Use Adwords to find the best title for your Hacker News post

Making a popular launch post on Hacker News can be a bit of a gamble. Even great posts can get lost in the noise. Attention on HN is hugely important to a startup’s launch. Not only can you get some great feedback and some early adopters, but it can also lead to further press as many tech blogs use it as a filter to find out what’s new and interesting.

With the launch of we had some problems getting any traction on HN. isn’t a particularly “sexy” startup. It solves a messy problem that is hard to communicate.

My first attempt to post the startup to HN happened on Friday. I aimed it for the peak time in the US and went for the following title;

Show HN: – Battling the last frontier in payments

30 mins later there were no votes. Worried that I timed something wrong I deleted the post so I could go back to the drawing board. I thought that perhaps the title was not intriguing  enough, so the following day I tried another strategy;

Show HN: – an innovative solution to a messy problem

HN likes innovation, right? 30 mins later, nope, no votes.

Hmmm… I was a bit lost at this point. Perhaps I was just out of luck this time. I wasn’t having a great time getting any kind of press. Maybe I was just going to have to go without the HN bump this time around.

I figured I had one final shot on Sunday. This time I went to the Adwords where I had been running ads for a few days since we had soft launched the site. I had created 20 ads with different descriptions of what our business does.

By far the highest click through rates were on the ads were the ones with the simplest titles. There was one phrase that consistently rated highly, so I went with that;

Show HN: – Get your money back

A few minutes later, finally, 1 vote. I fist pumped the air – finally a tiny bit of acknowledgement! Slowly a few more votes trickled in until 2 hours later;

It had reached #2! Over the next few hours the post kept gathering votes and comments. Getting onto the front page of HN brings in some solid traffic. We saw a sustained 100+ concurrent users on the site for around 3 hours. In total we saw just over 5000 new unique visitors come to the site as a result of our that single post.

Most of all we got some really great feedback from the discussion thread on HN. It’s clear we weren’t communicating the value of the product correctly, so we’re going back to the drawing board for a few of our pages as a result.

Perhaps the conclusion from this is, don’t try to be too smart :) It turned out that the simplest title worked the best. Without Google Adwords this wouldn’t tweaked for me and I would have had no idea what I was doing wrong. Next time I have an important post, I’m definitely going to put some potential titles into Adwords first to see what sticks the best.

Speaking of which

5 thoughts on “Use Adwords to find the best title for your Hacker News post

  1. Hey there,

    What keywords did you use? If you don’t want to share specifics, what was the logic for choosing your keywords?

    Was it direct searches for your business, or related searches(e.g. searches that your target audience tends to search)?


    • Hi Eytan,

      For the company Adwords posts I am using keywords related to our business (i.e. “chargeback”, “payment dispute” etc…).

      For this blog post I spent around $70 over the last day on keywords like “Hacker News”, “”, “optimised social” etc… It actually gets a reasonable number of impressions.

      While I wouldn’t necessarily rely on the results verbatim, I think there’s real value in that it lets you think or other candidate titles which I would have originally dismissed as too simplistic or too boring.


  2. Great post. Adwords is by far the most cost effective way to do market research. Forgive the shameless plug, but I think I can help you with your Adwords campaigns based on your screenshots. (I’m Google certified in Search Advertising) If you’d like to hire me, just shoot me an e-mail. Good luck!

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