Where to blog? Medium, substack, WordPress, Ghost, or roll your own?

Friday, July 10, 2020 by Louie Bacaj

Updated January 2023

I have recently decided to reboot the blog. I am sure a lot of us working from home right now are thinking about using those two extra hours of commute time to do something productive. Get that blog setup, start writing, learn something, build relationships, open up some more opportunities, and maybe, just maybe, make a few extra dollars.

In many ways, creating a newsletter and building an audience is becoming the gateway drug to entrepreneurship for many people. The formula most are using is simple get an audience together, ask them what they want, build that for them or use the audience to get your business going. Of course, entrepreneurship is not the only reason to start writing. There are lots of other benefits to documenting and immortalizing what you know publically.

The setup I had while blogging was painfully bad. With that in mind, it led me down a quest to evaluate the options going forward. I could use Medium, substack, or roll my own (this is especially true for those of us that are engineers or technical). But there are options even for those that aren't so technical as well, such as WordPress or the Ghost blogging platform.

In the past, I've written posts on Medium, and substack is gaining a ton of popularity as a way to own your own audience and monetize an email newsletter. However, with both of those platforms, the engineer in me was incredibly bothered by not having control. Not controlling the domain name, customizing everything about how the content is read, and being able to dig into the code if I want to. But substack now has a feature where you can add your own domain name, greatly reducing my anxiety. It's a one time fee of 50 dollars but well worth it, in my opinion. This is really important because it means you can choose to move off and bring your email list with you at any point and time.

A lot of people are writing newsletters too. My friend Chris Wong and I taught 200+ people how to start and succeed with newsletters. However, the problem we all want to avoid is becoming employees of the platforms we use. We don't want to be in a position where if they don't like what we write, they can outright take down our content or take our audience away; this is why today, more than ever, I feel it's important to have control. With that in mind, I would like to discuss the different options I evaluated and why I landed where I did. Keep in mind that my mindset about this has changed a bit since I originally wrote this post in 2020, although the principles are the same.


I admire what Substack has done, glued stripe to a great writing platform, which may sound like a subtle thing, but it should not be underestimated as an amazing innovation unleashing a wealth of creative, independent ideas and a renaissance in newsletter email and blogging. Subtle tweaks are sometimes the most innovative of them all; it can be the difference between an ordinary phone line and a phone line that connects you to a vast network of machines, subtle but massive. The first is a regular phone; the second is the internet.

Writing on substack is perfectly fine; the only issue now is customization. But in the years since I originally wrote this post, many people have moved off of substack and back on. Proving that control is not so much of an issue as it was back in 20202. But understand that customization is still an issue. There is very little customization on substack, and many of the substacks look the same. But in terms of control over the email list and the domain, this is no longer really an issue, at least as of 2023. You can export your email list at any point and time and all of your articles. If you have a custom domain setup (paid the one-time 50-dollar fee), technically, you can spin up your own WordPress or any custom platform and even preserve the old links since you can simply repoint your domain to WordPress if you move off.

Substack has a lot of welcome features over something like Medium, for one you can keep your audience, which is a huge deal in this day and age. They let you collect emails in your newsletter and keep all of those. They let you export that later if you want to move off too. They let you setup a custom domain you fully own. They also let you charge for content and only keep 10% from you plus the stripe fees for themselves, which is much better than the Medium models that kicks back a few pennies per read.

More recently, Substack has added another massive feature that beats out Medium in many ways. That feature is author recommendations. Substack authors can recommend each other's newsletter (a feature in the dashboard), and this can drive tons of newsletter subscribers just for being on Substack. To give you an idea, I moved my newsletter over there in July of last year, and by December, the recommendations features of Substack were responsible for over 2/3rds of my email list. That's thousands of emails I would have never gotten if I wasn't on substack. I wrote a longer thread on this. Needless to say, this one feature alone has moved substack to the top of my recommendation list for newsletters.


The best way to describe medium is as the YouTube red version of writing online. They own everything, except your content; you are an employee of their platform and get paid a cut based on reads if you choose to participate in their partner program. They own the audience; the readers pay them a membership fee. You are given a small cut of that based on reading time, and you cant customize anything meaningful. And unlike YouTube it pays a lot less because they are far less profitable than YouTube is with its ads. But they are trying, and I know people who use it as a backup to cross-post things from other places.

