How I Got My Medium Post on Google’s First Page
Trying to recreate my Medium success without compromising my integrity
I write for a living, so income generated from my writing is important. I’m not afraid to admit that, but it’s also not an invitation to those “I don’t write for money” purists to comment or shame me. I too don’t write only for money.
My writing style and the topics I choose to write about are not diluted by my attempts to duplicate previous monetary success, because the strategy I use to generate income is reliant on distribution, not an adjustment of subjects.
Before we begin, let’s get something straight: just because you published a piece of writing doesn’t mean anyone will read it.
Nor does it mean anyone even has to read it. It doesn’t mean you will get curated, and it doesn’t mean you can earn a profession by writing.
None of that is reason to be bitter or discouraged. As a writer, rejection will either discourage you or expose you to the truth about competition in this field. Competition improves our craft.
Writing is an art, and to endorse the artist's expectation of embracement would be misguided. So, let’s address it. When we publish with no plan, gravity will drop our work to the bottom. Writers, artists of the written word, can’t simply write something and expect it to go viral. I’m exhausted from having these conversations with the writer’s ego.
Distribution is important.
And you should want to distribute your story. Distribution by a writer is a sign that the writer believes in their words and is willing to exhaust themselves in sharing them. Not physical exhaustion, but the exhaustion of opportunities and avenues for growth. Distribution is a post publishing opportunity for a writer to honor their work and themselves. A few months ago a story of mine went viral, and this is every damn thing I did in an attempt to recreate that success.
The piece of writing I’m going to dissect is titled “My Healthy Quarantine Shopping List.” It was an opportunistic article, written before the current epidemic matured into a pandemic. I shared my hope that no one would ever have to use this in a shelter-in-place environment and that it would simply exist as a great resource, but as the coronavirus crossed the Atlantic, people around the world began Googling this type of thing.
That’s why SEO was important.
SEO is an acronym for search engine optimization, which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search results. It’s here on SERPs (search engine result pages) I had hoped to land my writing, competing against ads and larger publications.
To best position my writing, I read several guides on how to improve SEO and decided to try a few suggestions out. I first found my keywords — coronavirus, quarantine, COVID-19, pandemic, quarantine, grocery shopping, shopping list — and then began combining them into long-tail keywords. I did an OK job at that. The education I received also suggested I place these keywords in my title, my subtitle, and my first and last paragraphs. These words were also scattered through the rest of the article, but no guide told me to do that.
I will die on this sword. If you are publishing on Medium, publish your work in a publication. Publications have existing audiences that you gain real-time access to when you publish in a publication. Nevermind the potential to appear in that publication’s newsletter and the relationship you make with a professional editor.
I originally was rejected by Heated and elemental+, and published in the Post-Grad Survival Guide. Once this story went live and was met with a wide reception, elemental+ contacted me and asked if I’d consider moving it into elemental+. As a courtesy, I asked the editors of the Post-Grad Survival Guide for permission who were more than supportive.
I wish I could confidently tell you that Saturday morning stories do best on Medium, but I can’t. This story happened to go live on a Saturday morning, and my only theory is that a decent number of people were online, both Medium and on search engines, searching for articles about the spread of the coronavirus, and my story got swept into their search results.
I was fortunate to have this story curated under three different topics: coronavirus, health, and food. I attribute this to the timing. The coronavirus was just peaking and being taken seriously in the United States, no other articles on Medium had covered this topic yet, and the story was in a Medium-owned publication.
I was too busy on that Saturday to go through my full distribution strategy, so I resorted to a prioritization process that surfaced two items. The first being joining the conversation on Twitter. I combed the #Coronavirus and #Covid19 hashtags on Twitter for tweets with the most engagement and then responded with a thoughtful contribution and a link to my story.
The second item I prioritized on that Saturday morning was to join the conversation on Medium. Like I did with Twitter, I searched Medium for the articles about the coronavirus with the most engagement. I measured engagement by the number of claps and responses an article had, and how recent it was. In total, I found 30 articles to thoughtfully respond to, in which I also included a link to my story. Then I departed the platform until Sunday. When I returned I took to social media.
For social media, I stayed within the Medium rules and steered clear of mentioning specific brands, but there are definitely brands that specialized in some of the items I suggested and I let those brands know. For all I know, there are no guidelines discouraging writers from sharing their stories with brands that produce products similar to the ones mentioned in a writing. If someone writes a story about using newsletters and tells Mailchimp, that flies. Same with someone writing an article in support of electric cars sharing it with social media managers at Tesla and Waymo. When brands repost, reshare, or retweet a Medium article it supports the original writer and drives external views, which is lead gen for Medium itself.
When contacting brands that might have an interest in your story, you can usher them into posting or reposting your content by offering it to them with permission to and gratitude for sharing. It’s just like calling into a tip line.
This was a key piece of my distribution strategy.
I have two Facebook pages, one personal and one for my brand. I shared this writing to both of them. In each of the posts, I made sure to guide my friends and followers to the story with compelling “why you should read this” copy as well as mentioning the brands I selected above. In the story, I didn’t directly mention any brands, but on my social media, I did.
