Starting a blog is like buying land – what are the three rules of real estate? Location, location, location. Launching a blog on the right platform will massively increase your chance of success. There are many options, but I am here to help you find the best science blogging platform for you.
I’ve been writing all over the internet since 2015, both casually and professionally. This article combines my years of experience with many hours of research to offer a comprehensive guide on where to start a science blog.
Note to non-science writers: Welcome! My website shares content for aspiring science writers. This guide to choosing the best science blogging platform will be helpful for anyone looking to start a blog. Most of what I cover here will be relevant to anyone starting a blog.
One issue with other blog platform guides is that they undervalue the structural differences between blogging strategies. Blogging networks, newsletters, and personal websites reward different types of content and are meant for kings of writers. Picking which website builder or newsletter distribution system is secondary to making sure you are traveling in the right direction.
There is no such thing as a “best” blogging platform for everyone. Each writer has their own goals, level of experience, and preferences. Before starting a science blog you should decide on your goals: why are you starting a science blog? Once you have a plan, it is time to figure out which blogging platform is right for you.
TL;DR: Picking a Blogging Platform to Start a Science Blog
There is a lot to picking the right blogging format, but here is the quick run-down for those who want a straightforward answer.
If you are new to writing on the internet, I recommend Medium. It is free, easy to use, and will help you reach an audience on the platform. It is hard to make money on the platform, but first time writers shouldn’t be focused on that. Medium is also fine for any writer who wants to keep things simple.
If you already have a following on the internet, I would recommend a newsletter tool like Substack. Newsletters are the easiest way to make money while writing online, though they are hard to grow without a base of loyal supporters.
Websites are best for people who are looking to get serious about writing online. There is a lot of busywork in the back end, but it is the best strategy if you want to take advantage of the power of search engines in building your personal brand or business.
Features to Consider When Deciding Where to Start a Science Blog
Each blogging platform has its strengths, weaknesses, and mechanics. Picking the best science blogging platform for you will make a massive difference in how successful you are. There is a lot to consider when choosing a platform, so we will focus on four broad topics.
Ease-of-use: how hard is it to start a blog? How hard is it to maintain it? These all fall under ease-of-use.
Distribution: it’s one thing to write a blog, but you also need to get people to read it. How easy is it to build and retain your audience?
Monetization: some people want to blog purely for fun, but others want to earn money or turn writing into a full-time gig. How easy is it to monetize your content? Video: Don’t Make Money Blogging
For Science Bloggers: how do these strategies fare specifically for science bloggers? Writing about technical subjects may be punished or rewarded depending on the platform. Article: What is science writing?
So how do these blogging platforms stack up?
Blogging Network (Medium)
What is a Blogging Network? What is Medium?
A blogging network describes a website designed for publishing blogs and connecting writers and readers. Anyone who signs up can write on the platform, and readers will be recommended content based on their interests. Simple as that!
These days there is only one blogging network worth considering when starting a science blog – Medium. There is a strong network effect – readers get value based on the number of writers, and writers get value based on the number of readers. If you want a blogging network, Medium is the only reasonable choice.
Medium is the easiest platform to use of the ones listed here. Anyone can set up a free account and get started writing within minutes. Paid accounts are $5 a month, which allows you to read any number of Medium articles and access the monetization function (more on that later).
The actual writing interface is easier to use than word processors like Word or Google Docs. It does a decent job of cutting out unnecessary features, meaning your content will be clean and readable. You can also include media such as videos, images, and audio.
While Medium’s distribution system makes things more complicated, this platform is the place to start by anyone easily spooked by tech.
Distribution on Medium
Quality articles published on Medium are selected for distribution. Selected posts are then recommended to readers who have read similar content. For example, a piece about environmental science education could be suggested to people interested in the environment, education, general science, or all of the above.
This may seem small, but Medium’s distribution system is a huge deal. It is a challenge to get anyone to read your writing when you first start. Medium helps you share your content with potential readers at no cost. Readers can also follow you, meaning they are more likely to see new content that you post.
What’s the catch? Medium is surprisingly strict. You need to follow the rules to maximize your distribution. By “rules,” I don’t just mean “don’t be racist” and “don’t harass people” – that hopefully goes without saying. Medium will only distribute your content if you follow Medium’s standards, such as:
- Adhering to copyright best practices
- Free of typos and errors
- Adding value to the reader
- Add links for your factual claims
- Reading experience (spacing, structure, readability)
Not only are these rules subjective, but you also get no feedback explaining why an article is turned down for distribution. There are also no do-overs. I’ve had posts I thought were strong get rejected for no apparent reason. It can be extremely frustrating.
As an example of the strange rules, this post was not distributed when it was published on Medium, likely because it critiques Medium itself. While I can understand why the platform works this way, it is annoying.
