How to Reverse Engineer Success on Reddit

By | Last Updated: | Content Creation

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Reddit is a great place for many businesses to have a presence. Its demographic is largely male (59%), 25-34 years of age, and based in the United States. For the right company, the site is an audience development sweet spot, which allows for great opportunity to get a wide range of interesting content in front of consumers.

For companies doing it wrong, there’s a possibility to crash and burn – the network is widely known for its hatred of marketing tactics, and has banned several domains for manipulative strategies. To succeed, you must bring great content to the table and tread lightly – anything less is potentially putting a huge traffic source at risk.

Building a Traffic Source Backwards

Using Reddit to its utmost potential does not start by simply building something, and then finding a relevant subreddit to submit to. The best use of the service is to break down your target demographic’s interests by subreddits, and then determining whether content you can build will actually appeal to that subreddit’s audience.

For example, let’s pretend you sell beer accessories. The first step is to do a simple [site:reddit.com KEYWORD] search, to find the highest intent subreddit that exists for your topic. You’re in luck – Reddit has a /r/beer subreddit.

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With a quick glance through, it’s easy to tell at this point that the subreddit allows external links, and that they might potentially be receptive to content from commercial publishers. Some subreddits will only allow discussion threads labeled with “.self” and others will only allow photos. Others have very restrictive submission policies, such as /r/netsec/, which conversely won’t allow images. You can find these guidelines in the sidebar of the subreddit, which you should take close note of during your research.

So for /r/beer/, there are no strict guidelines. Good content seems to win the day, although there is about a 50/50 “self.beer” to links ratio, which means they may have extremely high standards for their content.

The next step (and an important one) is verifying the subreddit size. The bigger the subreddit size, the more worthy it is of keeping it in mind specifically when developing content up front. In this case, /r/beer/ has 123,332 subscribers.

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This is a nice number – it means that an exceptional piece of content could mean 10,000+ engaged visitors, and a fallout effect from other links, tweets and shares. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the number of people online – sometimes subscribers can be like an RSS feed – old topics have high numbers, but that doesn’t mean they have a high number of engaged visitors today.

And this can also be the reverse – sometimes hot subjects like Bitcoin can have super high engagement but not as many subscribers. For example, Bitcoin had 100k subscribers and 1000 current users at the time of the above screenshot. So almost the same subscribers, but almost 10x the activity.

Establishing Other Relevant Subreddits

The next step is to look to the sidebar of your subreddit for other relevant places content like yours might be pertinent. On /r/beer/, there are many regional beer subreddits covering the local beer scenes. They might not be as large, but if you made something about Los Angeles beer culture, for example, the LABeer subreddit (474 readers/7 online at time of posting) might be a solid place to think about as a secondary source of traffic.

Once you start compiling relevant subreddits, I suggest creating a spreadsheet of relevant information for each section of the site. This will be valuable during the idea process.

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Once you’ve done the short-tail analysis of subreddits by browsing manually through the site and establishing what sections would actually be receptive to content you build, you can break out to related but not as obvious sections that may still be interested in your content.

There are a few ways to identify these kinds of subreddits during your research phase:

  • A simple Reddit search for your keyword. Reddit does a good job of surfacing relevant subreddits that you may be able to target.
  • A [site:Reddit.com KEYWORD] search. Don’t stop on the first link – Google will often surface many relevant subreddits below the first.
  • General content brainstorming. This will be your best bet for not-as-obvious connections, such as food connections for beer, or how to grow hops. To confirm tangential relevancy, it is suggested you do a keyword-specific search on that subreddit. This will show you other related content that has done well in the past.
  • Using tools like MetaReddit.com and RedditMetrics.com to locate fast-growing sections and also for identifying high keyword-usage subreddits by tags. Hat tip to Eric Pratum for this suggestion.

To give you some examples of content that would fit this context, let’s brainstorm a few beer related content ideas that may work on big subreddits:

  • /r/Cheese/ – 5.1k Readers – Potential Topic: Beer and Cheese Pairing Guide
  • /r/Gardening/ – 65.6k Readers – Potential Topic: How to Grow Hop Vines
  • /r/SanDiego/ – 15.9k Readers – Potential Topic: The Best Beer Towns in America

Confirming Demographic/Content Fit

Once you have a decent list of potential subreddits that may accept content from you, and an idea of what kind of content they might like, I would take a few steps back to confirm that your content would fit the subreddits you’re thinking about. Remember, Reddit has very specific demographics, so what may appear like a perfect fit may in fact turn out to be a bad one.

