I know I’m on thin ice with a title like that. Getting featured on the HN front page is high on every Indie Hacker’s bingo card, not to mention “hacking Hacker News.” However, we found a way to consistently get to the front page using a repeatable process that you can use too.
Let’s dive in.
Together with @adriaanvanrossum, I own Simple Analytics, a privacy-friendly and simple Google Analytics alternative. Adriaan started Simple Analytics full “indie hacker style” and grew to 100K ARR by understanding the needs of his audience extremely well. Most of our users are like Adriaan, and where can you find people like Adriaan? Yes, Hacker News.
To me, consistently getting on the front page of HN seemed unrealistic. If it would have worked just once, I would have considered myself very lucky.
But once the dopamine of my first HN front-page moment kicked in, I wanted more, more, more. I spent too many hours figuring this out, but in the end, we found a way to get that HN front page coverage repeatedly.
These are our website analytics from last year, where I marked the HN spikes. Feel free to play around with our live analytics here to see for yourself.
Here is what worked (and is still working for us).
Understanding Hacker News
First, you need to understand Hacker News. I’m not a developer. Hacker News had never been my jam. Before posting, I needed to understand what worked for the HN crowd.
You’ll find out that the HN crowd is not the easiest. The people on HN will literally slay you if your stuff is not 100% on point. Also, don’t even try to dump your semi-interesting blog posts on HN, let alone promote your product.
Competition is fierce, and only a certain amount of articles will get that front-page spot.
But after spending many hours trying to understand HN, its users, and the content that is doing well, I identified a pattern.
Your content needs to be either:
- Investigative (research)
Investigative: “Fingerprinting is worse than I thought”
If you check the link, you will see a few things that are important here:
- Someone did research and found something interesting. The writer actually put in the work.
- It’s written without corporate bs
- No self-promotion or any CTA’s in the text
It screams value.
There is only one reason this ranks on the front page of HN. It’s news that is relevant for the HN community.
Other things you need to take into account:
- Find the perfect time to post: Weekends – Less competition. Still tons of traffic.
- You can post multiple times: HN understands that quality posts can go unnoticed, so you can try the same post again. Don’t overdo it. I would say max 2 or 3 times.
- Keep engaging with the audience.
Our Strategy: The War Room
Yes, funnily enough, this is what we actually called our approach to HN. Once we got an understanding of HN, we created a strategy around it: The War Room Strategy
We chose to rank on the front page with “newsworthy” articles. This seemed to be a better repeatable approach than the “investigative research.”
The War Room Strategy has three steps:
Step 1: Newsbot
Step 1 is to stay on top of news that is both in our niche and relevant for HN. To ensure this, Adriaan created a “newsbot” to notify us immediately about news we could act upon.
For us, news on privacy issues, big-tech fines, data breaches, and anything concerning Google Analytics is relatable to us and relevant to HN.
Here is how Adriaan built the bot (only for the tech-savvy ones — I have no idea how this works. Skip this if you are like me):
- Fetch data from Hacker News API
- Set up Google Alerts for your query
- Fetch data from Google Alerts XML
- Enrich data and store in SQLite file with a cronjob
- Send alerts with other cronjob to Twist API or Telegram API
Then add chatGPT in the mix and ask for a rating between 0-100 and a reason why the article is getting that rating. We send ourselves alerts when the rating is 30+
Adriaan tweeted about it here to get the full idea of this.
Anyway, this way, we are the first to get that relevant news from the source.
Step 2: War Room mode
Step number 2 is triggered by our news bot. When this happens, we drop everything and start investigating the news item: War Room mode. If we feel there is something there, we start writing about it.
To be relevant for HN, you can’t just copy/paste the news item. News items are often very plain, so by providing more context and implications, you can create something relevant that can coexist with the source.
Example: Norway takes a stance against Google Analytics – 144 upvotes
- State the news item and link to the source (so people can choose what to read)
- Explain what the problem is
- Explain what the implications are
- Explain what we can expect in the future
Step 3: The secret sauce
We always end with a section that is called: Final thoughts. This is your moment to shine and drop a punchline that talks about your product/service.
However, be super super super careful with self-promotion. We only do this at the end of the article. After providing tons of value to the reader, only include one sentence that is the least salesy you can do.
We do it like this, and sometimes even that backfires:
Depending on the news item, we can create an article in 1-2 hours and post it on HN. This way, we’re always the first to cover the issue and take a broader perspective than just the news item itself. That’s the value you add.
Timeliness + Value = HN front page
Obviously, the goal is to get traffic to your website and increase brand awareness and all, but there was one side-effect I did not anticipate: SEO
Because we’re the first to cover these news items, other websites started to link to our content.
Three of our most popular articles got tons of backlinks (and even more traffic from those sources):
- Italy declares Google Analytics illegal: 158 backlinks from 72 different domains
- EU moving closer to Facebook ban: 191 backlinks from 52 different domains
- Vodafone & Deutsche Telekom to introduce persistent user tracking: 392 backlinks from 88 different domains
We even won the Dutch Search Awards for this strategy, while I am not particularly good at SEO.
In one instance, even the Indian Times linked to us:
How can you reproduce this?
- Understand Hacker News. Get a feeling for what works and what doesn’t. Even if you try to “hack Hacker News,” you must provide value. As explained, there are two ways to approach this, but without value, no front page.
- Stay on top of relevant news in your niche that is also relevant to the HN audience. If you want to recreate our bot, check Adriaan’s Twitter, or feel free to send me a message.
- Be the first one to act on the news + add perspective to the news item.
Timing + Value = Frontpage (consistently-ish)
Obviously, it does not work all the time. We’ve posted enough stuff that we thought was relevant and spent time on that was just not interesting enough.
Anyway, this approach generated many upvotes and became a repeatable process for privacy-related or Google-focused topics. If your audience is on HN, you should give it a spin. And obviously, if you reach that front page and want to track that juicy traffic coming to your website, check out Simple Analytics.