17 min read

Substack vs beehiiv - the modern platforms for newsletters

Combining newsletters with blogs is becoming popular. But are they any good?

Picking the right platform for a newsletter or a blog is half the path to success.

And today, you have more options than ever.

So, let's analyze how beehiiv and Substack compare to each other and if they suit your needs.


Affiliate Disclaimer: Some links are affiliates. This means that if you buy after clicking on one of those, I get a commission at no additional cost for you.


Beehiiv vs Substack: comparison summary

Category beehiiv Substack
SEO & Growth Tools 8.5 6.9
Content creation 6.6 6.3
Customization 6.0 3.7
Site Management 8.1 8.1
Monetization 6.0 4.0
Rating as a Blog 7.3 6.0
Rating as Newsletter 8.7 6.6

Beehiiv and Substack are remarkably similar platforms in their essence.

They are mainly a newsletter platform with an integrated blog and generous free plans.

The main difference is that Substack takes 10% of the revenue from each membership, while beehiiv doesn't charge these fees.

Substack was responsible for making newsletters cool again.

Beehiiv is a Substack alternative with competent SEO, is much more customizable, and will be cheaper in most scenarios.

So, beehiiv is clearly superior when we look at their features.

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These ratings are based on a formula that considers feature existence (options), how they work (ease of use), and their importance (weight). The formula is based on what I consider more important in a way that's easy to understand strengths and weaknesses.

Beehiiv summary

Beehiiv is a hybrid platform that combines newsletters with blogging. This means you can use it to publish different content in the same place.

Beehiiv is a hosted no-code solution for creators that want to focus on writing without having to deal with technical configuration.

They launched in July 2021 with a team of former Morning Brew employees.

Beehiiv has developed a lot in their short existence and is impressing me.

Beehiiv's strong points:

  • Nothing to install;
  • Do everything without code;
  • 0% memberships fees;
  • Free plan up to 2,500 subscribers;
  • Works as blog + newsletter;
  • Robust email analytics;
  • Best newsletter design customization;
  • Multiple newsletters in the same account;
  • Native referral program;
  • Integrations;
  • Offers and trials for membership;

Beehiiv's limitations:

  • Limited website customization options;
  • No email automation;
  • Custom domain only on paid plans
  • No code injection (CSS and JavaScript) to the site;

Substack summary

Substack is a hybrid platform that combines newsletters with blogging.

Since the platform was created in 2017, it has significantly impacted media by popularizing paid newsletters.

Substack is one of the main reasons for newsletters becoming so popular again, as they made monetizing content easy.

People use them for newsletters, blogging, and podcasting. All in the same place. And without code or previous experience required.

Substack's strengths:

  • Do everything without code;
  • Can be used for free forever;
  • Works as blog + newsletter;
  • Free podcast hosting;
  • Fast website;
  • Good safety record.

Substack's limitations:

  • Content guidelines (you have to follow their rules or risk getting banned);
  • Substack charges 10% in membership fees;
  • Bad SEO and discoverability (especially for small newsletters);
  • Lack of email sequences;
  • Lack of integrations;
  • Minimal design options (all Substack pages look the same);
  • Enabling a custom domain costs $50.

Detailed comparison: Beehiiv vs Substack

Now you will find a table with all features from beehiiv and Substack, making it easy for you to compare them.

Then you'll read a detailed comparison of 6 categories I consider essential for a creator. This way, you can make a well-informed decision after knowing their strong and weak spots.

