How I learned to let go of my biases and embrace Substack
Giving you ‘my thoughts on Substack’ works on so many levels. My thoughts regarding Substack are literally being written on Substack. I didn’t want to like this platform. It might be fun to have my husband do a guest post on the many times I railed against the horrible enemy Substack. He can detail my screeds about creators I follow who had ‘big announcements’ that turned out to be [in my own words] “it’s not news, they just made a f*&*ing Substack.”
Well, here I am with my very own Substack. And I have to say, I like it. If you’re considering switching from WordPress or another traditional CMS to Substack or are just curious about the whole thing, here’s the rundown on why I switched from Wordpress to Substack and how I did it.
For background, I have been a WP lead site admin for over ten years as part of my day job. I have multiple WP sites that I oversee and built a big, complex WP site from scratch and won an award for my work on the WP site. This isn’t to brag, but to say a) I’m qualified to discuss this topic* and b) the obvious choice for my personal website was WordPress.
For those new to site creation, there are two types of WP in the world: Wordpress.com and Wordpress.org. The .com version is more for bloggers and those who don’t have experience with site management/coding/techie stuff. The previous iterations of TTTW (both the dead, broken site and the site I just migrated) were self-hosted Wordpress.org sites. The .org version is a free, open source CMS, but I paid for hosting, a custom email, anti-spam protection and domain registration with DreamHost. I also purchased a professional-quality site theme.
All told, the WP site cost about $275 per year to maintain. And to be perfectly transparent, that’s a loss for the blog. This is a fun side project, and I love doing it, but the profit is 90% free products. I can’t mail DreamHost a pair of shoes and a fall wreath.
Another issue with WP was the danger of constant plugin updates and WP Core updates. Any update can theoretically break your site. I had a plugin that made regularly scheduled site backups, but having your site knocked out by a core update is a massive headache. I deal with this at work - our menus suddenly not working, weird things amiss with our widgets. Not only did I not want to come home and troubleshoot WP, but having lost the first version of TTTW forever to the big WP 5.0 upgrade, I was leery. I had to constantly reconnect my Instagram feed through a plugin. The formatting was weird when I copied and pasted a blog post from Google Drive. My best-looking, sharpest images dragged down the site’s load time. Site backups take up Google One space. Headaches abounded.
With my hosting plan up for renewal, I decided to bite the Substack bullet and at least look into the darn thing. I wasn’t quite sure what Substack was, honestly. I thought it was just a newsletter platform with a forum/message board option. The thing I was most worried about was keeping my static ‘My Novels’ page somewhere on the Internet to lure and trap interested readers. Turns out, that can be done on Substack in two clicks.
This is not an ad for Substack by any means. If you have a complex site with a lot of custom CSS and/or a large number of static pages, you’re better off with a traditional site host. TTTW is a very basic site, which made it incredibly easy to migrate. Hosting now costs me $0, which is the right price for a super basic site with three main pages in the navigation bar. All I paid was $50 to transfer my custom domain name.
My other main concern was SEO. The largest slice of my site traffic comes from organic search. A lot of my pages rank first for their query topics. Do Substack sites appear within Google search results? The answer is yes. Word to the wise, if you’re starting a site from scratch, no matter where it’s hosted, it will take a few months of publishing quality content consistently and following site navigation best practices for Google to rank you.
Since Substack wants you and your site hits and your readers’ money, they make it very easy to import your WP blog posts. It’s a simple drag-and-drop process, and the setup wizard guides you step by step.
The other side of my platform dilemma coin was my monthly e-newsletter. I’ve used Constant Contact through work for many years, and had thought to use it for TTTW. There’s not a free version of Constant Contact, so I chose MailChimp. Honestly, I’ve never been happy with MailChimp. The visual editor is clunky. My newsletter goes out at 9 p.m. because the ‘schedule’ feature is paywalled.
Content-wise, I had been questioning whether my monthly newsletter is a value add for my subscribers. The newsletter has a great open rate, but hasn’t achieved its primary objectives. I want the newsletter to be truly useful to my readers. A long paragraph block of blathering followed by blog links didn’t seem valuable.
Unlike with the website, I was not hesitant and was raring to try something else. I actually pulled down my Subscribe link from LinkTree well before Substack came into my life. After not sending an April newsletter, the plan was to pause the newsletter indefinitely while I came up with a plan or enjoyed life without it.
Since Substack is primarily a newsletter platform, it’s not as clunky as the free version of MailChimp, plus the newsletters are content I’m creating anyhow, not extra content I create specifically for a newsletter. All I had to do was export my contact list from the Chimp and upload it into Substack. It’s very streamlined, which is exactly what I’ve been needing in order to keep the blogging dream alive.
*Just a quick caveat that I’m not available to troubleshoot WordPress sites