Here's how one guy made a viral blog post and what happened afterward. There are huge upsides to guest posting, especially on sites like Medium. This marketing strategy is excellent, I want to try it out.

I kept hearing about a ton of people having success on Medium but I was always scared to publish on there.

I kept thinking: 

“I don’t want to start blogging on a new platform when I already have a blog and a following. What if I waste a post on Medium and it doesn’t get any traction?”

“If I republish content on there, what happens if it outranks my site or even worse hurts my SEO?”

“I don’t understand how it works.”

But last month I published my first article on Medium.

It got over 10k views in 4 days, 12k views over the past 3 weeks, and it helped me get picked up by the Huffington Post

huffington-post-article

Now I’m sold on Medium as channel for syndicating content to help drive traffic AND build my brand.

I still think building your own blog, on your own site is the best long term solution (more on why below) but Medium can definitely give you a massive initial pageview boost. Imagine if you were starting a new blog… getting those kinds of stats is CRAZY for the first post! 

Medium-Stats-Benji-Hyam

My first post going viral wasn’t just by luck though. There is a process you can follow that will help you get seen by thousands of people.

Before publishing on Medium, I talked to successful Medium writers and found out how they got so much traction. Then I compiled all of the advice I got and executed on it.

I’m going to share that process in this post, along with what I’ve learned about the platform so that you can replicate this kind of success for yourself.

Finally, I’ll discuss what I’ve learned since then about building a long term audience and getting steady traffic for years by writing on and building your own blog and ranking for the right keywords with SEO (skip to here).

Note: A key part of going viral on Medium was submitting my article to the right Medium publication. I’ve compiled a list of all publications into a spreadsheet with follower counts and descriptions so you can find the right publication to submit your article to quickly and easily. Click here to get the free spreadsheet and increase your chances of going viral.

What Kind of Content Does Well on Medium?

I still remember the first post I ever read on Medium. It was in 2013, Andy Dunn the CEO of Bonobos wrote about “The Risk Not Taken.” It was his story of the founding of Bonobos and how he almost went broke in the process. It was raw, vulnerable and inspiring.

the-risk-not-taken-medium

I had just started my first business and his story was relatable on so many levels.

How could I not want to share that?

How could I not want to read more stories like his?

After that, I was hooked. I read Medium articles all the time. I studied these stories in depth and there was definitely something different about the stories that were being published and shared on Medium vs. other media outlets (and other blogs for that matter).

When you dissect the stories that are successful on Medium – most of them have similar qualities:

  • Story: The writer tells a story, or shares how they accomplished something that would be useful to others, and it’s usually from personal experience
  • Vulnerability: The writer is vulnerable and completely transparent
  • Emotion: The story invokes some kind of emotion from the reader. That emotion might be positive, inspiring, uplifting, or create sadness. You might feel for the writer and can relate to their story, or the post invokes anger and you want to share it because you’re incredibly pissed off.
  • Controversy: The writer takes a different stance on something that’s trending in the news

To see what I mean, here are some of my favorite Medium stories from over the years (and most of them also got tons of traffic and recommendations):

Confessions of an ex-tech journalist

How Tinder’s co-founder Whitney Wolfe Hacked Metcalfe’s Law

How I fell in love with an app

How to avoid building products that fail

How I hustled to get the perfect job

No Alcohol, no coffee for 15 months. This is what happened.

You will always suck at what you do, until you do this.

Ten more minutes

A couple of things to notice from looking at the headlines:

  1. Most of them are short – that is because with Medium, unlike with a normal blog where just the headline is most important, the headline/subhead combo is really important. If you click into the article, the headline is the attention grabber and the subhead is typically the explanation of the article or piques your curiosity.
  2. You can tell just by the title that a lot of the stories that did really well are how-to’s and stories about personal experience.

So having done my research and known all of these things, I thought Medium would be the perfect platform to launch my story about quitting my “life.”

If you haven’t read it, it’s the story about me rising up the corporate ladder only to hit my monetary goals and realize that I had been focused on the wrong life goals.

It was about the journey of discovering what makes me happy – which ultimately led to me quitting my job, moving abroad and working full-time on this site – Grow and Convert.

Here’s how my article hits on the characteristics of “good” medium articles I listed above:

  • Story: It’s a personal story.
  • Vulnerability: I share things that most people wouldn’t publicly. For example: The story included details like me not having enough money to pay my rent.
  • Emotion: People could relate to what I was saying. Here are some of the comments I received:

medium-comments

medium-comments2

medium-comments-3

What I Did After Drafting the Post to Make it Custom Tailored to the Medium Audience

After finishing it up, the first (and most important) thing I did was send it to a bunch of people who’ve published posts successfully on Medium to ask them for advice.

I knew there were some nuances with posting on Medium that I was unaware of.

