Edit: Ok, so this is more a case of hobbyists scraping off the HN front page. But my point still stands that they give out serious SEO juice, similar to PBNs. thanks for the upvotes Hacker News <3.
During a lazy evening, I was playing with ahrefs, and for some reason, I went to Hacker News and plugged in a random page that was on the front page for the day.
It was an article from the New York Review of Books on the high suicide rate in Native Americans.
I saw something very interesting.
On the day that it ranked to the front page of Hacker News, it got a slew of new backlinks that had not existed when it was first published 2 days ago. I then decided to more granularly look into its backlinks.
Damn. Most of the new domains that link to it are domains that seem to have scraped off Hacker News content.
I had a thought, and to validate it, I decided to look into other websites that got to the front page of Hacker News.
Amazing, this Github page’s backlink profile was non-existent until it got into Hacker News’ front page.
I tried this with another website…
… and 30 others, including my friend’s company blog, Maker Mind by Anne-Laure Le Cunff. Anne-Laure made the extraordinary feat of not just getting to the front page of Hacker News once, or twice, but thrice in the last two months. Here’s her ranking article on Time Anxiety:
This basically confirms some things to me.
Getting to the front page of Hacker News does not just give these websites a nice amount of traffic for the day. It also gives them real value, in the form of SEO juice.
Getting these hundreds of backlinks in a very short period is not only impressive. It is something that can cost up to thousands of dollars to do, especially within a very short amount of time.
When I showed this to Anne-Laure, she was very confused and surprised. I told her that it’s most probably a very good thing for her and the other websites that got into the front page of Hacker News.
Well, it has been good for her, because one of her articles, The Mind, explained, got into the 1st page of search merely a day after publishing the article.
But it doesn’t answer the question of why? Why are these domain scrapers doing this, and how are they benefitting from scraping Hacker News’ content?
Well, I did some more investigation, and I think that it has to do with an age-old search engine optimization tactic called private blogging networks.
Private blog networks (PBNs)
A PBN is a network of websites that serve to build links and manipulate search engine rankings. As I’ve said in a previous article, for search, backlinks are the way domains interact with each other, and relevancy is measured through the number of high-quality backlinks the domain has.
Before, many PBNs shared the same IP, same servers, the same WHOIS details, and the same content across several websites. But of course Google caught up and PBNs needed to become more complex.
Nowadays, websites from the same network pretend to be blogs, aggregators, or even major publications. They can also be linked with directories, which have been a white-hat SEO tactic to build backlinks (SEO experts can spend days submitting their domain to various directories for free backlinks).
Basically, Google investigated. It found out that JC Penney had a high number of backlinks from wildly different industries. JC Penney got caught. But they blamed their SEO agency for the act.
But, anyway, here’s a fun website that lists all the major companies that got manually penalized by Google for tampering with Search.
What’s this got to do with Hacker News?
I’m not completely sure. But I guess that scraping front page content off social sharing websites and popular aggregators like Hacker News allow these networks to include other types of links and piggyback on the high-quality aspect of the scraped links.
One thing’s for sure, it’s not totally unique to Hacker News. In fact, here’s an example of an article that went viral on Reddit.
I got into the front page of Hacker News – should I worry?
Most probably not. Many other people have already benefitted from this, so the chances of you getting penalized by Google by somehow belonging to the Hacker News hall of fame is slim to none. Getting to the front page requires hard work, though, so great job on that.