If you’ve spent much time posting on Reddit, you’ll know how frustrating it can be to see post after post flop. You might have posted fifteen times, only to receive three comments and five upvotes. You’ll catch yourself wondering why the hell people rave about this “Reddit” site so much.
But the blame here isn’t to be placed with Reddit.
Charles Chu is a writer, minimalist, digital nomad, and self-experimenter. He dissects high-achievers and shares his own quirky experiments in his free weekly newsletter, The Open Circle [No Longer Available].
I started to notice that some of Charles’ Reddit posts were beginning to attract a lot more attention than most. Hundreds of upvotes and tons of discussion were attracted through two posts in particular. One on long-term travel, and one on Charles’ brutally honest time tracking routine.
Then when I heard that his first few posts had helped drive around 80,000 visits to his site, I needed to get in touch.
Luckily, Charles tracks and analyzes each of his experiments meticulously. Reddit was one such experiment. So, I decided to dig deep into what Charles had discovered, looking for insight into what it takes to craft a popular Reddit post that readers can’t help but engage with.
Understand Reddit Before Posting
When Reddit first launched in 2005 it was, according to blogger Sebastian Marshall, a “wellspring of nuanced, helpful, pro-social, highly analytical communities”.
As the site became more popular, however, the average quality of discussion decreased. Subreddits were spammed by marketers and people searching for nothing other than clicks to their website.
But despite Reddit becoming awash with self-promoters, it’s still the hangout of those more nuanced, helpful, analytical communities. You can see this in the popularity of helpful, relevant posts, compared to the disinterestedness and hostility toward more self-promoting posts.
Combine this with the democratic, anti-authoritarian vibe of Reddit, and you start to get a feeling for its underlying culture, and what’s more likely to resonate with the site’s more active users.
The Benefits of Posting on Reddit
During our conversation, Charles mentioned that the reason he first decided to experiment with Reddit was because he had “no network and no audience“. But he still wanted his content to provide value to people from day one. Reddit seemed to offer a solution.
With such a huge user base, and around one million individual subreddits, the ability to reach a good number of targeted people in virtually any niche is a benefit few other sites can offer. And with Reddit being “the most democratic network” Charles knew of online, the hypothesis was that “good content will always attract views”.
Choosing the Right Topic
Many posts about succeeding on Reddit will recommend finding a subreddit, researching past posts, then coming up with ideas based on what performs well in those subreddits. This highly analytical approach can understandably lead to more predictable, stagnant ideas.
Charles, however, does things differently. His filter for ideas is, “does it make me really, really excited?”. If it does, he’ll write the post. If it doesn’t, he won’t.
This approach is based on the idea that if Charles finds the topic exciting, he’ll be able to find other people on Reddit who will be excited about it, too. And these are precisely the kind of people Charles wants to reach, provide value to, and, if his content is valuable enough, perhaps prompt to visit his site, too.
Finding the Right Subreddit
Once the idea is found, before writing a word you should aim to know exactly which subreddit you’ll be publishing the content to.
Usually, Charles will try to locate 2–5 subreddits that largely fit his content niche (there’s a subreddit for any niche). Redditlist is a good way easily see how many subscribers many subreddits have.
Browse your short-list of subreddits, asking questions such as:
- How many users are in the subreddit? (It’s easier to get to #1 in smaller subreddits, but you will receive fewer views.)
- Is it open to linking to URLs, or are only text posts accepted?
- What’s the overall quality of the posts like?
- Is there a lot of spam?
- Is it easy to find high quality discussions?
Once you’ve gone through this process, you should find it pretty easy to narrow down your shortlist to just one or two subreddits. These should be those with the highest quality posts, discussions, and active users.
The post should be crafted to perform well in this specific subreddit. To quantify this, a heuristic Charles uses is that if your post reaches #1 in a subreddit, it can potentially drive 5–10% of that subreddit to your site. As you’re starting out, aiming at subreddits with 10,000–150,000 subscribers will be more achievable.