Here’s some of the feedback I got.

“The story flows well but you need to come up with better formatting.  You need to format your post with more H2s and call out more quotes.”

Formatting on Medium is WAY different. People typically chunk up their posts, add tons of H2s, quotes and images to make their articles easier to skim and more shareable.

For example: Take a look at this post and you’ll notice what I’m saying:

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 9.31.11 PM

See the full article: Side Project Marketing Is the New King

People like to highlight quotes and share them on social media. So calling out sections you think people will resonate with is important.

highlighted-quote-medium
Here’s the most highlighted post from my article

“You need to come up with a better headline.”

My original headline was “What I Learned About Finding Your Passion”

Other options that I came up with were:

Why I Quit My Job to Become a Digital Nomad

Why Choosing the Wrong Goals Led to a Life of Unhappiness

And then I finally settled on Why I Quit My “Life.”

I was told that shorter headlines on Medium do better and also ones that are kind-of clickbaity. I felt like the one I settled on was short, described what my story was about, and definitely got people curious as to what my article was about.

“You need to find a publication that will accept your story.”

Note from Devesh: Note how Benji did something most people won’t bother to do: ask for advice from people who have been there before. They told him two critical pieces, which, had he not done, would have seriously hampered his chances of trending on Medium — especially the tip on submitting to a publication.

Before You Publish: Finding the Perfect Medium Publication and Pre-Publishing Outreach

Think of a Medium publication as a mini-magazine that features stories around a certain topic.

In order to get your article to trend on Medium, it’s really important that you get picked up by a publication.

Why? Because they already have followers and most have email newsletters as well.

If your story starts to take off, then the publication will help promote you to their existing audience. If your post does really well, they might even e-mail your article out to their list giving you an extra boost of traffic.

So, if you’re hoping to go viral on Medium, finding publications that are a good fit for your article is critical.

To help you find the perfect Medium publication to submit to, we recreated this Google Spreadsheet that Benjamin Hoffman originally sent me:

finding-the-perfect-medium-publication

The two publications that I identified were:

SWLH – Which stands for: Startups, Wanderlust, Life Hacking – Handpicked business, marketing, design, and technology articles for entrepreneurs and startups. Also home to inspiring Medium stories in productivity, life lessons, creativity, writing tips, and self improvement. 117k followers

Life Learning – Accelerated Learning, Tech, Antifragility, and Definite Optimism – 84k followers

These just happen to be two of the biggest publications on Medium and they fit exactly what I wrote about.

I tried to get into SWLH first because it had a larger following and it looked like it related more to what I wrote about. I sent a tweet to the editor saying that I wrote an article that would be a good fit but didn’t get a response. Then I tried e-mailing the editor my draft and still got no response.

Onto the next one.

I sent a tweet to Chad Grills who’s the editor of Life Learning.

life-learning-editor

tweet-life-learning

Boom. I was in.

I followed up to Chad with an e-mail describing a little bit about my post. I also sent over a couple of names of some people I’m friends with who’ve had their writing published before in his publication (for some social proof). The names were edited out because you have to find your own friends 🙂

email-chad-life-learning

He was super helpful and gave me some advice to run my post through Hemingway App and also through grammarly. He suggested that I take a little bit more time with it and it would be successful.

email-chad-life-learning-2

Once I polished up the story, I notified him before I hit publish and then he added my story to his publication within the hour.

Now what you’ve all been waiting for…

After Publishing: What I Did To Promote My Medium Post

I’ve been told that the key to trending on Medium is to get 100 recommendations within the first hour of publishing.

So then I had to create a plan to get there.

Why Medium Followers Are Important

Before I had even published my post, I had around 900 followers on my Medium account. You can build your following on Medium by highlighting and recommending other’s articles, and also by being active on Twitter.

I’m 99% positive that anyone who follows you on Twitter AND has a Medium account is considered your follower on Medium.

It’s important to build your Medium follower count because when you hit publish, everyone who follows you gets a pop-up notification letting them know that you’ve published a new post.

Because I already had 900 followers, I was able to leverage this to get a small fraction of eyeballs on my post and people recommending my article instantly.

I asked some of my friends to share

I had a lot of people help me edit the post and told a lot more people that it was coming. That way when I released it, they also felt like they were invested in the posts’ success. I had about 10 to 20 people that said they would help me by sharing it to their own audience on Facebook when it was released.

The story got an initial lift from Facebook shares. I also e-mailed the list from my personal site (about 170 people at the time) about my story.

Between the followers, Facebook shares, some manual outreach asking people to share and recommend the story if they enjoyed it, and my small e-mail list, the story hit 100 recommendations within the first hour.

Success.

But I didn’t stop there…

Then I e-mailed the Grow and Convert e-mail list which had about 700 people on it at the time.

