15 min read

Substack vs MailerLite: the pros & cons for newsletters

Substack vs MailerLite: the pros & cons for newsletters

Deciding between Substack vs MailerLite can feel like hitting a crossroads, with each one promising different perks.

You might be scratching your head over Substack's ease of use or MailerLite's advanced features.

And let's not even get started on pricing! But worry not, I'll help you decide which one is better for you.

In this article, you will find how they compare on customization, pricing, ways to monetize your content, SEO, and more.

My name is Tiago Silva, and I am a content creator who has been sharing my experience since 2020. My goal is to give you the best info to help you pick the right tool for your newsletter, while I write about something I enjoy.

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Affiliate Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links. My content is supported by readers like you. So if you buy after clicking on a link, I get a commission without costing you extra. šŸ˜Š

Substack vs MailerLite Summary

The main difference is that MailerLite has much better customization and tools to help grow a newsletter, while Substack has a free-forever plan and is better to publish a newsletter and blog using only 1 tool.

The main similarity is that both Substack and MailerLite are good tools for beginners thanks to their affordable prices and ease of use.

MailerLite is fantastic value due to its low prices and great tools for publishing a newsletter. And if you have a blog/site using a tool like WordPress, MailerLite can do wonders due to its integrations.

Substack is a unique tool because you can use it to publish a blog, newsletter, podcast, and create a community, without any technical knowledge required.

You can see this as a dream or nightmare: dream because it's unique, a nightmare because Substack is not the best at any of those things.

So, let's put Substack vs MailerLite in different categories to see how they stack against each other.

More customizable
MailerLite
  • Content creation: 8.2
  • Customization: 10
  • SEO: 6.3
  • Growth tools: 7.8
  • Management: 7.5
  • Monetization: 6.5
  • Overall Rating: 8.5
Free forever plan
Substack
  • Content creation: 5.2
  • Customization: 4.3
  • SEO: 7.5
  • Growth tools: 4.8
  • Management: 9.0
  • Monetization: 4.8
  • Overall Rating: 6.7

MailerLite overview

MailerLite is one of the cheaper options to run a newsletter in the market.

This service has been around since 2005 and has great customization while still being easy to use.

In recent times, it has also been improving as a blogging tool, making it easier for creators to publish their content from a single platform.

MailerLite is the email service I use for my newsletter!

Things I like about MailerLite:

  • Great free plan (up to 1,000 subscribers);
  • Email automation;
  • Great templates and customization options (with and without code);
  • Multiple newsletters in the same account.
  • Good email analytics;
  • Integrations;
  • 0% fees;

Things I don't like about MailerLite:

  • Blogging capabilities need improvement;
  • Paid memberships has flaws;
  • Requires physical address to enable sending.
  • Incomplete SEO features;

Substack overview

Substack is mainly a newsletter tool, but they are trying to become a place to publish all kinds of content like a blog, podcast, chat with subscribers, and they even have a Twitter "clone" called Notes.

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.

Things I like about Substack:

  • Free forever plan;
  • Do everything without code;
  • Good safety record;
  • Publish different types of content (newsletter, blog, podcast, and more);
  • Easy to use.

Things I don't like about Substack:

  • 10% in membership fees;
  • Bad SEO;
  • Custom domain costs $50;
  • No integrations;
  • No email sequences;
  • Awful customization;
  • Complicated content guidelines (you have to follow their rules or risk getting banned).

Content Creation

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

Content creation experience on Substack

Content creation on Substack is simple.

And this comes with some Pros & Cons...

The editor has a minimalist layout with few settings at the top and nothing else on the way.

This makes it pleasant to look at and won't distract you when writing.

Substack editor to write posts and publish content.

This is a dream for beginners because it's easy to learn and use. But advanced users will struggle!

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 and is too complicated for a thing that should be available by default.

And for me, this is a big turn-off about writing on Substack. As a creator, I need the ability to add custom HTML, CSS, and inject JavaScript into some of my posts.

I need these things for embedding forms, making tables, and writing code for sponsored tags.

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

This is an SEO problem!

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.

Other important things missing on Substack are:

  • Exclusive email content;
  • Content toggles;
  • Saving content as reusable blocks.