Feature Category beehiiv Substack
A/B testing (titles) Newsletter Yes No
Automated email sequences Newsletter No No
CDN (included or compatible) SEO Yes Yes
Call to actions Content creation Yes Yes
Code injection (CSS or JavaScript) Customization Parcial (only for pixel tracking) Parcial (only for pixel tracking)
Comments on posts Content creation No Yes
Custom HTML (site or newsletter) Customization Parcial (limited) Extremely limited
Custom domain SEO Yes Yes
Custom meta description SEO Yes No
Custom sending domain (newsletters) Newsletter No No
Custom social cards SEO Yes Yes
Customizable Canonical tags SEO No No
Dashboard analytics Newsletter Yes Yes
Display ads Monetization Yes for newsletter. No for blog No
Double opt-in Newsletter Yes Yes
Editable robots.txt SEO No No
Export content (posts and subscribers) Management Yes Yes
Form embed support Growth tools Yes No (can get you banned)
Iframe support (Tweets and YouTube, etc) Content creation Yes Yes
Image alt text SEO Yes Yes
Import content (posts and subscribers) Management Yes Yes
Integrations Newsletter Yes No
Likes on posts Content creation Yes (via polls) Yes
Make external links open in new tab Content creation Yes, with custom HTML No
Make nofollow links SEO Yes, with custom HTML No
Memberships Monetization Yes Yes
Multi-language support Management No No
Network effects Newsletter Yes (newsletter recommendations) Yes (newsletter recommendations)
Newsletter click tracking Newsletter Yes Yes
Newsletter customization (beyond default options) Newsletter Yes (it's the best) No
Newsletter open rate analytics Newsletter Yes Yes
Newsletter themes or templates Newsletter Yes No
Noindex URLs - manual control by user SEO Yes No
Parent and child page URL customization Customization No No
RSS feed Growth tools Yes Yes
Redirects SEO No No
Referral program Newsletter Yes No
Related posts suggestions Content creation No Yes
Robots.txt SEO Yes Yes
SSL SEO Yes Yes
Schema markup SEO Yes Yes
Search functionality on the website Management Yes Yes
Segmentation Newsletter Yes Yes
Selling features (digital products) Newsletter No No
Sitemap SEO Yes Yes
Subscription forms - for other sites Newsletter Yes Yes
Tags and categories Content creation Yes Yes
Team features (editors, writers, admins) Newsletter Yes Yes
URL customization SEO Yes Yes
Use ESP physical address Newsletter Yes Yes
Use on a subfolder Customization Yes No
User engagement scores Newsletter Yes Yes
Website customization (beyond default options) Customization Parcial (only fonts) Parcial (only colors and fonts)
Website themes or templates Customization Yes (but limited options) Yes (but limited options)
Welcome email Newsletter Yes Yes
e-Commerce / selling capabilities Monetization No No

Starting and managing an account

Here I'm looking at how easy it is to start and create posts on each platform.

How easy is it to start using beehiiv?

Beehiiv is super easy to start an account.

It takes 2 minutes.

Enter your publication name, sender name, tags, and desired subdomain URL.

Simple as that.

The dashboard is simple. It's easy to find drafts and published posts or start creating new ones.

Like Ghost CMS, beehiiv has 3 options for publishing: (1) publish on the site, (2) send by email and publish on the site, (3) or just send by email.

This flexibility is good for keeping your newsletter intimate or posting it on the internet to get more attention.

Beehiiv is a hybrid platform (newsletter + blog) for non-technical users. Making everything as straightforward as possible.

How easy is it to start using Substack?

Substack is effortless to start an account.

To most people, they're the standard of easy.

It takes around 2 minutes to create a Substack account.

Fill in some details with the name and description of your publication, and you're good to go.

Now, you should be ready to import posts and subscribers. Or start writing.

Managing the content of posts on Substack is also straightforward.

Your posts are in reverse chronological order if you want to update them.

Category winner

This category is a tie.

Both beehiiv and Substack are incredibly easy to start an account.

They don't require any technical skills, and opening an account takes a couple of minutes.

I risk saying that if you know how to use the internet, you can use these platforms without a problem.

Creating and writing

Now, I'll explore the process of creating content with each tool.

Editor features and writing experience on beehiiv

Beehiiv's editor layout is modern and works well.

The editor is clean, and you can focus on writing without problems.

Clicking on the plus icon from within the editor gives you access to features like:

  • Polls;
  • Recommend other newsletters;
  • Paywall the rest of the post;
  • Embed images;
  • Create a button.

On the right sidebar, you can find all the other customization options for the post, including SEO settings, post-delivery type, and preview.

However, I have some criticism about some functionality.

One of them is when you click between the lines. Doing it adds a new line.

This is annoying, unnecessary, and I never found one situation where I used this intentionally.

But the biggest complaint comes from the half-backed "HTML snippet" on the editor.

Embedding code opens the door to several options, but on beehiiv, you can't embed scripts or CSS, only HTML.

This is annoying and limiting to advanced users because they can't use JavaScript, which is one of the biggest advantages of this feature.

Editor features and writing experience on Substack

Substack's editor is clean.

A minimalist layout with few settings at the top and nothing else on the way.

It's pleasant to look at!

Substack editor is minimalist with the settings at the top and nothing on the way of the writer.
Substack editor where you can write the newsletter.