This distribution is also not scalable in my experience. Even if your post is distributed, you will likely get less than 100 Medium readers viewing your posts. Those followers that you worked so hard to attract? There is no guarantee they will see your articles.
(There is also a whole publications system, but let’s ignore that here)
Medium is paradoxical: simple to get started but hard to optimize. If you don’t want Medium’s help with distribution, there is greater freedom in what you can post. But this begs the question: why are you on Medium if you don’t want help with distribution?
If monetization is a priority for you, Medium is not a great choice. Writing on Medium is directly monetized – the service pays you based on the time other paid members spend reading your content. That may sound great, but there are a lot of caveats.
First off, the rates are not exciting. In my experience, approximately 10% of my readers were members, though this varied a lot. Since you only make money from paid Medium users, you get no money from attracting readers using social media or forums like Reddit (more precisely, you only get money from the visitors you attract who are also Medium users). You likely need to attract thousands of readers per month to just break even on the $5 monthly fee.
Here is where things get complicated – Medium will not distribute content that contains most kinds of monetization. No sponsored content, no Google ads integration, no solicitations to check out a product or service. While there might be some workarounds or exceptions, the platform is not friendly to most forms of monetization.
Medium for Science Bloggers
Medium’s user base tends to be attracted to specific topics. “Politics,” “technology,” and “writing” are popular topics. “Science” isn’t as strong, and specialties such as “biology,” “chemistry,” and “physics” are much weaker. The audience for niche science content is small, so set your expectations responsibly when getting started.
Tip – if you are still coming up with a topic to focus on, look around the platform and see what is doing well. Environment and climate change content perform OK. You could also cover your subject from a business/tech angle and hope to get broader circulation.
Writers looking to focus on specialized content will find it hard to get distributed. Highly technical content is unlikely to meet Medium’s standards. That doesn’t mean you can’t write on Medium – you can! You just won’t get distributed.
Overall Evaluation on Medium
Despite the limitations, Medium is the best place to start a science blog for most first-time bloggers. It’s great for people who just want to write, minimizing the time spent on set-up and distribution. Optimizing your platform use takes time and energy, but you can save that until later. This may not be the best science blogging platform long-term, but you can transition to another service once you hit a ceiling on Medium.
Newsletter (Substack, MailChimp, LinkedIn, etc.)
What is a Newsletter Blog?
Newsletters aren’t blogs, but they aren’t exactly not blogs. There is a growing group of creators who use newsletters like blogs. Not only is the content blog-like, but the writing can be available as a webpage, not just as an email. This new generation of newsletters is essentially a blog post in email format.
There are a ton of newsletter writing tools. Mailchimp, LinkedIn, Hubspot… even Medium has a newsletter function. When it comes to writing a blog-style newsletter, Substack is one of the most popular. It is free to use, offers flexible publishing tools, and already has a base of regular users. Where Substack shines is the monetization tools, but we will get to that later.
I will focus on Substack, as it is the most popular tool for this kind of content. It’s solid, but it isn’t perfect for every newsletter. If you think a newsletter is right for you, but Substack isn’t offering what you want, don’t be afraid to look at alternatives.
Newsletters are slightly more complicated to use than Medium. You have to set up a publication which should take you an hour or less. Once that is settled, you can start writing.
Blogging takes place in a minimalist text editor (this depends on the tool you are using, but most are relatively easy to operate). This is a similar difficulty level to a word processor. You can include some rich media, though things can become finicky. Certain email applications (I’m looking at you, Outlook) will chew up images and multimedia content. This takes a bit of getting used to but is not overly complicated.
The only substantial added challenge is managing your publication and your subscribers. Substack allows for paid subscriptions, and you control what the paid versus unpaid readers see. I’d recommend starting as entirely free and fiddling with paid settings only once you have a solid set of followers.
Audience development is the primary challenge of newsletter writers. No one logs into the internet saying, “I feel like I don’t get enough email. I’m going to go hunt down some newsletters and sign up!” Getting your newsletter in front of people requires a deliberate strategy.
What does it take to be successful as a newsletter writer? Having an existing following is the easiest route. Many top writers on Substack, particularly those in competitive categories, had some level of internet fame (or infamy) before they started on the platform. There are exceptions, but there is a clear and consistent pattern.
To state the obvious, a strong following can work just as well for other blogging platforms. Barack Obama writes on Medium and does quite well, as you probably expect! I emphasize this when discussing newsletter blogs because it is hard to launch a newsletter without a following.
Alternatively, you could find another distribution channel. For example, if you are active in forums like Reddit or Quora, you may be able to share your content there to gain interest. I wouldn’t recommend posting content without actively participating in the community. It is poor etiquette (and possibly against the rules) to use community boards as personal promotional space.
