How to maximize your Reddit upvotes, by the numbers

The short answer to getting a lot of upvotes on your Reddit posts, the watering hole of the web? Post good content, post in the morning and choose your headline carefully.

This according to a group of Stanford researchers who studied the engagement levels of about 132,000 Reddit posts in a study presented during a conference last week. (Hat tip to New Scientist for first covering the research in a Monday morning post.)

The study concluded that in the world of Reddit — specifically in the case of images, the only type of content the researchers studied — a good post means knowing your audience. You have to know when to post (between 08:00 and 16:00 UTC, or midnight to 8 a.m. Pacific Time, is generally best — there’s a sharp lull in the preceding hours) and what other Redditors want to see. Posting about atheism or gaming? Go hog wild on jargon. Posting pics of kittens or funny signs? Go heavy on happy adjectives.

Source: Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence
Source: Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence

Keeping these things in mind might be even more important if you’re posting content in multiple subreddits or reposting content. Reposted content is common — the study actually analyzed about 16,700 posts resubmitted an average of seven times — and generally experiences a sharp decline in popularity. This picture of a bear riding Abraham Lincoln got better over time, though, and its new headline on the 16th posting helped give it a third wind.

Source: Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence
Source: Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence

The ultimate predictive model takes into community metrics such as where something is posted, at what time and how many times. It also accounts for all sorts of variables regarding titles, including: favorable/unfavorable words, community specificity, parts of speech, length (which really only has an effect at fewer than 4 words or more than 16 words), sentiment, and similarity to other titles. Taken together, it’s a pretty accurate method but, as the Lincoln pic illustrated, either one alone is not too good at predicting spikes in popularity.

This study appears to be a follow up from some earlier, unpublished, research by lead author Himabindu Lakkaraju as part of a class project. That paper showed similar results, but was focused more heavily on the number of comments that posts receive.

I’d say this all sounds a lot like the process of writing news headlines, as well — something web publications struggle with as they look to fend off competition from every angle. You can bet on a certain amount of activity when certain words are present in headlines, and you can try to account for the time of day when posting stuff. Who’s writing about a specific topic certainly matters, too. There are tools to help you figure this out.

But at the end of the day, content still matters and it’s hard to predict what will really resonate and why. Getting some love on Reddit doesn’t hurt, though.

This post was updated at 6:02 p.m. to account for the time difference between UTC and U.S. time zones.