No place on the user-generated Web is more coveted than the front page of Reddit. The digital home away from home for tens of millions of people each month, Reddit helps shape the news, start memes, create overnight celebrities, and change the world in surprisingly significant ways. So it’s no surprise that submitting a link to Reddit, something anyone can do, is one of the Holy Grails of Internet achievements. Likewise, it’s also quite difficult. And no guide – not this one or any other like it – guarantees success. But these tips should help you get to the top, one way or another.
Reddit basically works like this: Users submit links to different communities, which are called “subreddits.” There are subreddits for nearly everything. Pictures, videos, politics, news, funny – these are the most obvious ones. But there are subreddits (just “reddits” for short) for sub-sub-sub-groups. Think of something, and there is probably a subreddit for it. And if not, you can create one yourself.
Once a link is submitted, other users can either “upvote” or “downvote” the link. They can also comment on the link. Submitted posts rise or fall based on the number of upvotes, which add to the overall “karma” score of the post, versus the number of downvotes, which are subtracted from the overall score. The user who submits the post (the “OP,” as Internet cool kids call it) is awarded the cumulative “karma” score for all posts he or she submits to Reddit.
Note: Karma has no value, and gaining karma does not make it easier for your posts to get to the front page.
For a post to have a chance at success, it must first receive the first 10 upvotes as quickly as possible (hopefully without too many downvotes). As Amir Salihefendic, founder of productivity app design firm Doist, explains in a helpful blog post, “The first 10 upvotes have the same weight as the next 100 upvotes, which have the same weight as the next 1,000, etc…” Also, newer posts rise more quickly than older posts with the same attention by users. In other words, the faster you can get upvotes the better.
Read an in-depth explanation of the Reddit ranking algorithm here.
Comments can also be upvoted or downvoted, and each user receives comment karma points, which is separate from submission karma points. The comment algorithm was the brainchild of XKCD cartoonist Randall Munroe, and you can read about that in depth here.
For many, reading and writing comments is the most enjoyable part of Reddit, more so than getting a link on the front page. But that’s a whole other beast, so we’ll have to leave that skill for another day. I will, however, say that it is essential to read and write comments in order to master the game that is Reddit, if only to get a better sense of the communities you’re apart of, which helps with the whole front page bit as well.
Navigating the front page(s)
The posts with the greatest number of upvotes in a each subreddit can rise to the coveted front page. But not all “redditors” will necessarily see your post. Each redditor can customize her subreddits subscriptions, so only the topics she wants to see will appear on the front page. Redditors can add or subtract as many subreddits from their subscription list as they like. Users who do not sign into Reddit (or simply don’t customize their subreddit lists) will see the default front page, which is made up of posts from many of the most popular, mainstream communities within the Reddit universe. To see the top posts from all of Reddit combined, just visit Reddit.com/r/all, which is generally called “/r/all” by the locals.
The first crucial step towards front-page glory is getting the subreddit right. This can be tricky. Say, for example, that you have a funny picture of your adorable cat. Does it go in /r/pics, /r/funny, /r/cats, or /r/aww? It’s up to you – but answering this question correctly is key to creating a successful submission. Get it totally wrong, and redditors will downvote your post into oblivion.
Your best bet is to try the subreddit you think fits best. If your post immediately gets downvoted, or someone comments that you’ve put it in the wrong place, delete the first post and try another option. As you’ll see, succeeding on Reddit is a process of trial and error – mostly error.
Equally important is your headline. Again, there is no hard rule to writing a Reddit headline; different subreddits and different types of content warrant different kinds of titles. If you’re submitting a cute picture of your cat pretending to read a book, it can be as simple as “Mr. Bojangles loves Tolstoy.” If it’s a news article, it’s often best to simply use the headline of the article your’e submitting, or a quote from the piece that vividly sums up the key point. If it’s a picture of a severed goat head, something a bit wittier is probably in order.
As with most things in the Internet, being funny or clever will help immensely, especially if your headline interacts with your link in a humorous way. For instance, the headline of this post is “Great pic of the Apple store on 14th st.” It was posted in the /r/NYC subreddit, which implies that it’s a photo of the Apple Inc. store. But it’s not. It’s just a regular apple stand. Mildly clever, but it garnered more than a 1,000 upvotes in under a day.
Types of content
Even if you get the subreddit right, and think of a good headline, your post will go nowhere if the content you’ve submitted is subpar. Again, the “quality” of a post depends entirely on which subreddit you’ve submitted it to. But here are a few general rules of thumb:
- Old content that has been posted to Reddit before will often get downvoted, especially if it’s been posted recently or repeatedly over the years. Find something new.
- Original content – a photo or video you took, a thing you made, a funny Facebook post from a friend – are all safe bets.
- General news content usually only rises on Reddit if a) it’s the first report of the news to be submitted to the appropriate subreddit; and b) if the post links to a source that is trustworthy.
- Non-controversial posts – i.e. pictures of cute cats – have a better chance of doing well, since they are less likely to prompt users to click the downvote arrow.
- Reports that reaffirm the average redditors’ view of the world – i.e. Study shows online piracy actually makes artists more money, not less – have a better chance than those that condemn those views. (Duh.)
- Surprising, or counterintuitive viewpoints that would be of interest to a particular community work well.
- Generic “top 10” style articles generally do not do well, in my experience. I wouldn’t waste my time with these.
- Being mean or condescending is a real gamble; light-hearted and clever is better.
- Funny is always good. (As are humorous comics, cute animals, new XKCD cartoons, random acts of kindness, new articles from The Onion, and pictures of attractive women doing dorky things.)
- Don’t count something out just because it’s weird; I once got a picture of a cup full of ticks I pulled off my dog on the front page. Note that it has more than 322,000 views – a cup of ticks. Go figure…
Basically, if you would be interested to come across a piece of content while browsing Reddit, there’s a good chance other redditors would too.
Time of day
Another aspect to take into consideration is the time of day that you submit your post. Reddit is a global community, but a large chunk of the audience is based in the U.S. If you submit something at a peak browsing hour (like in the morning or evening East Coast time), more people will be around to upvote or downvote it. And you will also likely be competing with more users trying to get attention to their posts.
Picture hosting: Imgur all the way
There are a ton of image hosting services on the Web. But the one you want to use for Reddit posts is Imgur. It was created by a redditor for the Reddit community. And, for the moment at least, it is one of the few that the community as a whole trusts. So if you want to share a picture on Reddit, upload it to Imgur, and link to that.
Try, try again
As you can probably tell, there is a lot of gray area when it comes to what does and does not fly on Reddit. And an important thing to remember is a lot of it is up to chance; because the first 10 upvotes make the biggest difference in your chances of front page success, you are at the mercy of the people who see it first, which can change depending on the subreddit and time of day. So if a post doesn’t work once, delete it and try again another time. Or tweak the headline, or move it to another subreddit that might be a better fit.
In other words, become a redditor. Explore the site. Learn its ways. Figure out which jokes work and which don’t. Then try your best – there is no consequence to failure (other than feeling a bit bummed). In the six years that I’ve actively been on Reddit, only a handful of my submissions have made it to the front page. Most wallow in the 0-100 upvotes category. So expect to fail, and try, try again.