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Medium is a place where, according to their manifesto, you can write collaboratively and alongside many other quality writers. It works simply, has a wonderful interface, is simple to use, looks pretty, and, despite all of that, I wrote a post a while back on why you should not blog at Medium.
I have only written 20 blog posts on my Medium blog, neither a heavy user nor convinced that I should become one.
But Medium grows in popularity, and one of the features that people tout is its unique approach to analytics. They’re much like the writing interface in that they are clear, understandable, and deceptively simple. They don’t exactly track the stats you’re used to seeing in a blog analytics package.
At the top of your dashboard in Medium, in 30-day segments, you can track three basic stats for all of your posts: views, reads, and recommendations.
All of your stories are listed below this chart. Clicking on the post changes the bar graph to show that story’s stats. You can also see those same three stats, plus an extra one (read ratio), for each story that you write.
Views: This is the classic stat, and answers how many sets of eyeballs saw your story. It is, pure and simple, a measurement of who came in to take a peek.
Reads: This stat is a bit different. In some ways, its similar to the idea of a bounce, but not exactly. A bounce is when someone visits your site, and then leaves without doing anything beyond that initial page that brought them in. Your bounce rate analytics don’t really tell you if anyone read what you had on the page. It simply says “they left after this one page.” Medium measures whether or not someone actually read your article. So, your views and your reads will not always be the same number.
Read Ratio: Medium uses an algorithm that calculates how many people actually read your post out of those that view it. Though it isn’t clear on how this is measured, Medium has indicated that they want to use this in determining which posts get recommended or more visibility on their site. According to Ev Williams, founder at Medium, read ratio has an effect on how your post is ranked and found (emphasis added by me):
“It’s not a direct popularity ranking. It takes in a variety of factors, including whether or not a post seems to actually have been read (not just clicked on) and whether people click the “Recommend” button at the bottom of posts. The ratio of people who view it who read it and who read it and recommend it are important factors, not just the number. (This is an attempt to level of the playing field for those who don’t already have large followings and/or a penchant for writing click-bait headlines.)”
In other words, they want to promote posts that get read, and not just clicked on. A sexy headline might grab, but the content better hold ’em. It’s an attempt to put an end to viral content that doesn’t actually get read, and maybe an attempt to stop people from gaming the system.
Recommendations: This stat shows how many people recommended (kind of like a share) the post on Medium. The number of people who recommend your post also plays into how it is ranked in Medium’s system.
The button to recommend a post is found at the bottom of the post (as are the social share buttons), where you’d naturally click it if you had theoretically read the post. This is in contrast to the popular idea that social sharing buttons should be at the top of your blog post or page. Again, Medium seems to be going against the current and wanting their system to be built on promoting the reading of posts, not mindless sharing.
Out of the four stats that Medium offers, the two that stand out as something different from traditional analytics is “reads” and “read ratio.” These two stats are putting a number on something that was previously difficult to measure: is anyone reading what I’m writing?
In some situations, the case can be made for not really worrying whether anyone is reading or not. There are times I’m blogging more for myself and to achieve clarity of thought on particular ideas rather than whether or not someone is reading. Plus, as a writer, sometimes you need to be careful to not get too caught up in whether or not you are being 100% read. These sentiments are fine for a personal or hobby blog.
But what if you are a business investing time and money into content creation with a specific desired return? It matters if anyone is reading. You need to know the investment isn’t being wasted. Your job might even require that you offer some proof that people are reading the content you’re being paid to write. Clicks and shares are fine, but to be able to say that your content is read 90% of the time is quite a different matter.
The idea of measuring how much of your content is read should lead to better writing (if you care about people reading). It used to be enough to measure clicks, hits, and shares (often based on click-bait headlines), but Medium has introduced an interesting new dynamic: it matters if people actually read what you are writing.
