Quickly stated, WordPress is like the Ford of the blogging world.
It’s tried and true.
It was there from the beginning. It’s worked for millions of websites and will continue to work for millions more.
If WordPress is the Ford of the CMS world, then Medium is kind of like the Tesla.
Medium stormed onto the scene back in August of 2012. It was created by Ev Williams, the same guy who co-founded Twitter five years earlier, and it is beautiful.
Medium is like Tesla because it’s hip, it’s different, and it’s doing a lot of interesting things to shake up an industry that’s sold itself to advertisers and affiliates.
Ev is trying to do a lot of bold things over there at Medium, and the internet is starting to take notice. As a blogger who uses both WordPress and Medium extensively, I’ve started to hear rumblings about which platform writers should use. My answer may surprise you.
Why You Should Use Medium
Medium is like the social media version of WordPress, which makes sense given who founded it. On Medium you can follow writers like Twitter and get all their latest articles in the newsfeed on your homepage. In a sentence, this is absolutely revolutionary for gaining exposure.
With WordPress, you generate visitors via guest posts, social media, email lists, etc., but with Medium all you have to do is hit “Publish.” My articles on Medium get 3-5 times the amount of visitors compared to WordPress.
Why You Should Use WordPress
Medium owns their Content Management tool, which is a beautiful one, by the way. The problem with that is there’s no room for customization from outside developers. Medium’s tool is not open-sourced. Every article basically looks the same.
With WordPress, as we all know, there are over 30,000 plugins for bloggers to pick from. It’s a gold mine of resources to market and design your site however you want. There’s more room to build a brand with WordPress. Through it all, I’ve felt that my travel blog is perfectly my own–like my little patch of happiness on the internet. That’s why WordPress is essential!
Handpicked reading recommendation: Born to Blog: Building Your Blog for Personal and Business Success One Post at a Time (Marketing/Sales/Advertising & Promotion)
For a better analysis, let’s go down the line and compare each platform on four categories: design, reach, stats/tracking, and monetization opportunity.
In a word, Medium’s CMS is gorgeous while strikingly simple. It kind of feels like something Apple would create. There’s not a flood of buttons, features, and other junk that gets in the way of the writing experience.
Even sharing pictures is beautiful, as you can see below from one of my articles.
Another noteworthy design feature lies with publications on Medium. You can create your own stunning site on Medium free of charge, and many big publishers decided to move their entire site over to Medium because of it.
The biggest publications boast hundreds of thousands of followers and regularly get thousands of page views per day. As you can see, they’re beautifully designed and lend themselves to significant customization on the back end.
As we know, WordPress couldn’t possibly fit in one category here. The backend looks the same for pretty much everybody, but with thousands of themes and plugins, every site looks different.
I always found it kind of ironic that Medium is out to shake up the publishing industry, but every post there looks strikingly similar. If they want to do something different and let the writer's voices take the forefront, wouldn’t they want to make things a little more customizable for us to reflect our differing beliefs and perspectives?
That’s why I like WordPress.
Choose WordPress If: You want full-on customization of your site and content.
Choose Medium If: You want an intuitive, easy-to-use CMS that’s founded on simplicity to bring about beauty.
It’s hard to beat Medium in this category. Being a site that’s half CMS, half social media platform, Medium has a ton of opportunities for writers to reach as many eyes as possible. My bad articles on Medium always get about 40-50 views, with some of my better ones receiving 300-400 without breaking a sweat.
It’s hard to mimic that on WordPress. All I have to do is hit the “publish” button, and tag my article in some relevant categories, and Medium takes care of the rest. Sometimes I’ve woken up to my article getting featured by some of the editors on the home page, which also provides another dimension to the publishing pie on Medium.
Blogs on WordPress aren’t connected. Medium is very much connected. In a sense it’s so much more intuitive this way, because writers ultimately want to connect with other writers and have their content read. We don’t want to go on a scavenger hunt across the internet to find the best stuff.
And as we all know, sometimes the best words are written by those with lackluster headlines or poor traffic results. On Medium you can find that struggling writer in a few clicks and read the stories that nobody else reads. It’s hard to do that just by searching Google.
With WordPress, writers need to do significant marketing of their material to attract any eyes. Hitting publish is just half the journey, with the battle to get anybody to read coming up soon after. Medium takes care of that.
Choose WordPress If: You already have a significant email list, social media following, or blog following that gives you good statistics all the time.
