and here’s what they had in common.
There are 100 clear winners on Medium where it comes to search engine traffic. This article lists the 100 top traffic earners and key takeaways for bloggers that want to create valuable content and rank on Google.
Medium’s Search Traffic
Medium is a writing platform. [Here’s my Medium blog for example]
Bloggers may produce content for pleasure, profession, and profit. Medium generates much of its traffic from Google searches, although they have suffered a loss of traffic since March of 2021, following a Google algorithm rollout.
In 2019, Google accounted for 63% of traffic to Medium. However, according to my favorite SEO tool that estimates web traffic, Google traffic to Medium is only 50% of what it was in 2020.
There’s been a steady decline in search traffic since then. I’m sure the writers must have felt the drop-off. I’m wondering if this is why Medium changed the way it handles revenue for writers.
The Medium partner program offers revenue share to writers based on gated content that gains memberships and subscribers.
In any event, Medium is still a powerful platform for Bloggers, and a few make a solid income there. So I thought it would be fun to analyze the top 100 blogs that generate traffic from the search engines to see what I could take away from the data.
Then, I decided to share my findings.
Why I started This Case Study
We can learn more from what is working on a larger scale than one-off success stories. However, there’s also a lot to be understood by looking at what’s not working, as well.
When we can see a correlation between the top Medium stories that do well on search, we can create winning formulas for success.
Look for success. Discover how they do what they do. Then, follow the basic principles. Get creative, only after.Dave Jenks
As much as I love to live in creative spaces, he was right.
I followed another popular real estate agent who always uses the RAD model: “Rip Off And Duplicate.”
That’s not as literal as it sounds, but the principle of “follow a model” applies.
The case study gives us correlation data that could be valuable in creating a content strategy on Medium.
With SEO, search engine optimization, cause and correlation are not the same.
There will be cases in which a blog rose the ranks of the search engines for reasons we may not see.
I keep my eye on the averages.
And that leads me to my observations and Takeaways.
I used SEMrush, my favorite keyword tracking, research, and SEO tool, for this case study. SEO tools are estimates only and never absolutes.
To start, I entered Medium.com into the search bar to get the results. According to the estimates, Medium gets about 44 MILLION visits per month from the search engines.
While in the past, they’ve generated more than 80 million visits from search in a single month, their traffic is still worth noticing.
To find the top-visited pages, I selected the top keywords first, which led me to a dashboard with tabs.
Here, I chose the tab labeled ‘Pages. These pages are blog posts, or articles, published by Medium writers.
Then, I was able to see all of the pages that generate traffic from searches.
This data includes the total number of keywords that a page ranks for and the estimated amount of traffic it earns.
There’s so much we can glean from data.
Let’s dive in.
Observations and Takeaways
Here’s my quick list of takeaways:
- Backlinks had very little relevance on the subdomains for ranking.
- The keywords that didn’t rank number one had massive search volume (generally over 100,000 monthly searches).
- Most of the blogs were written in 2019 and 2020 (proving that blogs can take many months to claim the ranks).
- Average length blogs did the best here overall. The average read time was just over 6 minutes, around 800 words.
- Most blogs included 1-3 images in their article.
- The use of video wasn’t frequently found, and therefore had no relevance on ranking.
- Many articles didn’t include any tags, and the bloggers didn’t appear to know how to use them. They used keywords rather than topic tags, and therefore I assume tags had very little relevance in ranking on google.
- The average keyword difficulty score was 60, putting it in the “50-69” challenging to rank for range on SEMrush, but not impossible.
- The Average ranking position was #3 for the top keyword, while many still hold the #1 position. Some did have the #1 position and have declined, and others have just reached the #1 position on Google.
- 56.3% of the traffic to the blog comes from their top ranking keyword.
- On average, these medium articles that generate the most traffic from Google rank for 642 keywords.
- Half of the blogs used links, either to other articles they wrote or to external references.
- 30% of the blogs were written by a blogger who focuses on a specific niche. The ranking blog was nearly always, but not always, on topic with that niche.
- 15% of the blog posts were list-style posts or listicles, as we call them.
- Two bloggers appeared in the top 100 – 3 Times! Hdogar has nailed the true crime niche on Medium. Tattoolover is a triple winner. Amelia Settembre also landed on the top 100 list twice.
- Publications didn’t repeat more than a few times, and didn’t seem to have a large roll in the rankings.
- The True Crime category did very well in this study.
