How to Get 2 Million Views on Your Blog in Less Than Two Years, From a Writer Who Actually Did It
I met Dr. Derek Austin 🥳 last year through an online course. Now, we’re in a writing group to support and encourage one another in our careers. (I have a practice of reaching out to one writer I don’t know every week — it’s been a great way to expand my network.)
Austin is a thirty-something writer on Medium. He has a background in web development and clinical practice as a board-certified massage therapist and a licensed physical therapist. He currently works as an instructor for an online web development bootcamp and as an SEO & website performance consultant.
I interviewed him to learn about his experience writing his blog, how he’s received two million views, and his advice to emerging writers. Here’s our conversation.
“I Started Writing on the Platform to Teach Myself Programming”
Austin discovered Medium the way many of us do — it came up in his online search results. At the time, he’d been researching some mental health problems he was experiencing.
“Medium kept coming up as a resource with a lot of useful information and a lot of people’s personal experiences. And after probably about a year, I decided to sign up for a membership and started reading on the platform,” he said.
He transitioned into writing on the platform to enhance his programming career.
“I started writing on the platform because I wanted to teach myself some of the skills I would need to build modern websites since I hadn’t made a website from scratch in a few years. I thought making some demonstrations on a blog and putting them out there would be a good way to teach people the skills and to demonstrate to other people that I knew the skills.”
His strategy in the beginning? Publish daily.
“What I found is that I really enjoyed it, and was I was getting a lot out of writing on the platform and I was starting to earn money for my writing,” he said.
In the meantime, he was talking to hiring managers about software engineering positions that, with his background in website development, he was qualified for. But because he wasn’t employed in a similar position at the time, they didn’t hire him. When he showcased his Medium blog, and the fact that he can communicate about web development topics, they remained nonplussed.
“I think there’s a bit of a stereotype among software engineers that . . . you either teach web development or you’re a web developer. I don’t think that’s true in the least, but it’s an impression that a lot of people have. I don’t think it’s just engineering; I think it’s anybody changing careers. You see it on Medium a lot as well, just in general, that if somebody is publishing on Medium a lot then they’re a writer and not possibly other things.”
It seems our society’s need to stick people with an ill-fitting professional label applies in real life too (not just online).
“To me, it comes down to the fact that a lot of times when we talk to each other, especially in professional settings, we ask, ‘What do you do?’ We’re asking what a person’s job title is, and that’s the limit of them as a person. That’s not a description or label that’s ever going to fit me. I’ve never had only one job in over sixteen years of working. Even when I was working full-time as a physical therapist, I was working part-time as the team massage therapist for the VCU Rams Men’s Basketball team and was an AirBnb SuperHost who got 500 reviews in four years”
A Typical Writing Day: “I Found What Works Best for Me”
When I asked him to describe his typical writing day, he said he’s tried different approaches.
“For a long time, I would get up, sit down and write in front of the TV as much as I could. Sort of seeing if I could write for two or four hours that day or longer,” he said.
Austin has experimented with writing for shorter and longer blocks of time. He’s found scheduling breaks and client work into his day has allowed him to maintain a higher level of productivity overall, compared to when he first started and would try to write without breaks.
He’s also considering adding more writing time to his schedule.
“I’ve found there’s a limit to how much I can write and edit in a day, but I try to spend at least 4 hours every weekday writing for my blog or for clients. I also take a lot of courses to improve both my writing and my technical skills. That helps me come up with ideas to write about.”
However he’s spending his time, Austin focuses on what works for him. He suggests honoring your own approach to things, especially creative endeavors like writing.
Austin said: “I find I do the best when I sit down and try to finish a piece, start to finish (almost) . . . I know a lot of writers don’t recommend just writing a piece and saying it’s done, but I find that works best for me because otherwise I lose the thread, and I have a lot of trouble completing the pieces that I haven’t worked on in over a week.”
He also told me about how he manages his content. Whenever he gets an idea or stumbles across something he wants to write about, he creates a new draft to document his thoughts. And if he knows he wants to finish the draft sooner rather than later, he keeps track of it on his publication calendar spreadsheet.
Ranking Online: “I’m Very Comfortable with Search Engine Optimization (SEO)”
Okay, so that’s Austin’s approach to writing. Now how exactly did he get two million views?
He explains: “As a technical writer, the content that gets the most views is the beginner and sometimes intermediate-level content, and so because I was coming at writing with just the philosophy of ‘If I don’t know something, then I’m going to write a piece teaching it to myself, then if I forget it, I can look it back up’. So, I created a lot of content at that beginner or intermediate level and a lot of people are going to have the same question.”
