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Why I don’t use Substack or Medium to publish my writing

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I don’t use Substack or Medium to publish my writing. This website uses a self-hosted version of WordPress. After a few friends recently asked me, I decided to write this article to explain why.

Benefits of writing on my self-hosted site

A long time ago (before Substack launched), I decided that writing on my own site oscarbarillas.com was more beneficial for my goals and values. However, I never wrote down why.

Writing on my site gives me a lot of benefits that other third-party sites don’t provide.

1. Owning the content and data

Having worked in tech for a while (I even built a GDPR product in the past!), I’m more conscious than most of “who owns the data.”

Having a self-hosted site aligns with my values on privacy and data ownership. When you write on platforms like Substack or Medium, it’s your content, but it’s also Medium’s and Substack’s content. Creating and posting content on these sites is more accessible, but the tradeoff is that they also own the data. At any point, they can choose to delete the content, just like any content-creating platform (e.g., Instagram, Facebook, Twitter).

Creating and publishing content on oscarbarillas.com makes me feel empowered that these thoughts are mine by having them hosted on my site.

2. Flexibility to configure your site

When you write content on your self-hosted website, you have the flexibility to configure your site. You can change colors, themes, fonts, layout, and more.

Using a third-party site provides fewer customization levers. You have to play within the rules of the house and can’t fundamentally alter the site.

3. Top-level domain on a self-hosted site

On a self-hosted site, you write (usually) at the top-level domain. In my case, all my content appears on oscarbarillas.com.

Substack – Subdomains

Substack uses subdomains. If I were to create my Substack, the subdomain would be oscarbarillas.substack.com. I can choose to have oscarbarillas.com route to Substack, but it isn’t the same.

Medium – Usernames and subdomains

Medium uses a combination of usernames and subdomains for more prominent publications. I’ve previously written a few posts on Medium; my username is @oscarbarillas.

4. Monetization Fees

I don’t have any current plans to monetize my newsletter, but having my self-hosted site lets me keep more of that revenue if I choose to.

If I monetized with Substack, their fees would be aggressive. 10% of paid subscribers’ revenue is paid to Substack on top of the 2.9% and 30 cents for payment processing fees.

Downsides of writing on my site

It’s not all perfect writing on my WordPress instance. There are downsides to taking this approach.

1. No real plug-and-play setup to start writing and publishing

Although I use WordPress to write and manage my site, it does take time to set up. There isn’t an actual plug-and-play setup for WordPress.

Running a WordPress site is a program that requires initial investment and upkeep. You must select which plugins, caching setup, themes, and settings to make it appear just how you like it. For me, one of the most complex parts was figuring out how to make this site appear blazing fast on mobile phones. Stay tuned for a feature post on what a plug-and-play solution would look like for WordPress.

Substack and Medium have optimized their platform for blogging, so users write and publish. They take care of the heavy lifting. Each site’s content looks great and is fast and easy to read on mobile phones.

2. No built-in Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) helps you get ranked by Google, Bing, and other search services.

When creating a brand new website, you start with essentially a 0 in the search engine optimization world. As you add more and more articles, your SEO score can grow, but it does take time to manage it.

For example, this website is banned from Bing for reasons I’m still trying to figure out. This problem would not exist on Substack or Medium

3. Building an email newsletter is more complicated than I expected

Substack, by far, has the best way to build and grow a newsletter. It manages your newsletter, paid and free subscribers, automatically posts to subscribers, and posts content to your Substack site. I’ve been trying to recreate this on my site with mixed results.

MailPoet Plugin as a stop-gap

I’m currently using MailPoet to send emails from my site to my newsletter. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s working out okay. I don’t have to retype any content when I send an email out, and I can continue building upon the integration to have triggers. I’m not in love with the solution, but maybe I’ll have another update in a few months.

Traditional solution

The alternative and the more traditional solution is to:

  1. Write the article first on my site
  2. Copy it over into an email sending service (e.g., MailChimp, Constant Contact)
  3. Post the article
  4. Send the newsletter.

4. Built-in Community

Both Substack and Medium have a built-in community of writers and publishers that you can tap into. When you publish a post, you publish it onto the platform. Readers can discover other publications and could potentially stumble onto your newsletter.

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, it’s up to the author’s preference to have your self-hosted site or write on a third-party platform. There are benefits and disadvantages to both solutions.

Additional Note on Substack

While this article has mainly discussed Substack, other solutions are similar to Substack. These include:

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