13 min read

Substack vs beehiiv - the modern platforms for newsletters

Combining newsletters with blogs is becoming popular. But should you pick these platforms?
Substack vs beehiiv - the modern platforms for newsletters

Picking the right platform for a newsletter or a blog can be half the path to success, and competition is stronger than ever which is good for you.

This time it's beehiiv stepping in and trying to dethrone Substack. Are they capable of that? Let's find out.


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

Beehiiv and Substack are remarkably similar platforms in the way they work. They are mainly a newsletter platform with an integrated blog. Their free plans are generous, and they both lack the SEO features that professional publications need for success on Google.

The main difference is that Substack keeps 10% of the revenue from each newsletter membership, while beehiiv doesn't charge these fees. Instead, they use fixed pricing, which is cheaper for writers after they charge more than $3000 per year in memberships.

Substack is responsible for making newsletters cool again. Beehiiv is a Substack alternative wanting to improve on their flaws.

Beehiiv summary

Beehiiv is a hosted newsletter platform for creators launched in July 2021 by former Morning Brew employees. The platform works as a hybrid that combines a newsletter with a blog. This means you can use it to publish different content in the same place.

They are making waves in their short existence and looking into improving on the limitations of similar platforms, especially Substack. Looking closely, you can see they take a lot of inspiration from Substack.

Beehiiv strengths:

  • Nothing to install;
  • 0% fees in memberships;
  • Can be used for free forever;
  • Works as blog + newsletter;
  • Email analytics;
  • Newsletter design customization;
  • Multiple newsletters in the same account;
  • Native referral program;
  • Integrations;
  • Offers and trials for membership;

Beehiiv limitations:

  • Terrible SEO;
  • The website layout looks like Substack without customization options;
  • The platform is a bit buggier;
  • Annoying editor for writing;
  • No email automation;
  • Custom domain only on the $49/ month plan
  • No code injection;

Substack summary

Substack was created in 2017 and is the main reason for newsletters becoming so popular again. This is a significant impact on media and attracts high-profile writers.

Also, Substack uses a modern approach to blogging which combines a blog with a newsletter. And this allows creators to use Substack to create all kinds of content.

By publishing on Substack, you have to follow their content guidelines. However, you still own the content and can export it if you want to move to another platform. It's also possible to export the subscriber list.

Substack strengths:

  • No coding required;
  • Can be used for free forever;
  • Works as blog + newsletter;
  • Free podcast hosting;
  • Video hosting (private beta);
  • Good email deliverability;
  • Fast website;
  • Good safety record.

Substack limitations:

  • Content guidelines (you have to follow their rules or risk getting banned);
  • High fees without a ceiling (they keep 10% of your memberships);
  • Bad SEO and discoverability of your Substack page (especially for small newsletters);
  • Lack of email sequences;
  • Lack of integrations;
  • No tags or email segmentation (only segment by free or paid subscribers);
  • Minimal design options (all Substack pages look the same);
  • Enabling a custom domain costs $50.

Comparing Beehiiv vs Substack

Now, it's time to compare and see if Substack or Beehiiv will serve you better.

These are the 6 categories of the comparison:

  • Starting and managing an account;
  • Creating and writing;
  • Customization;
  • Pricing;
  • Monetization;
  • SEO and Growing tools.

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 literally takes 2 minutes. Enter the publication name, sender name, tags, and desired subdomain URL. Simple as that.

The dashboard is simple, and it's easy to find the writing area where you can create new posts, manage published ones and see the drafts.

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 grab more attention.

They built beehiiv as a hybrid platform (newsletter + blog) for non-technical users. This is as straightforward as it can be.

How easy is it to start using Substack?

Substack is effortless to start an account. To me, it's the standard of easy for creating and sending a newsletter. You only need 2 minutes to create a Substack account and fill some fields with the name and description of your publication. That's basically it.

After doing those steps, you are ready to start importing posts and subscribers or dive into writing new posts.

Managing the content of posts on Substack is also straightforward. There's only a list of posts in reverse chronological order if you want to make some updates.

Who wins this category?

It's a tie. Substack and beehiiv are identical and 10/10 in ease of use.

Almost everyone that knows how to use the internet can learn how to use these 2 platforms, so you can understand how easy they are. This will be a common theme in this comparison as the platforms are extremely similar at their core.

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, but the features are average at best.

The good part is the editor is almost distraction-free, and you can focus on writing.

However, my first criticism comes by saying the editor is annoying. If you click between the lines, it adds a new line, and I create so many lines by mistake because of this. Then, you can't hide the right sidebar with the configurations and settings.