Content Creation Experience on MailerLite

MailerLite gives a lot of versatility to its creators, offering three different editors to work with:

  • Drag & Drop Editor: similar to most Drag & Drop editors from major platforms like WordPress, and Squarespace, and is super easy to use.
  • Rich-text Editor: lets you write a newsletter with only text, allowing you to focus on just writing.
  • Custom HTML Editor: this lets you create a newsletter from scratch exactly as you want with code.

For most people, the Drag & Drop Editor is the right decision. It will give you the right combination of flexibility, customization, and easy of use.

Dashboard of MailerLiteā€™s editor.
MailerLiteā€™s drag-and-drop editor.

I love the variety of blocks in the MailerLite editor.

They have lots of hero section options with buttons, and images, grid layouts, e-commerce products, and much more.

Whether you want a simple and clean newsletter that is mostly text or a more complete one that will make any serious business proud, MailerLite has your back!

Yet, I must warn you that sometimes MailerLite has some glitches with keyboard shortcuts or when you want to move text around. To avoid those things, I prefer to write in another tool and paste the final product before sending my newsletter.

Content Creation Category winner

MailerLite totally takes the crown When it comes to content creation versus Substack!

MailerLite can handle custom code, which means you get to flex your creative muscles way more.

While Substack keeps it simple, MailerLite lets you dig into the nitty-gritty and make your content exactly how you picture it (if you want).

This lets you do things like adding forms, tables, and a lot more.

All in all, MailerLite is the best choice for creators who desire creative freedom!

Customization

Next comes customization and design.

Customization on Substack

Substack's customization summary:

  • Newsletter templates: No;
  • Newsletter customization options: Basically none;
  • Website themes: Yes, but very limited;
  • Possibility to buy a theme from a 3rd-party or create one with a custom code: Only the Tripoli theme from Aspire Themes is available.

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.

Substack customization options.
Substack site customization options.

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 (apart from 1 exception).

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

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

Customization on MailerLite

MailerLite's customization summary:

  • Newsletter templates: Yes;
  • Newsletter customization options: Great and easy to use;
  • Website themes: Yes;
  • Possibility to buy a theme from a 3rd-party or create one with custom code: Yes, possible to create theme with custom HTML.

MailerLite has amazing customization options. You can basically do anything you want with your newsletters!

Their template gallery has many templates to choose from, and itā€™s easy to like at least one of the designs.

Sample list of the templates offered by MailerLite.
Email templates on MailerLite

As a MailerLite user, I picked a template and customized it to my style. This saved me a lot of time instead of creating everything from scratch.

Changing a template is super easy to do with the Drag & Drop Editor and allows everyone to express their creativity without effort.

You can also save the templates for future use, saving time and effort to send future newsletters. I love this part as a MailerLite user!

Customization winner

MailerLite has great customization, while Substack sucks!

MailerLite's got a bunch of cool templates that are not only good-looking but also flexible.

This customization flexibility lets you make your newsletters unique.

On the other hand, Substack is kinda basic.

It only lets you change simple stuff, which can be a snooze fest if you're trying to stand out.

MailerLite lets you play with custom HTML. This means that if you have the skills, you can do a lot of cool stuff!

Pricing

Now comes the cost of each tool.

Substack pricing

Substack pricing summary:

  • Free plan: Yes, Substack has free forever plan;
  • Cheaper paid plan: 10% of the revenue charged via memberships;

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

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

Page showing the pricing information for Substack.
Pricing information for Substack.

But this model is problematic.

On one side, you can use Substack for free forever! If 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.

On the other side, 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 you pay for Substack.

Because of this, creators look for Substack alternatives that are much cheaper.

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 outrageous!

You get the same service, the same platform, and the same benefits.

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.

So, I ask you to consider if it makes sense to pay these fees.

MailerLite pricing

MailerLite pricing summary:

  • Free plan: Yes, up to 1000 subscribers;
  • Cheaper paid plan: $9/month (paid annually);

Like other emailing tools, MailerLite also has different plans to choose from.

In MailerLite, you can start with the free plan, which doesn't have many limitations beyond the number of subscribers.

This is a great deal for beginners because they can start a newsletter using a great tool like MailerLite without spending a fortune.

