tl;dr: One submission on Hacker News sent over 16,000 visitors to our blog post in two days. This post documents the experience.
As we are working in tech, the front page of Hacker News is like the holy grail. It brings you traffic, downloads, sales, brand awareness…, that can make a huge impact on your business. Everybody wants it so bad but its space is limited and it can sometimes be a little bit tricky. You cannot simply game the system by sharing the link and asking for upvote like on Product Hunt. It doesn’t work that way. It requires the post’s interaction to be more authentic.
A bit of background: we are building TablePlus, a modern, native tool with elegant UI that helps you simultaneously manage multiple databases such as MySQL, Postgres, SQLite, Microsoft SQL Server, Redis… in a very fast and secure way. It’s currently on macOS only.
Since our first release 7 months ago, we have been receiving a lot of support, positive feedback from our users. It convinced us with the thought that we could be featured on Hacker News one day. We just didn’t know when.
Friday, Feb 9th, 2018
That was the last working day of the week, also the last working day before Lunar New Year, one of the biggest and most important holiday in Asia. During this time, we put all the work-related stuff aside, go back to our hometown and spend time with our family.
I only used Hacker News to read the news and find interesting stuff, but never actually submitted anything. I wondered how is it like to submit a post to Hacker News. So before packing our stuff and leaving the office, I used my new account and submitted the link to our post introducing TablePlus to Hacker News without expecting anything in particular. I was just trying to “check it out”.
That was around 4:30 pm.
I copied the exact title from the Medium post: Modern, native tool for relational databases. And I got this link: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16339004
Around 5 minutes later, I checked the submission and wow, 2 points. That can be something, I thought with a little of hope.
10 minutes later, I checked the submission, 1 more point. Checked the front page, nothing there. Well, that’s already slowed down.
Then I sent the post URL to my co-founder, Huy, informing him of my submission.
Huy: Oh, we seem to be the hottest one in the newest box. That’s cool.
He gave one more point.
Then we got back to work for awhile until 30 minutes later, Huy yelled:
We’re on the front page!
I was like, you must be kidding me.
No, I’m serious. It’s there on the first page.
I immediately opened a new tab and jumped to Hacker News to see what happened. He was right, it was there, near the last row.
I was jumping up and down, running around the room, excitedly. We f*cking made it!
It started to gain more points and comments, mostly positive ones.
10 minutes later, it slid from the first page to #36 on the second page.
Sad story. It faded off so fast that we didn’t even get a chance to show off with our friends yet.
But I didn’t know that it can still come back if it’s interesting enough to gather more interaction. That’s exactly what happened. 15 minutes later, it came back to the front page.
It quickly hiked up the list, from #30 to #28, then #16, and #8. The highest it reached was #2. It was booming.
As you might notice, the mod changed the title of my post to Show HN: to indicate that we are showcasing our new product that people can try out, give feedback or ask questions. Yeah, I forgot that too.
We know speed is the killer point that keeps your post stick on the front page longer. We tried to reply to everybody there as fast as possible, to make them happy, and to generate more interaction. There were mostly compliments and personal experience sharing. There were also critics, but the harsh ones appeared saturated quickly. Perhaps people also didn’t like it and downvoted it a lot. No worries :D
A couple minutes after getting on the front page for the first time, I checked Google Analytics to see what we had got.
Nothing. Not a single new session from news.ycombinator.com. I was confused. That’s weird, it’s supposed to start a spike.
Then I realized I put the link to our Medium post, while I was expecting traffic to our original blog post. So silly of me. That was a not-so-good move because the traffic was filtered, the majority remained on Medium. It only drove traffic directly from HN to our website after someone mentioned the site in the comment section. Then I tried to convince myself that instead of downloading the app immediately, reading our launch post would help people understand more about why and how we built TablePlus in the first place. Think positive :D
A few days later, my post faded away from the latest news section but it was still reposted on Reddit, Twitter and a lot of other mediums, bringing some more traffic until it’s cooled off and went back to normal after one week.
And here is what the traffic looks like for our post:
11,092 views on the first day, another 5,540 on the second day. That was total 16,632 views in two days. In one week, the post on Hacker News brought in a total of 23,453 visitors, our daily active users jumped over 400% in one day and half of that number still remains until today. That pushed the total revenue of Feb up over 200% compared to Jan. Not a bad deal, right?
Summary: How did we get on the front page?
Luck. I submitted the post without any preparation but I got lucky. That was also Friday, it’s less crowded so it had a higher chance to get to the front page and stay there longer. However, I guess it received less traffic than the midweek.
Being relevant. Remember the audience of Hacker News: hackers and entrepreneurs. So posting something about tech and entrepreneurship would interest them more and stand a higher chance. Our tool, TablePlus, was designed for developers so it could quickly draw attention from the majority.
Acting fast. As I mentioned above, perhaps HN only cares about the speed which your post gains interaction (mainly upvotes) organically. So we tried to be as fast as possible.
Being likable, avoiding downvote. That said, being featured on Hacker News is a big success but it’s not solely one way from HN to us. If we had a crappy product, even when we managed to get on the front page, it would probably be thrown away within no time since people there are the smart ones and they have the power to downvote, or flag the submission. They can smell the bad posts from miles away. We were lucky enough to be received very well by the community. So if you are making something useful to help people, be sure to get that good luck. It’s also a good chance to know your audience and test your market.
Thanks for reading! If you want to see what makes TablePlus interesting to HN users, check out the tool here for free.
There’s also a list of hidden norms on Hacker News that you can learn more.