Then I did the same thing on LinkedIn. I posted the story several times from my LinkedIn profile, again informing my connections why they should read this and tagging those same selected brands.
Then I returned to Twitter. With character count limitations, I created my own thread, reserving each new tweet for a selected brand to be mentioned with the hope they would retweet and their followers would visit the thread and find my original tweet that linked my story.
With Instagram, things didn’t look much different, but I did choose to leverage Instagram stories, not the main feed. I screenshot the title of my article and shared it with a “link in bio” sticker directing any curious followers to visit my splash page that occupies the website field on my Instagram profile. Then I began screenshotting and sharing select parts of the writing.
I didn’t want to share the full article through screenshots. I wanted to encourage followers to go read the full story. At the same time, I wanted to leverage the brands I gave attention to on other platforms on Instagram, too. So, I shared select screenshots and mentioned the brands by tagging their Instagram page. By doing this, their account managers will get a notification and have the ability to share my story with their followers by adding it to their Instagram story. So far, each of these efforts was indirect. I put the ball in another’s court and hoped they would see it, then play with it.
It was time to control the outcome.
I did this using email and LinkedIn.
I began by combing each brand’s online presence for email addresses. I was looking for sales, marketing, anything. Where I usually find emails are on Facebook pages in the “about” section (navigate the left side menu to get here), Instagram pages (on the Mobile app press the contact button), or directly on their website. Once I had these, I set up a mail merge that assigned the values of a person or team’s name, company name, and product from a Google sheet, and then in the body included links to the original writing and all my social media postings that mentioned them. I finished the email by mentioning I was a fan, granting permission to share in email marketing, and expressing gratitude for any social support they give.
The direct messaging didn’t stop there. I then went to LinkedIn.
I use LinkedIn Premium for an improved experience and began requesting all employees of the brands mentioned that worked in marketing, social media, or at an executive level. Some brands were small so I requested their entire team. Once an individual accepted, I sent them a short message of gratitude for their product, mentioned I wrote an article that might be of interest to their marketing team, and asked if I could email it over to them. If they shared their email, I sent them the same email from above.
This is the actual email copy I used.
With each of the levers I was pulling, I was not only driving up external views and indicating to Medium’s algorithm that this was a story of interest, but I was also leveraging reshares from brands on Facebook and Instagram to add members to my custom audiences.
With all of these actions, did it work? Yes.
Within 24 hours, this story had landed on page one of Google when searching for “lockdown” or “quarantine shopping lists,” snuggled between articles from the Washington Post and New York Post. Today, it’s in the top three between Today and CNN articles.
So yes, it worked because I landed on Google’s first page, but to return to my mentioned desire to duplicate a story that earned over $6,000, I have to be honest, and say, no, it didn’t.
To date, this story has the following stats:
- Views: 107,000
- Reads: 36,000
- Fans: 191
- Earnings: $119.31
That’s not rent. Richie needs rent.
At first glance, given the motivation, this isn’t a winner, but we can still extract a few victories here.
- I was published in a Medium-owned publication, meaning someone on the inside is aware of my work. Win.
- 107,000 people viewed this article, therefore 107,000 people know my name as a writer. Win.
- 36,000 people read my story and may have then read more of my writings or visited my website that's linked in my bio. Win.
- Of the percent of 36,000 people that visited my website, some may now contact me for my services, transforming this piece of writing into lead generation. Win.
- My custom audiences in Facebook’s business manager grew by 2,000. Win.
- With nearly 88% of views being external, I have the opportunity to convert them into paying members, which will reward me since Medium includes reading time from non-members if they become members within 30 days of reading your story, thus encouraging writers to share stories widely! Win.
- I gained 200-plus followers since publishing this story. Win.
- I received more than 35 sign-ups to my newsletter. Win.
- I was able to write this article, which is another opportunity to earn income. Win.
Increased viewership and engagement may not always translate to income, and even earning income is not everything. This story proves that.
There are so many opportunities that come from writing a well-distributed story that reach beyond income. I still love this story and am proud of it. As writers, we can’t let our egos assign incorrect expectations to our work. We are artists and we owe it to ourselves and our art to distribute it.
In the end, what’s most fulfilling about this piece of writing is knowing that at least 36,000 people now have a free resource to use as they navigate this pandemic.
That is service.
I’ve been writing in Better Marketing for a few months now, and one of my goals is to share, transparently, tools and tips for you to grow your brand. The two that I think will help you most are:
The Strategy I Used to Write My First $6,000 Story
30 Days, 181,876 views, 2,191 hours read, and $6,012.25 earned
Stop Using Linktree and Build Your Own Splash Page Instead
Don’t wait, your Linktree link might soon be blocked
The difference between Seth Godin, The Morning Brew, and me? I respect your inbox, curating only one newsletter per month — Join my behind-the-words monthly newsletter to feel what it’s like to receive a respectful newsletter.
And, for those interested in what else I’m building, come over to RICKiRICKi.