I’ve written 10 stories in 10 weeks. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
I’ve always wanted to write, but never had the time. Thanks to shelter-in-place, I’ve now written 10 stories in about as many weeks. That’s 10,000 words that are out on a page rather than locked in my brain!
But of course, like any good product manager, I’m not satisfied with writing in a vacuum. I want to track metrics and analyze how my “product launch” has performed, so that I can understand what’s connecting with people and what’s not.
The key metrics that I decided to track are:
- Number of views of the LinkedIn post
- Number of article views
- Number of article reads
These metrics form a funnel. Whenever I write an article, I share a post with a link to it on LinkedIn. The number of views of the LinkedIn post tells me how much reach my posts have. Part of the goal of writing is to keep me top of mind within my network, so a post can still be successful if it results in someone viewing my profile or sending a message to me. It doesn’t have to result in a view or read of the article itself. Over time, I’d expect that if I continue to post high quality content, then LinkedIn’s algorithm will distribute my post to more users’ news feeds.
The number of article views tells me when someone sees my LinkedIn post and clicks through to view the article or if they find the article directly on Medium. Since I’m relatively new to Medium, I drive most of the traffic to my article from LinkedIn, so I take a simplifying assumption and ignore the impact of direct traffic on the number of views. The viewed ratio (% of views per article / views of the LinkedIn post) is a measure of how well I select topics that interest my network.
The number of article reads tells me when someone views my article and reads through the whole thing. If someone has already clicked through to read my article, I assume that they’re interested in the topic. If they read through the whole thing, then it means the article was worth their time. There was something insightful or delightful about reading it. The read ratio (% of articles read / articles viewed) is a measure of the quality of my writing and how well it delivered on the promise of the topic.
Although far from statistical significance, 10 stories is a good enough milestone to do a retrospective. Here’s what I learned.
Learning #1: What stories were the most popular?
By far, the most popular stories were about Toddler UX Testing and the Product Decagon.
“So easy a toddler can do it” had the highest views of the post and likes on LinkedIn. Great UX is a topic that resonates with people and by bringing in the Toddler UX Testing angle, it felt very authentic to me.
“Introducing the Product Decagon, a way for PMs to navigate to their dream job” had the highest article views and article reads. The immediate value prop to the reader is the most clear: if you read this article, you can better develop your career.
Learning #2: Do visuals matter?
High quality visuals are preferred by the LinkedIn Newsfeed algorithm. Having a high quality visual in your article’s thumbnail increases the views of the post on LinkedIn, but doesn’t result in much difference in the number of articles viewed or read. In other words, high quality visuals matter to how you show up in the Newsfeed algorithm but not to humans who decide whether to click through.
Learning #3: What’s the best time to publish?
Articles posted on Wednesday had the highest average views of the post on LinkedIn, article viewed ratio, and read ratio. Surprisingly, Friday was the next highest, followed by Monday, and ending with Tuesday. I haven’t posted on Thursday in the past, so will have to get a few data points there and do a follow up post in the future.
Learning #4: How do metrics vary by type of writing?
While all of my writing focuses on product and design, I categorized them into types of writing.
- “How-to” stories are more tactical. They walk through a concrete example that shows you how to actually do something.
- “Think differently” stories are more high level. They argue an idea with some supporting facts but don’t provide a full blueprint on how to do something.
Comparing those two types of stories, the “How-to” stories got more views of the post on LinkedIn, but had a lower viewed ratio than the “Think differently” stories.
I also wrote one story that I categorized as “News”. I covered announcements from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. As you might expect, the “News” story picked up views very quickly on the first day but died out almost immediately after that. All of the other types of stories have a much longer tail, where they will continue to pick up post views, article views, and reads after 7 days, but at a slower rate than the initial 7 days. I haven’t reposted any content yet, so it’ll be interesting to see how that looks if I post and recirculate an older story.
Learning #5: Does length matter?
Shorter articles have a higher read ratio. More than half of stories that are short (<800 words) or medium (~1,000 words) are read once the articles are viewed, but less than half of those that are long (>1,200 words) are read.
Bonus Learning: Where to publish?
Finally, let’s take a detour from the data to share a final bonus learning. When I began writing, I didn’t know where to start. There are so many places to publish that I felt pressured to pick the right one. I started with LinkedIn Publishing, then transitioned to Medium and Substack after my first two stories. I’ve shared my pros and cons below, but the right platform for you comes down to what your goal for writing is and what metrics you want to track.
Posting on LinkedIn
- Pro: This was the natural place for me to start because I maintain all of my professional presence on LinkedIn and would post about it here anyways.
- Con: I realized that I could only see the number of times my story had actually been viewed, not the number of times my post had been seen in the Feed. We all know that many people share or like a post without actually reading the story, so for me, missing that top level metric was a big gap.
Posting on Medium
- Pro: Good to post on a platform known for high quality, thought provoking content.
- Pro: Provides better metrics such as differentiating between article views and reads.
- Con: I would love to see what my readers’ interests, but unfortunately haven’t crossed the threshold where I can see that data.
Posting on Substack
- Pro: The drawback of the other platforms is that you don’t own the audience, so you’re always dependent on their algorithms to surface your content in the feed. Substack gives me control of who my readers are, so I can reach them when I want to.
- Con: The downside is that you have to build your audience.
I’m happy that I launched my writing and am looking forward to sharing my learnings from my next retrospective. Hopefully, these learnings help any aspiring writers out there with getting started. And if you’re already writing, I want to hear from you! What platform do you use to publish your writing? How do these findings compare to what you’ve experienced? Are there benchmarks that you measure yourself against? What are your best tips and tricks? Please share with me what you’ve learned.
If you enjoyed reading this, add yourself to https://laurenchanlee.substack.com/ to get an email whenever my new posts come out!