Every blogger needs a platform, and as it so happens, there are a lot of options to choose from.
If you’ve been around The Side Blogger long enough, you should know that I only ever recommend self-hosted WordPress. There’s a reason for that. But wait, can it really be that all other blogging platforms just suck?
Well, no. Some of these other platforms aren’t so bad at all. In fact, based on your needs and your blogging goals, one of the other platforms may even be better for you!
So, is it still true that WordPress is the only way to go?
Well, I’ll let you figure that out. But to help you with your decision, I’ve decided to write this post where I’ll attempt to share with you my findings on some of these other blogging platforms, their pros and cons, how they compare with WordPress (and with one another), and who these platforms are for.
Before I get into the comparison, I want to start by laying out how I’ve approached this blog post.
There’s no arguing that I recommend self-hosted WordPress [.org] to any and all bloggers. It’s the best, in my opinion, and even though I’ve talked about my reasonings at great length throughout various other posts in this blog, I will still dedicate a section to WordPress in this post to demonstrate why I continue to vouch for this platform.
But, I cannot pretend anymore that it is the only platform out there. There are others, and some of them are rather amazing. That’s the reason why I finally decided to write this post. But during my research, I’ve also [re]confirmed my preference for WordPress, and fair comparison of WordPress with all the other platforms is the only way to prove my point and give you options, should you choose to pursue something different.
I will start with the other platforms first, and then I’ll end the post with WordPress. There are many different options, and naturally, I can’t talk about all of them. So, I’ve chosen, carefully, five different blogging platforms, including WordPress, to review, explain, and compare. These are by far the best of the bests out there. Strictly my personal opinion, of course, and depending on what kind of blogger you wish to be, any of these platforms should serve you well, provided you choose the right one specific to your blogging goals.
A few platforms I will not be talking about in detail
There are a few platforms that I do not wish to spend much time on at all. But I’ll mention them briefly just in case (because I keep getting asked about these…)
A fine platform if you’re strictly a hobby blogger. It’s a self-publishing platform with limited features. So, unless your goal is to just publish posts and do nothing else, then feel free to start a free blog on Blogger.
I’ll be honest with you. I like Tumblr very much! Just not for blogging seriously. Much like Blogger, it is a platform for hobby bloggers. Some people use it as a social media platform too. Can’t say how effective it is because I’ve never used it for that purpose. I have a couple of Tumblr sites that I use as a writing portfolio and a hobby blog for book/movie reviews. It’s fun, but that’s about it.
I have never met a Wix site that didn’t piss me off.
I’ve never met a Wix site that I didn’t find a problem with.
(I’m not even going to bother linking it… like, for real, just stay away from it.)
WordPress.com (Note: .com, NOT .org)
WordPress has two variations: hosted (.com), and self-hosted (.org)
The hosted WordPress is something you sign up for (open an account on WordPress.com and start using WordPress right out of the box.) The self-hosted version is the one I use, and I recommend everyone else use it too. It’s where you sign up with a third-party hosting company (I recommend SiteGround) and then set up WordPress. Typically it’s a few clicks, and you’re good to go. But that’s the one I’ll be talking about later in this post when I review my recommended blogging platforms.
In this section, however, I want to mention the hosted WordPress (.com) version. I DO NOT recommend it — hence I’m not linking it. The free version has a domain name that doesn’t seem professional (in the form of mysite.wordpress.com), and some as simple as connecting your own domain requires you to upgrade to their paid plan, and that’s not exactly cheap. I mean, if you’re going to pay for it, just go with self-hosted WordPress; it’s superior.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to some proper blogging platforms.
Blogging platforms to consider
Just one small reminder: I wholeheartedly recommend self-hosted WordPress to anyone and everyone 🙂
That said, depending on what kind of blogger you wish to be, there may be a different option for you to consider. Some of these other options may even be better for you than WordPress if you have specific needs and usage in mind. And that’s exactly what I’ll be focusing on when talking about these other platforms.
I have a love-hate relationship with Medium. I love it for the potentials, but I hate how it keeps changing all the time. Just when you think you have a handle on what the heck is going on and how to navigate its algorithms and the do’s and don’ts, Medium shakes things up again.
