September 29, 2016

How to Become an Even More Prolific Writer By Blogging Every Day

Here’s how I increased my Medium page views by 2,400% without going insane.

On August 3rd, I started an experiment to write a blog post on Medium every work day.

I’ve just finished my second 4-week block of writing, which means I have 40 posts total under my belt.

Most importantly, to me, this is an experiment in manufacturing success. I want to find out what happens when a relatively unknown writer decides to write every day. Does that turn into something bigger? How long does that take?

Here are the lessons learned so far. (Last month’s retrospective was more about writing process and this one is more about analytics.)

#1. The Medium Network is Hot

My average page views prior to this experiment was 4,500 per month. Some of that was long tail, but most of it reflected that I would write 1–5 blog posts per month.

So, all this growth isn’t just that I’m writing more. If that were the case, I’d be expecting 20k views per month.

What seems to be happening is that I’m getting a huge boost from the Medium network.

Here’s a quote from my 1-month retrospective on this experiment.

Medium is now big enough that you’d be foolish to publish elsewhere, especially if you are starting out.

More true now.

#2. Triggering a Medium Avalanche

Once the Medium network picks you up, you can get tons and tons of traffic.

I see that as an editor on Better Humans. Better Humans has 72k followers. That doesn’t guarantee views though.

Last month the least popular Better Humans post had 380 views and the most popular had 288,000.

So, what does it take to get traction?

I see two things.

You need some early traction from your friends. This is the one bit of promotion that I do regularly. Usually this is good for about 10 recommends.

Then you need an outside source to pick it up. I’ve seen three outside sources that work consistently:

  • Reddit
  • Hacker News
  • Flipboard

Reddit and HackerNews are both good for 1–2k views. And then this gets multiplied by Medium, which triggers people to post to Facebook/Twitter, which then starts a small avalanche of traffic.

For my purposes, an Avalanche is when a post that would get 300 views blows up to 5–10k views.

Flipboard is a different story. I never hear anyone talk about them. But I had two stories blow up there last month. Flipboard sent 3k views to one and 11k views to the other. That’s huge!

I don’t know if you can game Flipboard — literally no growth hackers ever talk about it as a real platform.

But I do think Flipboard is an example of the value of posting regularly. I’m now a source of content for the people that run boards there. And that increases the odds of a post taking off on Flipboard without me having to do anything special.

#3. Things to Track Manually

Some Medium data is hard to find. This is what I wish I had been tracking manually from the start.

  • Followers. I currently have 9.9k followers. I’m pretty sure I started with 7.8k.
  • Better Humans subscribers. Currently at 72k. Not sure where it started.
  • Long tail. Yesterday 1,600 of 7,500 views came from posts older than 7 days. It would be nice if this corpus of writing could do work on my behalf one day.

#3. The Problem With Great Titles

I’ve talked before about how I use the Headline Analyzer to generate titles that have higher click-thrus.

This tactic seems crucial if you want your post to get read.

But…

When I go back to read the titles I often have no idea what the post is about.

This Meditation Exercise Builds Mental Muscle and Cures Procrastination

What is “This?” in the above title. I can’t remember.

So, I’ve started writing titles that are at least half-way for me. I do go back and recommend these to particular people and a more exacting title helps me find the right one.

Here’s a title where the first half is for me and the second half is for clicks. The explicitness at the start of the title didn’t seem to hold back readers.

Overcome Negativity Bias — How to Become a Positive Person with These Three Gratitude Practices

Plus it helps break up a feed of articles that end up all starting with “How to.” A friend of mine who works on the story telling circuit (it’s a thing) makes a joke about “What’s the first word of every story?”

It’s “So.” All amateur storytellers start out, “So… this thing happened to me.”

And I think that’s the same with amateur headline writers (like me). We always start with “How to” or “# Ways/Tips.”

These headlines work, but they also come off as very novice.

#4. Testing Letters.

Medium has a letters feature that lets you email all of the followers of a publication.

It works like a mailing list — and hopefully people unsubscribe from the Letter rather than from the publication altogether.

I’m not entirely clear on how to read the stats on letters. I think that I’d want to see opens and clicks going up (they’re going down).

And I also think the number of people that the Letter is sent to mostly ends up reflecting zombie accounts over time.

In any case, for transparency, here are the stats for letters from Better Humans.

#5. Can _we_ get to 1 million views?

I’m doing this writing experiment in part to expose how to manufacture success.

Sometimes people get lucky. Usually this is a fiction, but let’s pretend it happens.

The problem with luck is that you can wait around your entire life for it.

I’m a bigger fan of focusing on manufacturing your own success.

So, what I’m wondering with this writing experiment is whether someone like me can manufacture a million views per month starting basically from scratch.

A lot of that relies on my work. I have to write everyday. I have to find audiences. I have to spend time promoting (I haven’t done any serious promotion to date.)

But that also relies on Medium. Hence the _we_ in the section heading. The Medium network is growing and the Medium algorithms work to get readers for the best content.

I love being early on a growing network because the network does a lot of the work for you.

So, do you think it’s possible to get 1 million views? How long will that take?

I’m a short-term cynic and a long-term optimist. I’m worried that this month won’t even match last month. But I do think there’s something magical about a writer pushing a rock up a hill everyday, especially if it’s done with enthusiasm.

Thanks for reading! I’ll try to write something life changing tomorrow.