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Once upon a time, a blogger was defined as someone who published personal musings on an online journal.
Today, blogging is a major component of content marketing — a practice 88 percent of B2B marketers now leverage to raise brand awareness and promote products.
The stature of web authoring is growing both personally and professionally. So I decided to take a good look at the battle raging between WordPress, the market share hogging blogging solution come CMS, and Medium, the young blogging platform come social network.
Thanks to the dominance of WordPress over the past fifteen years, the blogging platform market has been one of the most stable in the CMS world. Rivals such as Blogger, Movable Type and Ghost all provided some level of disruption — but none were able to topple the behemoth that is WordPress.
However, as we transition into 2017, Medium’s growing presence is a thorn in the side of WordPress. Not because it can do everything WordPress can, but because it revolutionizes the way people publish and consume blog content.
Before I move on to the comparison, here’s a quick breakdown of the two platforms.
Launched in 2003 by Matt Mullenweg, WordPress is an Automattic product with more 74 million users. It powers a whopping 27 percent of the internet.
With those numbers in mind, it’s fair to say that WordPress sets the standard for blogging platforms everywhere.
WordPress comes in two distinct forms:
WordPress.com: This is the easiest route into the world of WordPress. You sign up on the site, select your theme and you’re all set to start blogging. The free plan gives you the fundamentals you need to start blogging, while the premium plans allow you to remove ads and monetize your site.
Self-hosted WordPress: WordPress is a free and open source platform, which means you can download it and host it anywhere you like by using the services of any good web hosting company. Once you’re hosted with your chosen company, you’re totally free to use it in any way you like — without restrictions. It’s available on WordPress.org.
Founded in 2012 by Twitter’s ex-CEO Evan Williams, Medium is a blogging platform with a social networking twist. They don’t disclose much in the way of statistics, but we do know that Medium had 30 million monthly visitors in 2016, and that its users published over 7.5 million articles in that same year.
Just like with WordPress.com, you can sign up and begin publishing immediately — but instead of your articles sitting idle while you work to bring in traffic, all Medium content is floated on Medium’s Twitter-esque platform. Each blog post is searchable, shareable, bookmarkable and acts as a gateway to your profile, which other users can follow.
Medium’s algorithm plays a big role in which content gets shown where and when, but the concept is simple: Medium blog posts aren't just standalone articles, they’re social media posts, too.
You can already see that Medium and WordPress are two very different beasts. Yet, the concept of blogging is broad enough to accommodate this battle, with both parties fighting for similar target market.
Sure, the fact WordPress enjoys such a large chunk of the market skews the odds in its favor, but Medium is carving out a name for itself nonetheless. The platform’s progress over the past year in particular has been noteworthy, as new features have been revealed that enhance the mobile experience significantly.
Now, without any further adieu, let’s get down to comparing WordPress and Medium in the ways that matter most to the average blogger.
At the most fundamental level, WordPress and Medium are built for blogging.
WordPress boasts a world-renowned blogging experience. The editor can be toggled between WYSIWYG and markup, allowing more advanced users to make HTML changes on the fly.
Self-hosted WordPress, of course, affords you the same featured, with a whole lot more flexibility. Countless plugins exist that can expand the native formatting options and change the interface, for example.
WordPress’ editor is by no means the prettiest, but I’d say that the brilliant blend of power and usability is unrivalled.
However, if there’s any platform worth mentioning besides WordPress in this instance, it’s Medium. Instead of trying to match WordPress in terms of functionality, they have poured serious thought into producing an approachable and truly delightful writing experience.
To keep you focused on your content, the interface is minimal — even when you’re formatting. Yet, inserting images, videos and embeds like Tweets and email subscriptions forms requires nothing more than a click or two.
This refreshingly simple interface alone is what attracts so many publishers to Medium.
Once again, the open source nature of WordPress empowers you with the ability to customize the way it looks to no end. Plus, thousands upon thousands of free and premium WordPress themes are available across the many marketplaces dotted around the web.
WordPress.com is more limited in this sense, but it still boasts a strong range of themes with extensive design customization features built in.
Medium is the most limited of the three. Other than using imagery and various header colors, there’s no real way to distinguish your blog posts in terms of design.
Out of the box, a self-hosted WordPress website won’t automatically push your content anywhere. At the very least, you’ll need to install Jetpack or a similar plugin in order to automate your social sharing.
WordPress.com streamlines the process, enabling you to automatically push new posts to your social media handles. Enabling social sharing buttons on your published posts is easy, too.
Medium on the other hand, has social sharing embedded in its DNA. In fact, I’d go as far as identifying it as a hybrid between a social network and a blogging platform.
As previously mentioned, Medium itself is a community of bloggers, so when you publish new content, you’re simultaneously presenting it to a digital gathering or readers and writers.
On top of social sharing buttons being part of the furniture over at Medium, users can find your content via Medium’s internal social network by searching for related keywords.
They can also share, bookmark and comment on your work. Not to mention, your Medium followers can keep tabs on your new content just by glancing at their timelines.
WordPress.com has a small range of plugins available, but self-hosted WordPress users get to enjoy a much greater library.
Plus, as an open source CMS, you can customize the PHP and CSS to your heart's content — so long as you’re self-hosting, you can extend and modify anything you like.
