Published October 10, 2011 by James Simmons
It started out as a simple 48-hour project; Design a bare-bones layout, pick 70-or-so neat products that other hackers would like, put it online and see what happens. To my surprise HackerThings has received a lot of attention! In the first 7 days of being online, HT received about 160,000 unique visitors resulting in about 220,000 page views. Many more visitors than I'd anticipated in such a short time. I'll be breaking down exactly what happened and where that traffic came from.
The weekend before launching
I'd become set on making a site that showcased cool hacker products. I wanted electronic components, obscure but useful materials for building things, good books, tools to help with putting things together, and even interesting gadgets and other miscellanea. It was Friday and I finally settled on a name. It wasn't perfect but it was vague and left a lot of room for deciding on the exact content. The domain name, Twitter account, and Facebook page URL were all available so I registered the domain and created the appropriate accounts. I spent all night Friday, all of Saturday, and all of Sunday working on the layout and gathering the items.
The content took the longest to get right. I had around 70 items when I launched and I needed to download and resize the images as well as create a short description. Sunday night I put the finishing touches on the site. They say don't prematurely optimize but I couldn't resist; the homepage and RSS feed are pre-generated locally and the product pages pull data from a Python dictionary. Aside from this newly minted blog, nothing on HT uses a database (this will be changing soon as some features will require it). With all the pages ready to go I went to bed breathing a great sigh of relief -- the hard part was over with.
Day 1: Not much happened
It was Monday morning (September 26th, 2011) and I was eager to start sending visitors to the site. The first thing I did was setup an account for StumbleUpon Paid Discovery. I created a campaign that had little targeting. This first campaign was targeted at all genders, ages, and locations and was targeted towards the followers of "Gadgets" and "Programming." I added $50 USD to the account and set the campaign to only use $10/day for 5 days. At a cost of $0.05 a visitor, this wasn't too bad. 200 fresh visitors per day seemed like a good start. The campaign took a little while to get approved, but once it was I immediately began receiving traffic; usually in bursts of about 25 to 50 visitors within a few minutes, throughout the day. I ended up receiving 231 visits from StumbleUpon; 200 paid and 31 organic (from Stumblers hitting the "I like it!" button, giving it more juice).
Next I looked towards my home community, Hacker News. I made the site with my fellow HNers in mind (even utilizing Hacker Orange, #f60). If anyone was going to appreciate what I'd made, they would. So I went ahead and created a Show HN to showcase my project: Show HN: HackerThings - My 48-hour weekend binge project. The submission ended up getting 15 up-votes and a few comments with good (and encouraging!) feedback, leading to 103 visits. Although I didn't get the traction I was looking for I did get in touch with a couple great HNers who helped me out down the line and helped me to keep focused on the important next steps. I'd say that in itself made it worth it.
Also that day I received 67 visits via Twitter, 54 via Facebook, 28 via an ill-fated self-submit on Reddit, and other traffic from various sources. Overall I pulled in 616 uniques and 842 page views.
Day 2: Things picked up quickly
This is when things started to get crazy. I was bummed out by the first submission to Hacker News. I was sure that it could perform better because the topic was aligned with the interests of HN readers and I had already received encouraging feedback. I had to try again so I re-submitted the site early on Tuesday morning but I didn't get lucky. It received 3 up-votes after 30 minutes -- not enough to hit the front page. I deleted that submission and decided to try again a little later in the day. Around noon I tried submitting again but with a shorter title. Show HN: HackerThings - Products for hackers. This is where my luck completely turned around. Not only did this submission get to the front page, it stayed at #2 for about 10 hours. More than enough time to be seen by many eyes! That submission has received 357 up-votes to date.
