Medium’s New Clickbait Rules Will COMPLETELY CHANGE the Way You Write!!!!!
Yesterday, Medium made the biggest update to their distribution guidelines since I started writing here two years ago.
What Is Distribution?
For anyone new to Medium, “distribution” (also known as curation) is when Medium’s editors select an article to be shared throughout the site. Not all distribution is created equally though — some selected articles only show up in one or two places, while others get pushed to thousands of users. The entire process is still a bit of a black box, and an endless source of frustration for many writers.
One thing that we know for sure, is that to be eligible for distribution, you have to follow a list of rules: the distribution guidelines. Following these guidelines isn’t a guarantee that an article will get distributed, but breaking them is (almost) a guarantee that it won’t.
This article, for example, is completely ineligible for distribution because it’s talking about Medium.
When I first started writing here, getting selected for distribution meant the difference between getting thousands of readers or only a handful. These days, the effect typically isn’t quite as strong. Although sometimes distribution can bring in thousands more readers, sometimes it only seems to bring in a handful.
Again, this is all a frustrating black box. Admittedly though, Medium has a good reason for keeping the exact mechanisms a secret — if they ever reveal exactly how their algorithms work, people are sure to game the system.
What Are the Changes?
You can read Medium’s write-up of the changes on their official blog. The gist of it is that they’re cracking down on clickbait headlines, but loosening up all the other restrictions. This means that you’ll see a lot less articles promising the one secret to making $1,000 a day, but a lot more articles with headlines in all-caps.
As a writer, I don’t think this is going to affect me much. I looked over a couple dozen of my most recent headlines and the vast majority would have been fine under the new rules. I’ve always tried to avoid writing clickbait titles, simply because they annoy me as a reader.
As a reader, I’m happy that Medium is potentially going to stop distributing articles with clickbait headlines, but I’m skeptical that it will really happen. They’ve had rules against clickbait for years, and it’s never been well enforced.
There’s also another change in the distribution guidelines that I’m very apprehensive about: they’re now allowing for more calls-to-action in stories. Authors can ask for claps and donations, for example. According to the rules, these calls-to-action can make up as much as 20% of the total content of a post.
As a reader, I worry that every story on Medium is now going to end with narcissistic and spammy links to Patreon and Kofi accounts. As a writer, I’m wondering whether I should set up a Patreon account right now and beat the inevitable trend. (I’m only half-joking.)
Overall, my expectation is that these new rules won’t change Medium as much as it sounds like they will. Every few months, Medium makes a change and a lot of writers talk about how it’s the death of the site. Despite their predictions, Medium keeps living on.
Before you go, don’t forget to clap 50 times, follow me on Medium, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, subscribe to me on Patreon, donate to my three favorite charities, and write an op-ed about me for your local paper!