Some people may feel the urge to post their content to many subreddits. But Charles believes that many users in a single niche will check most of the relevant subreddits anyway. Posting to all of these will therefore have diminishing returns, so he prefers to publish to just one or two (though he has not experimented with this in detail).
Analyzing the Subreddit
The last step Charles takes before writing his post is to research the kind of posts that perform well in his chosen subreddit. This will guide the angle and structure of his own content to give it the best chance of success.
To do this, he filters the subreddit to show the top posts from the last year.
These top performing posts will then be displayed in descending order. Go through a good number of these, asking questions such as:
- What kind of content does well? Are these informative, graphics, stories, etc.?
- Are there any common themes?
- What topics seem to generate a lot of discussion?
- Are personal or more “corporate” headlines preferred?
When doing this yourself, as you start noticing trends among these popular posts, it’ll help you structure your own post in a way that’s more likely to succeed in this particular subreddit.
For instance, you may learn that your idea will be more popular if it’s displayed as a graphic, or written up as a personal story. You may even get an idea of how long your post should be.
To go back to what was mentioned earlier, the aim is for this research to guide the structure and angle of your post, not necessarily to dictate the idea you’re trying to convey.
Crafting the Post
When it comes to crafting the post, Charles usually likes to do this so that the content is posted directly onto Reddit, instead of simply posting a link.
This is partly because “the best readers (in my opinion) are in subreddits that don’t allow direct linking or personal promotion“. Plus, “it’s easier to put yourself in the top 1% of quality for a subreddit if you write a text post. It shows people you are a human, and that you have a personal story”.
The quantity and quality of comments on a text post is also much higher, offering you the chance to include other links to relevant content in response to the conversation that happens on the post itself.
With that in mind, the body of the post should be crafted to provide as much value as possible. For this, Charles abides by what he calls the 10x Rule. “If I’m not providing 10x as much value as I’m asking for, don’t do it”. You should be aiming to offer content that’s better than 99% of the other content on that subreddit.
This means you’re going to have to put in some work. With each of Charles’ top performing Reddit posts, he’s spent a good few hours working on each one, with a healthy amount of time spent editing the post to make it as concise as possible.
And when you do ask for something in return (say, a click to your website), keep the link relevant, so that clicking on it will provide even more contextual value to the reader, rather than just pointing to your home page.
Finally, don’t forget formatting. Although Reddit doesn’t allow much in this regard “try to use bold and bullet points to let readers scan more easily”.
Crafting a Worthy Headline
It’s your headline that’s going to entice people to actually click on your post, so think carefully about this. Your initial research should have already shown which kind of headlines do well in your subreddit of choice, so use this as your guide.
Generally speaking, more personal headlines do well (so try using personal pronouns like I, you, me, he, she, us, them, etc.), while also promising additional value inside the post. Headlines like “X Ways to Do Y” perform pretty poorly, though there will be some subreddits where they do well.
Engaging With Your Readers
It’s not just good etiquette to respond to any comments on your Reddit post. When people are scanning a subreddit and see a post with lots of comments, they will be more likely to click through to see what all the fuss is about. Your own comments and replies contribute to that number, too.
There are other benefits on top of this. As mentioned, the ensuing conversation will give you opportunities to link to other pieces of content you’ve published. This all helps to establish yourself as an expert in the field (if that’s what you want). You’ll probably come away with lots of ideas for other posts you could write, too.
Another benefit is that all of your comments are visible when people check out your Reddit profile. All of this interaction will prevent other users from thinking you only push your own content. This makes them far more friendly when you do publish your own content because they can see that you’ve provided plenty of value to the community in the past.
It’s All an Experiment
There is, of course, more than one way to skin a cat. What’s covered in this article is how Charles has managed to see some impressive success during his short time using Reddit. It’s this approach that has driven tens of thousands of visits to his site.
Fortunately for us, his strategy is pretty easy to replicate by anyone who wishes to do so, and so you could use it too, to have your content seen by a large number of interested readers.
Let us know how you get on in the comments. And if you have any other tips for succeeding on Reddit, please share them!