Hitting the Hacker News front page gets you a lot of attention. I received 5,669 visits that day from that submission and the feedback I got was amazing. Everyone helped me out a lot with their suggestions for new features and products. It became a gold mine of good feedback. The exposure from being on HN's front page was enough to bring in traffic from other sources as well. From Twitter I received 1,680 visitors and (in my mind) a ton of mentions in tweets (around 400 or so). Someone submitted the site to the subreddit ShutUpAndTakeMyMoney and that submission received 195 up-votes (to date), bringing in 1,758 visitors.
This is the day that StumbleUpon started sending me traffic by the truck-load. At the end of day 1 I had re-targeted the campaign. I limited the age range to 16-40 years old and only showed the site to males in the United States. Around lunch time I started noticing about 1 hit/second coming from StumbleUpon. Apparently the stumbles I paid for, the campaign re-targeting, as well as the attention on HN and Reddit scored me some love with the Stumblers. SU ended up sending me 8,772 visitors that day. Also that day I received 279 visits via Google+, 219 via Facebook, and a bunch from various other sources. Overall I pulled in about 24,000 uniques and 28,000 page views (there was only one page up at the time).
Although the site was being tweeted about quite a bit, one interesting tweet was from Tobias Mollstam of Mojang where he instructed his ~40,000 followers to buy everything on HackerThings. That tweet brought a good amount of traffic in a short amount of time. It was a lot of fun watching his tweet appear and then to watch the stream of hits coming in from Twitter. Thanks again for the shout-out!
I stayed up all night answering comments, replying to tweets, and making sure the site stayed up through the sudden surge of traffic. It was worth the effort.
Day 3: A happy birthday
What a great birthday gift it was to wake up and see that I'd received 12,000 hits already. Direct traffic certainly dominated this day with 7,398 visits from people coming to the site by either typing or pasting the URL or by using a browser bookmark. It seems that many of the visitors from the previous day wanted to see if I'd added any new products. Hacker News sent 4,948, Reddit sent 4,189 (big increase from the previous day), Twitter sent 3,317, StumbleUpon sent 3,131, Facebook sent 604, and a bunch of other sites sent traffic as well. The day ended with 25,000 uniques and 29,000 page views.
Day 4: Still going strong!
Traffic from Hacker News died down quite a bit. This was expected as it had been off the front page for a day. StumbleUpon was going nuts though and sent me about 17,000 visitors. I was still paying $10/day for 200 visitors so I was really getting a bargain for my money at this point. 2,905 direct visitors, 851 via Twitter, 443 via Hacker News, 198 via Facebook, and of course from various other sources. All-in-all the site scored 22,000 uniques and 26,000 page views.
Days 5-7: A lot going on
This entire time I had been pretty busy with adding products, answering comments and replying to tweets, and finally adding new features. I added categories and product pages with Facebook comments in an attempt to engage visitors. So far I would say it has worked as products are now being commented on. This had the unsurprising effect of increasing pages views. It has also helped to keep people coming back to the site as I can now link to product pages from the Twitter, Facebook, email, and RSS channels.
Over the course of days 5 through 7 the site received:
- 71,699 visitors via StumbleUpon
- 9,675 direct visitors
- 1,429 via Reddit
- 1,038 via Twitter
- 877 via Facebook
- 437 via Hacker News
- 273 via Google+
- 114 from the RSS feed
- Traffic from 135 other sources
Overall the site received about 84,000 uniques and about 135,000 page views.
What's next for HackerThings?
Traffic is still strong and I'm continuing to work on new features and add new products. I've made a lot of tweaks to the site since it was first launched. Some of the new features include:
- Product pages with Facebook comment form
- Showing the number of comments for each product on category pages
- Changing the home page from newest products to popular products
- Popular products are determined by a score calculated from views, clicks, and comments
- The blog that you're reading right now
I will be adding many more features and most importantly the content will be upgraded. Products will have complete descriptions and links to tutorials and hacks that use them. Thank you to everyone who gave me feedback, suggested products, mentored me and gave me advice, and also to everyone who shared and tweeted about HackerThings to their friends!