I have published on large Medium publications such as Hackernoon and that publication relationship has gone south fast with Hackernoon moving off the platform to get more control. You can read more about that relationship between Hackernoon and Medium here, hint it didn't end well. This is all because everything that is true about substack not letting you do, medium is 10x worse.

While true that you have absolutely no control on Medium, what they do give you is some eyeballs and a little reach if they choose to feature your story.

Medium might make sense as a passive way for certain types of articles. Also as a way to write certain viral type of content and drive the audience to your personal blog that you own. I certainly cannot recommend it as the main platform as a writer if you are serious about building an audience.


Here is a another great post on why you should not use Medium by Rahul Chowdhury titled "Why Medium is Not the Home for Your Ideas".

The post goes into more depth about how to take advantage of some the eyeballs medium provides while still owning the content yourself, basically by cross posting to Medium after you've posted on your own blog.

Ghost (and WordPress)

If you have not heard about Ghost, go look it up, it is an open-source platform that competes with all of the top blogging platforms. A lot of what is true about Ghost is also true about WordPress, but WordPress has evolved to do much more than writing, and that has sort of become its Achilles heel.

Ghost offers a fully managed service you can pay a small fee for that gives you full control, and you own everything; there is more customization than Medium, substack, and everyone else out there. For those of us that are a little more technical, it allows us to run a blogging platform ourselves. That is because they open source the code base for modification, and there are some great docker images from Bitnami to run it yourself; this is similar to WordPress, but again unlike WordPress, the whole thing is on Node and JavaScript and much lighter weight and made to do one thing great, write.

If you want a breakdown of the features Ghost has over the other serious contender you can find it here on their site.

This is a tough decision because anyone whose thinking about writing at the end of the day wants to spend most of the time writing not choosing platforms. Nobody wants to spend time switching back and fourth, God forbid. We want to pick a great one and ride the wave.

Some of the most important considerations for me when picking a platform to reboot the blog were:

  1. Ease of use
  2. A relationship, and ownership, of my readers and audience
  3. Control and customizations
  4. Readers that the platform will bring in
  5. Monetization

With those factors in mind here is how I ranked my options:

PlatformEase of UseAudience OwnershipCustomizationPlatform ReadersMonetization

On a scale of 0-5, where 5 is best, when we rate these platforms on the above criteria, again, this is my opinion; we can see that when we total this all up, Ghost and Substack are neck and neck.

While all of the platforms are easy to use, a big reason they are on my list, they start to differ greatly when it comes to who owns the audience and how much customization and control you have. They all differ significantly when it comes to monetization as well with Medium taking the biggest cut.

In terms of bringing eyeballs to your blog, this, for me, is a non-quantifiable, not easily measurable thing that is technically the strength of the platforms. For most of us, the likelihood that these platforms will promote our posts and put them in front of people is very low. Almost all of my readership on Medium has come via SEO and other channels. You've got to be at the very top of writers on Medium to be promoted or for them to feature you, and if you are at the very top, then why not just do it yourself and have more control? The major difference for Substack is that if you get to know some other newsletter authors, the recommendation features are controlled by the authors themselves. You can get to know other newsletter writers in various online writing communities; our newsletter launchpad community is one such place. This is huge because getting people to give you their email today is not easy. Especially because people get way too much junk email, they are very protective of their inboxes.

In 2020 I had to go with Ghost, and I have to say that I loved and still love Ghost for blogging and highly recommend it. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it feels like a platform that was made with love and, more specifically, the love of one thing, and that's writing. This is a big reason I chose to reboot my blog onto the latest version of Ghost rather than some other options. But in 2023, Substack and its recommendation features are just too hard to resist. It is very hard to grow a newsletter and to get people's emails, so any platform that helps you do it is worth leveraging right now. So my recommendation in 2023 is to use both, use Ghost for a personal site with more timeless essays and use Substack for a weekly or more timely newsletter. If that is too much for you to manage, then Substack is the way to go in 2023; see my newsletter here.