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Results From Being On The Front Page Of Hacker News


A couple of nights ago I decided to put a post I wrote in July on Hacker News just to see how well it would do. I didn’t expect much so when I suddenly saw 800 page views on my blog 30 minutes later, my first thought was “am I getting crawled by some bot?” I quickly looked at the referrals and noticed that a whole bunch came from Hacker News! Somehow I had made it to the front page at rank 18. The post made it to rank 9 before starting a slow decline. While there are tons of posts out there about how to get to the front page, there are very few that are about being there. For those interested in what the numbers are like, this post is for you.

I was on the front page for about 12 hours and ended up with 6249 users reading the post. Blogger showed 15,000 page views, but Google Analytics only counted 1.1 page views per user so there was a disconnect of over 8000 page views. Quick research on the internet explains that Blogger’s analytics don’t exclude bots like Google Analytics does. I’m a little surprised that over half the traffic ended up being bots!

Of the users shown by Google Analytics:

  • 4004 came from Hacker News itself
  • 225 came from Twitter
  • 176 came from Reddit
  • 93 came from Facebook
The majority of the remaining came without a referrer so I imagine they are some combination of phone apps or url shorteners. Looking at a Twitter feed, I did notice that a ton of people did end tweeting a link to the post with various url shorteners that I had never heard of.

It felt good to see so many people tweeted the post! I counted at least 60 that weren’t Twitter bots.

Unfortunately, I didn’t put a link to follow me on Twitter on my blog so the net gain on followers after having 6249 people read the post was…. 2. Whoops. That needed fixing.

Some conversion numbers: 100 read the previous post, while only 40 read the newer post. Was my previous post better? Did it have a more appealing title? Or were readers just more likely to read an older post than a newer one? I either don’t have the data or don’t know how to use the data I have to determine that.

Other interesting numbers: With the power of basic math I have determined that my conversion rate is… very low. Not many people decided to read another one of my posts and not many people went to the main site. I do not believe this was because people didn’t enjoy the content. If that were true, the post wouldn’t have made it onto the front page of Hacker News and people wouldn’t have shared the post on other social media. What I think happened were a number of issues with how my blog is built.

First off, the color scheme was AWFUL. I developed my site and picked colors while using a 9 year old monitor, which was even cheap when I bought it. The colors looked fine on it. When I got a new monitor, my first reaction was “IS THIS HOW EVERYONE SEES MY SITE?! I have to change this ASAP!!” One commenter on Hacker News said the colors hurt his eyes and prevented him from sharing it. I don’t blame him. I would have done the same thing. This change is probably the most important change I could have made. I only wish I had realized it sooner.

The second thing is I don’t have a lot of interactions on a page with a single post. There’s the blog archive to the right, but the default Blogger component for that is not super visually appealing. I will investigate how to make that better.

Another possible interaction is adding some component on the template that mentions learning to code. The easy thing to do is just make a link and put it under the Twitter link I added, but I would like to spend some time trying to come up with something better first.

There’s still more data that I haven’t analyzed yet. I’m sure I will learn more when I do, or at the very least come up with better questions. For now, I have my list of things that I need to do to make my site better, not least of which is to keep writing posts! A lucky break like being on the front page of Hacker News isn’t going to keep people coming back to my site. Only great content can.

-PB

P.S. One last bit of information: some quick Google searches show that Facebook Ads cost 25 cents a click and Google AdWords cost $1-$2 a click. With over 6000 visitors, the traffic Hacker News provided for free would have cost $1500 on Facebook and $6000-$12000 on Google.

P.P.S. Please don’t ask me how to get on the front page. I have no idea. I just got lucky.

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