A guide to creating your online writing website: the easy, medium, and hard way
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This is the 4th iteration of bradenkoh.com. With each iteration, I want greater control over my website, even though I don't really have an audience at the moment. The re-iterations have given me experience in setting up blogs/websites using various methods. In this article, I'll share my insights into the easy, medium, and hard approaches to writing online, so you can find the best path for your own online writing journey.
If you're considering starting to write online but are still unsure about the idea, I've shared some of my thoughts in this edition of Snapshot Fridays, which is my weekly newsletter.
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the products that I am recommending
Disregard the specifics
The internet is full of tutorials and courses that will help set you up for writing online but the real problem here is that there are too many ways and no real clear answer to which is better. The truth is I don't think there is a method that is a best method, it all depends on your needs and the level of effort you want to put in upfront.
You have three options when it comes to publishing your writing online. First, you can leverage publishing platforms to start writing and posting immediately. Secondly, you can use website creation platforms to create your own website easily. Finally, you can make your own website from scratch which lets you style and present your writing any way you want.
But, as you traverse down these three options, the more time and effort it will take you to start writing. Let's look deeper at each method.
Easy Method: publishing platforms
Publishing platforms can get you started writing and publishing almost immediately, all you have to do is create an account. There are two kinds of publishing platforms that you can use: writing platforms and newsletter platforms.
Writing platforms are similar to social media platforms in that they have their own algorithms to promote your writing to a wider audience. Newsletter platforms, on the other hand, let you send your articles directly to your subscribers' inboxes. Some platforms, like Substack, offer a combination of both options
Websites like Medium and LinkedIn are considered writing platforms since they have their own algorithms to promote your work. While you can write about anything on these platforms, the algorithms tend to favour topics that are trendy or popular on each platform. For instance, on Medium, any topic can do well, but recently tech and AI topics tend to perform better.
However, writing platforms do not allow you to keep your audience's contact information. This means that even though you can see who reads your posts, you cannot contact them directly. This could be a deal-breaker if you wanted to move to another platform or promote something. While you can redirect readers elsewhere to enter their contact information, this requires extra effort, and some platforms discourage redirection.
As someone who has used Medium before, I found the writing and publishing experience enjoyable. However, I eventually left the platform because of this limitation.
Conversely, platforms like Substack, Gumroad, and ConvertKit overcome the limitations of writing platforms by allowing you to keep your audience's email addresses. These platforms are known as newsletter platforms, as they are designed to send your posts directly to your subscribers' inboxes.
Unlike writing platforms, most of these newsletter platforms, apart from Substack, do not have algorithms that promote your work. This means that your content may be harder to find by new readers. However, these platforms allow you to display all your posts on a homepage, which is a link that you can share with anyone.
Limited styling options
A common restriction with these publishing platforms is the amount of styling that is allowed. Typically, you are limited to a set of colours, fonts, and the name of the website or email (newsletter platforms) only. You do not have control over other display styles, such as spacing or table style. However, limited styling can be a good thing, as it can encourage you to focus on writing instead of spending too much time on design and formatting.
Medium Method: Minimal/no-code website creation platforms.
To overcome any limitations that publishing platforms had, we need to create our own website. This may seem scary, but there are platforms and services available that can help make the process easier. This brings us to a higher effort level and into the domain of no or minimal code website creation platforms.
Platforms like Squarespace, Wordpress and Wix help you create websites without needing to know how to code/minimal coding. They typically use a template/theme system to render your posts and also have integrations with other newsletter platforms like Convertkit for you to send emails out.
Even though using a no or minimal-code website creation platform is easier than creating a website from scratch, it still requires more effort. Now you need to worry about getting a domain, hosting your website, search engine optimization (SEO), and integrating a newsletter system (if desired). It also requires more effort to maintain and fix any issues that may arise. However, you can outsource this and hire someone to do all of this for you.
This extra effort rewards you with a lot more control over how your website and content are displayed. Not to mention, your own customisations would likely mean you stand out more from the usual articles in the publishing platforms. Additionally, creating your own website allows you to add other services such as starting a paid membership area or even adding an online course environment.
Hard method: Self-setup websites
The final method, which requires the most effort, is setting up your own website from scratch. This option is only feasible if you know how to code and have some understanding of the web.
Creating your own website from scratch gives you the greatest level of control over your site. If you know how to code, the effort you put in can be well worth it. In fact, creating your own website can be a great way to learn about the web and how it works. It can teach you how to host your website, manage and render your content, and more.
To start this process, you need to pick a web framework and a way to host/deploy your website. Depending on how you want to organise your content, you can also integrate a Content Management System like Ghost.
Here is a list of frameworks and hosting options that I have played around with and would recommend.
Static Site Frameworks
- Gatsby JS (what I used for V2 of bradenkoh.com)
- Vue JS
- Next JS
- Eleventy JS
- Ghost (I am currently using for bradenkoh.com)
- Digital Ocean (what I use for bradenkoh.com)
Digital gardens are a newer form of online writing that has become popular in recent years. They provide a way to learn and write in public without worrying about finalizing your content. The setup process for digital gardens is quite different as there are many more ways to create them.
In fact, digital gardens are unique enough that I plan to write a separate article about them in the future. I will update this post accordingly when that article is available.
So, whether you are just starting out with online writing or are looking to move to a new platform as I did, I hope that this article has been helpful to you in some way. Writing/Newsletter platforms are easy to get started but have a lot of limitations. Website creation platforms allow for more customisation and control but require more effort. And creating a website from scratch gives you the most control, but it also needs more effort and technical skills.
Ultimately, the right setup depends on your needs and how much upfront effort you want to invest. But don't worry too much because you can always move platforms later. If you just want to get started, choose a writing/newsletter platform and then move on later if you want. If you do a search, you will find successful people across all methods, so it ultimately doesn't matter too much.
thanks for reading,