What about the all-important headline?
Austin says: “When I write those pieces, I never do anything cute or extra with the titles. I always just write down what I would type in[to Google] and what I probably already typed in to look up that information. And that means those types of articles are going to be things that other people are going to be interested in because they’re coming from my real experience: I really had this problem, and this is really how I solved it.”
He describes his background: “I’ve been programming for twenty years. As a programmer, I’m really used to Googling and looking stuff up online. So I’m very comfortable with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and I know how to get websites to rank online. I ran a local SEO agency for a few years before and while I was in physical therapy school, helping businesses get found online.”
“That’s why I get thousands of views a day. Not necessarily from people sharing my articles or finding them on Medium; it comes from Google.”
And if you want your blog to be found on Google, Medium’s a great option.
There Are Plenty of Opportunities to Rank on Google
I wanted to know: did he anticipate this many views or did it come as a surprise?
“I wasn’t surprised that I was having articles rank on Google, but I have been surprised at the longevity there and the fact that there’s not more competition,” he said.
He goes on, “Which I think just goes to show, when we’re talking about SEO, it’s about long-tail keywords, not just a keyword, but what people type into search engines, often five or more keywords. So, if you want your content to rank highly online, it’s still kinda wide open. Because if you can imagine, there are 30,000 English words, well, 30,000 to the fifth power is a lot of topics you can write about and rank online.”
That’s good news for content creators because it means there are still plenty of opportunities to rank on Google.
The Big Question: How to Get 2 Million Views on Medium
Step one: decide you want to focus on views over Medium Partner Program earnings.
I’ll let Austin explain: “Why would you go for views over earnings? Because you are comfortable trading lower earnings through the Partner Program for better brand recognition of your personal brand as a thought leader, which in the long haul has a lot of earning potential upside. When you’re able to develop and sell a course, when you’re able to drive people to your personal email newsletter, which you can use as leverage to get a traditional book deal or to sell your own products and courses or to affiliate sell other people’s products and courses. I also think just for career and professional development, you’d much rather get the views and have a wider number and variety of people finding your article than focusing on the earnings through the Partner Program.”
In other words, you might prioritize views over MPP earnings if you have a personal brand and website you want to drive people to, to sell a course or some other product.
So, let’s say you’re comfortable trading some MPP earnings for more views on your personal brand. How do you do that?
Again, I’ll let the writer with 2 million views explain: “If like me, you care more about views than earnings, then you really need to focus on SEO and writing article titles that people can search for. I’ll be producing some content for my blog to share with writers soon about some ways of doing that. But one thing I’ve found to be helpful in my current writing process is a service called Answer the Public which lets you do two free searches a day and it gives you search suggestions that come from the Google autocomplete data . . . Answer The Public is mining those suggestions and giving you related suggestions to the keywords you’d like to write about. So if you can write articles about those suggestions, then they’re much more likely to show up in search than if you don’t take that into account when writing your headlines.”
So if you want to write about growing sunflowers, for example, you’d type “grow sunflowers” into Answer The Public. What you get is a visual representation of your search term, “grow sunflowers”, contextualized within various phrases using words like “what”, “why”, and “how”.
For example, our term brings up the following suggestions:
- Can sunflowers grow in pots
- Where do sunflowers grow best
- Will sunflowers grow in clay soil
And dozens of other suggestions. As you can see, you can use your Answer The Public results to turn one keyword (“grow sunflowers”) into multiple keywords — which double as topics for your stories.
There is another way to get views, though. In Derek’s words: “If you want more views, then you need to be sure that your headline is extremely catchy if you’re not writing straight up what people type into the search engine, verbatim.”
How to write an “extremely catchy” headline, you ask? Derek takes six-figure-blogger Tom Kuegler’s advice on this one — “Tom Kuegler says that most Medium writers he sees put the actual title in the subtitle and usually have a headline that’s more boring.” Food for thought.
So, you have two options to gain massive views on Medium:
- Use the exact keyword phrase that people are typing into Google, or
- Make your headline irresistible to Medium readers.
Easier said than done, but those are two approaches that Austin says will get you more views.
Along with his success on Medium, Derek has been freelancing for the last eighteen months. He’s also started mentoring aspiring writers and software engineers. “That’s something I’ve found to be really rewarding,” he says.