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Reddit and Reddit Ads Hitchhiker’s Guide

For brands and startups alike, Reddit can be a true goldmine. Reddit Ads deliver, even on a budget. Have you tried it?

It’s been a long time since I realized most content and marketing materials focused on the main social networks — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, leaving little to no room to the countless other services used around the world.

In my last gig, I explored content promotion and marketing using “alternatives sources”. Indeed, platforms such as Reddit, Quora, Medium, Hackernews or directories helped us tremendously to make our blog visible to new audiences.

According to Alexa, Reddit is now the eighth most visited website in the world, and the fourth in the US.

Reddit is the #8 top visited website in the world, according to Alexa Reddit is the #8 top visited website in the world, according to Alexa

What’s even more interesting is the progressive internationalization of Reddit: in its early days, most of the website’s visitors were Americans. Nowadays, even if the English-speaking world still makes for roughly 3/4 of Reddit, thriving national communities developed.

Reddit, a window into the English-speaking world (source: Alexa) Reddit, a window into the English-speaking world (source: Alexa)

So, massive social platforms such as Reddit emerged over the last few years and while some marketers notice, most stayed in the old playground. Worse, a fair share of those who noticed the popularity on Reddit are aggressively trying to game it for their own benefits, with bots and other dubious methods.

We’ll explore the shady side of marketing on Reddit in the last section — Corporate Shilling on Reddit. Before that, I would love to share my own experience with Reddit, to give a feedback on the network as a content promotion platform both organically and with ads as well as share the lessons I learned and the tools I used.

I tried to keep it as concise as possible, but Reddit is a whole world: expect quite a ride.

Organic Posting on Reddit

What is Reddit?

I was an avid Redditor before starting my last gig at CALLR, and it helped tremendously. With a healthy daily dose of Reddit comes an intrinsic knowledge of the rules and expectations of its users that helped us understand what the community liked and disliked.

If you are working in a startup or in tech, ask around in your company, chances are some of your developers are on Reddit and could help you get started.

Unlike most other organic channels, which offer targeting options only through their ads platform, Reddit “organic targeting” is precise. Indeed, to put it simply Reddit is like a huge board (/r/All) of boards (subreddits). Any user can create a subreddit to discuss the topic of his choice. Some subreddits grow big and are heavily moderated (/r/Technology for instance). Others are more niche and stay small with dynamic and qualitative discussions.

/r/All is the global frontpage of Reddit. When he user connects to the website, he/she lands in his personal frontpage: a page made of the best posts taken from all the subreddit he/she has subscribed to.

Posting on Reddit

As a brand, it’s hard to be visible on Reddit organically. If you create a brand-named account, users might perceive your post as intrusive. Moreover, a lot of subreddits have restrictions on the type of links you can submit: links to brand blogs are quite often prohibited.

To find sizable audience on Reddit, you must frame your content a certain way. Redditors are very attached to the community: if you want to fit in, you need to respect this attachment and contribute. Two types of submission are possible on Reddit:

  • Link Post: they include an URL and a title. On the frontpage, the title will be displayed and if the user clicks it, he’ll get to the page linked.
  • Text Post: they include a title and a body text. The text itself can include links. On the frontpage, if a user clicks a text post, he stays on Reddit and sees the body of the post as well as the comments.

Screenshot of the frontpage of Reddit, here all posts are link posts. You can tell by the domain displayed in parenthesis after the title. The top post squared in black is an ad. Screenshot of the frontpage of Reddit, here all posts are link posts. You can tell by the domain displayed in parenthesis after the title. The top post squared in black is an ad.

We quickly realized one thing that helped us step up our Reddit game: link-posts are very hard to get right, while text posts are received with more benevolence. With the body text, you can explain what your post is about and provide a summary of it. It can include a link to your blog post so Redditors who want to know more about your topic can find the information they need.

Text posts were essential to our success on Reddit. We understood the value of it with our first text post that got a moderately positive reception. One of our most successful text post was made by one of our developers. He had just published a DIY bot tutorial on our blog and then presented it in a Reddit text-post in the /r/LearnPython subreddit.

Link posts are not to avoid altogether though. Indeed, if you find a good subreddit/blog post fit, it’s worth trying. Don’t forget to check the sidebar of the subreddit your posting on before publishing: rules vary per subreddit.

Reddit’s activity is “spikey”: if you manage to create a successful post, it might stay on the top of its subreddit for a day or two. Yet, if you want to keep it qualitative, you’ll avoid publishing too often as it may feel like spam to the community.

