I first turned to Medium because of it’s sleek design and access to its vast network of readers.
Medium's Network of Readers
That network of readers continues to grow. In December 2016, Medium reported that it has 60 million monthly unique visitors, which was a 140% increase from the year before. That’s more than a few million more readers than I have on my own website, so the benefit of publishing on Medium is clear.
When I first started publishing on Medium, almost three years ago, most of my stories barely broke 100 views. Since then, I’ve published 81 stories, gained 6,600 followers and at one point I’ve had over 20,000 views per month.
While I’ve certainly reaped the benefits of Medium’s network of readers, I had not considered the potential for an additional benefit: attracting readers from search engines like Google.
When I analyzed Medium.com, I was enthused to see that it’s pages were ranking for over 2.5 million keywords. According to Semrush.com, Medium receives approximately 2 million visitors from search per month.
Here's a selection of Medium stories that are ranking in the top 10 on Google for a keyword, with a search volume of over 5,000 per month.
Volume -- And A Little More Volume
I reached out to the authors of these stories -- and I would like to thank them for letting me get a glimpse into their stats, and what volume in readership has come from search.
Ethan Seigal’s story, “The Physics of the Warped Wall: The science behind defeating one of Ninja Warrior’s toughest legendary obstacles!” ranks #1 on Google for “warped wall,” a term that’s searched 9,900 times per month.
This story, alone, has been viewed 43,000 times.
28,158 of those readers found the story through Google. That number is greater than the number of readers that found the story from Medium or social media.
“Even today, three-ish years after I published the story, it gets about 1,000 view per month,” Ethan told me.
Min Park’s story, “How to Wake up at 5AM and Build Your Startup,” ranks on top of search engine results pages (SERPs) for several variations of the term “wake me up at 5 a.m.,” which Semrush reports is searched 8,100 times per month. According to the screenshot of Min’s stats dashboard that he shared with me, his story has been viewed 119,000 times.
Keyword Search Volume
The chart and examples above (along with an additional example below) show that Medium stories are ranking for keywords with very high monthly search volume. As a marketer, this caught my eye because, generally speaking, the more search volume a keyword has, the more competition there will be to rank for that keyword.
So, I have been asking myself two questions.
1. “Why are these stories on Medium outranking the competition that didn’t publish in this same space?”
2. And, “How can marketers leverage Medium to acquire more customers from search engines?"
In this article, I’ll cover the basics of SEO and then give you the strategies and tactics you need to know how to replicate the success of these stories.
Domain Authority vs Page Authority
Google conquered the search engine market by developing an algorithm that provided higher quality and more relevant search results than competing search engines. The value that Google provides to searchers is why 1.17 billion people use it each month to find information, products, and services.
So what makes Google’s algorithm so special? How does it determine what pages to display in it’s results pages?
Google has publicly reported that backlinks, the number of web pages that are linking to a given page or domain, has been and will continue to be a significant criterion for selecting the results they display to searchers. Google’s algorithm evaluates both the backlinks pointing to a specific page and the backlinks pointing to the domain that the page is published on.
Based on these ranking factors, Moz, a marketing technology company, developed a scoring system to help marketers predict how a page, such as an article, will rank in SERPs.
Here’s how Moz describes it:
“Domain Authority (DA) is a score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERP). Domain Authority scores range from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.
Whereas Domain Authority measures the predictive ranking strength of entire domains or subdomains, Page Authority measures the strength of individual pages.”
Medium.com has a Domain Authority of 92, which is a lot higher than most companies’ websites. Medium’s domain authority is so high in part because there are so many writers publishing articles and building links to them.
Here’s an example of one of the Medium stories in the chart I included at the beginning of this article that illustrates the power of Medium’s high Domain Authority.
If you search “slow carb diet,” a term that’s searched about 8,100 times per month, you will find a Medium story at the top of the search engine page results.
The story was written by Kip, a seed stage tech startup. The company’s website has a domain authority of 6, so, if they had published the article on their own website, it would not have ranked as highly, all else being equal.
