Analytics Battle: Hacker News -vs- Product Hunt

Product Hunt has emerged as tech’s new darling. All the power of Hacker News, but more curated, posts about the minutiae of programming languages, science and math stripped out in favor of showcasing the best technical projects.

As with all platforms of scale, the larger Hacker News became the more specific the romanticized expectations of it became. Burning idols are always en vogue. So one wonders how much of Product Hunt’s buzz is related to the effectiveness of the site itself, and how much does Product Hunt benefit from disaffected hackers flocking to something shiny and bursting with seemingly endless goodies.

I’ve been on the top of Hacker News a couple of times, and this week Exversion hit the front page of Product Hunt. I’m now in the rather unique position of talking about the impact of both. Not a lot of people can say that.

So … how do they compare?

Exposure
In terms of pure eyes on the page, the number one position on Hacker News will yield about 1,500 to 2,000 uniques. If that number seems a little low, it’s because the posts that tend to do best on Hacker News are blog posts, code repos and news articles. So you end up driving traffic to your site through another vehicle, inevitably losing some traffic along the way.

Just because a post linking your baby does well on Hacker News, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see a significant boost in traffic. My first number one was directly about my experiences getting over my biases against my cofounders and that translated into a lot of interest in what we were building. My second number one was a review of a startup conference. It yielded only about 300 uniques.

By contrast, Product Hunt put 700 unique eyeballs on the screen, much more than a off-topic blog post but much less than a more relevant top HN post. However, while Hacker News hits you with traffic all at once, Product Hunt visitors show up gradually over the course of several days.

Personally, I prefer a couple days of boosted traffic over a spike that only lasts a few hours, but I guess that’s a matter of opinion.

WINNER: Draw

Engagement
But thousands of visitors who only stay seconds isn’t really that valuable. Obviously you want visitors who browse around, sign up for an account, stay for a while. Here it was no contest. The average Product Hunter stayed on Exversion for 10 to 20 seconds. The average Hacker News reader stays close to 2 mins

WINNER: Hacker News

Traction
And here’s where things get interesting, During the rush of new traffic produced by Hacker News returning visitors stayed around 5%. With Product Hunt returning visitors started off at 4% and climbed steadily to 10%. So visitors don’t stay as long initially, but they come back with greater frequency.

WINNER: Product Hunt

Viral Impact
Our first day on Product Hunt we had 300+ direct referrals, and 200+ indirect ones. Indirect referrals come from twitter bots and scrapers that harvest data from Product Hunt and redistribute it in order to boost their own content and activity levels. Get on the top of Product Hunt or Hacker News and these outlets will also pick up your link.

Sites scraping Product Hunt include Panda and The Scoop. Site scraping Hacker News also include Panda and The Scoop, but a wide variety of Twitter accounts attempting to narrow down the firehose.

And here is where the nature of Hacker News gives Product Hunt a distinct advantage: getting to the top of Hacker News is a real challenge. Staying at the top is practically unhackable. Things drop off fast and are engineered to drop off even faster depending on who you displease. Different karma levels unlock more features, specifically flagging and downvoting. There’s a rumor that if a YC-alum downvotes your post it drops immediately to the second page no matter what.

Whatever the case, the fact of the matter is during peak hours your post has only about twenty minutes to break into the top page. Once there it will start to drop as soon as the activity around it starts to wane. Realistically you’re looking at three~four hours of top quality time. If you hit a nerve you might be able to stay at number one the entire day, but rarely if ever do posts stay on the front page more than twenty-four hours.

Product Hunt, by comparison, basically freezes the top 10 every day and displays links by day. So content picked up by syndicators is much more valuable, because it sticks around longer whereas Hacker News can be more of a flash in the pan.

Furthermore, if your startup rates high enough you get featured in Product Hunt’s mailing list, driving an extra spike of traffic later in the week.

WINNER: Product Hunt

Repeatability
You can really only be posted to Product Hunt once. I actually didn’t submit Exversion at all, so while I was happy someone else liked my work enough to throw it up, I was also disappointed that we were up before we had finished planned changes to the main page designed to more intuitively explain what we’re about. The redesign of the front page is a big project we’ve been devoting a lot of time and energy too, and a feature on Product Hunt would have been a lovely cherry on top of that accomplishment, but que sera~

Hacker News, on the other hand, offers infinite opportunities to put yourself in front of new visitors. Just keep blogging and keep submitting. Even posts that barely manage a single upvote tend to yield 40~60 new visitors before they crash. Totally worth it when you figure that submitting is free and you would write the blog post anyway.

WINNER: Hacker News

Conclusions: Breaking off HN niches makes sense
I love HN. However I rarely if ever read it anymore. HN is a firehose of content that simply never ends and barely slows down. Even during off hours there is always new stuff to look at. You could literally spend your entire day reading HN. That’s the fatal flaw for them: the smartest hackers would rather spent all their time hacking, not reading Hacker News.

So I filter Hacker News by topic and break the week’s posts into digests (PS – if you’re into data you can subscribe to these digests here), but still there’s always FOMO. No algorithm is perfect.

Sites like Product Hunt make a lot of sense because they keep good stuff from falling through the cracks. However even this most promising spin off doesn’t come close to generating the traffic of the fire hose. On the other hand, Product Hunt has succeeded where many other “Hacker News for X” attempts have failed because it refines the methodology of HN to fit its own purposes. Multiday boosts in traffic are much preferable to insane fleeting spikes. Visitors who come back a third and fourth time are gold.

All the numbers here reflect my own experiences. They are influenced by Exversion’s unique worts and complications. But I feel confident in saying that the primary difference between the two platforms is that Hacker News will send you traffic, Product Hunt will build traffic.

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