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my post got 63k visits thanks to HN: the aftermath.

One of my posts got to HackerNews #1 for hours. Here is what I’ve learned and some interesting data.

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about Google and RSS. It looked like something that would interest more than the frequent visitors of my blog, so I posted it to HN. I was surprised and thrilled to see the post rise to #1 of HN and stay there for nearly a day. This is the aftermath.

I posted my article on HN a bit after midnight (Thursday to Friday, GMT+2). In the first hour it climbed to the top positions of the HN frontpage and stayed there for more than a day. At the time I write this post, my submission had 654 points and 420 comments (I’m not a very active HN community member, but it looks like this is a high number of points, even for a post that makes it to #1).

Keep in mind that my blog is a low traffic blog, with a handful thousand visits per month. I have a fair number of followers on twitter in the range of 5k and I usually link to my posts from twitter, facebook and google+. The only thing different this time was HN, so one could safely assume that the increased traffic was the result of HN exposure. It’s also worth noting that the post wasn’t picked up by an influential blog of site (which is expected, as it was a rant coming from someone that few people know).

So... Once the post got high on the HN homepage, my blog traffic started increasing and Google Analytics reported for hours 600-800 active visitors!

real time traffic

As you can see, after the initial spike, the traffic went down, but I kept having a considerable number of active visitors on my blog for almost a day, which resulted in 63k visits in two days. (The average pages/visit was close to 1 and 95% of visitors were new, so the numbers of pageviews, visits and visitors are close, and I will report whatever is easier in each case.)

visits per hour

Most of the traffic came from the US (a bit over 50%) and as you can see on the map, from the “expected” places in Europe and around the world.

map, cities

One out of 4 visits was from a mobile device.

mobile traffic

And these are the top ten traffic sources reported by Google Analytics.

traffic sources

Now, keep in mind that any traffic that does not report a referrer is logged as “direct traffic” in Analytics. This means that traffic originating from desktop or mobile apps will probably show up as direct traffic.

I believe that most traffic came from twitter clients (the post has now 413 mentions on twitter, 157 likes on facebook and 159 +1s on google+).

It looks like even though the HN homepage drives relatively low traffic by itself, HN feeds appear in a number of places (aggregators, special sites dedicated to HN, etc.) and the HN community is very active (as expected) on twitter. There are also many twitter feeds dedicated to HN, like @newsyc20, @newsyc50, @newsyc100, @newsyc200, HN firehose, etc, that do a great job of promoting HN stories on twitter and it seems that their followers include a good number of curators that spread the stories further.

I wrote this post in order to help people, who are interested in using HN as a way to promote their news or their start up, get an idea of what to expect.

That said, keep in mind that each story has it’s own journey. An opinionated rant can be expected to pick up controversy, get points and generate traffic by people who feel the same, but don’t expect to be picked up by a major tech blog or site if you are not already known. On the other hand, if you are announcing a cool new technology or service, it is reasonable to believe that getting high on HN home page, will also bring you to the attention of influential bloggers and tech journalists one way or another.

Also, keep in mind that getting traffic to one of your posts or announcements is not guaranteed to make visitors visit the rest of your site. If you are interested in some kind of conversion (newsletter registrations, sales, twitter followers, etc) make sure the landing page drives visitors to do what you want.

You may not be as lucky as I was, but it’s good to be prepared for considerable increase in traffic. Make sure your site can handle it, it’s a pity to drive away visitors because your site can’t handle the required number of concurrent requests.

The HN crowd seems like an engaging and influential community. If I had a start up pitching a new service or looking for beta testers or trying to raise awareness about my services, I would definitely try to get their attention.

I hope I helped.

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