If your post is tremendously successful, it might reach the frontpage or even /r/All where the volumes generated are an order of magnitude higher. Since our topics are mostly niche, we never reached /r/All yet we consistently generated at least 2000 sessions/month from Reddit since May.

Reddit Ads

Reddit Ads is the platform on which you can find an unbeatable CPC (Cost Per Click) with very precise targeting**.** I’ve already explained the subreddits system in the organic section, so the Ads part is straightforward. **You pay to get your message occasionally displayed at the top the subreddits of your choice**.

Which means displayed to users without ad blockers. Stats estimate AdBlocker usage around 20% for Europe/US. Considering the average Redditor is much more tech-savy than the general population, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number jumps closer to 40% on Reddit. Hopefully, you only pay for displayed ads.

Just like any other ad platform, Reddit lets you set different creatives for the same campaigns. As it turns out, difference of CTR (Click-Through-Rate)and CPC between creatives can be huge, anywhere between 2–4x. So far, we’ve lead three campaigns on Reddit. While the first, being a test run was far from optimized, the metrics from the following two are really encouraging. We’ll go back on each of these.

The first Reddit Ads Campaign: What’s an API?

Our first campaign targeted /r/tech, /r/learnprogramming, /r/webdev and /r/technology with our What’s an API article? As you can see, targeting was not the smartest: /r/webdev is a community for developers who probably already know what an API is. Here are the results we obtained, with an average CPC at $0.60.

Results of the ‘What’s an API?’ Reddit Ads campaign Results of the ‘What’s an API?’ Reddit Ads campaign

Despite sub-par targeting, this campaign helped me familiarize myself with the platform. Once Davy’s House Hunter bot article was out, I now it was our time to shine on Reddit Ads. I also quickly realized that 4 creatives was far from enough to reach decent results.

The second run: House Hunter Bot

Shortly after this campaign, Davy published his House Hunter Bot article and the organic Reddit post was quite a success. Considering the potential of the content, we decided to boost it with Reddit Ads targeted at Python developers and learning communities. Here is the initial targeting: /r/learnprogramming, /r/Python, /r/LearnPython, /r/Programming and /r/Flask. We added /r/webdev and /r/coolgithubprojects later.

Because of the large differences we observed between all the four creatives on our first campaign, we went with 12 different creatives this time, to progressively weed out the worst performer. On the following screen, 5 creatives with the lowest CTR/highest CPC were already deleted:

Results of House Hunter Bot Reddit Ads campaign Results of House Hunter Bot Reddit Ads campaign

The CPC improved tremendously, sitting at a $0.14 average at the end of the campaign. It ran for a month and half and suffered from ad-fatigue: over the first two weeks, the total average CPC was as low as $ 0.10 and CTR > 0.20%.

On top of the traffic, the campaign landed over 10 business lead and a few newsletter signups. Compared with the cost of a lead from AdWords, the ROI of this campaign was promising.

The third try: Nested Symbols on Sketch

It leads us to our third and latest campaign. Once again, we wanted to bank on an organic success. With the reach of our Sketch post, we decided to give it a try on Reddit as designer communities are dynamic. The targeting was the following: /r/SketchApp, /r/design, /r/web_design, /r/userexperience, /r/userexperiencedesign, /r/graphic_design.

Results of Sketch Reddit Ads campaign Results of Sketch Reddit Ads campaign

While the content did not have the same conversion potential as the House Hunter Bot, it helped us raise awareness in the entrepreneurs and design communities.

Tips to Reddit smart

1. Finding subreddits relevant to your content with a dynamic community

Finding relevant subreddits is crucial for both your organic and promotional activity on Reddit. A minimal amount of activity is necessary for a subreddit to be able to receive advertising. Using Google Sheets IMPORTXML function, we produced this sheet to fetch automatically the number of subscribers of any given subreddit and determine if ads are available or not.

You can find it here: Subreddits list and activity Google Sheets — everything is automated, you just need to fill the name of the subreddit in column B (exact spelling) and let the magic happens. The second tab is what I use to track the results from all organic reddit posts in the same place.