Choose Medium If: You’re having a hard time attracting eyes to your material
Stats & Tracking
Medium has an interesting stats feature that largely covers all of its bases. Items like views, recommends, and daily traffic totals are all taken into account. You can even see where traffic was referred from with a nifty backend feature.
One of Medium’s cooler features is the ability to track “reads.” Reads are the number of times someone has read an entire article, which is nice to know as a writer because we ultimately want engagement above all else.
While these statistics are nice to know, WordPress still takes the cake because of their ability to integrate with Google Analytics.
Compared to Medium’s stats feature, Google Analytics is like a man playing with boys. Demographics, time on site, and a ton of other useful information can be seen with Google–information that’s impossible to generate with Medium.
Despite this, Medium does offer limited integration with Google Analytics, the only problem being that viewers visiting via mobile devices aren’t reflected in the statistical information for a Medium publication. That’s a huge problem because at least half of my traffic comes from mobile devices through the Medium app.
In the end, there’s just too many hoops to jump through to see who’s visiting your site and when.
Choose WordPress If: You want complete information about the who, what, when, where, and why of your visitor totals.
Choose Medium If: You want to track who’s reading your content all the way through.
Ahh. Here’s the reason many get into publishing in the first place. Finding ways to get paid for our words is like searching for the holy grail, and in this case, WordPress represents Indiana Jones.
To drill right down to the epicenter of Medium’s weaknesses for a second, WordPress is owned by the individual blogger in the end. It is our domain to do whatever we want. If we want to sell ad space, we don’t have to answer to anyone. If we want to throw in affiliate links, we can do that. If we want to do a brand campaign, we’re as free as a bird to implement it.
While a WordPress blog feels like you’re living at your own place so to speak, Medium feels like you’re still living at home with your parents.
Medium doesn’t explicitly say you can’t have affiliate links, but they kind of look down their nose at it. It’s kind of the same feeling that one might experience when their parents notice a few beers lying on the floor of their bedroom and consequently get a less-than-tasteful look shot their way because of it.
Medium was founded to provide quality in a time when content was being paid for left and right by advertisers and sponsors (still is). Since Medium is more focused on content, not money, and since we’re technically publishing on their site, we kind of have to play by their rules.
That being said, Medium is kind of a “chiller” version of living at home with your parents. Many big publishers there are sponsored by brands like Miller Light–and they do nothing to hide that from readers! In fact, many publications I follow use Medium’s system to sell ad space on their front page and promote articles with affiliate links.
While this is exciting, Medium wasn’t designed with monetization in mind. Publishers instead designed their own makeshift workarounds to getting paid for their stuff, and while it works, it’s not exactly intuitive.
On WordPress, there’s no holds barred. It’s easy to implement Google Adsense on your site or sell ad space on the side-bar.
Choose WordPress If: You want all the options for monetizing your site, and you plan to turn your side hustle into a full-time gig.
Choose Medium If: You’re not super-concerned with making the big bucks from publishing on the internet.
Despite this fruitful discussion, it has lent itself to a broader point that really gets to the root of whether you should choose Medium or WordPress.
Despite Medium having a slick design and built-in opportunities to reach new audiences, it has one major flaw that could be the deciding factor for those choosing between the two.
You don’t own your content.
Medium is its own company, which means they host your content for you. This means you don’t own any of your content when you get to the bottom of it.
The problem is that Medium is essentially a startup. Two months ago they laid off fifty of their employees (30 percent) because they decided to take a new direction. They’re a company who doesn’t want to play by the rules of content publishers past, which is refreshing but scary at the same time. It's scary because they don’t have any significant ideas to generate income, which is concerning for anyone planning to use their platform long-term.
What if they suddenly go under overnight? What happens to all of your articles?
With WordPress, you don’t have to worry about any of that. Many times publishers sign up for managed WordPress hosting or just take care of it themselves.
When you own your spot on the internet, nobody can take it away from you. You’re not beholden to how well a company does financially or whether you can or can’t post affiliate links.
In the end that’s the biggest quarrel bloggers and publishers have with Medium these days.
Do you want my opinion? As someone who’s considered a “Top Writer” on Medium and has been using WordPress for the past few years as well?
Medium has given me an audience I never dreamed of when blogging on my own. They might not be perfect but they’ve gotten this far. They’ve created a beautiful content editor and broke their own records by averaging 60 million monthly visitors in 2016.
Ev Williams is doing something bold at Medium. He’s a CEO who’s not obsessed with making money. He’s sincerely trying to change the landscape of publishing and blogging for the better. In the end, that excites me as a blogger and content developer.