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I made $100K blogging on Medium last year and grew my mental health newsletter to 21,000 in 3 years AMA

In late 2017, I started a blog and newsletter about emotional health on the side of my full-time job as a psychologist.

Over the past 3 years, I’ve grown the newsletter to a little over 21,000 subscribers and use it as the primary growth engine for a second income which is almost double that of my full-time job:

  • I make between $4,000 and $13,000 per month reposting blog articles to Medium via their partner program.
  • I also made $35,000 last year with my cohort-based online course, MoodMastery.com
  • Finally, my blog (NickWignall.com) got 1.5 million unique visitors last year, including 800,000 via organic search.

Happy to answer any questions you might have, including:

  • How to use Medium to make money and build a newsletter audience (without it hurting your website’s rankings in Google)
  • Balancing a profitable side-project alongside a full-time job and raising 3 young kids
  • Getting started with cohort-based online courses (And yes, it is possible to make money with courses that are about something other than teaching people how to make money :)
  • My extremely lazy but surprisingly effective approach to SEO
  • Personal productivity habits and procrastination
  • All the things I still suck at… Partnerships, marketing funnels, sales copywriting, social media, content repurposing, spellchecking
  • Being a non-technical indie hacker
  • The future of mental health and emotional fitness

Cheers!

  1. 2

    @NickWignall Thank you so much for doing this AMA post!

    I've recently started blogging heavily for my product ruttl. Here are some of the questions I've got for you -

    1. How did you promote your medium blogs? I'm still new to medium so confused on promoting my blogs.
    2. Do medium claps on blogs really matter? Do they help in pushing the blog further to new audiences?
    3. Should I run a personal blog page or create a separate company blog on medium?

    Hope you can answer these questions!

    1. 1

      Hey @harshvijay!

      1. I didn't and don't promote my articles on Medium. All my growth there has been organic. If you want to "promote" your Medium articles, the best investment you can make is to study the types of articles that do well on Medium and learn from them.
      2. Medium has downplayed the importance of claps relative to read-time in the last year or to, but it seems to me that they definitely still matter, especially in the first 24-48 hours after being published.
      3. I think this depends a lot on your specific goals and values... I will say that if you want to maximize the exposure your articles get, focus on trying to get your articles published in big publications.

      Hope that helps!

      1. 1

        @NickWignall Thanks a lot for that detailed reply! This will surely help me a lot!

        QQ - So when you say organic growth, you mean directly popping up on the search engine results?

          1. 1

            Ahh okay! Will try it out for sure!

  2. 1

    Would love to know how to build a reader list, I say that because I don’t need to monetize initially but maybe at 1,000 readers I can then convert them to paid subscribers

  3. 1

    Hey Nick I have another question for you if you don't mind!

    What do you think about SEO on your own domain VS making a Medium profile? If you could go back 2 years ago and start on your own domain and focus on SEO VS focusing on Medium, what would you do?

    1. 1

      This is one situation where you can (and probably should) have your cake and eat it too!

      From the beginning, I always published my articles on my own website first and then copied them over to Medium, being sure to change the canonical link setting in Medium to tell google my website's version was the canonical version.

      This means that I got all the SEO benefits of having content on my own domain, plus the income and user acquisition benefits of reposting to Medium.

  4. 1

    Hi Nick, Could you talk a little bit more about your cadence for writing. Do you write every day? How do you find time with your full time job and family? How long does it take for you to complete a typical blog post?

    1. 1

      Yeah, so I should preface everything here by saying that A) I just enjoy writing, and B) I'm naturally a pretty fast writer.

      I think a lot of my success with writing (both in terms of things like income and growth for my newsletter, but also in terms of sticking to a writing routine and playing the long-game with it) are the result of writing about things that I cared a lot about and had a lot of expertise in.

      This is important because when you have those two things, all the incentives start to line up really well... For example: Writing consistently isn't that much of a problem because it's something I genuinely enjoy doing. I don't need a super complicated task management system or productivity framework any more than a 10-year-old would need one for playing video games :)

      So, I think the value of knowing yourself and your own strengths and weaknesses just can't be overstated. When you look at people who consistently put out good work, it's almost always because they just really enjoy both the type of work they produce and the particular format.

      • I wouldn't have been able to do what I do making youtube videos because I just don't inherently enjoy making videos nearly as much as I do writing.
      • I wouldn't have been able to do what I do writing about email marketing because I just don't enjoy writing about marketing nearly as much as I enjoy writing about emotional health and personal growth.

      Sorry for the overly-long preface here, but I think so many people end up getting discouraged because they're following all the right tips and tricks but they don't have their values and preferences clear.

