‪Hacker News doesn’t pay the bills‬

by Michael Bernstein on March 13, 2017

Funny money

In B2B SaaS, value MQLs over traffic.

This is how most new developer-facing B2B SaaS companies think that they should do marketing:

  1. Fire up the old blog on medium dot com

  2. Post to Hacker News

  3. ???

  4. Profit!

I’m here to tell you that this is wrong. First I’ll tell you why, and then I’ll offer a solution.

Why your blog isn’t enough

Posting your blog post on Hacker News and watching your homepage traffic spike isn’t enough. Here’s why:

  1. Traffic != MQLs — The goal of your content efforts should be to bring in as many marketing qualified leads (MQLSs) as you can. Getting a huge spike in traffic to a blog post definitely feels great, but that surge in traffic typically doesn’t bring much business your way if that’s your only angle.

  2. No segmentation — “everyone” at least skims Hacker News, meaning that there’s no way to know who’s reading your work, which means there’s no way to focus it, which means you’re wasting your time. You should be working on persona-driven content, and “reads Hacker News” is not a persona.

  3. It’s a quick fix — being able to write a post that gets on HN’s front page is now table stakes. You have to do more. If it takes an hour to do, you’ll get about an hours worth of value from it — with very, very few exceptions.

It can be a tough pill to swallow, but I’ve seen more than one company convince themselves that “blogging is enough.” For most people, it isn’t.

What you should do instead (or, in addition)

Here’s a good way to think about a content marketing approach that doesn’t suffer from the pitfalls of the HN dopamine fix cycle:

  1. Start with your persona’s problems — if you have some customers, or even some potential customers, or even some friends, ask them this simple question: what problem do you have that I can help solve? If you have some ideas, ask this audience which they would find most valuable. Get some confirmation before you proceed.

  2. Produce something of lasting value — aim to produce something that will outlive the HN news cycle. It’s good to get a spike one day, it’s better to raise the floor on your traffic for months and even years to come. You can get exponential rewards from incremental effort, if you get lucky enough. And eventually, you’ll get at least a little lucky. Probably.

  3. Make your attribution as airtight as possible — don’t be afraid to put your content behind a squeeze page, or to ask people to auth via GitHub or Google to access your work. If they want it, if they think it will solve their problem, they’ll go for it. 50 attributable leads beat 500 poor ones, any day.

If you focus on your core competencies and produce something that your audience can use, it will take you a long, long way.

In conclusion

Landing on Hacker News feels good. There’s no doubt about it, the traffic is great — but it’s not enough. Focusing on upmarket, higher quality, longer-lasting content is how you can take your marketing to the next level.