This is a dream for beginners because it's easy to learn and use.

But advanced users will struggle. Especially when they care about Substack for blogging.

For example, adding custom HTML on Substack is a pain as you can only do it with Google Tag Manager.

This isn't optimal from a privacy perspective.

Using custom HTML and scripts will be hard if you aren't well-versed with Google Tag Manager.

This might sound unnecessary stuff, but it's not.

Custom HTML opens a world of possibilities for embedding forms, making tables, and writing code for sponsored tags.

On Substack, you can't add nofollow or sponsored tags.

This is an SEO problem!

Especially when you put a link to a sponsor in the post, as I will explain later.

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It's baffling how many people risk a Google penalty by not using affiliate and sponsor links appropriately. Most haven't suffered any penalties, but they are bound to happen, and then they'll blame a Google update because of it.

At some point, you'll want to use custom HTML. But guess what!? Substack is limited, and it will be infuriating that you can't do something because of this.

It's also impossible to add an image gallery, exclusive email content, or content toggles on Substack.

Category winner

Beehiiv is the winner when it comes to the writing experience.

I only consider them satisfactory because they have some limitations, but at least they are simple to use.

Beehiiv wins because they are less limiting and still have room for improvement.

On the other side, Substack stagnated feature development for their text editor. I don't remember any significant addition since early 2021.

Customization

Next comes customization and design.

Customization on beehiiv

Beehiiv is polarizing when it comes to customization.

On the newsletter side, they have more customization options than top-notch email service providers.

Beehiiv is the most customizable platform for newsletters I know without writing code.

You can customize everything about the aspect of your newsletter in minutes. That's fascinating.

The problems happen when we talk about customizing the website aspect.

You can only pick from their default layouts. This means you can't buy themes or build one from scratch.

At this point, there are only 2 options, and I don't like how they look.

You can change the fonts, select colors for the buttons, and decide between light or dark modes. And that's it. The rest is a cookie-cutter website.

Customization on Substack

Substack's customization is limited.

All newsletters and blogs look the same.

That's boring!

You'll instantly recognize it's Substack.

This makes it hard to build a recognizable brand.

For the Substack website, there are only 3 layout options.

And this is an improvement because they had only 1 for a long time.

So, you can't build or buy themes for Substack.

This means you have to use one of the options they give you. And allowing only changes in the background color and font.

When it comes to integrations, Substack is also limited as they don't have an API. So, it's impossible to integrate with other services. This is another huge limitation.

Overall, Substack is very limited when it comes to customization.

Category winner

Beehiiv is the clear winner when it comes to customization. Their newsletter customization is second to none.

This gives beehiiv an advantage over Substack, offering "cookie-cutter" limited customization for both the website and newsletter.

Beehiiv site customization is also limited, so I only rate them as above average. But if you want, your newsletter can look unique.

Pricing

Now comes the cost of each tool.

How much does beehiiv cost?

Beehiiv prices are reasonable with a generous free plan. And they don't take a percentage of your revenue!

Most free plans are capped at 1,000 subscribers, but beehiiv allows up to 2,500 subs in the free plan.

But to enable custom domains and paid memberships, you'll have to upgrade to one of their paid plans.

I'm not a fan of the custom domain being associated with a paid plan because small newsletters won't be able to afford it.

This is a case of winning on one side with a generous free plan and losing on the SEO side unless you upgrade.

Beehiiv's "Grow" plan starts at $42/month and gives team members and the API access.

The "Scale" plan ($84/month) unlocks multiple newsletters and the referral program.

For anyone that makes significant money with their newsletter, beehiiv is a good deal. Plain and simple.

They have great tools and don't take a revenue cut.

This alone makes it cheaper than a platform like Substack when you earn more than $5,000 per year.

On top of that, beehiiv has many features that, if you use other platforms, you would probably spend a lot more.

I'm talking about paying separately for a blog, newsletter, and referral program.

How much does Substack cost?

Substack is free to use with a revenue-sharing model. This means you only have to pay for it if you charge memberships.

So, when you charge memberships, they will keep 10%, and you'll 90% (minus Stripe fees).

But this model is problematic.

On one side, you can use Substack for free forever! No strings attached.

When you don't charge memberships, you don't have to pay.

Lots of writers use Substack this way. And they make money by embedding sponsored content in their posts.

Conversely, when you charge memberships, Substack will keep 10% of what readers pay you.

