My Medium journey and the fallacy of vanity metrics

In getting things done by neville

I published my very first blog article on 26 May 2017. As far as articles go it was not too bad, and I was encouraged by my small subscriber list to continue blogging.

About a month later I published my first article on Medium. As far as articles go it was not particularly good or bad – but I was now in “the big league” and hoped, like all aspiring writers do, that Medium would be the platform that would catapult me into fame, drive readers to my website and get lots of them to buy my stuff.

After publishing that first article I was on Medium every few hours, checking my stats, whooping with joy when I got the first view, smiling when I had a few more and frowning when I realised that this journey was neither going to be fast nor easy.

Of course I knew that building an audience and driving traffic to my website was going to be slow, but somehow I was hoping for something a little faster.

Then it happened.

My first small success – and the first “big” one

On 21 July 2017 I published a story called “The most compelling story you can tell”. It was about storytelling and your origin story, and it received close to a thousand reads within weeks. Somehow this story was meaningful for a lot of people, or someone famous clapped for it, but I was overjoyed – I was on my way to fame!

My next story got 24 views, but the one after that (“Why you need to productize your services and how it works”) has gathered over 1,500 views so far. Then Niklas Göke clapped for my next story – The key to living an authentic life – and my views rocketed, close to 6,000 at the time of writing.

I was over the moon! I was in, this was the big time, this was (almost) instant success!

My joy did not last long.

Getting cut down to size

My initial hits were so encouraging – but after those few successes my views dwindled down to a trickle. I was cut down to size.

We all read the stories of Medium writers that get tens of thousands of views in weeks or just a couple of months. We avidly read their guides for how to do the same. Their successes inspire us and we try to do what they recommend in the hope that we can achieve something close to the same level of success.

But there’s a reason their stories stand out. They’re the exception, not the rule.

In 2016 some 140,000 stories were published on Medium every week. To stand out in this deluge of stories takes some doing, so it’s not surprising that it’s difficult.

I have great admiration for those that make it. They have something I’m still in the process of discovering – they connect with their audience in a compelling way and continuously produce great content people love to read.

In hindsight getting cut down to size taught me some very important lessons. The first was that I was chasing vanity metrics.

Chasing vanity metrics

My business is about helping small business owners build more successful businesses – and still have a life. One of the most important things I teach business owners is that your most precious commodity is time – and you have to spend your time where it has the most effect.

your most precious commodity is time – and you have to spend your time where it has the most effect

I had a number of reasons for creating my blog and publishing articles on Medium. I wanted to provide more value than I could by just selling DIY courses, workshops and one on one coaching. I wanted to establish my credibility and spread the word so that I could reach more people. And of course I wanted to sell more stuff.

My early successes on Medium were exhilarating – I thought I was getting where I wanted to go. But when my views went back to “normal” after those initial bursts I had to face reality:

all those views on Medium were not having any impact on my business

Those great numbers were vanity metrics. They made me feel good about myself (ego always comes first) but I couldn’t see any difference in my business or for the people I was hoping to help. It was a vanity metric.

So I was faced with a decision – the same decision I teach business owners they have to make when something isn’t working:

when something isn’t working, you have to fix it or stop doing it

I had to make that call.

Fix it, or stop doing it?

If you’re reading this you already know what I had decided to do – fix it rather than stop doing it.

I already knew that building a following, spreading the word and helping more small business owners was not something that was going to happen overnight. It was going to be a long process, and I had to take the long term view. Most importantly, I had to (largely) ignore the metrics and just keep writing stuff that connected with my target audience.

So in this case I decided to continue my blogging and writing but disregard the metrics – except where they helped me determine what my readers found of value.

And now, some 9 months later, the longer-term effects are showing up in a positive way.

At the time of writing I’m getting over a thousand views a month on Medium. But it’s no longer just a vanity metric – I can now clearly see how readers on Medium go to my website, download the lead magnets and purchase my products.

It took me 9 months, but the positive effects are showing up slowly but surely. Which leads me to the next big lesson I learnt from blogging on a regular basis.

The long tail of blogging

When I look at the statistics on my blog as well as on Medium, there is a very clear long tail effect.

The long tail effect simply states that after the initial excitement, there is a long period where there is a slow but steady consumption of your products (in this case reading the blog articles).

This long tail effect really adds up over time, and is one of the most important reasons to keep writing regularly – or start writing if it’s appropriate for your business. People are continuously discovering something of value to them, and each view is someone you’ve helped in even a small way – and a potential new client.

Ignore the metrics and play the long-term game

If there’s anything I’ve learnt, it’s that you have to ignore the metrics and take a long-term view of blogging and publishing. For most of us it’s going to take months or even years to get where we want to be, and that will take dedication, showing up regularly and always learning to get better at your craft.

I’ve not nearly made it to where I would like to be. I have seen progress, but it’s taken way longer than I thought it would. But in the process I’m learning what works and what doesn’t. I’m a far better writer than when I started out, I’m producing more and I’m having fun doing it. And in the process I’m helping people – the responses I get to my newsletter and on Medium are some of my most treasured moments.

For those that have “made it” and share their journey and lessons with us – please keep doing that. You’re inspiring and we’re learning from you.

And if you haven’t made it yet – keep going. Keep learning. You do get a little better every time.