After that e-mail went out, that’s when I hit the top 10 list. When I hit the top 10, I posted this on my Facebook which gave the post another big boost in traffic.

facebook-medium-post

238 people liked the post and a ton of people read it after that because the post was public so it went on everyone’s timeline.

The highest my post got on the trending list was making it to the top 9 – which yielded about 10k views in the first 4 days. If you want to get tons more traffic, you need to make this list. The coveted top 5.

top5-medium

I should have kept promoting after I hit the top 10, but I stopped, because I thought that the story was going to keep getting pushed by Medium.

Once I started seeing the post drop in traffic, I tried to give it another surge by posting it to Reddit, but it was too late.

Overall, I’m happy with how my post did, but next time I’ll know that I need to keep pushing it when it’s in the top 10 to try to get it in the top 5.

Here’s a breakdown of where the traffic came from for that post:

 Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 10.57.34 PMAs you can see from the analytics, the reason it’s important to trend is because the majority of my traffic got pushed by Medium itself. That’s the advantage of publishing on the Medium platform.

I can confidently say if I didn’t publish my article on there, it wouldn’t have received the overwhelming response it did.

To replicate this kind of success for yourself

  1. Make sure you study what does well on Medium and write a story that is vulnerable, invokes emotion and/or one that talks about a controversial issue.
  2. Make sure you choose a short and interesting headline for your story coupled with a descriptive subhead or one that makes the reader curious to learn more.
  3. Format your post so that it’s easy for a reader to navigate through it. Make sure to call out quotes.
  4. Find the perfect publication for your article to call home. If you need help doing that, use our spreadsheet as a guide.
  5. Do whatever it takes to get 100 recommendations on your post in the first hour of publishing. This means growing your following on Medium, reaching out to friends, mailing your e-mail list, sharing on social media and being creative to drive those 100 recommendations. NOTE: Medium also takes into account read rate, so not only do you have to get 100 recommendations, but it’s important that a majority of those people actually read your article.

If you have any other tips or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Now go viral on Medium!


Update 7/2020: How This Site, Grow and Convert, Has Grown Since My Original Post on Medium

As I said in the intro, my post on medium (How I Quit My “Life”) was about leaving my corporate job, moving overseas, and starting this site, Grow and Convert. 

It’s been over 4 years, so how has Grow and Convert done? 

We went through a lot of ups and downs but we’ve now grown this into a full fledged content marketing company: with an agency that executes content marketing for businesses and a course and community that teaches individuals how to become world class at content marketing. I make way more than I was making before, at my job, and most importantly am working for myself, fully remote and with a great team. 

In the end we did this by not by focusing on Medium but by focusing on writing on our own site. Our site gets a pretty solid 20,000+ pageviews every month now, about half of which come from organic or SEO.

We also have an email list of 7,000 marketers that we can email everytime we publish a new post. 

How did we do this? What was our strategy for writing, for picking topics and promoting? 

Well that’s a huge set of questions, and ones that the rest of the posts on our blog have been trying to answer for 4 years. So in this update, let me summarize and link to our most foundational posts that outline our biggest learnings about writing good content that gets noticed and impresses the right audience so you can shortcut the learning process. 

  • Customer Content Fit – The key to getting the right customers to your site is writing content that matches their knowledge and expertise. Most companies get this wrong. 
  • Specificity Strategy – Most people when thinking of what to write, pick generic topics that are too wide. You need to get really specific. 
  • Originality Nuggets – Why your content needs originality to be impressive, but you don’t need to invent a new wheel.
  • Detail Principle – What separates good blog posts from bad.
  • Writing Blog Introductions – The intro is super important. This short post explains how to make it good. 

If you don’t have time to read these now, you can also have these emailed to you, one article per day. Just sign up here.

Finally, for folks that really want to improve their blog writing, and learn how to become a top tier content marketer by: knowing how to pick topics that bring in the right customers for any company, promote the content, rank in Google, and convert those visitors to signups, and measure all of this so you can impress clients, bosses, or yourself…we’ve compiled our years of learning into a course on how to be a top tier content marketer:

It’s called Grow & Convert Members and the course is built into a community, so members interact, discuss, share their work and get feedback.

If you’re interested, you can learn more and enroll here. Or you can watch this video where I describe why we started G&C Members and what it’s all about:


 

Special thanks to Cammi PhamBenjamin Hoffman, and Greg Muender for their Medium advice.

Special thanks to Ada Chen & Grace Martineau for help editing.

And to Chad Grills for his helpful advice and including me in Life Learning.

Want us to write an in depth case study or story like this about you or your company? We’ll also drive traffic to it. Apply here.

Like this article? We produce stories like these for our clients, learn more here.

Medium Publications Spreadsheet

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