      Anyway, to answer your question more directly, here are a few thoughts:

      • I write articles most weekdays. I usually spend 1-2 hours writing/day. But if I just don't really feel like writing one day, or other things come up, it's not a big deal for me to just not write.
      • I do my side-hustle work early on weekday mornings. I get up at 5:00. Work out until 6:00. Do side-hustle stuff until 9:00. Then do my day job from 9:00 to 3:00. Evenings and weekends are family time and I don't ever plan to do work then. Occasionally if all my kids are taking a nap or something, I'll respond to emails or do some quick writing.
      • The reason I'm able to "find" this extra time to write is that I'm pretty narrow in my priorities for my life. Family, Job, my side hustle. Those three things get like 95% of my time and attention. Which means, I don't spend much time hanging out with friends, going out for beers, playing golf on the weekends, etc. Not that I have anything against that, it's just that for me, I'd actually rather be playing with my kids or writing articles and working on my side-business than I would playing gold for hanging out at the bar.
      • My "typical" blog posts are either 1,500-2,000 words, or 3,000-5,000. For the smaller articles, I usually do them in one sitting of about 60-90 minutes. I don't really prep besides a rough outline. The longer ones usually take me 2-3X longer. I don't do much editing other than basic proofreading for typos. Also, it helps that I write very conversationally. So one of the reasons I can write so fast is that it doesn't feel like writing so much as like I'm having a conversation or teaching a lecture. And while we're on the topic, a big part of the fast writing is that I only write about things that I know a lot about. I spend all day talking to people in therapy about things like anxiety and anger, so when it comes to writing about those things it just sort of flows.

      To sum up, I'd say the key for me has been a kind of radical honesty with myself about the things I'm good at and genuinely enjoy. Writing about emotional health checks both of those boxes, which means I'm able to do it at a pretty high level, relatively quickly, for a long time.

      Hope that helps!

      1. 1

        Thanks, @NickWignall for the detailed reply. Your point about being passionate about the topics that you write about is definitely crucial.

  5. 1

    Thanks for sharing valuable tips. Do you ever use ghost writers?

  6. 1

    Hi thank you for doing this!

    I have 2 questions.

    1. What kind of topics/content types do well on Medium with the goal of earning through their partner program?

    2. Do you think Medium is a worthwhile endeavor if your goal is to make money with writing for now and the foreseeable future?

    Thanks!

    1. 1

      you're very welcome, @albertkim!

      1. From what I've seen, tech, self-improvement, and relationship-oriented articles all seem to do pretty well relative to other topics. When it comes to earnings, the key is to publish high-quality stuff consistently in a big publication that has a large reach.
      2. I think so. But it takes a while... I wrote for two years without making any money (pre-partner program). And then, once the partner program launched, it still took me about a year to start making > $1,000/mo. And I was publishing one high-quality article every single week at least.
  7. 1

    My extremely lazy but surprisingly effective approach to SEO

    I'd love to know more about your approach.

    Thank you for answering these questions, Nick!

    1. 1

      You bet, @hamza__nouali!

      See my answer to timosarkka above.

      The short version is that when you write about something you're really passionate about and good at expressing clearly with a unique perspective, a lot of SEO kind of takes care of itself.

  8. 1

    Hey Nick, great job. I already know how blogging and SEO work but I don't know anything about Medium. How much did it contribute to your newsletter growth? How does their partner program work?

    1. 1

      Thanks @andreboso!

      Initially, I got virtually all my traffic and subscribers from Medium by just including a little CTA to join my newsletter at the end of each article.

      After about a year or so, I started investing more in SEO, which now makes up about half of my traffic and subscribers. But Medium still probably contributes 35-40% of my newsletter subscriber growth each month.

      The crazy thing about Medium is that it can be both an acquisition channel for your newsletter and an income stream at the same time!

      It is important to join the partner program. For one thing, I don't know of anyone who gets significant amounts of article views organically w/o being in the partner program. For another, that's how you get paid. Obviously, they don't share the specifics of the algorithm, but it's based on how many views an article gets along with how long people read the article.

      The other thing to keep in mind is that it's pretty essential to publish your articles inside a big and established publication within Medium. I publish most of my articles in Personal Growth, for example.

      Also, keep in mind that you can choose to set each article's canonical link to something other than the medium-specific link. Which means if you publish the piece on your own website, you can basically instruct medium to tell google to prioritize your website's version of the article rather than medium's so that your website shows up in search results and you don't get penalized for duplicate content.

      Happy to answer any other specific questions...

      1. 1

        Yeah that's the right way to do it, I always recommend people to publish on their own domain and syndicate to other places using canonical tags. So the combination of partner program + popular publication is the key to getting views on Medium... Good to know, thanks!

        1. 1

          That's interesting. Is there an easy way to syndicate your content to other places? Any wordpress plugin recommendations?

          1. 1

            I don’t know, I don’t use WordPress 🤷‍♂️

        2. 1

          Yes!

          Also, topic and style matter a lot for Medium. Anything tech or self-improvement related tend to do well. And having a conversational, personal style of writing seems to work very well.

  9. 1

    Hi Nick, how did you go about growing your newsletter audience? Did you strictly rely on Medium?

    1. 1

      Hey Myriem,

      Medium and organic search traffic have been by far my biggest sources for newsletter growth.

