What drives the stats?
Like many other Medium writers, I obsess over my stats. I refresh more times than I’d like to admit. I love seeing the numbers, views, and member read time update in real-time. I just can’t help it — it’s fun and addicting!
But have you ever wondered what a Medium reader’s journey to your article looks like? Where do they come from? You can imagine me asking that question in my best Neil deGrasse Tyson voice.
Let’s say you have an article that is performing well. What caused it to do well? Some writers could attribute the success of that story to a catchy headline. Or the content is really that good. Or maybe the writer just has a really big, loyal following.
While I do consider those factors to be important to a story’s performance, I actually can’t help but think about how that reader came upon the article in the first place. I think about it all the time. And it bugs me how I don’t know the answer.
In the business world, it’s very important to understand the marketing funnel. A marketing funnel “is a way of breaking down the customer journey all the way from the awareness stage (when they first learn about your business) to the purchase stage (when they’re ready to buy your product.)
When you consider the marketing funnel in the digital marketing world, there is an important metric called last-click attribution, where “the last click is given credit for a sale or a conversion.” This is especially important to consider because it gives insights into the customer journey.
For example, let’s imagine a customer buying a coffee mug on Amazon. To most consumers, they don’t even think about how they got to the coffee mug in the first place. The journey to click “Buy” on the coffee mug is almost seamless to them —almost second nature.
But to the brand selling the coffee mug, understanding the customer journey is crucial to growing sales. Did the customer type in “coffee mug” into the search bar to get to the product? Did the customer click on a sponsored Amazon ad? Did the customer come to the product through product recommendations?
The same principle can be applied to Medium. The article that you write is a product. When the reader clicks on your article and reads it in its entirety, they’ve consumed your product. The money that is reflected in your story stats represents the sales you’ve generated from the product (article).
I’m certain the editors of publications would be interested in knowing how readers come upon their publications as well. Do they come through the writers or do they actively check out publication home pages to scour through stories?
So if the Medium writer or publication is the brand and they’re selling products in the form of articles, understanding the reader journey is crucial to growing views. Did the reader type in their name in the search bar to find the article? Did the reader find the article through their daily notifications on their phone? Do readers browse publications and click on stories?
When you look at the “Views by Traffic Source” of your stories, Medium does a fairly good job of sourcing where the external referrals come from. But if you look at internal views, there’s a lovely question mark right next to the word. When you hover your mouse over the question mark, it simply states, “Views from Medium distribution, including our homepage, app, emails, and social media accounts.” Not really that helpful.
With Medium, there’s no way to determine last-click attribution within the platform.
Different research methods
In my professional career, I work as a consumer and market researcher. My job is to help others understand the customer journey and evaluate where we can increase consideration and purchases for products. Unfortunately for us, I doubt Medium would ever spill the beans on where and how readers discover stories. But I have an idea that could give us some insights into the matter.
One way to decipher the customer journey is through the distribution of surveys. By collecting enough responses for a significant sample size, consumer and market researchers can use the survey results to represent their target audience. The surveys can give insights into consumer behavior and attitudes.
If we apply the same methodology to Medium, we could extract insights on reader behavior as well. The survey wouldn’t be perfect since there’s no way to randomly handpick people to survey from everyone on Medium. But in my mind, some data is better than no data.
Medium recently called for volunteers for their new research panel on December 8. It makes sense for them to create a research panel in order to better understand their writers and readers. In the signup form, Medium asks a series of questions around demographics that included age, location, gender.
But they also asked questions about what kind of Medium person you are — Do you write often? If so, what do you write about? Are you a self-publisher or not?
I eagerly signed up and got in. I was half-hoping for a return on investment for my time in the form of insights into the research. But alas, Medium will only compensate the research participants monetarily (a standard practice in the consumer research world.)
I thought to myself, “If I conduct surveys and do consumer research for my career, I might as well do research on writers and readers too!”
Taking the survey
I’ve decided to create a survey and ask for people to voluntarily opt in to take the survey in an effort to help give insights around the Medium reader’s journey. I would measure both psychographic behavior and demographic information of all respondents.
If there is enough interest, I would be confident enough to share the results and findings in a follow-up article publicly as a thank you for taking the time to participate in the survey.
So if you’re interested, I encourage all readers to take a few minutes to participate in this Medium-writer-led study, conducted by yours truly. Once you’re done, please share among your Medium writer networks to help gather as many responses as possible.
The survey has 30 questions currently. It will take no longer than 5–7 minutes. I’m only allowing one survey per respondent. I encourage everyone to take it! Here’s the link.
Take the Medium Reader Behavior Survey
In order for the survey to have good representation, I would love as many responses as possible — at least 300, I’d say, before I consider compiling the results and insights into a future article. The more responses I get, the further I can slice up the different demographics.
If you’re curious, some of the questions in the survey include the following:
How often do you read stories on Medium from your mobile desktop/laptop computer?
How often do you click on a story to read from Medium’s Topics Page?
How often do you click on a story to read from your favorite publication homepage?
My hope is that I’ll be able to answer some age-old questions that Medium writers have on how to effectively publish stories to make the biggest impact with their readers. Here are some examples of questions it can possibly answer.
If Medium is a relational platform, does it favor readers or publications more?
Is it more important to have more followers or write more quality content to be distributed/curated?
Does pinning a story to your profile have an impact on views?
Social media marketing
To be candid, the results would be more favorable to me compared to the average Medium writer. The sampled audience would over-index among my followers, the people on my social media that I share this with, and more engaged readers. But hopefully, the survey will be shared, allowing the results to spread out and away from my bubble on Medium.
As I stated earlier, some data is better than no data.
The truth is that Medium is also a social media platform. Like Facebook, Medium has notifications. Like Twitter, Medium gives us the ability to follow each other. Like YouTube, Medium serves as a foundation for us to share content with each other.
Like any other social media platform, the ability to grow your following is to be expected on Medium. While other social media profiles offer social media experts the tools to analyze where their engagement comes from, Medium’s toolbox is limited for writers. Understanding what the average Medium reader's journey looks like will help writers grow their following, market their personal brand, and succeed.
My hope is that the survey results will show us how. If not, oh well! It was a fun experiment. Again, I encourage you to take the quick survey! Clap, comment, and share to help drive this study in front of people. Knowledge is power!