Does this mean you need half a million Twitter followers to start a newsletter? No, but it will be hard to develop momentum without some established connections or network. A few thousand followers on social media might be enough to get the ball rolling. It all depends on who your followers are, your comfort with self-promotion, and the quality of your newsletter.
What about search engines? Can my newsletter be found on Google? Kinda. Google will only see the landing page of a traditional newsletter. In the case of Substack, your newsletter landing page and individual posts can show up on Google, though they may not perform well. Subscriber-only posts are going to be virtually invisible to Google. I won’t say definitively that search engines are a dead-end for growing your newsletter, but they are certainly not easy street.
On the other hand, you have better ownership of the audience you generate. Every subscriber will receive your newsletter when it comes out. There is no guarantee that a follower on Medium will see your content.
Substack has an easy-to-use subscription tool built right into the platform. This isn’t available on every newsletter platform, but you can use Patreon instead. These tools are flexible and can be implemented whenever you want.
Of course, just because it is simple to turn on monetization doesn’t mean you will generate income. You have to deliver high-value content for people to be willing to pay for your newsletter. This is doable if you are a world expert in a niche topic, but you will need to put in the work to prove that you are worth the investment.
What if I want to make money through a mechanism other than a subscription? Totally possible. Feel free to write sponsored posts, including advertisements, or promote a product or service. Some of these are easier to achieve than others, but you certainly have options.
Newsletters for Science Bloggers
I don’t think newsletters are the best science blogging platform. It is relatively easy to write the best blog post on the internet on a niche topic, which allows you to generate a slow trickle of Google traffic. You can build an audience from this search traffic with commitment and perseverance. Newsletters are not optimized for search engines, so you cut yourself off from one of your most accessible paths to growth.
There are exceptions, though. Newsletters are excellent for time-sensitive content. A weekly news round-up for sectors such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, or electric vehicles would work well! Alternatively, you could write a biweekly analysis of a recent journal article in your field.
If you don’t have a reason to use the newsletter format, I would advise against it for science bloggers.
Overall Evaluation on Newsletters
I don’t think a newsletter is the best place to start for someone writing on the internet. Building an audience is one of the most challenging parts of blogging. Why would you set yourself up at a disadvantage?
On the other hand, if you do have a reason to use the newsletter format, go for it. Plenty of people successfully use the format, and it is the easiest to monetize. You can switch to Medium or a website later if you have a hard time building an audience.
Website (WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, etc.)
What is a Personal Website Blog?
Want to get serious about blogging? Start a personal website. You get complete control of how your blog looks, how it is monetized, and how it is distributed. This also makes it easier to connect your content to a broader project, such as building a personal brand, supporting a business, or supporting a cause.
Of course, having complete control isn’t all upside. You control everything the page structure, the fonts, the navigation… everything! Website builders simplify the job substantially, but they still require legwork.
There are lots of options for building websites these days. I’ve used both WordPress and Squarespace – I prefer WordPress, though Squarespace is slightly better for beginners (in my opinion). GoDaddy is fine for hosting. I had one brief encounter with GoDaddy’s website design tool and hated it, but I may have been using it wrong. I have no experience with Wix, Weebly, or other website-building tools.
Comparing website builders is beyond the scope of this review. There are lots of great guides for picking a website builder, so here are a few to check out:
- Squarespace vs. WordPress – Style Factory
- 5 WordPress Alternatives – Themeisle
- 10 Best Website Builders of 2022 – Forbes
Full disclosure: I prefer writing on my website over newsletter services or Medium. I believe there are merits to each model, but I will admit that I am slightly biased. Take that as you will!
Ease-of-Use of Personal Website Blogs
Building a personal website is both:
a) easier than you think it is
b) harder than other approaches to blogging
You do not need to know how to code to start a website. Seriously. I know zero code and I can operate this website by myself. Coding knowledge is clearly an advantage when building a site, but it is unnecessary.
So, if coding isn’t a concern, what’s the issue? Website builders still have a learning curve. You need to figure out what the buttons do and assemble things correctly. Even writing blog posts on a personal website requires more time. You can keep your website simple, but this will still be more complicated than a Medium blog or newsletter.
Not only are websites more difficult to use, but they are also more expensive! Most website platforms offer a free option that you can use to get started, but I wouldn’t recommend these. They only include limited functionality and don’t use a separate domain. You will probably need to spend about $100 per year on hosting plus website builder tools. These prices are modest, but they are still higher than the $0 cost of newsletters or Medium.
Since we are on the topic of money, it is worth mentioning that you can pay someone else to build your website for you. This is a solid solution for an expert who wants a professional website but doesn’t have the time to learn how to set it up. I’ve never used these services personally, but I imagine a simple website would cost less than $1,000. You will still need to learn some basics to operate the website without breaking it, but it should be fairly easy.