As a writer, it’s annoying. As a reader too, it’s quite annoying.
But you can’t get mad at Medium either because, at its core, the people at the helm of this platform are trying their best to help their writers and readers. So, it makes sense that things are constantly changing, but at the same time, it’s hard to keep up.
Regardless, some writers have found success on this platform. So, without further ado, let me illustrate who this platform is for and how to approach it.
What makes Medium different
Think of Medium as a blogging hub. A place where you go to find blogs. It’s a platform that comprises many other platforms — platforms representing a single writer or a multitude of writers (also known as publications).
What’s cool is that it has some social media like features. Other Medium users can like your articles (claps), they can comment on your articles, etc. Think Twitter, but better looking and with long-form articles. It’s no surprise that Medium was, in fact, founded by former Twitter CEO – Ev Williams.
Some of the things that make Medium stand out are:
Like in social media platforms, with Medium, you get access to an existing audience from day-1. Now, having access is one thing, but getting people to read your article is a whole other thing. And that’s where things get tricky for Medium authors.
Built-in payment system
You can join Medium’s partner program and start making money from your stories right away. How much you will make depends on the reading time of individual paid Medium subscribers as far as we understand. But remember, to make significant money from this method, you need to write high-quality content (because payment is contingent upon reading time, and people do not stick around and read unless you have compelling content, and they’re quality stuff.) Also, do not forget, you’ll still need to make sure to get a ton of eyeballs on your stories first.
As I mentioned earlier, Medium is a blogging hub. You can find other bloggers and publications in this space. As a writer, you can simply write, and your articles will appear on your profile. Or, you can publish on different publications (including your own, if you so choose to create one or more), and your articles will appear on your profile, as well as on the publication you wrote for. This is a great way for new writers to expose themselves to readers. Basically, you can ride on the coattails of these other publications until you have built up an audience of your own through followers.
The pros of Medium
- You do not need to niche down. Or so has been my observation. Some Medium writers say that niching down helps, but I’ve seen big-name writers write about various topics, and they’ve made it big on Medium. Jessica Wildfire is an accomplished Medium writer who writes on politics, personal development, personal experiences, relationships, and more. But if you’re looking for niche writers, Umair Haque writes about American Politics. Both of these writers excel at their chosen topics. For Wildfire, it’s anything and everything. For Haque, it’s basically doom an’ gloom.
- It’s free. Anyone can start writing on Medium and even participate in the Medium partner program, allowing writers to make money from their stories.
- Medium has a beautiful, distraction-free writing interface. Its simple yet beautiful UI is one of the bigger selling points for Medium.
- There is no maintenance to speak of. All you need to do is write quality content.
The cons of Medium
- Writing on Medium is free, but reading on Medium is not. You see, there are two types of articles on Medium – free articles and ones that are locked behind a paywall. Most writers like to lock their content behind a paywall because that’s what allows them to make money from reading time. Only paid Medium subscribers have access to these articles. This means that not everyone will have access to your content unless you make your content free. But if you do make them free, you’re not making any money from your articles either.
- The aforementioned restrictions on who gets to read your paywalled article is a painful reminder that you do not control your content. At the end of the day, it’s a platform owned by a third-party, and you have to play by Medium’s rules.
- Medium can be distracting as a reader. Ideally, you want your audience to stick around your blog. But with Medium, another great story written by someone else is just a click away.
- Because Medium is constantly changing its algorithm, the way you do things will have to be adjusted based on Medium’s changes. This can be quite annoying. To give you an example, until not long ago, Medium writers made money based on how many readers clapped on their articles. But now, the pay depends on how long a reader sticks around and reads the article — a whole new ball game.
- While it’s true that you need to niche down on Medium, you do have to consider which topics get more traction on this platform and which topics don’t. Unless you write about relationships and personal developments or political opinion pieces, finding the right topics may turn out to be cumbersome.
- Traditional money-making schemes do not work as well on Medium. This platform was designed for writers and around writing, so that’s pretty much the only way to make money. With your writing. Lots and lots of writing.