This fee sounds reasonable for what the platform offers, but there isn't a limit on how much Substack keeps!

Because of this, Substack can be exponentially more expensive than its alternatives.

Let's see an example. Imagine readers pay you $50 per year. This is how much Substack keeps:

Number of subscribers Your revenue Substack's fees
100 subscribers $4,500 $500
250 subscribers $11,250 $1,250
500 subscribers $22,500 $2,500
1,000 subscribers $45,000 $5,000
2,500 subscribers $112,500 $ 12,500
5,000 subscribers $225,000 $25,000

I consider these fees a robbery.

You get the same service, the same platform, and the same benefits. So it doesn't make sense to pay a fortune in fees to Substack.

I know it's normal for platforms to have usage-based pricing, but Substack goes from being lenient with their forever-free plan to taxing the success of their writers without offering too much in return.

Category winner

The winner of this category will depend on who is reading.

I personally don't like Substack's revenue-sharing model.

But I can't ignore that they offer a forever-free plan many people have used for years.

So, for someone treating their newsletter as a business, beehiiv is the better decision because it will be cheaper.

However, when you have around 5k paying subscribers, Substack can be 25 times more expensive. This is a ridiculous difference!

For beginners and recreational users, Substack is the better option. Substack has forever free without limiting subscribers.

Monetization

Now, I'll analyze the options to make money with each platform.

Monetization options on beehiiv

It's possible to monetize on beehiiv with paid memberships and ads from their native ad network.

Memberships are probably the bread and butter of many creators.

It's a dead simple process: connect a Stripe account, select the price, and subscribers pay to access the content.

Beehiiv also has membership tiers. Making it possible to offer different perks to readers.

I like these tiers because more engaged readers can contribute more.

Their ad network makes it easy for creators to work with advertisers and get paid directly on the platform.

This is great because it removes the need to go and find a sponsor in other places, which is time-consuming and tiring for the creator.

But if you prefer to work with sponsors outside of the ad network, you can embed the sponsored content into the post. However, I advise you to use a sponsored tag to avoid problems with Google.

Monetization options on Substack

On Substack, you can only monetize with paid memberships.

However, most writers on Substack accept advertisements and put them in the body of the post. But this is a workaround and not a feature.

If you link to the sponsors without disclosing the link relationship, you're going against Google guidelines.

I say this because Substack doesn't allow you to create nofollow or sponsored links. Unfortunately, you'll risk a Google penalty with those links.

Category winner

Beehiiv has better options for monetizing.

Both platforms are similar regarding paid memberships as the main route for creators to earn money.

Regarding ads, beehiiv is superior because of its native ad network.

Yes, there are workarounds to put ads on Substack, but you can also use those workarounds on beehiiv.

This means beehiiv can do everything that Substack can when it comes to monetization, but not the other way around.

However, due to a lack of site code injection, neither allow selling digital products nor working with other ad networks like Google Adsense or Ezoic.

SEO & Growing tools

Let's see how they compare SEO and other tools.

How good are beehiiv's SEO and other growing tools?

Beehiiv's main focus is on newsletters, but I have to praise their development and the effort they put into the website.

They are good when we talk about SEO.

On beehiiv, you'll find essential features like:

  • Sitemaps;
  • Robots.txt file;
  • Custom meta descriptions;
  • Schema markup;

Most hybrid tools focused on newsletters aren't this good.

This shows a willingness to improve, listen to users, and improve on competitor flaws.

So, I have to say I'm impressed with the things beehiiv did in their short existence, while some competitors have had the same flaws for years (cough Substack cough).

On top of that, beehiiv also allows access to their API, which you can use for integrations.

This opens the other to tools like Zapier and Make that you can use to integrate beehiiv with hundreds of other tools.

You'll be in good hands regarding SEO and integrations on beehiiv.

Beehiiv has newsletter recommendations where different publications can recommend each other and grow together. The excellent part is they allow people to subscribe with 1-click, making it frictionless.

How good are Substack's SEO and other growing tools?

On paper, SEO features on Substack are okay, and they look enough to find success.

But the reality is far different.

Substack has important SEO features like robots.txt file, XML sitemap, and schema markup.

However, their SEO pitfalls hurt their real users a lot. This means it's extremely hard to get traffic coming from search engines.

I'm talking about the lack of custom meta description, no redirects, no canonical tags, not possible to create nofollow and sponsored tags.

For example, if you use affiliate links or links to a sponsor on Substack, you can face a Google penalty for not putting a sponsored tag.

