get to the front page.

Hacker News is highly moderated

If you are a frequent reader of HN, you should have probably noticed this by now. HN is actively and aggressively moderated.

  • Algorithms are in place to prevent voting rings antics (people colluding to get enough votes to push a story to the front page).
  • Moderators constantly kill stories. All. The. Time. Even stories that make it to the homepage. More than once I started reading an article that was in a top 5 position on the front page, and when I returned to the front page, it was gone (i.e, booted off). I’m not clear if it’s only moderators who can kill stories, or people flagging the stories is enough to get it off the front page – but it happens all the time.
  • Titles are highly moderated as well. I don’t bother playing around with the titles when I submit a story, since I know it will be changed back to the original soon enough (though it might be a viable tactic to get on the front page – who knows).
  • Repeated posting to flagged domains are automatically killed. Domains can get flagged by stories from them getting killed manually several times. It’s a very short loop.

If a story is on the front page, and stays there, it is not spam – at least by the guidelines of the community and moderation staff.

Getting a story to the front page and making it stay is a luck of the draw

Getting a submission to the front page is often a hit-or-miss. Far fewer people visit the “new” page, and depending on the current front page traffic you might need more votes to get there (according to the ranking algorithm, which I believe decays the ranking with time). Because voting rings are moderated and you need some initial karma to vote up a story (so it’s not enough to just create a bunch of accounts every time), stories that make it to the front page typically deserve it.

Once they make it to the front page, it’s up to the general population of HN to decide whether it’s interesting / relevant or not. Stories can fade away pretty quickly even after reaching the front page – if people keep voting the story up, it means they found it valuable. No story is going to appeal to everybody – there’s no reason to declare that don’t appeal to you personally as spam.

Hacker News is not valuable for SEO

Someone in the comment thread mentioned one company talking about HN as a part of their SEO strategy. Because of the structure of the links on HN – temporary pagination links that expire every time the ranking change – it has no value for SEO purposes, at least not directly.

HN main value is in its large community of tech savvy people. Tech companies would naturally try and reach that audience – as they do on many other mediums and channels. Because of the democratic process of voting and the mechanisms in place to prevent abuse, if a story makes it to the front page, it deserves to be there.

So the value is in reaching a relevant audience. If eventually some of that audience writes about your story and links to it – your SEO has improved by a tiny bit. That is a part of – but that only works when the content you create has significant value – and hence, by definition, is not spam.

Reposting is a legitimate tactic

Some of the comments on the original story above decried the author’s use of deleting a post and submitting it again later with a different title.

It’s promoting repeated posting of the same article in attempts to get lucky. It borders in the grey area of spam.

As mentioned above, people who abuse and try to repost irrelevant stories over and over will get find their stories automatically killed (enable “show dead” in your profile to see those), and eventually their account blacklisted (“shadowbanned”,”hellbanned” and other nice terms). Those can actually happen even to legitimate users, by the discretion of the moderators.

Since getting to the front page is a luck of the draw, and is affected by many variables including time of day, activity on the site and the “new” tab specifically, the presence of especially aggressive moderators and so forth – it stands to reason you should try a few different times if you truly believes your story is HN material. If it’s not – it won’t get upvoted, it’s that simple. If it’s truly irrelevant, and you keep at it, you will get flagged / banned / modded off.

Even with reposting, there’s no guarantee to make the front page. I’ve tried this tactic a couple of times, with mixed results – it worked a couple of times and failed in others. That last post is one of my most popular posts ever, with literally dozens of people thanking in person for writing it, and I felt it was a very good fit for the HN crowd – but it got no love there. Sometimes it’s like that.

Why I post on Hacker News

Give some slack to the creators

Most people consume content and a few create it. When you put a lot of effort in writing or otherwise producing a content piece you feel proud of, I think it’s only legitimate you will put some extra effort in getting people to read it. So give some slack to the writers and other submitters on HN! if you don’t like their content, don’t upvote it. If other people do and it makes and stays on the front page, don’t hate. There’s enough room in HN for all of us, even for the evil companies and entrepreneurs who want to reach out to the HN community.

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