My take on Medium
Some Medium writers make consistent four-figures from this platform alone. But these writers are few. And they’re dedicated writers who can churn out several articles every single week. If you’re that kind of writer, you may try out Medium. If you’re primarily a hobby writer, this platform may be a way for you to get your ideas out. But if you’re trying to replace your day-job with blogging, well, in that case, make sure you’re not putting all of your eggs in one basket. After all, Medium is still a platform that you do not own nor control.
TSB contributor Ming Qian has a stellar guide on how to get started writing on Medium; feel free to check it out.
Squarespace is a decent platform. You own your content, and there’s no algorithm for who gets to see your content and who doesn’t. It’s just software – a Content Management System or CMS – that holds your content in one place. Squarespace is simple. Straight-forward. Easy. But easy comes with consequences too.
What makes Squarespace different
While you own your content, the platform itself is owned by Squarespace – the company. Think of Squarespace as a hosting company that WordPress users are so familiar with. Only, WordPress – the software – is completely separate from the hosting company that hosts all WordPress assets, whereas Squarespace is both a hosting company and a software.
The pros of Squarespace
- You do not need to worry about a hosting company. Like I mentioned above, Squarespace is both the software and the hosting company.
- Unlike WordPress, Squarespace takes care of its own maintenance. You do not need to worry about optimizing for speed and performance. You do not have to update the core software nor any plugins. Squarespace does it all in the background.
- The simple drag-and-drop web design structure makes it easy for most people to design their own site.
- Unlike WordPress, which has an unlimited amount of options for everything, Squarespace has limited features, thus limited options for what you can or cannot do with your Squarespace site. This forces you to keep your business model simple.
The cons of Squarespace
- The first downside is actually tied to the last point I made in the previous section. While simplicity and a limited number of features can make life easy, it can also make life, well, limited. WordPress is an open-source platform, so any task can be accomplished with a piece of code, also known as plugins. Squarespace’s limitations prevent you from adding features that do not already come packaged with Squarespace. This limits growth. I’ve known many bloggers in my freelancing days who decided to move to WordPress and away from Squarespace, for this very reason — they hit a wall where they couldn’t do what they wanted to do on a Squarespace platform.
My take on Squarespace
As a serious business blogger — albeit a side-blogger, I know my business couldn’t have survived with Squarespace. I use plugins for a multitude of tasks on the back-end that are essential to my blog’s growth. The UI for Squarespace’s admin area is so simplistic that things can get a bit out of hand when your content starts to grow. I feel as though Squarespace wasn’t really designed for bloggers for that specific reason.
That said, if you have a business around a service (you’re a VA or a freelancer, for example) where the focus is showcasing your service, and your blog is secondary, and you do not expect it to grow into a complex multi-step system, then Squarespace may be right for you.
Substack is significantly different from any of the blogging platforms I have mentioned so far and will mention below. You see, substack is a straight-forward platform with two main functionalities: publishing and pushing it to inboxes.
What makes Substack different
Basically, with Substack, you get an email newsletter platform and a blogging platform packaged in one service, and you don’t even have to pay for it. It’s totally free, regardless of how many subscribers you have. But of course, it has its limitations, and these limitations are intentional, as far as I can tell.
With the newsletter feature, you do not get any bells and whistles like tagging or sequencing subscribers. You cannot have different lead magnets for different groups. In fact, you cannot have a lead magnet or opt-in freebie period. The “lead magnet” here is your writing. People who sign up for your email list get your writing directly in their inbox every time you publish something new. The entire blog post is the newsletter itself.
This can be nice, depending on your business model. If all you want is to have your audience read what you’ve written, then sending the entire post in the newsletter will ensure that everyone who opens the email will get to read it. But of course, all of your articles will have a web presence as well for those who want to read your stuff but do not want you in their inboxes.
The best part about Substack is the ability to monetize your newsletter. Once you start gaining traction and you have enough subscribers, you could create a paid newsletter where your audience will need to pay a monthly subscription fee to get access to your content.
And that’s how Substack makes money. Even though starting with Substack is totally free, they start charging you 10% of your earnings once you start charging your audience.
Think something like Patreon, but for writers.
The pros of Substack
- Free to start, and no payment necessary until you start charging your subscribers.
- An easy monetization model.
- Even when you have a paid subscription, you can continue to add free content for those who do not wish to become paid subscribers.