Pricing page on MailerLiteā€™s website.
Pricing page on MailerLiteā€™s website as of November

After that, the cheaper paid plan starts at only $9 per month. This will give additional features like the auto resend campaign and the option to sell digital products.

The Advanced Plan unlocks the custom HTML editor and a 15% discount on Google Workspace, just to name a few of the perks.

The pricing is pretty upfront and easy to understand: the more subscribers you have, the more you have to pay.

But MailerLite is still cheaper than most newsletter tools in the market.

Pricing category winner

I like MailerLite's pricing model more than Substack's.

MailerLite is more affordable for most people because prices donā€™t escalate so fast when you get more subscribers.

However, I have to admit that the Substack free forever plan is very good.

People who are only starting a newsletter as a hobby without the intention of monetizing should pick Substack because it will be free even when you get a lot of subscribers.

Monetization

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

Monetization options on Substack

Monetization options on Substack:

  • Memberships: Yes
  • Display ads (Programmatic advertisement like Adsense): No;
  • e-Commerce / Digital products: No;
  • Sponsorships/ Marketplace ads: No;
  • Donations/ Tips: No;
  • Manual embed ads on content: Yes;
  • Affiliate marketing: Yes.
Substack dashboard to connect with Stripe.
Monetization settings on Substack to connect to Stripe

Substack is designed for you to "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.

Monetization on MailerLite

Monetization options on MailerLite:

  • Memberships: Yes;
  • Display ads (Programmatic advertisement like Adsense): No;
  • e-Commerce / Digital products: Yes;
  • Sponsorships/ Marketplace ads: No;
  • Donations/ Tips: No;
  • Manual embed ads on content: Yes;
  • Affiliate marketing: Yes;

MailerLite has many monetization options for creators.

I would say that ML is similar to ConvertKit by allowing you to sell any kind of digital product (paid newsletters, e-books, courses, etc.). You can set up those as a subscription or a 1-time purchase.

Selling digital products on MailterLite.
MailerLiteā€™s selling digital products

The most commonly used method of selling digital products is a paid newsletter, where subscribers have to pay to receive the content, similar to how it works on Substack or Ghost.

However, what is noticeably missing in MailerLite is an advertisement network.

You can still put ads in your newsletter, but you will have to be the one chasing sponsorships because MailerLite doesn't have a native Ad Network.

Monetization category winner

MailerLite has more and better monetization options than Substack.

Monetizing options on MailerLite include memberships and selling digital products. But paid memberships need some improvements.

Substack is pretty much a one-trick pony: paid memberships.

I know you can have ads on Substack, but those have some 'risks', so I consider it a workaround rather than an option available by default.

SEO

Now, I want to analyze the search engine optimization (SEO) of these tools.

Substack SEO

Important SEO features checklist for Substack:

  • Custom domain: Yes;
  • HTTPS: Yes;
  • URL slug customization: Yes;
  • Meta description: Yes;
  • Sitemap: Yes;
  • Canonical tags: Yes;
  • Redirects: No;
  • Robots.txt: Yes;
  • Website speed: Yes, website speed is good;

On paper, Substack's SEO looks okay and enough to find success.

But the reality is far different...

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

Speed test for a website using Substack using GTmetrix.
GTmetrix speed test results for a website using Substack.

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

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:

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

To illustrate how bad is Substack's SEO, I have a question for you:
Have you seen a Substack publication on Google results without using the word "Substack" in the search?

I never saw or remember seeing one!

This might sound like anecdotal evidence, but I've been doing research on publishing tools for creators since 2021, so this doesn't look good for Substack users.

MailerLite SEO

Important SEO features checklist for MailerLite:

  • Custom domain: Yes;
  • HTTPS: Yes;
  • URL slug customization: Yes;
  • Meta description customization: Only for home page;
  • Sitemap: No;
  • Canonical tags: No;
  • Redirects: No;
  • Robots.txt: No;
  • Website speed: Good;

MailerLite has a lot to catch up on in terms of SEO.

To be fair, MailerLite is mainly a newsletter tool, so they didn't need to have good SEO to be a great service.

However, they have introduced some blogging capabilities to MailerLite. This will make it possible for creators to use MailerLite as a newsletter and blog, similar to Substack.