The sheet will help you gauge the activity of any given subreddit but finding the subs itself can be tricky. Yes, Reddit has a search engine, but it’s notoriously bad. Here are the tools/services I used to find our subreddits:

  • Google Search “site:reddit.com some topic”. The “site:” syntax allows you to restrict a google search to a single website. It’s neat in this case, as Google is (sadly) a much more efficient way to search Reddit than Reddit’s built-in search engine. Exploring the first results pages with this method will land you the biggest subreddits related to any topics. To find smaller subreddits using Google, you can use the “-” exclude parameter. For instance, to find subreddits other than /r/Chatbots on the same topic, the query would be:

“site:reddit.com -reddit.com/r/chatbots chatbot”

The sidebar of /r/Design The sidebar of /r/Design

  • Branching out from known subreddits: this technique is useful to find more subreddits relevant to your niche once you have already found the biggest ones. Most subreddit include a list of related subreddits in their sidebar, check it! Keep in mind that each subreddit has its own moderator and might not list related subreddits in the sidebar. See on the left a snapshot of /r/Design Sidebar, listing design related subreddits.
  • Subbredit search websites: Finding subreddit is a struggle, not only for marketers. Numerous services now exist, including: MetaReddit, SnoopSnoo, SubRedditExplorer
  • Subreddits to help you find subreddits: yes, you read it right. Check /r/findareddit or /r/Subredditoftheday.

2. Reddit’s posts and comments formatting

Screenshot of Dillinger Screenshot of Dillinger

Text posts and comments use a specific Markdown formatting. The syntax is straightforward. You can also use a text editor or an online editor. I personally use Dillinger which displays the markdown and the preview side by side, with the words and characters which is basically all I need.

3. How does the ad look like?

Just like organic Reddit posts, promotional posts can be texts or link. Both looks the same on Reddit, only the action on click changes: text post takes you to the Reddit thread, with your text and the comments while link post takes you straight to the linked page.

Unlike organic Reddit posts, we’ve seen performing creatives both as link or text post. Below is the preview of how an ad looks like on Reddit. This one is our top performer for the campaign, with a $0.12 CPC and 0.210% CTR. The text is a slightly edited version of the one used in the organic reddit post.

Preview of one the creative used for the House Hunter Reddit Ads campaign Preview of one the creative used for the House Hunter Reddit Ads campaign

The ads are displayed on top of the reddit stream, featuring a “Sponsored” mention to state their nature. Here is an example of an ad displayed on the user side:

Preview of how a Reddit Ad (DuckDuckGo) looks for a user Preview of how a Reddit Ad (DuckDuckGo) looks for a user

4. What others parameters/targeting options can be set up?

As you can see below, apart from the subreddits targeting we already presented, you need to decide on a bid (maximum price for 1000 impressions, from $0.20 to $100) and a budget for the campaign. It’s straightforward and people used to advertise on other platforms will quickly find their marks. You can also target by interest, exclude specific subreddits, day/time or platforms.

Budget, Schedule and Targeting options for the Reddit House Hunter bot campaign Budget, Schedule and Targeting options for the Reddit House Hunter bot campaign

5. Organic Reddit vs Reddit Ads

It can be hard to decide what is the best fit for each post: organic Reddit or Reddit Ads? Here are a few rules I use:

  • If I am promoting a content (= an article that actually provides value), I will try posting it organically on relevant subreddits. If the organic post is successful, I might consider starting an Ad campaign a few days after the post.
  • If what I am promoting is not a content, but for instance it’s a product presentation page or a new product announcement, I go straight with Reddit Ads. Indeed, your chances of getting traction with a promotional material are close to none organically.
  • An organic Reddit post can be the perfect way to test Reddit’s appetite for a topic or a type of content. If you are planning to do large scale campaigns on your content (>$100/$150), I recommend you try an organic post first. It will help you figure out performing creatives for your Ads campaign later.

6. Tracking results

Before we conclude with a brief overview of corporate shilling on Reddit, I thought it would be useful to address the question of link tacking on Reddit. I won’t got into the details of UTM codes, Buffer produced a very comprehensive guide already.

While link tracking is a reflex for most marketers, it can be dangerous on Reddit. UTM codes are immensely useful yet they are visible: some subreddits remove any submissions with UTM. In my experience, it’s safer to completely avoid using link tracking for Reddit organic posts. With Google Analytics, you will have enough data anyways to understand your traffic from Reddit anyway.

For Reddit Ads though, of course tracking codes are not an issue. Moreover, Reddit recently announced the release of its tracking pixel along with a guide on how to install and use it. I haven’t lead a campaign since the release of the pixel, but since it facilitates the tracking of conversion made from Reddit, it seems to be worth considering for anyone advertising on the platform.

Corporate Shilling on Reddit

In the beginning of the article, I mentioned the aggressive behaviors of certain brands who try to game Reddit’s mechanics for their own profits.

In terms of actual behavior on the platform, it translates into bots, vote manipulation and obfuscation. Let’s dig into a specific event to make the big picture clearer.