Personal Website Distribution
One of the primary mechanisms for attracting an audience to your website will be with the help of Google. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a massive topic, but here is a quick step-by-step on how you can build traffic through organic search.
- Your write about your topic of interest.
- Traffic comes to your website from Google.
- You see which search terms and topics generate Google traffic.
- You write new content based on information from step 3.
- Return to step 2.
What makes this system powerful is your website is gaining authority over time. You are attracting links from other websites (also known as backlinks), and Google recognizes your website as an expert on a topic. With hard work and strategic choices, you will be able to generate a steady stream of traffic.
This type of growth isn’t possible when using a newsletter platform or Medium. Google will have a harder time recognizing your user profile. It is better at parsing websites, as they fit within a specific domain.
I should note that WordPress has a WordPress reader feed that distributes your content to readers. I’m not clear how it works or how popular it is. It is unlikely to be a scalable path to growth, but it does generate a handful of visitors to my blog.
Monetization of Personal Websites
Monetization options are one of the most compelling reasons to start a website. Want to run a subscription model? That is possible. Donations? Also available. What about promoting a product or service? Totally. Sponsored content? Google ads? Affiliate links? Creator coins? Absolutely! It’s all fair game as long as you aren’t breaking the law.
What’s the catch? Aside from needing to convince people to give you money, you also need to get these tools working. Both Medium and newsletters had monetization options built directly into the platform, allowing you to turn it on any time you wanted. Adding an eCommerce function to your website is a major responsibility.
It is worth emphasizing the opportunity to promote a product or service. Content marketing is a popular, scalable, and profitable mechanism for driving traffic to your website and growing sales. A top-tier quality blog is a superb way to market your business.
Personal Websites for Science Blogs
Personal websites are a superb fit for science bloggers. Here are a few of the reasons:
Selling a product: a quality blog will win you a handful of long-tail keywords related to what you are selling. Depending on the area, you may be able to push your product to the top of Google results with minimal effort.
Personal branding: do you want to be the “algae-based biofuel guy”? Or the “lithium battery recycling lady”? Websites offer an excellent opportunity to carve out a specific topic. Anyone with an MSc or higher is a world expert in something, so take advantage of that!
Consulting: Some may scoff at consulting, but expert consultants in niche areas are in demand. A personal blog displays your mastery of a topic while helping you stay sharp on the day’s news.
If you don’t feel ready to take on a personal website, it is fine to start on another platform. Get going on Medium first. Once you get into a rhythm, you can buy a website, start building it, and launch it as a simple bio page. From there, it can grow into whatever you want.
I think most young professionals should have a website, and this is especially true of scientists and science writers.
Overall Evaluation of Personal Websites
Personal websites are the ultimate in personal blogging. They offer the most power, but that comes with plenty of responsibility.
First-time bloggers should not start on a personal website. There is too much to learn at once. Even the most minimal personal blog will be fussier than Medium or a newsletter tool. You can dive right into the deep end if you want, but be prepared to put in the time and effort to figure out what you are doing.
A couple of months of experience regularly writing on the internet should give you the foundation to start working on a personal website.
What about using multiple platforms, maximizing the benefits of multiple channels? This is possible and has many benefits. For example, you could take advantage of the monetization options on a personal website but use the distribution benefits of Medium. Not only that, you get to claim more online real estate! Seems like all upside, right?
Operating cross-platform is more complicated than it looks. Loading up content onto a second website is tedious and time-consuming. Novice bloggers should focus their attention on creating quality content and distributing that content, which means limiting the time spent on backend issues. By adding a second platform you are effectively doubling the time that needs to be spent on the backend.
Another concern is getting mixed messages on performance. The content that works best on Medium, newsletters, or personal websites is slightly different. For example, “evergreen” content (content meant to always be relevant) works well on personal websites, OK on Medium, and not as well in newsletters. Using both a newsletter and a website will give mixed messages on whether to publish evergreen content.
It is also worth mentioning that success or growth on one platform may not translate to a second. This is especially true if you want people to follow you to Medium – followers who follow a newsletter or website will not create a Medium account to see the same content. Converting website visitors into newsletter subscribers also isn’t trivial.
I strongly recommend sticking to one platform if you are a beginner. FOMO is real, but stay focused. Duplicating content on another platform may sound easy, but it is more hassle than expected. Get things operational on one platform, develop a rhythm, and add a second once you know what you want from a secondary platform.
Final Thoughts on Best Science Blogging Platforms
Blogging is fulfilling, flexible, and powerful. Finding the best platform for your blog is essential for its success. There is a lot to consider, but some reflection on your experience and what you want to accomplish will simplify your decision.
Up next? Time to pick your science blog topic.
Do you still have questions about where to start a blog? Be sure to hit me up in the comments or reach out to me by email, and I can give you some advice. You can also sign up for my newsletter to see when new articles go live to get more advice on starting blogs and science writing.