And how you can too.
Imagine waking up and suddenly realizing your story sitting amongst the top ranks of Medium. It starts at the 20th, then the 17th. Half a day later, the 9th. You stare in disbelief as it continues to rank higher and higher. Am I dreaming, you ask?
Everything you can imagine is real.
If you picture yourself to do the unimaginable and works towards it, you’ll eventually achieve your mission.
That’s how I started, when I told my team at Rabbut that I would hit the top 5 Medium stories. It was a goal I’d always dreamed of, but one I was slightly doubtful of achieving.
Because that meant going head-to-head with some of the most respectable and inspiring writers on Medium: James Altucher, Jason Fried, Benjamin Hardy, Larry Kim, Jeff Goins, Darius Foroux.
If you don’t know, these people write religiously — almost every single day. Or have spent a decent number of years processing their raw thoughts into a well-polished story. How can someone like me, who has only started writing (seriously) for less than a year, compete with these big guys?
Regardless, I had to give it a shot.
If you don’t try, you won’t know.
So after three weeks of racking my brain to flush out something epic, I wrote my life story: How love f*cked my career. It immediately hit top stories! Not to the top five.
But this one did: Do Things You Hate, Love Yourself More.
Which left me dumbfounded. How did this story get me to rank #4, 1800+ recommends and 80+ responses?
I then started to retrace my steps to crack this secret code that gets stories to the top 5. Here’s what I’ve found that can make your story go viral.
Make the first impression.
You need a clickbait headline. It’s the first thing that catches people’s attention, and the one trigger that gets them to open your story. All you need to do is stir up their curiosity.
Let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about.
Why Quitting Your Job to Chase Your Dream is a Terrible Idea -Jeff Goins
4 Ways I Improved My Life as the World's Most Average Person -Todd Brison
How To Find Two Million Dollars in the Morning -James Altucher
The Internet Really Has Changed Everything. Here's the Proof. -Rex Sorgatz
Things Dudes Have Said to Me After Sex - Catherine Cohen
These are all winning headlines from the top Medium stories. Based on my analysis, people are mostly attracted to:
- Solutions that help improve their lives
- Love, relationships & sex
- Swear words (e.g. fuck/fucking, shit)
- Numbers (e.g. 52 ways to make life 68% more rewarding or Why successful people spend 10 hours a week just thinking)
- Design and coding
- Modern technology
- Unfortunate events (e.g. death, cancer, any serious illnesses)
- Controversial topics (e.g. Multi-tasking is killing your brain, Never tell people what you do, or Why I stopped helping people and you should too)
- Open letter to…
I used a few combinations for my clickbait headlines.
Love + swear word + unfortunate event => How love f*cked my career (rank #14)
Solution to improve life + controversial topic => Do what you hate, love yourself more (rank #4).
I’d suggest incorporating some of these headline components, as they can make your story more attractive in one glance. Check the top Medium stories often as well — this gives you a better idea on how you should word your title.
There are a few titles that haven’t hit top stories (yet), but I believe have the potential to:
How to know if you have been friend-zoned. -Abheek Talukdar
4 Things They Don’t Teach in College, Which Would Have Made All The Difference -Leon Franco
Why Things Fall Into Place When You Stop Looking -umair haque
Takeaway: Headlines determine more than half the battle to getting people to read your story. So why not spend half your time thinking of a clickbait headline?
Teaching people a life lesson
Let’s cut to the chase: We all secretly want to be better than everyone else. That’s why a lot of us scan through the internet or self-help books, looking for the one answer that would make us rich. Be happy. Save time. Lose weight. Build healthier relationships. It’s not surprising that self-improvement is a 10 billion dollar industry in just the U.S. alone.
The underlying message here? Teach people a valuable life lesson.
It doesn’t matter if you have a personal or business blog. People always go back to and/or share stories that have sparked a deeper insight they’ve never thought of.
The main lesson of Do what you hate, love yourself more:
Push yourself to do the things you tend to avoid that you KNOW is good for you, and make it a habit. Because the more you push towards your limits, the stronger, smarter, and better you will become.
The main lesson of How love f*cked my career:
I highly suggest expanding on the lesson towards the end of your story. After all, that’s where everyone (the avid readers and the TL;DR people) go to. 😉
Takeaway: Always remember to give value to your readers, and teach them something useful they can apply to their lives.
Shedding light on a new perspective
When we grow older, we become less excited. Eventually, we get bored of things we’ve already done, heard, saw, tasted, and felt. That’s why if you shed light on a perspective they’ve never thought of, it’d stick to their mind — permanently.