With Medium, on the other hand, what you see is pretty much what you get.
However, Medium does have a WordPress Plugin, an IFTTT integration and a recently announced email subscription form integration. You can also use the Medium Publishing API to publish remotely.
As far as I’m concerned, Medium’s future success may well depend on how well they add to that short list of ways to extend the platform.
There are countless ways to monetize a website, and self-hosting with WordPress opens up all of those opportunities. Since you own every pixel on your site, you can participate in banner advertising, set up paywalls and even run an ecommerce business. WordPress is a fully-fledged CMS, after all.
With WordPress.com, there’s no way to monetize your content on the free plan. On the contrary, WordPress imposes it’s own branding and banners on your blog, which would work against any prestige that your brand may have. If you want to earn from banners on your site, you’ll have to buy into a premium plan — but even then, you’re limited to working only with WordAds, an Automattic-powered banner-advertising platform.
Similarly, Medium offers no direct way to monetize your blog posts. The closest you can come to benefitting financially is through a custom domain for brand awareness and embedding email subscription forms into your posts in order to build a mailing list.
It’s no secret that WordPress has a security problem. It’s the most hacked CMS in the world — although that may have less to do with security and more to do with the fact that it’s the most used CMS in the world, too.
Medium on the other hand, has a far better security record.
Having said that, if you do choose to host your blog on Medium, your data will be stored in the same place as every other Medium user. That means, should a hacker gain access to Medium’s data, everyone’s at risk.
Meanwhile, hosting your own WordPress site at least protects you from being subjected to large-scale attacks that are so often directed at major websites like Medium.
Weebly’s data breach is one example of how millions of users can be affected by just one (albeit monumental) hack.
With WordPress.com, your content is technically yours — but you afford Automattic a ton of rights over it:
“By submitting Content to Automattic for inclusion on your website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting your blog. This license allows Automattic to make publicly-posted content available to third parties selected by Automattic.”
Medium’s terms of service specify similar stipulations:
“By posting content to Medium, you give us a nonexclusive license to publish it on Medium Services, including anything reasonably related to publishing it (like storing, displaying, re-formatting and distributing it).
… We can remove any content you post for any reason.”
This brings me back to the point that — unless you’re self-hosting with WordPress — your content isn’t totally under your control. That means that your blog posts can be deleted, modified or used as a space for the host to advertise.
Although stats aren’t available out of the box with a self-hosted WordPress installation, you’re free to draft in any analytics platform that takes your fancy, like Google Analytics for example.
The built-in analytics system that you get with WordPress.com is surprisingly stellar. You can track visitor numbers, countries your site is popular in, referring websites and much more.
When it comes to Medium, you have to settle for some very basic metrics. You can see how many views, reads and recommends you received in the last 30 days — and nothing else. Suffice it to say, that’s not nearly enough data to satisfy a marketer.
Although the self-hosted version of WordPress is free to download, you’ll need to pick a web hosting company to host your site. In fairness though, this cost can be as low as $5 per month.
WordPress.com offers a free plan, but with countless restrictions. At the same time, you’ll have to put up with WordPress ads on your blog, which will do you no favors if you want to build a professional brand. The premium plans end up costing you the same as a self-hosted site — which defeats the much of the object.
Meanwhile, Medium is totally free.
To get a more authentic insight into what makes Medium and WordPress users switch sides, I’ve compiled the reasons given by popular bloggers who defected.
“I couldn't search Twitter for my posts because of the massively shared domain, I couldn't track referrers to know where my readers are coming from, [and] I couldn't even I couldn't pick my own URLs.” — Kenneth Reitz
“Creators want to build their own brand; to carve out their corner of the galaxy; they don’t want to be a speck in a vast universe. Medium doesn’t want you to have your corner; it wants you to be a speck. It’s just too hard to build a persistent identity on Medium.” — Jeffery Yuwono
“[Medium has] a really simple editor with enough features to get my blog posts out of my head and into something visual. [I like the] simple and beautiful layout and there are no themes [to worry about]! Also, there’s no need to bring your own audience and it has a native mobile app.” — Ariel Michaeli
“There are many reasons why I decided to move to Medium. [For example], it has built in distribution, a global content delivery network (CDN) for assets, free hosting, free SSL and a great mobile experience for those who have the Medium app.” — Mustapha Hamoui
WordPress and Medium are two blogging platforms that possess similar functions, but are for two very different people.
A self-hosted WordPress website is for the brand builders; those who want total control over their website’s content, design, code, monetization and future.
Medium and WordPress.com is for everyone else, although the premium plans of the latter make little sense when you consider that a self-hosted WordPress site would cost less — and that a Medium account would cost nothing.
Despite its brilliance, Medium is simply not designed to carry brands to long-term greatness. Not only do you have limited control over your content, you also have to rely upon Medium to act as the middleman between you and your audience. Plus, you have to hope that Medium’s future decisions work in your favor — a point worth pondering over when you realize that Medium is once again weighing up their monetization options after scrapping their advertising scheme.
That doesn’t sound like a sturdy enough foundation to build a brand upon.
With all that being said, I love Medium for what it is: a place to amplify your content and reach an audience of opinionated bloggers. As for being an adequate WordPress.org replacement, I’m far from convinced.