This is a massive downside compared to the best text editor I've used. They could quickly add a menu item to hide this section, and only when you need it will show up. For 99% of the time, I don't need that sidebar, so it's a waste of space on the screen.

Also, there's no custom HTML, code injection, and many other advanced features a proper editor needs.

beehiiv text editor is one of the cleanest out there. Even the settings are hidden.
beehiiv text editor. I don't like that big sidebar on the right.

Editor features and writing experience on Substack

The editor of Substack is super clean, with only a few settings at the top. This layout is a breeze for a minimalist with nothing on the way. But this is when simplicity plays against Substack's users if they want anything more than just writing.

A beginner will Substack's editor more than enough. Most users using it for newsletters also won't have trouble with the lack of features. But if you use Substack as a blogging platform, you are handicapped.

On Substack, it's not possible to add custom HTML, inject code or scripts to the page, and define links as nofollow. If you aren't a developer, this might sound like unnecessary stuff, but it's essential. Trust me when I say that even if you don't know how to code, you will want to do something, and you won't be able to because Substack lacks custom HTML support. It will be infuriating.

Custom HTML opens a world of possibilities like embedding forms, making tables, and even writing code for the required sponsored tag on affiliate links.

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

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

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.

Who wins this category?

Ratings:

  • beehiiv 3/10;
  • Substack 4/10;

Substack wins this category by a small margin. Still, these editors are below average because they lack many features that professional bloggers and creators need. And I didn't enjoy using either of them.

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. You can customize everything about the aspect of your newsletter in minutes. And all without code! Fascinating.

The problems happen when we talk about customizing the website aspect. At this point, there's zero layout customization you can do to a beehiiv website.

You can change the fonts, select 3 colors for the buttons, and decide between light or dark mode. And that's it. The rest is a cookie-cutter website that doesn't even look good.

Customization on Substack

Customization on Substack is minimal. All newsletters and blogs look the same. You look at a page you instantly recognize you're on Substack. It's tough to build a recognizable brand this way.

You can change the background color and have some fonts to pick from, but you'll only have 3 layout options. This is an improvement because, for a long time, there was only 1 layout.

Also, you can't build or buy themes to customize Substack from its default. That's why I say options are very limited.

When it comes to integrations, Substack is also limited as they don't have an API, so it's impossible to integrate them with any service. This is another huge limitation.

Who wins this category?

Ratings:

  • beehiiv: 5/10;
  • Substack: 4/10.

Both are average at best and have severe limitations for the looks of your publication. But I'll give a very, very slight advantage to beehiiv.

If you use Substack or beehiiv, your newsletter or website will scream: cookie-cutter style. It's tough to build a recognizable brand because of this.

I said that beehiiv websites look really bad. But at least if you put effort, your newsletter could look unique.

Pricing

Now comes the cost of each tool.

How much does beehiiv costs?

Beehiiv prices are reasonable. First, they have a free plan if you have less than 2500 subscribers. This is an above-average number for newsletter services in the market that usually cap free plans at 1000 members.

Their first paid plan costs $29 per month (Creator). If you want to enable paid newsletters, you have to upgrade to this plan.

The Pro plan costs $49 per month and enables custom domains and multiple newsletters. However, it's an outrageous price to allow a custom domain. The most expensive is the Growth plan costing $99 per month and enabling a referral program.

The best part is that there are no revenue-sharing models like on Substack.

How much does Substack costs?

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

Substack keeps 10% of every membership you charge without a ceiling on its costs. So, the more you charge, the more they keep.

This revenue-sharing model is controversial. On one side, several writers have used Substack for years without paying a cent. On the other, Substack is taxing its writers' success.

Let's see how bad that 10% is with some examples. If you charge $50 per year, this is how much Substack can cost you:

  • 100 subscribers: $500 per year;
  • 250 subscribers: $1250 per year;
  • 500 subscribers: $2500 per year;
  • 1000 subscribers: $5000 per year;
  • 2500 subscribers: $12500 per year;
  • 5000 subscribers: $25000 per year;

These numbers are ridiculous and a robbery if you have paid memberships. You get the same service, same platform, and the same benefits, so don't make sense to pay a small fortune for Substack like the numbers above show.

Who wins this category?

Ratings:

  • Substack 4/10;
  • beehiiv 6.5/10.

I give the advantage of price to beehiiv in this case. Their free plan is generous at 2500 members, and after that, it would cost $29 per month, which is still an average cost to run a premium newsletter.

For example, a 2500 paid newsletter on Substack would cost 4 or 5 times more than on beehiiv because of revenue sharing.

However, I give Substack an okay rating because you can use it for free forever, which some writers do. So that's something that I have to consider as a positive.