Based on the feedback I got from Do what you hate, love yourself more, people have noted these two big things:
- Do what you hate (because it’s good for you)
This simply clashes with the common advice everyone gives, “do what you love.” I’ve found this had sparked up people’s curiosity by expanding on a topic that goes against common sayings.
2. Argue (one of my suggestions for “do what you hate”)
No one in their right mind would pass you this as advice. But when I explained how arguing could actually be a crucial skill when people are put in a tough spot or want to voice their opinion, it breaks the conventional view that “arguing is bad” and should always be avoided.
Takeaway: Don’t follow the flow. Break people’s mindset with something they’ve haven’t thought of. Fuel their curiosity.
I’m a huge fan of quotes. I practically use them in every one of my stories, because they are great fillers for transitions, kick an extra notch to your content, and make you look smart.
But that’s not it. If used right, quotes can strike a cord and send chills through people’s bodies. That’s exactly what you need to get your story to the top — something to evoke people’s emotions and bring their senses to reality.
It might not be easy to find the right quote, but one good way is to google for them. This is what I’ve found for How love f*cked my career:
Of course, you can find much deeper quotes if you’re an avid reader. I found this one from Buffer:
If you prefer, you can also make your own quote. It’ll be a lot more powerful than what’s out there on the internet, because the one thing people cannot do is recreate your thoughts.
Takeaway: Find quotes that can bend someone’s life around and spice up your story. Better yet, make your own.
It takes a lot of momentum to get a story to go viral. Because in the beginning, there’s only a few who discover your story by chance (who may possibly share it).
But if you have a loyal following, your momentum is already built. All you need is to announce when your newest story gets pushed out.
Thanks to Rabbut, I owe it to my loyal subscribers to be the first to spread the word about my story. After all, they are the people who love what I write and have signed up to hear my latest stories.
If you want to build a loyal following on Medium, I’d suggest setting up Rabbut (it’s free!).
That way, you can start collecting emails and instantly alert your subscribers about your most recent post.
Takeaway: Build a loyal following on Medium — they’ll be the first ones to spread your story.
Submit your story to a big publication
Unless you have thousands of followers behind your back, it’s almost impossible to hit top stories alone. The smartest solution?
Publish your story in a big publication.
You’ll instantly attract hundreds to thousands of daily visitors + all of the followers from that publication (via Medium’s newsletter).
Take a glance at the top stories I’ve taken on 4/23/16.
As you can see, 12 out of 20 are from publications — mainly Life Learning and BackChannel. From those 12 publications, 8 have well over 10,000 followers.
How do I find the top publications?
Well, before I had this secret trick that displayed the top publications with the largest following:
1. On Medium's search bar, hit space once, then press enter. 2. Go to publications. It'll show you the list of the top publications, starting from the biggest following to the lowest.
Unfortunately, Medium changed their search function, so this trick no longer works. But at least you can see which publication is ranked at the top.
Which publication should I go for?
Every publication has its own special theme. Coffeelicious goes for a huge assortment of interesting, entertaining, and informative stories that people can read while sipping their Sunday coffee. Backchannel leans towards meaningful stories and analysis about the tech world. The Startup, well, obviously startup stories.
You should go for the publication whose theme matches the content of your story.
When should I submit my stories to publications?
Weekdays, particularly in the morning.
This is the best time to catch people when they’re most hungry for good reads, whether they’re at work or at home.
How I know this is entirely based on my story stats. As you can see, Coffeelicious published my story on April 13th (Wednesday) at 11:07 pm.
An hour after.
Needless to say, morning brought in a bigger growth spurt of recommends AND responses than night has.
Submit your story as a draft to the publication
Don’t publish first, and then submit.
Why? Because every second counts the moment your story gets published. Based on Medium’s algorithm, you need to reach a certain number of recommends and responses within a given time frame in order to start ranking among the top stories.
Takeaway: Find a publication with at least 50,000 followers to maximize the exposure for your stories. Anything lower will give you the same results as if you posted alone. Submit your story as a draft first, ideally in the early morning.
Everyone can write. But not everyone can become the top writer on Medium.
It takes two things to beat everyone on Medium: value and creativity. With value, people will find your story useful and spread the word. With creativity, you’ll attract the biggest audience at the best times.
Now, I cannot tell you what you should write. But I promise, if you use these tricks for your stories, you’ll get a ton more recommends and responses than what you’re getting now.
Special Note: What you’ve read here only covers 20% of the efforts to getting to Medium’s top stories. If you want to know what the remaining 80% is, sign-up for my free checklist. It’ll tell you exactly what I’ve done, step-by-step, to hit Medium’s top stories.