And similar to Substack, MailerLite leaves a lot to be desired regarding SEO.

MailerLite-landing-page-speed-test-the-stack-junction

MailerLiteā€™s speed test using GTmetrix.
MailerLiteā€™s speed test

From what I can see, MailerLite doesn't have the tools needed for a creator to make a blog and find success ranking well on search engines.

MailerLite doesn't have important things like redirects, let us define canonical tags, and a lot more.

At the moment, MailerLite SEO only has the bare bones.

SEO category winner

Picking the best SEO tools between Substack and MailerLite is like picking a not-so-bad option.

Substack isn't exactly an SEO powerhouse, far from it! But MailerLite is still worse regarding SEO.

I don't think you can expect any kind of success with either tool.

At least, Substack has meta descriptions, sitemaps, and canonical tags.

While MailerLite is missing some of the basicsā€”no sitemap, no robots.txt, and no canonical tagsā€”stuff you need for SEO

Growth

Let's compare the tools when it comes to growth tools. These are the small marketing things that can have a big impact on the business.

Substack growth tools

Substack's most important Growth tools checklist:

  • Plugins/integrations: No;
  • Automated email sequences: No;
  • Referral program: No;
  • Subscriber segmentation: Limited (only segments between free and paid);
  • Custom sending domain: No;
  • A/B testing (titles): No;
  • RSS feed: Yes;

Growing a Substack publication is the biggest problem since forever...

And when you look at the things I consider important to growth, you can understand why.

Substack doesn't have email automation, no integrations, and no A/B testing email titles.

However, to counter these flaws, Substack created an internal discovery tool from its homepage.

But, Substack is incentivized to list the most popular newsletters with the most subscribers.

Substack dashboard showing featured sites with discovery tool.
Substack dashboard of discovery tool

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.

MailerLite growth tools

MailerLite's most important Growth tools checklist:

  • Plugins/integrations: Yes;
  • Automated email sequences: Yes;
  • Referral program: Yes, with integration;
  • Subscriber segmentation: Yes;
  • Custom sending domain: No;
  • A/B testing (titles): Yes;
  • RSS feed: Yes;

MailerLite growth capabilities are impressive.

The thing I like the most is their automated email sequences. This lets you create welcome email sequences where you can introduce yourself to new subscribers over the first days. Or even send abandoned cart emails to remind people about products they where thinking about but didn't buy.

You can use these automations for a gazillion of things!

MailerLite demo image of the flow for an email sequence.
MailerLite demo on an email sequence

MailerLite also has a massive list of integrations, allowing you to use it in combination with other tools. For example, I use Ghost and MailerLite together. But you can integrate MailerLite with Shopify or even WordPress.

All those things, plus other small features, make it easier to grow the newsletter subscriber count.

Growth category winner

MailerLite is better than Substack when it comes to growing a newsletter.

MailerLite has automated email sequences, which lets you create welcome emails or help sell products.

Plus, MailerLite allows integrations via API with your favorite apps and websites. This will open the door to many possibilities.

On the opposite corner you will have Substack with almost no 'growth tools', other than their site where they hope to have people read several newsletters to help with growth.

Final Thoughts

MailerLite and Substack are 2 very different tools, as you just saw in this comparison.

MailerLite is more suited for creators who want a great newsletter tool, especially if you want to have a site/blog using a different option like WordPress or Ghost.

With great customization and an affordable price, MailerLite is a fantastic email service for creative people.

Substack will be more suited for creators who want to use the same tool for their newsletter and 'blog'.

Substack also has some built-in community features, which reinforces its motto of being the tool to publish all kinds of content.

I don't think Substack is the best at any particular thing, but they certainly are a unique option.

Between Substack and MailerLite, I consider MailerLite the best newsletter tool.

More customizable
MailerLite
  • Content creation: 8.2
  • Customization: 10
  • SEO: 6.3
  • Growth tools: 7.8
  • Management: 7.5
  • Monetization: 6.5
  • Overall Rating: 8.5
Free forever plan
Substack
  • Content creation: 5.2
  • Customization: 4.3
  • SEO: 7.5
  • Growth tools: 4.8
  • Management: 9.0
  • Monetization: 4.8
  • Overall Rating: 6.7