I can think of a few places to help grow it. These are just based on observation and not a form of criticism on anyone or anything. The commentary here is based on what I see and what I think might be a good counter. Also, I recognize criticizing is easy (especially when you don’t know what’s going on the backend), but actually doing is much harder, so take these ideas as just a place to look at opportunities/ideas instead of requirements.
- Focus on a single topic and make it known at first glance
First time people coming to the site will see posts advertising hosting and then hosting-related posts. If the focus is on self-hosted solutions, then maybe (one idea), is to start by building a curated self-host solutions/idea post to get started. Similar to Awesome Selfhost. That’ll incentivize people to look into what they can do with a server and get them interested in this specific area. Also maybe actually talk about what methods you’re self-hosting instead of “X Provider is great!”.
- Advertising might be needed for growth
There’s a few different avenues you can take. Throwing advertising money at it is a cheap way to do it (Entire A/B testing and online marketing suite). Or using more organic ways. One really popular method that seems to be all the rage right now is referral systems. Maybe incentivizing others to refer a friend might not be a bad idea? The thing is though, I’m sure there’s really no budget for any of this. I know we all bellyache about it, but I’d say initially focus on SEO. Help get your topics and information higher up, giving more exposure, and potentially more users without spending money on advertising.
- Show more organic content
At the time of writing, 10 out of the first 20 posts on the front page are advertisements for hosting. It might be worth it experimenting a few different growth methods but I’m sure it goes without saying, you probably want more people to actually discuss on the topic than advertise services. VPSB also had similar problems throughout it’s lifetime and we never figured out a solution to it that wouldn’t upset either parties. Actually there’s a lot I learned while helping to run VPSB. I love the community but the staff work behind-the-scenes is actually a fair bit (while looks like nothing on the surface). PR definitely matters. Objectively looking at it, there are many points we could have improved and worked on that we (at the time) didn’t recognize as good avenues for growth or engagement.
It’s a bit harder running a forum than just opening the doors and telling people “have at it”. I believe WHT still gets a relatively fair amount of traffic due to how general and open that name is. Reddit’s /r/selfhosted has the entire/giant reddit community to pull new users from. LET (imho) is useful as they target a specific market and has a complementary blog (the more important side) offering regular content. HT doesn’t have enough mass yet to be at WHT level and doesn’t have a complementary blog generating regular content. So finding that uniqueness might be useful if you’re focusing on growth.
Best of luck!