Hacker News and drive by traffic: How to make the most of your startups launch


“How are you going to market this?” I asked Entrepreneur X after being being thoroughly impressed by a demo of his startup. “I’m going to hit the front page of Hacker News.” he eagerly replied.

It was an unusually cold April day, and I slowly sipped my coffee while waiting for him to finish explaining his marketing plan.

A curious silence fell over our conversation so I gently prodded “And then what are you going to do?”

More silence.

At that moment it occurred to me that some entrepreneurs believe you only have one big day of traffic to make it big. Here’s the ugly truth:

Hacker News doesn’t create sustained traffic.

Look at the graph to the left. This is what a typical Hacker News traffic spike looks like. Notice how quickly the traffic drops off after a day or two.

Hacker News is fantastic for gaining general exposure quickly, but because it isn’t specifically focused on your niche, most of your traffic will be “drive by traffic”. It’s a nice, temporary traffic bump but it should just be the beginning of your marketing efforts. Find where your (specific) customers are and focus your time there. Traffic won’t be nearly as high, but your conversion rates will be astronomically higher.

This doesn’t mean you should completely ignore Hacker News, it’s just important that you understand it’s place.

The dates have been changed by my source’s request.

Capitalize on hitting the front page.

Ask yourself this question. “If I were a first time visitor, would I have any reason to tell my friends about this site?”

Since most visitors coming from Hacker News won’t be in your target market, you need to develop a “stadium pitch”. Chet Holmes describes a stadium pitch as a way to “Offer prospects something of value outside your product or service . Something important to THEM.”

By doing this you are getting your claws in visitors that might not initially be interested in your product and you’re giving them something interesting to share. A great example of this is Mint. Mint did a fantastic job of providing value to potential customers even if they weren’t interested in signing up yet. They had a fantastic blog that was pumping out interesting financial information consistently. If you cared about money at all, you wanted to read their blog (even if you didn’t use Mint yet). You can read more about this in Mint’s Marketing Plan.

I’m a big fan of Hacker News, it’s just not the end all for marketing your startup.

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  • I couldnt agree more – I have 2 HN spikes in my traffic that look like reverse vampire fangs – __/___/__

    It took me a while to figure out that marketing/generating traffic is an ongoing and time-consuming process – not just getting HN/Reddit attention…

    And that traffic from sites like HN is spikey not sticky. That’s not to say the traffic isnt welcome – just dont be surprised if traffic drops down after a day or two.

  • JohnMAckbar

    Good read. I’m going to try and work on my “Stadium Pitch”.

  • JohnMAckbar

    Good read. I’m going to try and work on my “Stadium Pitch”.

  • replace “hacker news” with ‘techcrunch’ and you get the same story, just perhaps applicable to different audiences.  Usually one post on one site, however big/influential it is, does not a business make.

    • Anonymous

      Well said.

    • Anonymous

      Or two, or three, four, five six seven eight … like blippy for example

  • Who was it who first said, “Not all customers are created equal”? I suppose one could rephrase that as, “Not all traffic is created equal”.

  • Thomas McDonald

    When the Super User Blog hit #2 on HN one day, followed the next day by being on the homepage of Slashdot, we got around 70k views over 3 days.

    While traffic has roughly increased fivefold over what we *were* at (200 -> 1000 views/day), around half of these are on the post that was featured.

    I wonder what the effects of putting something like The Hello Bar encouraging people to sign up to your RSS would have on traffic retention/subscription numbers, unfortunately I didn’t get chance to implement it in the time while we were in ‘the limelight’.

  • I had no idea how to use Hacker News at first and I submitted my site too many times, anyone have any idea how I can get “unbanned” I’d really like to participate.

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