Surprisingly, many of the articles that made this list don’t have a large number of backlinks. Backlinks are links pointing to one web page from another page on a different domain name.
In SEO, a strong backlink profile often helps a page rank higher on Google. Many bloggers perform blog outreach to gain backlinks from relative websites that authorities in the same space.
And sometimes, when a blog is optimized and includes popular features such as videos, images, infographics, statistics, tables, etc., the backlinks are generated naturally when other bloggers reference the valuable article, including a link.
Takeaway: When it comes to Medium, backlinks don’t appear to be a significant ranking factor.
The average read time was 6 minutes. Thus, a 750 – 800 word blog would typically be a 6-minute read. While many bloggers teach that long-form content (2000 + words) is required for high-competition keywords, this case study proved otherwise.
While not specifically short, these top-ranking blogs focused on a thought, list, or story rather than comprehensive guides.
Topics, Niches, and Clusters:
It was surprising to find so many articles ranking well that were not part of a topic cluster, specific niche, or authority site.
It looks like some articles just “got lucky” with search, but that’s rarely the fact. There could be non-identifying factors in this study. I wonder if curation, distribution, and other forms of traffic got Google’s attention in the first place.
I would need to see a traffic report from Medium analytics to evaluate that theory.
But, For the most part, the writers that wrote the articles that appeared to “get lucky” that were getting the majority of their traffic from a single keyword hadn’t written much else.
I’m going to guess there was little benefit from accidentally ranking for lower competition keyword phrases with no commercial intent.
That being said, I’m not sure what Medium paid them for that traffic.
I’d love to know!
A niche site is generally based on a single broad topic, with many sub-topics staying within that niche.
Sometimes, there is a skyscraper-style post or comprehensive guide that the topic cluster articles link back to.
This post is created strategically to get the top blog in that cluster to rank for a competitive keyword.
While there were some niche websites and topic clusters in this case study, many were not related to the other content on that writer’s blog.
On Medium, at least as far as search engine rankings go, it seems that the theory that niches win is debunked.
Overall, the articles were pretty simple, without much in the way of frills. All of them used best practices in white space and headings. Medium as a platform makes it easy to get that part right.
Many quoted sources included references and used a linking strategy, both externally to other blog posts and their own.
Others didn’t link anywhere, quote anyone, or include references. I didn’t find any correlation in this case with links or references.
Most included 1-3 images and some used tags. Very few used tags in line with actual Medium topics. It looked more like “keywords” than tags.
Some used video, but most did not.
Most of the blog posts ranked for hundreds of keywords. We see this a lot when looking at search analytics.
While the writer may have a target keyword in mind, others tend to follow when one keyword registers with Google.
In this case, study, interesting that the top keyword most of these blogs rank for isn’t used all that often, and rarely in the key placements most SEO’s suggest headline, URL, first sentence, H2, and last sentence.
The top keyword ranking for most of these blog posts has a difficulty to rank for keyword score according to SEMrush. At the same time, there are still two ranges higher. A score of 60 means that the keyword is competing against higher authority domains with solid link profiles.
I have to believe that these articles being part of the medium domain, are borrowing the authority of Medium itself without gaining a lot of backlinks to the article itself.
Surprisingly, at least to me, more of the top 100 Medium articles that rank on Google (for traffic earned), was not part of a publication. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Medium didn’t curate or distribute them, but the article that ranked was on the blogger’s medium subdomain, not part of a publication.
The top 100 traffic earners on Medium from Google averaged 12,003 Views. But how do search views compare to articles that generate traffic from distribution or other external Sources?
Robert Planz got 43,000 views on his first viral Medium Article.
The article is called Apples IOS 14.5 Might Suprise You and I discuss the key features in the latest IOS update.
A 4-minute read, Robert credits curation, tags, tweets, and SEO for his blog post going viral.
While he may have done keyword research and optimized his content, my tools show that this blog post didn’t rank well on Google.
Therefore, his reach benefited from curation or distribution.
And, the viral blog post got more traffic than the average blog in this case study.
His article was published in the Shadow, which gets about 35,000 visits per month from the search engines according to my tools.
So while Google has its place, distribution is an essential way to gain more reach, getting your article viewed by more readers.
Top Ranking Google Traffic Earners On Medium
As it often happens, the difference between the first ranking blog and the second is massive. There’s also a large gap between #2 and #3. After the top 5, the traffic is more appropriately shared.