The cons of Substack
- The platform isn’t meant to grow with your business. You cannot just add more bells and whistles if you want to.
My take on Substack
It’s one thing to have a blog for free, but another to charge people for your content. For example, Medium’s paid plan is $5 per month, and readers get access to all paid content from thousands of writers writing on a myriad of topics. If you want to monetize your content on Substack and start charging your audience, you better have stellar content that people wouldn’t mind paying for. You have to give immense value to your readers, and this will require some elbow grease.
If you’re confident that you can attract the right audience and get people to subscribe to your newsletter, then Substack may prove to be an easier alternative than WordPress. Provided you have no plans of adding complex functionalities to your business down the road.
(And while we’re on the topic of Substack, I have a free newsletter there where I talk about my writing journey. It’s a separate newsletter from my usual newsletter on TSB. Have a look if you’re curious.)
Like WordPress, Ghost is also an open-source platform, but it has a long way to go before it can be competitive with self-hosted WordPress in terms of features and functionalities. That said, for certain users, Ghost may be ideal.
What makes Ghost different
Like WordPress, which has a self-hosted version and a hosted version (.org and .com), Ghost also has two versions. Hosted and self-hosted. Like WordPress, the self-hosted version is free to use, but you have to pay for hosting, just like you do with WordPress. But, keep in mind that Ghost was coded with Node.js, and it’s not supported by a lot of hosting companies. Even though Ghost is really easy to use once it’s installed and set up, the process of installing the self-hosted Ghost files can be a bit of a challenge for a total newbie.
The hosted Ghost (Pro) is an easier alternative, but for a complete beginner, it can get a bit pricy (the cheapest plan being $29 per month when paid annually.)
What’s cool is that Ghost (Pro) has a Substack-like feature where you can start a paid newsletter subscription. But unlike Substack, which charges you based on your earnings (10% of your earnings from paid subscribers), Ghost doesn’t charge you anything. You’ll only be paying the monthly fees that I mentioned above, regardless of however many paid subscribers you get.
Ghost also has a membership option. So, you can monetize your creative work with Ghost. Not just newsletters. Sounds a lot like Patreon, huh! But unlike Patreon, which is a hub for creators, and your work resides within the Patreon system, you have your own platform with Ghost.
The pros of Ghost
- Easy to use platform, minimal learning curve.
- Great for bloggers, as well as those who wish to monetize their creative work with monthly subscriptions.
- With Ghost (Pro), you have no need to worry about maintenance. It’s all taken care of for you.
- It’s a trustworthy platform with companies like Buffer, Unsplash, Duolingo, Stanford Review, Mozilla, Tinder, and more, hosting their blogs on Ghost.
The cons of Ghost
- Great for bloggers, sure, but if you want to grow your business beyond blogging or paid subscriptions, then you’ll be boxed in by the limitations of this platform. If you wish to add a shop to your site, a forum, or something, I don’t know, non-blog like feature, then yeah, you’ll be running to WordPress in no time.
- The free version of Ghost isn’t supported by a lot of hosting companies, and the hosted Ghost Pro membership is not cheap (almost 350 bucks per year at the cheapest plan). You can get started much faster with WordPress and at a much cheaper cost too. SiteGround’s GrowBig plan, which I recommend, starts roughly at 120 bucks per year for first-time users.
My take on Ghost
I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far, and it appears to be a fantastic blogging platform. It’s easy to use and straight-forward. But it would never work for me because I have an online shop, I use my website to create landing pages for my courses, to create hidden pages for subscribers only, I use my own domain to redirect my affiliate links (which uses a plugin, and I cannot use a plugin on any other platform), and a bunch of other factors that would require me to use WordPress and WordPress only.
Maybe in the future, Ghost will incorporate more features and functionalities, and it would be more accessible and affordable for first-time bloggers. But right now, unless your business model is to start a subscription or membership-based platform, I suggest you go with WordPress.
Alright, now let’s talk about my favorite platform — WordPress — the self-hosted kind where you sign up for a hosting company, then install and set up WordPress. The process is easy, and you can find a step by step guide for setting up WordPress on SiteGround here.