For example, let’s look at /r/cocktails/. Cocktails are enjoyed by both men and women, but some folks may assume cocktails are just for women. If you made a similar assumption and walked into this subreddit with sugar-heavy cocktail content, you’d probably fall flat on your face.

As mentioned previously, Reddit is mostly male, and it seems as though this subreddit fleshes that out. The second most upvoted post on the cocktail subreddit is actually a picture of beer (even though it’s actually a joke), two post titles mention their wives, and a third is an engineer’s guide to cocktails, a job field known for being predominantly male.

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If your business has a focus that mostly appeals to a female demographic and you walk into a male-dominated subreddit, you won’t do well. Think long and hard about the actual subreddit demographics, not your perception of that subject’s general demographics, in order to truly succeed.

Long-Term Success = Getting Your Content Submitted

I can’t emphasize enough that you should not manipulate Reddit. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with building amazing content and occasionally submitting it to a subreddit that would like it.

I do think there’s something wrong with submitting every single post you make, and using an upvote ring to push your work up the site.

Given that, the best way to future-proof success on Reddit is to build an audience that comes back to your site naturally that also frequents Reddit.

To do that, you must have a large amount of content on your site that actually appeals to their target demographic – not just one piece. To multiply the effect, you can also occasionally submit to Reddit, and when doing so, you must employ social hooks to get them to follow your work in the future because it’s good. These social hooks can be email signups, getting people to like your Facebook page, or to follow you on Twitter.

Finally, you can also prime readers to submit by using Reddit buttons.

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I recommend using buttons like this when you can reasonably say that a huge majority of your content is relevant to the Reddit audience. If you don’t, you’ll become another site with 95 share buttons and really slow load time.

If You’re Reading This, Reddit Hates You

Redditors hate marketers. They submit clean guides from marketers to their network and rip them apart. It’s very possible they may submit this article and do the same thing.

There’s a good chance you may read this and misinterpret what I’m saying and make Reddit a worse place by submitting junk. I hope you leave, never read our blog again and drop marketing as a career forever.

What I describe here is, yes, marketing to Reddit, but at the same time, it’s making Reddit better by serving them damn-good content their readers want.

By doing intense research up front, you can build extremely-targeted content their audience will love. If you wait until after, you’ll likely be the marketer they hate – because your content will just be “okay” and a bad fit for their site, but you’ll still force submit it to subreddits that it’s not appropriate for.

Do the research and succeed – don’t and be hated. I’d prefer the former.

  • Dan Shure

    I think these concepts can be applied to other big online communities: YouTube, Quora, Inbound – anywhere you can see the voting or “popularity” of something.

    I’d even dig deeper into dissecting specifically the elements of that content – the titles, images, opening heading, positioning, timing – as those elements can have a massive impact too.

    • rosshudgens

      Totally agree Dan. This guide was meant to be a specific to the content ideation phase of Reddit, as there are definitely many other idiosyncrasies that separate good from bad.

      But titles are definitely one of them – for example, the site is heavily against said marketing-ish titles, so it’s a rare situation where being more thoughtful/random can actually be more successful than being straightforward.

      • Dan Shure

        Regarding titles, I’ve seen the same on YouTube where I video of a musician doing a cover will just say like “Awwwweeesommmee!” as the title and it has like 100,000+ views.

  • So…do market research and have reddit links? Groundbreaking…I had never thought to try and have people submit content to Reddit.

    I thought this was going to another tactic that I have seen, which is basically having the entire sub reddit displayed on your sidebar – in real time – wherein all the posts that you have made, or come from your site, are filtered to be the only ones displaying. You can do this; I have seen it. Then you can just ask for upvotes -on your site- for all the different threads that you are entertaining at any given time.

    Since people are on your site already, they will often up-vote the article that they happened to read, they develop a sense of comradery with the content, and so they will even comment on the original site instead of you losing them to the Reddit karma lure.