When you have a number to work with, you have something you can measure and improve. Typical blog stats don’t exactly measure whether people read your posts or not, so that wasn’t important for you. Instead, you likely focused on methods, such as headlines or social sharing, to get them to click and get hits because that was what you were able to measure.
Medium has attempted to change this. The very nature of putting a number on readability makes it unsurprising that people are already asking about how to get their read ratio up. What gets your read ratio up?
You can’t control how much time people have to devote to reading, but you can control whether or not you’re writing something worthwhile. On Medium, especially, shocking headlines and regurgitated content that others are writing won’t fly. You might get the view, but you won’t get the reads.
How many times do you get comments to your blog post and you know the reader didn’t fully read (if at all) the post? I know more than once I’ve found myself absolutely confused by the comments people have left, and I wonder “did they even read this post?”
Medium’s measurement of reads, combined with a comment system that happens not at the bottom but as the post is read, helps you better understand the engagement you receive and perhaps weeds out the wacky comments of someone who has not read your post at all.
This is not exactly a stat associated directly with read ratio, but it is another aspect of how Medium is trying to tap into the actual reading behavior of people. In the story itself, Medium shows readers an estimate of how long a post will take to read.
Blogger Matt Swanson talks about the benefits he gets as a reader in knowing how much time he will commit to what he is about to read, and what effects that information has on whether he even starts to read or not. Medium is, after all, catering to the reader’s experience and letting them know how much time they will have to invest to get the whole story is part of that.
Let’s use another example.
On Hulu.com, I’m told during the commercial break whether the commercial is 1 of 2, or maybe 1 of 4. What do I do when I see that?
If it’s a set of four commercials, I have time to go to the kitchen and get something to drink, but if it’s only one or two commercials, I just stick around. While I have the option at any time to pause the show, you can’t skip through commercials on Hulu and it’s easier to just let them play and skip them while leaving if I know there’s enough time. All of that to say: I make decisions on what I will do with the content based on how much time it will take me to commit to it.
So, when a reader sees that your post is only going to take about two minutes to read, or that it will take eight minutes to read, it will have some effect on the decisions readers make about your post. The effect will vary based on your readers, how you write, and if you are established as a thought leader. Some of the very long articles written by established journalists or content sources get read despite estimated read times of more than 10 minutes. That might not work for you.
How this estimated read time impacts your views and read ratio would be a fascinating A/B test for each writer.
There has been quite a bit of discussion lately about how Google search likes longer content, but with Medium–a site very much about the reader and promotion based on what is worth reading–high quality short content might be just as viable.
What does all of this talk about Medium have to do with you, a WordPress blogger using CoSchedule?
It’s because these Medium stats indicate a possible trend on where content is going, and in some ways, it’s quite different from what you’ve been hearing you ought to do elsewhere.
Instead of a focus on traffic, Medium is focusing on readers.
1. Medium is basing discovery of your content on whether or not people have read it. Not hits, not sexy headlines. Readability, not gimmicks or tricks, wins.
2. Do you notice how Medium, on its dashboard and elsewhere, does not refer to what you write as blog posts, or content? It calls them stories, and that’s the key here. Medium wants your stories.
Medium has visually stripped away anything that might get in the way of the story–no ads, and it uses a clear and simplified design. Medium caters to readers, and readers like stories. Even readers who say “I don’t like fiction and stories” actually want stories. Stories get read, and Medium is trying to find a way for you to track what gets read and reward that.
All of the “25 Ways To Do This” blog posts in the world can’t hold a candle to the power of something told as a story. A great writer can turn nearly any piece of content into a story.
In some ways, it’s an attempt to level the playing field and say that if you can tell a good story, if you can write well, you’ll be rewarded. No tricks or gimmicks will get people to read to the end other than good writing. While your WordPress blog isn’t in the walled garden of Medium, and you still have to use the old methods to get found by readers and search engines, it doesn’t hurt to consider what Medium is trying to do and see if you can’t incorporate a new goal in your writing:
Write for readers. Getting read matters. Tell stories.
March 7, 2014
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