      At the beginning, it was virtually all Medium (I include a small CTA at the end of each article linking back to my newsletter subscribe page on my website). That's continued to be a big source, especially when an article goes viral.

      Over time, I got savvier about SEO and so now about half of my subscribers find my site after searching google and then opt-in for my newsletter.

      Moving forward, I think partnerships are the growth channel I'm going to focus more on.

  10. 1

    Hey Nick, how would you describe your "customer avatar" or targeted niche?

    1. 1

      OH man, I think this falls under things I suck at still :)

      Tbh I don't really have one and have never bothered to create one.

      Somethings (selling my course, for instance) would be way easier if I had a super niche audience that was well-defined.

      On the other hand, probably the biggest reasons I've got where I am is that A) I hung in there and just kept at it, and B) I am super enthusiastic about what I write and people like that. Both of those things depend on me just writing about whatever the hell I feel like regardless of whether it fits into a specific niche.

      I will say, one thing that has helped is that whenever I write, I have a kind of mental health skeptic voice in my head which helps me make sure I always write about things without too much jargon and in a down-to-earth way.

  11. 1

    Congrats! Wondering what would you recommend to someone who just enter the blogging field? Are there any kind of best practises?

    1. 2

      In my experience, the magic happens when you're writing about something that ticks all three of these boxes:

      • Something you care deeply about
      • Something you're good at explaining in a simple and compelling way
      • A topic people care deeply about

      The first is important because to be successful in the long term, you need intrinsic motivation to keep you going, especially in the early stages when you're not getting much external validation and reinforcement. It also matters because enthusiasm is infectious. People can tell whether you're enthusiastic about a topic and your enthusiasm will rub off on them.

      The second matters because people are flooded with information and advice these days. The way to stand out and eventually grow is to get inside people's heads and talk about things in a way that makes sense to them. For example, most of what you read about psychology and mental health is either too academic and boring or too superficial and fluffy. I try to write about it in a way that's substantial but also a little playful and friendly. I don't have anything profoundly new to say, but because I say the same old things in new ways, people resonate.

      The final point gets overlooked a lot I think by bloggers starting out. Just like you could have the best product in the world, if no one wants it, your business is going to struggle. Similarly, it's important that the subject of your writing and blog taps into something people really care about.

  12. 1

    How to use Medium to make money and build a newsletter audience (without it hurting your website’s rankings in Google)

    I'm curious about this one. What's worked for you?

    1. 3

      Yeah, so I post all my articles to my personal site first then copy them over to Medium as new posts, being sure to use the feature in the Advanced Settings to set the canonical link to my website's version so that Google prioritizes that version in its rankings.

      In terms of what kinds of content do well on Medium, I think anything tech or personal growth-related can do well.

      On Medium, what people are really after is inspiration, not information. For the first year or so, I posted really long, in-depth guides and how-tos. These didn't do well.

      Then I switched to doing slightly shorter (still usually between 1500 and 2000 words) pieces that had a much more personal and conversational tone and tried to give people new ways of thinking about familiar topics they cared about. For example, "5 Psychological Reasons You Overthink Things."

      Then, I always include a brief CTA at the bottom of each post linking back to my newsletter page on my website.

      The beauty of Medium is that it can simultaneously be an acquisition channel for your newsletter and an income stream.

      1. 1

        On Medium, what people are really after is inspiration, not information.

        Excellent insight, and makes a lot of sense given the content that's successful on Medium.

        1. 1

          Yeah, I suspect this is true in many places, but I've just had the most experience with it on Medium.

          I approach writing like a teacher...

          Before you can teach them in-depth information and techniques, you need to get them curious, excited, and emotionally invested.

          1. 1

            So, possibly a cynical view but basically, people don't want to hear the truth or facts. They want to hear stuff that aligns with their own world view and beliefs?

            As I'd imagine if, for example, I want to achieve X and I want to do it by means of A, B and C - then I want to read an article about achieving X by doing A, B and C - no matter if it's actually real or not.

            Please don't take this as ANY kind of negativity. I'm just fascinated by it and it makes a lot of sense.

            1. 1

              It's a good question!

              For me, the key is to gently nudge people into a slightly different way of thinking.

              Before I can make a formal argument for why someone should believe X, it helps if they have a relationship with me, like me, and trust me.

              Also, I'm under no illusion that one article is going to change someone. But if they follow me for two years and read dozens of my articles, it's possible that they might change how they think a bit.

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      I think the key is to write about topics that you're passionate and knowledgeable about and then do the basics of on-page SEO...

      The knowledgeable and passionate part is important because you need to write content that's interesting, helpful, and in-depth enough for people to get value out of it. Unless you're a professional SEO, the best way to get there is to write about stuff that you know well and have a unique perspective on (this helps with competition).

      In terms of on page SEO, if you're trying to rank for a particular term, make sure it's in the title and URL, make your page easy-to-read (lots of paragraphs, plenty of lists, generous numbers of headers, bold key ideas, etc), and be sure to link to other posts on your site that are relevant.

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