    Now -that- is cool.

  • Adam Carson

    http://metareddit.com/reddits/ and http://subredditfinder.com/ can also help unearth some smaller, relevant subreddits. Actually participating in and understanding the particular community is definitely important. Submissions really do have to belong there, and in addition to different rules for submissions, individual subreddits have their own (sometimes very different) cultures.

    You can also sort by ‘Top’ and then view links from ‘this month/year’ to see the type and tone of content that the community has been interested in.

  • Charlie Haycock

    I’ve been dabbling with Reddit’s sponsored content platform lately and feel it’s been useful for testing a variety of headlines/content that may resonate best with their community. Since the ideation phase can sometimes yield a handful of different headlines which are suitable – you get the benefit of instant, above the fold, front page exposure across a whole campaign.

    As you suggested, being a marketer on Reddit feels like being behind enemy lines.

    • rosshudgens

      Good call, Charlie. I am actually just about to start testing this myself – my thought is that it’s the perfect fit for subreddits where the perfect audience lives, but they are not receptive to the kind of content you would normally seed there – maybe because it’s images only or self. reddits or something like that.

      • Gab Goldenberg

        Don’t know how recently you guys have been doing this but at some point in past 6 months their pricing went from $30/day to $0.75 CPM. That’s a lot more money for much less traffic, when you’re targeting any decent size subreddit (50K+ following). Love to get your thoughts on that.

        • rosshudgens

          Good to know Gab, I had no idea. I’ll do some testing myself and see what happens.

  • Had a stage where I used to promote content on Reddit a lot, but found if you were too successful Reddit would just ban your domain.

  • Ross Hudgens, your post has inspired me to give Reddit another try. I am must confess the network wasn’t really appealing when I first joined.

    When I joined I was thinking how I can use it for my marketing, I will now be joining the community and taking an approach to first add value and then maybe see if I could market along the way.

  • Brian Dean

    I really enjoyed this, Ross. I’ll admit that I’ve been sort of a late adopter when it comes to Reddit. I’ve only started using it for market (and keyword) research over the last few months or so.

    But I’ve found that for certain demographics (as you mentioned in the beginning of your post), it’s an absolute gold mine of content ideas. Now I spent less time fiddling with the Google Keyword Planner and more time on subreddits in my niche.

    Something that’s worked well for me is to submit different versions of infographics to subreddits that would be interested in them. I create an imgur page with 3-4 different infographic drafts and ask for their feedback. You usually walk away with an insane amount of insights that you can leverage to make a killer infographic.

  • Despite the irony – it’s always good to see a marketing post about Reddit that respects the community. Thanks Ross! I had two bits to add from my experience –

    1. I’ve found that subreddit moderators are absolutely invaluable. Each subreddit is owned by its respective mods, and they are going to be key whether your not your content stays off the spam list (or gets some traction). You can just send them a PM to get in touch. They can also be a shortcut to content ideas, and to finding the feel of the subreddit. They have an unpaid, often boring job – and getting in their graces can go a long way.

    2. If you’re ever unsure about organic submission – advertise. It’s cheap, and will get you in the door. As much as redditors are anti-marketing by default, they do recognize that advertising (and reddit gold) keep the site running. Back in January – I thought Nissan did an amazing job basically paying their way into the good graces of reddit after a huge social ad campaign – http://www.reddit.com/comments/1vva6g/thank_you_reddit_for_making_our_huge_amazon_box_a/

  • Todd McDonald

    Thanks for sharing Ross – always appreciate your practical tips on engaging in in these situations. Also appreciated your emphasis on not “marketing” to the community.

    I believe firmly that the more businesses focus on sharing in their passion (hopefully something about their business excites them) with others, the better the “marketing” is. If you care about what your doing and do it to the best of your abilities, that comes off in how you connect with your audience (aka you tend to produce more valuable things, enjoy naturally sharing in discussion, etc.). Sounds like that’s a mindset that can help you succeed when working in reddit and connecting with your audience.

  • Great piece Ross. It’s so important to cover this demographic and Reddit fits the bill in a very creative way. It’s nice that the Reddit community is very respectful and frowns upon haters and other negative-related net trafficors. We look forward to participating in the dating subreddits once we gone live. Thank you.

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