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How To Stand Out In The Sea of Stories and Grow An Audience on Medium? — Answers From Zulie Rane

  • 9 min read

Top Writers Sinem and Zulie reveal how to be seen and read on Medium. Quality vs. quantity, the new topic page, and why you shouldn’t try to game the system.

Every single day, tens of thousands of stories get published on Medium.

The platform will soon open its doors to more countries such as India, Brazil, and Thailand.

So many wonder:

“What can I do to stand out in the sea of stories?”

In my “Medium Week” on Substack, I asked Sinem Günel and Zulie Rane.

Both have been writing on Medium for five years now. They have hundreds of thousands of followers, multiple viral hits, and raving fans.

1 — How to stand out in the sea of stories on Medium?

Sinem: This could be a really long answer. I’m trying to get it down to the very meta topics. Always think of your article on Medium’s main feed on the Medium homepage. When you open the homepage, you have a wall of article previews and your story is showing up there in the middle of many other stories.

So what you want to do is consider a reader who is not familiar with your name and who is not looking for that specific article. Right when they scroll through the page, and you want to stand out and you want to get that click, there has to be something in the title that tells them the story is going to be worth their time.

Maybe I am looking to be entertained.

Maybe I am looking to learn something new.

Maybe I’m looking for a solution to a specific problem I’m facing right now.

Maybe the title really just pisses me off and I know that I’m going to disagree with the article based on the title.

Those are all reasons that I might click on an article, but there needs to be something in the title where I feel like.

There is something I want to get out of this and I’m going to give it a try. A lot of titles, they’re not click-worthy because they are too vague. Like I have no idea what I can expect. And the problem is if somebody doesn’t know what you can expect from an article, she’s not going to waste time figuring it out because there are thousands of other

And the other side of that spectrum is that you basically make a claim in the title that makes me believe that there is nothing more that I can get out of the article itself like you’re almost giving away too much in the title so that there is no curiosity gap. There’s nothing that I’m really curious to find out in the title.

It’s more like you’re making an opinion statement in your title. I might spend a second or two thinking about how this is an interesting take. But if that’s it, I’m not going to spend time on the article

Zulie: I think the best way is to learn by doing.

Like, go to your Medium homepage right now. Just decide what one of the offerings you would click on and try to figure out why.

Like go in, go into your own subconscious and be like: “Did this address an insecurity of mine? Did it offer to teach me something that I knew instantly would be useful in my life? Did I laugh?

Think of those reasons and then try to incorporate those mechanisms in your own titles.

2 — With Medium’s recent changes to its algorithm, writers started to adapt their writing strategy. Some say they write less and focus on quality stories to get Boosted and further distributed. Others recommend pumping out more stories than before to get seen organically.

So it’s the same old question, quantity versus quality. You publish in-depth stories several times per month. How many times per week would you recommend posting stories in regard to Medium’s new quality bar?

Zulie: I’ve been on Medium for five years. And this question comes up so often.

My answer has actually changed. (…)Eve Arnold and I know Tim Denning is another person who has a lot of success with quantity. I’ll be honest, I don’t think many writers can do quantity and continue producing enough quality work that their work is going to be seen by people who are going to Boost them.

By readers who are not going to get tired of reading the same thing five days a week, that the writers themselves aren’t going to burn out and just run out of things to talk about, or just get tired of opening up Medium every single day and trying to come up with a new idea. I personally have scaled back to about one a week, and I have benefited a lot from that in terms of growth on Medium, in terms of working on my own craft, just making sure that every story I write is good and something I’m proud of and something that if a client happened to see it, they would be like: “Oh, that’s a really great piece of work from Zulie.”

I always choose quality on medium over quantity. And I think with the Boost mechanism in play and even trying to get into publications, quantity is not going to get you anywhere unless you are one of these rare writers who can pump out a story a day and not lose on quality.

Sinem: I would say you have to consider for how long you can keep doing it before you get really bored of repeating yourself. Over and over again. It’s kind of a personal decision too. Do you want to be kind of a content producer? Do you want to be a person who constantly produces new stuff and puts out new stuff?

Do you feel good about that? Do you get energy out of that? Or does it feel bad? draining? And does it, does it feel unsustainable? Do you want to be able to give yourself a week of time to work on a piece that really matters to you? It’s kind of a personality thing. Everybody works differently. There’s not one right way to do it.

As we’ve said, different approaches work. I think Zulid and I are just very similar in the way we are writing and working right now, where our preference is: “How can I get the most leverage and create the biggest impact, grow my income and my audience?”

Let me call it by making it strategically. Smart decisions instead of just trying to do more. And it kind of depends on where you are at in your stage. I used to write a lot more than I do right now because I have more experience and better insights now than I had five years ago.

3 — Medium has a new “explore topics page” and this is a new map of Medium with over 500 organized topics on a single page. I recently interviewed Thomas Smith from The Generator and heard that Boosters look at topic pages to find boost-worthy stories. How should writers tag or label their stories to get seen and read?

Sinem: I think it’s important, especially for new writers to understand how those topic pages work. The first thing you need to know is that when new readers join Medium to discover writing, to explore new stories, they can subscribe to those pages.

And based on what they choose to follow, which pages they check out the algorithm is going to show them more of those specific stories or stories that are tagged with that specific topic. That’s the reader's behavior side. So you do want to use tags and topics that will get you in front of the right audience.

If you are using tags and topics just because you think they are popular or they have a lot of followers, it’s not going to get you anywhere because you are not going to find a match between an audience that actually wants to see what you write. The other side of this, and this is relatively new, is that many Boost nominators and boosters, like Zulie and I, look at topic pages to find Boost-worthy stories.

So when we scroll through our publication, and we still have a few nominations open, or we can’t find Boost-worthy stuff right away, the first thing we do, or the first place we go is topic pages. So we might look at the topic pages for marketing, social media, advertising, whatever we are interested in, whatever is in our range of expertise, and we’re going to those topic pages looking for exceptional stories.

If your story is not showing up there, even though it’s topic-wise related, we are not going to be able to discover it. If your story shows up under the social media tag that has nothing to do with social media, I’m not even going to check it out. If that’s what I’m looking for, there’s a purpose for why I’m on the topic page. So you really do want to make sure there is a match.

And the third way you as a writer can use topic pages is to do research. It’s a great way to learn more about what is doing well, what is trending, and which other writers are in my niche or in my topic.

I think this is more interesting if you go niche, like the more specific the more interesting because a lot of people will use broad, big topics like self-improvement or marketing.

The niches are usually more interesting because they give you deeper insights, usually.

Zulie: I only want to add that I think my head is going to get tired from nodding so much at everything you’re saying. That’s basically it. No, I 100 percent agree. I think it’s a great source of research and don’t try to game the system is the best advice I can give.

Thoughts? Let’s discuss them in the comments here and/or on YouTube!

🥳Surprise! Save your place in the FREE Masterclass with Sinem & Zulie by clicking here (limited-time offer)! 🥳

Don’t miss out on the interview with Sinem & Zulie:

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