Success depends on a metric Medium doesn’t track yet
If you publish on Medium, there’s a good chance you check your stats way too often. For months, I used to check them many times per day — especially right after I publish a new piece.
There’s this natural tendency to expecting appreciation for your work. The more readers your stories get, the better you feel. Especially, when that means you are getting paid more (I’m guilty of that too).
But, associating the value of your writing to the number of claps is not only stressful but deceiving — it distracts you from your purpose as a writer.
Are you writing for your readers or to please an algorithm?
Here’s what I learned about success at Medium.
Let the journey begin
Medium played a significant part as I prepared for a career change.
After 20+ years of a successful career in marketing communications, I decided to launch my own change leadership firm. Liberationist was born in reaction to toxic cultures — to liberate the best version of people. And help organizations become more human, adaptive, and innovative.
Medium felt like the perfect platform to share insights and thoughts. To engage with smart people who would challenge my ideas and make them better.
I thrive on challenges — setting constraints, goals or artificial deadlines keeps me focused. I decided to focus on the stats that were under my control — how much, and how frequently I wrote.
I started writing on Medium in mid-2015 — my initial goal was to publish one piece per month.
In less than a year, it felt too easy. I started writing on a weekly basis. Then, in July 2017, I doubled the amount to two articles per week. This became a real challenge — to find new topics, making time for research and writing.
Consistency helped me build momentum. A year ago, I felt it was time for an extra push. I’ve been publishing three pieces per week since then.
The journey affected my writing, not just the frequency. When I started on Medium, all my pieces were 3 minutes long. Now, most of my articles are 7–8 minutes long and, every now and then, I publish an in-depth one (15+ minutes).
Originally, I didn’t pay much attention to the stats. I focused on writing. It was great to get readers and responses — but I didn’t care much.
As Medium metrics evolved, so did my writing efforts. I started to pay more attention to the numbers. I wanted to understand why some post performed really well, and others didn’t. Unfortunately, that added confusion rather than clarity.
“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”
— Thomas Jefferson
My favorite posts didn’t always perform up to my expectations. Others that maybe I didn’t put that much time or effort did great. I guess you’ve experienced something similar, right?
And then came the Partner Program. The initial earnings were disappointing until I started to get some traction. However, reviewing estimated payments didn’t shade any light.
At some point, I realized that the Medium stats were creating a disconnection between my intention and my writing.
The metrics of success
“Don’t let the fear of losing be greater than the excitement of winning.”
— Robert Kiyosaki
The best posts I wrote — regardless of what stats say — were when I tried to affect my readers, not Medium’s algorithm. Of course, getting lots of claps is awesome. But, that’s just one outcome, not the goal.
The impact of your work cannot be reduced to quantitative metrics — depth matters more than reaching a larger audience.
For example, he suggests analyzing the “recommend ratio” — the number of people who clapped for your story, divided by the number that actually read it.
We usually underestimate a piece with a low read ratio. However, the “recommend ratio” can reveal that even though the percentage of readers was small, the ones who finished the article, loved it.
This is very common with long articles — not everyone is willing to put the effort to read a 15+ minutes piece. But, when they do, it’s because they were much more engaged than those who read a short one.
Ali’s course — which I strongly recommend it — made me pause and reflect. Why do I write? How do I measure the success of my pieces?
The most important metric on Medium
Going back to the beginning of a journey is always a great reminder to get back on track. As I mentioned before, I started writing to provoke thoughts, not to get claps.
Recognition in the form of likes, shares or payments means nothing if I’m not helping people. My readers are not followers or likers or cheerleaders. They are human beings, just like you and me, that come here seeking answers.
So, why do I write?
I want to challenge my readers and to be challenged by them.
My articles provide insights and perspective — not perfect answers. I don’t write to brainwash people but to make you think. I want you to feel inspired, intrigued, curious — so you can create your own conclusions.
I spend a lot of time researching to go beyond the surface. I like to find opposing perspectives about one topic — not just present a simplified version of it. I want to provide multiple views. For example, how detectives, sculptors, philosophers, and journalists solve problems.
See what sticks.
So, how do I measure the success of my pieces?
By observing the highlights — the more people highlight my pieces, the better I feel.
Highlighting a piece means that people are paying attention. They are not just scanning the key points. They are engaged. They are making time to capture concepts. Highliters readers are more mindful.
When people highlight a story doesn’t mean they take the words to be true. It’s part of their vetting process — they are thinking.
That’s why I write — to make people think, not to make them think like me.
Highlighting can mean various things to different people:
- They liked a quote, an idea, or a particular wording
- They selected a text to share it on social media
- Some words made them feel “Yes, that’s me.”
- They captured a concept that felt off — or they didn’t like it at all
- Insights that either inspired people or provoked reflection
- Ideas or exercises that they want to apply
- Notions that they completely disagree with
When I see that some of my articles are all highlighted, it makes me feel I achieved my purpose. Not because people necessarily liked the entire piece. But, because they played with it — they made it their own.
A published article no longer belongs to the author — it’s of public domain. Our ideas fall in the readers’ hands for them to do what they want.
When people reach out to tell me they liked one of my pieces, I feel grateful. But when they tell me, they discovered something new or experimented with new behaviors, that’s when I say “mission accomplished.”
But people’s reaction — like any other metric — are out of our control.
Sometimes the best way to measure success is to stop caring about success. We can’t control the outcome. That’s what I’ve been doing lately on. I focus my energy and time on what I can manage — my writing.
Your thoughts are yours — I just want to be a trigger that challenges your thinking.