I don't give beehiiv a higher score because $49 per month to enable a custom domain is outrageous. That price indirectly says they want you to build their brand by not using a custom domain. That's not something I appreciate as a blogger.

Monetization

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

Monetization options on beehiiv

Beehiiv's monetization option relies exclusively on paid memberships. This is fine but a bit limiting.

Yet, I can imagine writers putting an advertisement in their newsletters body soon to increase revenue. But since beehiiv doesn't allow nofollow links, that could hurt a website's SEO, as I'll discuss in the next section.

There are rumors of beehiiv releasing an ad marketplace for newsletters, but it's official yet.

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 to show ads and not a feature.

Also, if you make this and link to the sponsor without disclosing sponsored links, you're going against Google guidelines. I say this because Substack doesn't allow you to create nofollow or sponsored links.

Who wins this category?

It's a tie. I rate both as a 5/10.

Both platforms only have paid newsletter memberships as native monetization options. That's okay and what most people might look for when using them.

I would rate them higher if there were selling digital products or advertisement options that weren't an SEO liability.

Growing tools

To finish, let's see how they compare to growth.

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

beehiiv has critical SEO flaws. I mean, it's really bad.

Here is a shortlist of things beehiiv websites don't have:

  • sitemaps;
  • robots.txt file;
  • custom URL;
  • custom meta description on a post-level;
  • nofollow links on the editor;
  • schema markup;
  • redirects;

Right now, using beehiiv is a massive SEO mistake.

They are so bad that you basically can't even use the foot of beehiiv because the homepage has a stupid infinite scroll. You can't reach the footer. This isn't an SEO flaw but shows that you can't even use that section to put affiliate or navigational links for users.

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

The discoverability of Substack pages has been a known problem for quite some time. As a result, there have been many things written about it online.

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“The only way a Substack grows is through tweets. I am like 85% serious when I say this.” - Casey Newton.

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 towards 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.

On top of that, discovering a Substack page via search engines is basically impossible, as Casey noted.

When I reviewed their SEO, I found the tool was awful. They don't have redirects, custom meta descriptions, nofollow and sponsored links, or canonical tags. These critical SEO flaws explain why it is challenging to grow a publication on Substack.

But at least they have:

  • custom URLs;
  • robots.txt file;
  • XML sitemap;
  • schema markup.

Who wins this category?

Ratings:

  • Substack: 4;
  • Beehiiv: 1.

Substack is below average for SEO, and famous writers complained about this over the years. However, I didn't see Substack make many improvements in this section in the past years, so they seem happy with how things stand. But if you ask any Substack user, they'll let you know how bad it is to grow a newsletter there.

As for beehiiv. Things are bad. They lack almost every SEO feature I consider important, so it will be 10 times worse to grow than Substack.

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 have multiple user logins.

Why avoid Beehiiv for your newsletter?

Their SEO is dreadful and you will have a basically impossible task to grow via search engines like Google. You will be spinning your wheel as they lack most essential SEO features.

Why use Substack for your newsletter?

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

From what you can see, they're integrating a blog, newsletter, podcast, and video publishing all in the same place. This gives you options.

Substack is the default option for non-technical people to create a newsletter. This is because it's so easy to start and is free. So, Substack is a good option for a paid newsletter and to grow an online audience.

Be aware of following their content guidelines and preparing yourself to work a lot to grow the newsletter, because growing via search engines is extremely hard.

Why avoid Substack for your newsletter?

Substack isn't the best for SEO. There are 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 other platforms.

Summary

Here are the final ratings for each platform using my custom checklist:

  • Beehiiv: 4.0;
  • Substack: 6.0.

Substack is a bit superior to beehiiv at this moment. They have a respectable reputation they have been building since 2017, and they are the default option to start a newsletter without code. It's easy to understand why.

Substack is easy to create an account, simple to use, and doesn't have distracting features. This is perfect for a beginner and someone wanting to focus on writing.

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. This is why Substack gets a 6. They are okay for some people but lack that extra power to be really good.

Beehiiv is a young platform created in 2021. However, they have created a good platform with many features that not even Substack has. For example, integrations. This is a massive feature that opens a world of possibilities.

However, their SEO is extremely poor at this stage. Their SEO is so poor that I even consider a 4.0 flattering to them. But as I'm using a formula, it gives me a little less bias because I really care about SEO, and otherwise, I would rate them lower than that.

If you want to create a newsletter that will be free forever, consider using Substack, but have in mind that you'll struggle to grow it without social media. For the ultimate experience, I recommend you use Ghost as it's the best hybrid platform for premium newsletters. After all, I rated it as an 8.8.