When To Trust Medium’s Algorithm — and When Not To

I’ve been writing on Medium for over 3 years. I’ve seen my audience grow from around 50 views a day to this:

I’ve since become a full-time writer, author, speaker, and coach. I’ve gained over 45,000 Medium followers, I’m a top writer in a bunch of topics in several top publications, and almost half of my articles are curated by Medium editors.

But some months, it feels like Medium completely forgets about me. My views plummet. Sometimes it feels like they set their algorithm to intentionally ignore me.

There are many factors that go into these algorithms. As writers, we can’t begin to comprehend even a fraction of it. All we can do is consistently produce quality content and get better at our craft.

But when we’re left with inconsistent and unreliable algorithms that dictate whether our followers ever see our work, how do you respond when you feel you’re being left out?

How do you know when to trust the algorithm — and when not to?

3 Metrics to Confirm Whether Your Work is Good…or Stale

There are a few key metrics to know whether your work is truly good, or needs changing.

First, I publish my work on lots of other sites, other guest columns I have. This is a key metric — if a republished article does extremely well on another site but flops on Medium, that gives me key information.

I can also use Medium’s read ratio statistic, which basically tells you what percent of readers actually finished reading your whole piece. I usually get around 45–55% read ratio, which is pretty strong for my work. So even if I get low views, the readers I do get mostly finish the whole article.

Lastly, I can also look at comments (or lack thereof), and see what people are saying. Lots of times, a piece that flopped on Medium does well when I publish it somewhere else, and I get several emails/personal messages from readers saying how much they liked the article.

This tells me a couple things — my content doesn’t suck, for one (which is what my insecure brain keeps shouting at me). Next, just because an article doesn’t do well on Medium doesn’t mean it’s a bad article.

If you’re posting content and Medium but you’re frustrated with low numbers, ask yourself — did that article do well somewhere else? What’s your read ratio — did the people that saw your work actually read it? Do any comments/messages confirm that?

There are a few explanations I can think of about why a good article on Medium is ignored by the algorithm:

  • It’s the wrong fit for the audience/publication
  • It’s about a topic that’s oversaturated and crowded
  • It’s not authentic enough
  • It’s not backed by enough research
  • You’re breaking some rules
  • Your Medium followers are old and don’t use Medium anymore
  • …Medium just doesn’t like you

That last one’s mostly a joke. But still, there are powers beyond you or I that dictate these things. The best you can do is consistently post quality content, write all the time, and get better at your craft.

When To Trust the Algorithm and Start Tweaking Your Work

When I first started writing on Medium, I got very low views and engagement. (If you want to see mediocre writing, go back to my work in March and April of 2017). I was new, and didn’t know what I was doing.

I could reliably use Medium’s algorithm to recognize that, yes — no one was reading my work, and it needed fixing.

So that’s what I did. I changed things, studied other writers, learned my craft. Then one day, I was surprised to see an article do better than ever before. I got thousands of views and dozens of comments. I knew I stumbled onto something. I’ve been using that article structure ever since. I know it works, and I’ve seen proof time and time again.

If you’ve been posting the same articles for a long time with very low view counts, you can probably trust the algorithm and start to tweak your work. If you’ve never seen what works, how can you know what does?

But if you’ve seen articles do well, and you’ve spent time studying that formula and structure and see proof that your readers like it…you can feel frustrated when Medium suddenly stops sending readers your way.

Lots of new writers mistakenly think the key to good writing is newer, fancier formulas, capitalizing on whatever is hot and trending.

The truth is, good writing has been the same for a long time. As best-selling author and coach Jim Rohn once put it:

“There are no new fundamentals. You’ve got to be a little suspicious of someone who says, ‘I’ve got a new fundamental.’ That’s like someone inviting you to tour a factory where they are manufacturing antiques.”

There are no “new” fundamentals. Any writer claiming to have new, secret formulas is either lying or trying to sell you something.

If you can truly help people with your work, people will read it. Great writing is rare, and people will always read it.

You can trust Medium’s algorithm when you haven’t studied your craft, or when you’re just starting out.

But when you’ve studied other great writers, when you’ve learned the fundamentals of great writing…if you’re still being ignored by Medium, there’s probably more going on behind the scenes.

In Conclusion

I have over 45,000 Medium followers, yet some of my work has less than 500 views. As one of my writer friends commented, the worst algorithm in the world wouldn’t do that.

The numbers just don’t add up. Yet this is common for many writers I’ve spoken to.

Algorithms are increasingly more nuanced and refined, and they have gotten better over time. But they’re not perfect, and they’re constantly changing in ways you and I can’t understand. Sometimes, the algorithm gets it wrong, and you might even have evidence to prove it.

There’s no point in wasting energy on things you can’t control. Focus on consistently producing quality content. Study great writers, and write all the time. Sometimes you can trust the algorithm, sometimes you can’t. Just keep writing, to different people in different places, and the work will take care of itself.

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Writer for CNBC, Business Insider, Fast Company, Thought Catalog, Yahoo! Finance, and you. Come say hey. anthonymoore.co

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