The MacDonald’s Incident

About two months ago, a post appeared on /r/Gaming, entitled “Made my delivery driver’s night by showing him VR for the first time”. It was a picture, displayed below.

The picture used for MacDonald’s con act on Reddit, to announce the delivery of their burgers on Uber Eats The picture used for MacDonald’s con act on Reddit, to announce the delivery of their burgers on Uber Eats

A lot of things are suspicious, and Reddit was quick to notice. Here are the main flaws:

  • The overall disposition seems unnatural, the food is placed at the forefront, with the burger in the hands of the OP.
  • Have you ever met anyone having McDonald’s + Wine night?
  • The bottle in the middle of the table is red wine while the glasses contain white wine.
  • A whole bottle of wine and three glasses for a lady presumably eating alone — it was a fun night!
  • The delivery bag left on the table as a way to broadcast the availability of McDonald’s on UberEats, the goal of this ad.
  • The whole “white girl eating food kindly delivered by his nice black Uber driver who she introduced to a new tech” has a dangerous … lack of taste to it?

While the reactions were unanimous, the post still reached the frontpage — the whole operation is probably seen as successful for MacDonald’s. Indeed, in the early hours of the post, the masquerade was still uncovered.

The first comment chains read like an ad script. Are they from real users, bots or fake accounts? Probably an unhealthy mix of all three.

First reactions on MacDonald’s post/ad, screen by /u/SwellandDecay (source: /r/HailCorporate) First reactions on MacDonald’s post/ad, screen by /u/SwellandDecay (source: /r/HailCorporate)

Essentially, MacDonald’s strategy relied on three things:

  1. Finding a way to frame their ad that would resonate with /r/Gaming — here they used VR.
  2. Using a fake/bought/rented account to post it.
  3. Buying upvotes or using fake and bot accounts to upvote the post to the frontpage.
  4. Using bots and fake/bought/rented accounts to submit and upvote comments that were in accordance with MacDonald’s message, in order to keep control over the discussion (and downvote contradicting comments).

The combined actions allowed them to have a lot of control over the post and its most visible comments. Yet, even if they managed to reach the frontpage, the Reddit community was also quick to react. The comment now at the top of the post is denouncing the ad.

The first comment (10/07/2017) on the MacDonald’s post The first comment (10/07/2017) on the MacDonald’s post

Reddit’s corporate shilling watchdogs

Corporate Shilling got so bad on Reddit, a subreddit emerged to denounce it: /r/HailCorporate/. Here is the post on /r/HailCorporate addressing the MacDonald’s ad.

The problem is sadly only beginning. At the same time of the MacDonald’s shadow-ad, a regular Redditor proved you can buy your way to the frontpage. He published a video in which he explained how he did it: buying upvotes. In his own words, “it wasn’t event that much money”.

The video indeed reached the frontpage showcasing the Redditor explaining Reddit’s flaws. His cat makes an appearance. Yet, it’s hard to know if its because of the upvotes he bought or because Redditors who stumbled upon the video upvoted it as a way to denounce corporate shilling.

Either way, the upvotes he bought at least helped him give hist post the initial traction it needed to reach the frontpage, which is already more than enough to skew Reddit’s natural behavior.

Where does Reddit go from here?

Snoo, Reddit’s mascot Snoo, Reddit’s mascot

The situation is far from fixed, as a dumb Google search such as “Reddit buy upvotes” gives you countless of options to chose from. I’m sure the admins are working hard to detect and prevent abuses, but considering the scope of the issue and the stakes, it’s gonna take a while.

This is the main reason that motivated me to write this post. I wanted to give to anyone, my feedback and tools to harness the power of Reddit — without falling into the dark side of it. Reddit can generates fascinating discussions and his the home of numerous and dynamic communities built around anything from video games ( /r/gaming — #9 top subreddit), cute animals ( /r/aww — #12), philosophy ( /r/philosophy — #44) to make-up ( /r/MakeupAddiction — #183).

It reminds me of an concept that fit sadly well to this discussion: the tragedy of the commons.

Essentially, when a marketer find a channel that performs well for his brand, **his first reaction will be to milk it dry **— try to harness the maximum of attention he could get from this channel (hello MacDonald’s). And it’s understandable, who wouldn’t bank on a success?

However, doing so quite often comes at the cost of the channel fundamentals— the channel progressively become a flavorless advertising medium instead of what it was supposed to be.

Once you consider both the long-term and macro perspective, there is but one option left which is more profitable in the long run, both for the marketer and for the channel: try to develop the channel as you grow on it. It means taking your time, respecting the channel, learning about its customs and of course, when you’re ready, adding you contribution to it.

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