What makes WordPress different
WordPress has been around for ages. Practically every hosting company has a simple WordPress setup system that involves a few clicks, and you’re good to go. It is also open-source, which means anything is possible. Think of a feature or functionality, and I guarantee someone has come up with a plugin to do just that!
But because it’s not a cookie-cutter platform like some of the others I have mentioned above, it requires some work. Regular maintenance, setting up plugins the right way, making sure you’re implementing best practices, so your site doesn’t get slower over time, etc.
But hey, nobody said running a business was going to be easy-peasy. WordPress is for serious bloggers who treat it as such. Seriously. Like a proper business owner.
The pros of WordPress
- Because it is an open-source platform, any features and functionalities you can think of are within reach.
- Short of using a free platform like Medium or Substack, WordPress is the cheapest platform to start with, with room to grow.
- Great for bloggers. But also great for business owners who need more bells and whistles. Setting up an online shop is quick and easy. Creating a membership site or a forum can be accomplished with a plugin. Keeping things organized on the back-end is easy with some more plugins.
- Because the platform has been around for ages, there is no shortage of free tutorials on the internet. Even if you’re a total newbie, it shouldn’t take long to find guides, blog posts, or videos, to show you the ropes.
- There are plenty of WordPress themes and templates to make sure your site looks professional and unique. There are pre-made themes if you do not have enough time to design your site. There are also page builders that can help you design your site just how you want, without actually writing a single line of code (I’m using a page builder plugin for TSB myself — Elementor.)
- It is one of the most trusted website content management systems (CMS) out there. According to 2020 stats, 34% of all websites on the internet uses WordPress. That’s huge!
The cons of WordPress
- Out of the box, WordPress isn’t the most secure platform. So it rests upon the user to ensure security (pick a secure and reputable hosting company, install a security plugin, keep core files and plugins up to date, etc.)
- You need to do some regular maintenance to ensure security (as mentioned above), performance, fast loading, etc.
My take on WordPress
Many people say that WordPress is difficult. It takes too much effort. It’s too hard to figure out – yada yada yada. Well, as you may have noticed, I didn’t mention WordPress being difficult in the cons section. That’s because WordPress isn’t difficult. No, really, it’s not!
Here’s the thing. All other blogging platforms are limited in their nature. Limited features, limited functionalities. So, of course, it’d seem easy. Compare that to WordPress, which is practically limitless in all that you can do with it – and suddenly, it’s hard to use, it’s difficult, it not good enough!
No, you dummy!
WordPress is just a powerhouse. But like I said before, it’s been around for ages — since 2003, to be specific. There are plenty of how-to tutorials out there, so there’s no reason why you should feel intimidated by the platform. Does it take time to master? Depends. If all you’re doing is writing blog posts, then no. It’s no more difficult than any of the other platforms I mentioned before. But if you decide to grow with time and your business demands that you not only blog but set up a shop too, or maybe a forum, or a membership plan, then WordPress will grow with you.
WordPress is perfect for bloggers who want to grow their blogging business with time. There’s a reason why almost all big-time bloggers run their sites on WordPress. Whether it’s Pat Flynn, Melyssa Griffin, Marie Forleo, Amy Porterfield, Neil Patel, Jon Morrow, or… I don’t know; practically all the bloggers I know and follow use WordPress as their platform.
If you’re planning to do affiliate marketing on your blog, or run ads, or create a forum in the future, then you should definitely go with WordPress. And that is precisely why my recommendation to all bloggers would be to start their blog on a self-hosted WordPress platform.
But well, if you’re sure that all you’ll ever do is write, then maybe Medium is for you. Maybe you just want to see if you like writing or if people like reading your stuff. If that’s the case, you could start a blog on Medium before committing to something like WordPress.
If you want to start a subscription-based newsletter, then maybe you should go with Substack.
If you’re mainly a photographer and need a website to showcase your work, and maybe you want to start a blog on the side, then perhaps you should look at Squarespace.
But wait, what if you’re a photographer and you also want to create a stock photo membership site? You could do that with WordPress, of course. But maybe your photography business takes up too much of your time, and you just want something simple that you can set up and go? Then Ghost may just be the perfect platform for you.
So, are you starting a blog soon? Or maybe you already started one? What’s your platform? Why do you like it (or dislike it)? Let me know in the comments below!
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