So, discoverability has been a known problem for a long time for Substack.

And there have been many things written about it online.

One example was given by Casey Newton, that said:

β€œThe only way a Substack grows is through tweets. I am like 85% serious when I say this.”

Another example is asking if you ever saw a Substack publication on the first positions of Google for a search that doesn't include the word "Substack". I never saw or remember seeing one!

These critical SEO flaws explain why it is challenging to grow a publication on Substack.

To counter these flaws, they rely on internal discovery.

Substack has a discoverability tool on its homepage.

Still, they are incentivized to list the most popular newsletters with the most subscribers.

This creates a funnel effect by directing new readers toward prominent publications, making them even more popular.

This makes sense from a business point of view because when a writer makes more money, Substack also makes more money. So, this is an incentive for them to push big players.

In 2022, Substack also released newsletter recommendations. This means that one newsletter can recommend another newsletter to its subscribers.

The recommendations create a network effect where some creators can work together to recommend each other's work to grow together.

In an interview, Hamish McKenzie (Substack Co-Founder) said these recommendations had positive effects already.

Overall, Substack is weak on technical terms beyond SEO. They don't have integrations or plugins to extend functionality, which is limiting.

Category winner

Beehiiv is much better than Substack for SEO and growth!

Beehiiv fixed almost all of its weak spots regarding SEO and turned it into a competent platform.

I was very critical of beehiiv, and they basically fixed all my complaints in less than a year.

On the other side, Substack is below average for SEO.

Writers complained about this over the years.

However, I didn't see Substack improve in the past years.

It looks like they are happy with how things stand. But if you ask any Substack user, they'll tell you how bad it is to grow a newsletter there.

Why use Beehiiv for your newsletter?

You should consider using beehiiv for a newsletter if you want a hybrid platform to blog and send a newsletter from the same place.

This makes it easy to manage users' subscriptions.

The platform is straightforward to start, and their free plan is generous, making it very friendly for beginners.

On top of that, you don't need to use any coding skills.

They also have good built-in analytics, and you can easily customize the newsletter aspect.

Also, you can bring your team to collaborate, as beehiiv has multiple user logins.

Why avoid Beehiiv for your newsletter?

There aren't many reasons for not using beehiiv, to be honest. But I would say that if your focus is on "blogging", beehiiv isn't the best.

I'm not saying they are bad. Instead, I'm clarifying that newsletters are beehiiv's primary focus, and the blogging side is the extra icing on the cake.

Also, if you want complete customization control or code injection on the site, beehiiv will get in your way.

Why use Substack for your newsletter?

You should use Substack for your paid newsletter if you want to publish different types of content and have it all on the same platform.

They're integrating a blog, newsletter, podcast, and video publishing in the same place.

This gives you options.

Substack has been the default option for non-technical people to create a newsletter.

It's easy to explain this as they make it so easy to start for free.

So, Substack is a good option for publishing mixed content if SEO and blogging aren't important.

But be aware of following their content guidelines.

Why avoid Substack for your newsletter?

Substack is weak when it comes to SEO.

Numerous reports of users complaining about the lack of growth without using social media.

This makes it challenging to use for a professional publication that cares about SEO and explains why many significant newsletters have already left Substack and gone to Ghost or WordPress.

Summary

Across this comparison, it became clear that beehiiv is superior to Substack in most categories, drawing only a few.

Substack has a respectable reputation and has existed for a longer time. They made newsletters cool again and became the standard for non-technical users to start writing online.

However, this "ease-of-use" and lack of options come at the cost of not having some essential features. This hurts advanced users and professionals the most.

Primarily when those flaws exist for several years!

On the other side, for a platform that has existed only since 2021, beehiiv has become very competitive.

Beehiiv has improved on many limitations that Substack has had for years without fixing. And developed a lot more things that Substack users can only dream of.

This has become one of the reasons I see people compliment them on Twitter over and over again.

So, it's not surprising when I rate beehiiv higher than Substack on:

  • SEO & growth tools;
  • Customization;
  • Monetization;
  • Better rating as blog and newsletter.

The only reasons to pick Substack over beehiiv are:

  • You don't have any money and don't see having in the future;
  • You want to publish a podcast on the same platform you use for the newsletter.

In every other scenario, you will be much better off going with beehiiv. It's not even close!

Click on the button below and start your beehiiv account today (remember they have a free plan).