Why Medium Needs A Recommend Ratio

And a follower stats page…

Read ratio is generally easy to predict:

Longer posts have lower read ratios, and shorter posts have higher read ratios.

That’s intuitive. Why a post generates recommends, however, is harder to pin down. It speaks more to the substance of a post, which, I’m sure we can agree, is a better indicator of quality. As such, Medium should incorporate a recommend ratio, specifically a recommend-to-read ratio.

Views tell you more about your promotional skills than your writing aptitude: eye-catching headlines, effective tags, mentioning relevant writers, cross-channel amplification, etc. Read ratio tells you something about your writing, but not maybe not quite what you think.

A high read ratio shows you your writing at least initially satisfies the promise of the headline and can hold someone’s attention for a certain number of minutes, but if you effectively employ the tactics above to garner views, and you write a short post, your read ratio is likely to be high. If your post doesn’t hold up — that is, it doesn’t have a clear takeaway or a satisfying resolution — the scarcity of recommends will reflect that. Take exhibit A and B from posts I wrote over the last six weeks:

Exhibit A:

This post managed an unimpressive number of views but a relatively high read ratio. More impressive, however, is the number of recommends gained by such few views — a 39 percent recommend-to-read ratio, which represents the highest of any of my posts since I joined Medium in August. You could argue that those views are too few to arrive at a definitive conclusion. Maybe, but I’d wager that even as this post matures (it’s only been up a couple of days), this narrative will persist.

Exhibit B:

This view count is more respectable (at least according to my modest traffic), but it was captured with an incendiary — dare I say clickbait — headline. There is only one sentence in the post, so it’s no wonder that it achieved an 83 percent read ratio. I’m actually surprised the read ratio wasn’t higher. Most notably, the recommend-to-read ratio is an abysmal 4.7 percent, which represents one of the lowest of my 50 posts so far.

It’s not hard to figure that out. People were sucked in by a loud headline, and felt betrayed when they consumed what little content there was. The previous post, by contrast, drove home a clear message quickly and had just enough meat to satisfy the reader.

When I first glanced at my stats, I thought the length of the post was bound to the recommend-to-read ratio, but when I did the math, I discovered I was wrong:

As you can see, “I Became My Dad On Medium,” a relatively short post, commands the highest recommend-to-read ratio but “I’m a black, Mexican, Muslim…,” a very short post, has the lowest. Conversely, “How Medium’s Optimizers Doomed Writers,” the longest post I’ve written on Medium, has the second highest recommend-to-read ratio, but “The Unbearable Sadness of ‘Rogue One’,” the second longest post, has the second worst ratio. Mid-length posts also varied: “C-3PO In Statistics Class,” a three-minute read, lies near the bottom of the heap, whereas “Interior Monologue…,” a four-minute read, managed the third spot (although only six percent higher than “C-3PO”).

If post length doesn’t well determine recommend-to-read ratio, what does? Quality. Engagement. Creativity. Truth. Ideas. The trouble is these things are partly subjective and, therefore, harder to measure. But if the metrics you focus on are those that prioritize engagement, acquisition and retention instead of shareability and virality, you’ll find yourself on the right track.

I’ve gained more followers this month than any other month since joining Medium even though it wasn’t my highest trafficked month. This month didn’t see the most recommends either. I did, however, receive the most comments — many of which were quite lengthy — over the last six weeks. I’d have to delve deeper to say with any intelligence how my responses to other stories have factored into my metrics, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that my highest viewed story by far, more than any post I’ve published, was a comment I left in October, which amassed almost 8,000 views.

Different metrics matter to different people, depending on their goals. My goal for my profile on Medium is to build an engaged following. The metrics that appear to be the best indicators of a growing, engaged audience are recommend-to-read ratio, number of comments (as well as thoughtfulness, but that’s difficult to measure) and followers gained — a follower stats page that you could cross-reference with the general stats page would be very useful. Even a comment-to-read ratio would be interesting, although it’d be tricky to interpret without taking sentiment into consideration.

I’d like to see these metrics added to my stats page, not because I want to see my posts go viral — though I wouldn’t kick a viral post out of bed — but because these metrics can better tell me if I’m doing a good job or, perhaps more importantly, if I’m not.

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Jon Westenberg is the founder of Creatomic. He coaches people on how to build businesses they care about and live creatively, whether you’re a freelancer, a startup founder or an artist. You can work with Jon to make your dreams a reality by emailing: jon@jonwestenberg.com