In fact, Ahrefs shows that Kip’s story has fewer referring domains than the #2 and #3 ranked pages (Wikipedia and Tim Ferris’ blog), yet still ranks higher due to the Domain Authority of Medium.
Kip’s decision to publish the article on Medium seems to be paying off as it’s now been viewed 469,000 times.
Here’s how you can replicate the success of Kip, Min and Ethan.
1. Keyword Research: Determine What Your Customers Are Searching For.
Even if you publish on a website with high Domain Authority (like Medium) and build links to your page, if your article is not on a topic that people are searching for, people won’t see it in their search results. So, if your goal, is to gain readers from Google, see what people are searching for, and determine if you can conceivably outrank the existing competition before creating the article.
I primarily look for three criteria when selecting keywords. The first criteria is volume. As you can imagine, all else being equal, the higher the search volume, the better the keyword. However, generally speaking, the higher the search volume, the greater the competition.
That’s why the second criteria I consider is competition. When analyzing competition, I consider these three things:
The quality of the content and how well it is on-page optimized.
The quality and quantity of backlinks of the competing pages (Page Authority).
The quality and quantity of backlinks of the domain that the pages are published on (Domain Authority).
The third and final criteria that I consider is relevance.
Look for terms that are relevant to your customers and the benefits that your product or service provides. Just because people are searching “cupcakes” 30,000 times per month and the competition for the term is weak, doesn’t mean using the word "cupcakes" will deliver results to your business.
If you’re in the business of social media marketing, you won’t benefit from bringing people to your website who are looking for cupcakes.
2. On-page SEO: Help Google Understand What Your Content is About.
After a user types a word or phrase into Google, it’s Google’s job to provide the most valuable and most relevant results. Once you’ve selected a keyword that has sufficient search volume, low competition and is relevant to your business, you have to help Google understand what your story is about.
If your target keyword is “social media strategy,” but Google thinks your story is about cupcakes, it’s probably not going to display your story when someone searches “social media strategy.”
Google’s algorithm evaluates a number of “on-page” factors to determine what a page is about. These on-page ranking factors include the following:
The content of the article
Medium provides writers with the ability to include a target keyword in each of these locations -- except for image tags.
Kip’s story that ranks for “slow-carb diet” has this exact phrase in the title, a subheading and in the content itself. As you’re writing about a given topic, it’s natural that you will include the word in your article. There’s little to no benefit to forcing the keywords if it hinders the reader’s experience.
3. Link Building: Help Google Understand The Quality of Your Story.
While the Domain Authority you publish on is certainly indicative of how highly your article will rank, Page Authority is also important to keep in mind. As discussed above, Kip’s article about the slow carb diet has 52 referring domains.
Here are my three best tips for building links:
Write amazing content that people will want to link to.
Guest blog for high domain authority sites in your industry.
Reach out to other bloggers who may want to cite your article within their articles.
How Can SEO on Medium Fit Into Your Marketing Strategy?
Medium’s high Domain Authority gives you an advantage over publishing on your own domain, which means you can target slightly higher volume and higher competition keywords.
However, all else being equal, I’d rather have a visitor on my website than on my Medium story. That being said, I’d rather have someone read my content on Medium than not read my content at all.
So, if there’s a keyword that’s important to your business that’s currently out of reach, consider publishing it on Medium. Contextually link to your website from your Medium story to bring a portion of your readers back to your website.
Here are three more important considerations to make before publishing your content on Medium.
Depending on the competition for a given keyword, you may still need to build links to your story in order to rank on the front page of Google. If Page Authority becomes a more important ranking indicator as compared to Domain Authority, publishing on Medium will be a less effective strategy.
Medium has “platform risk.” Medium’s CEO, Evan Williams, announced in January 2017 that the company was cutting a third of its staff and testing new business models. If Medium were to disappear, the effort spent building links will have been wasted.
Medium enables you to acquire readers from within its platform (not just from search engines). Some topics have extremely high engagement on Medium, which provides an attractive incentive to publish and build a following there.
Bottom line: If your goal is to generate organic search traffic, and you’ve identified a high volume search term that’s relevant to your business, but the competition is currently too strong for you to rank for it on your own domain, consider publishing the article on Medium.