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My experience with blogs, websites and my posts

Writing is a good way to evolve your career. You can go deep in studies you are doing, can generate content to people that may be needing a more friendly view and it is a good way to gain visibility (thinking in future jobs). Once you decided to start a new blog, a doubt pops up: where am I going to post this content?

The question “should I make my own website or use Medium” is becoming more and more common. This is a valid question that more often then not is answered only by simple statements. This week I answered this question to a person on Telegram and I wrote so many things to make my point that I decided to write this text to tell how was my story with Medium, the changes I made and what I think about all this.

My first steps as a “writer”

Three years ago, when I decided to write my first post telling how I changed careers, I had never thought about writing technical texts or use this to increase my knowledge. I just had a basic need to tell my story somewhere. I discovered the Medium platform and I thought it was perfect for what I needed: a place to put my post. No burocracy, no problem thinking about blog names, nothing. Just signup and write.

My post was vastly shared by friends and lots of people told me they liked the way I write. I spent good time writing posts on Medium, without ever questioning if I should do anything different. The platform gave me everything I needed: it was easy to write, I could share drafts with my friends and I could see how many people viewed my posts. And more: the platform itself helped me share my posts with other people that wanted contents such as mine.

Statistics available in Medium: number of views, number of people that read the text, the ratio of people that read it and the number of fans.

In this way I find the Medium awesome. It is extremely easy for people with little technical skills and people that don’t want to think a lot about sites, tools and access. It is a place to write. Simple, easy and quick.

The change

Happens that, in the middle of the way, I realized that Medium started to change its goals. Some posts were blocked now, you couldn’t access posts unless you were logged in and this were starting to not make sense to me. I was writing posts for people to see, with no strings attached. I really didn’t want anyone being blocked from the contect I produced by someone else.

Image of Medium that blocks content from users

I already had a prototype of site to put the links of my texts (and test my ridiculous abilities with HTML and CSS), but I started to think that it would make more sense to also let my content in my website. At this time I saw a post from Luciano Ramalho on why every person should have their own website on the internet. I would like to highlight a phrase in particular:

“If everybody starts to create their own website, we will start the long and essential process of taking back the control of the Web: the Web is ours to use it as we like, and not to be controlled by half dozen of mega industries with their opaques algorithms.”

So I made the decision to create a new website that allowed me to store my own content. I also decided to take all my posts from the Medium. I wrote a text explaining some of my reasons and letting people know that my texts would only be available in my personal website. I also removed the content from the posts that were not related to a publication (such as Hackernoon or Coletividad) and I added the link for the full post in my website. Here is an example on how an old post that was originally written in Medium and later removed to my website:

The note I left on each post of my Medium that I removed the content

This demanded a lot of work. However, I didn’t want a duplicated content on my website, which would mean that it would go far away from the Google research, for instance.

Building my first site

I used the template Hydeout from Jekyll Themes for my first version of my webiste with content. Jekyll uses Ruby underneath it and Markdown for writing the blog posts. There are several beautiful themes to choose and many tutorials on how to host the webiste on Github Pages, so that was a great choice for me. Besides I had the help of my dear Jessica Temporal que that even has a post (in portuguese) on how to publish a website from theme to deploy. And that’s how, on September 7th of 2017 I launched the first version of my website.

There are alternatives for Jekyll such as Pelican with Python and Hugo with Go. Besides Wordpress and Dokuwiki that demands even less knowledge of programming. Strictly speaking, creating your own website is easier that you would think at first. And many of them already prepare a cool link for you to access you site. You don’t even need to spend money on this. Github Pages, for instance, takes the name of your repository and adds it to this link: <repositoryname>.github.io.

In my case, I bought my domain leportella.com on Namecheap. I find this platform very simple and efficient. I recommend it.

With my Jekyll website I also added a tag from Google Analytics, which allowed me to have several information regarding people accessing my website. This was the number of access in the first 10 months after changing from Medium:

Statistics of users per day, week and month on the first 10 months after I changed my posts from Medium to my site (7/9/17 a 31/7/18)

As you can see, I noticed a growth in the number of people accessing my site, with an estimated peak of 3342 people in a month. And it was nice to notice that most of them were from organic searches:

Access origin: dark blues means organic searches

Only considering this I already think I had a huge advantage: I had much more information regarding my users. I was able to see information in different periods of time, which countries were accessing my content and much more.

Building the second version

Even though I was loving my site, I started to realized it was not practical for people to find an old post. I have pagination, and it-was-slow. It was time for a change. I found the theme Sleek that seemed to gave everything I wanted: infinite scroll on the posts, a simple model and space for images, making it more interesting.

Along all this, the template already had a plugin for SEO. Changing from one theme to another was way easier then what I expected. I had to change some configuration files and, because Sleek has posts based on images, I needed to add an image for each post. I used Pexels to find images legally available. It took me around 2 days and the second version was launched on August 24th of 2018.

In the mean time, I was writing more and more posts, gathering more contents on my site. The combo good template + SEO plugin + posts in both languages gave a better result then I could ever expect. Today, my site has over 6 thousand access per month, most of them (over 80%) by organic searches.

Statistics of users per day, week and month 2 months before changing the site version (1/4/18 to 31/7/18) and after changing to the new version (after 24/8/18)

Thus, for me, changing from Medium to my personal site was a positive change. I had more control over the acesses and the best: I don’t depend on a huge centrilized platform to achieve the goals I have with my content.

But… what about Medium?

Recently I started again to write posts on medium. The publications of my podcast Pizza de Dados is there and I am also writing texts for the Data Bootcamp. As I said before, Medium is a great platform for reaching a lot of people in a simple way, so it is kind of impossible to completly out of it. What I do is to create posts in my website that redirects to my post that is in other platforms and also to translate my posts and put the english versions in my site.

My native language is not english. In which language should I write?

This is another recurring question: in which language should you write? I try, to the maximum, to make texts available both in Portuguese AND English. I like having content in Portuguese to help democratize the knowledge for countless people who do not speak English. I find this extremely important to improve our country, even if it does not generate the same amount of views. On the other hand, texts in English generate more visibility because they can be accessed from all over the world. This is a fact. At the moment I am living abroad and writing texts in English can help me gain visibility in a market I do not know much about, so I have prioritized this language first, normally.

So what is your purpose of your texts? What audience do you want to reach? If you can not choose both and if you have no plans to leave your origin country my suggestion is: do in your native language. Lets help increase the technical content of our own country and help those who didn’t have opportunities to learn another language :)

And if you think that does not make any difference, even though I have half of my texts in English, Brazil accounts for almost 40% of my hits:

Sessions by country

Your site as your “personal corner”

One thing I enjoyed doing on my personal site, besides the texts, was writing a resume session the way I wanted it to be. Forget single page resume or your LinkedIn profile. What would you like to have on your resume?

In my case, I added lectures, workshops and webinars that I gave, a session with podcasts that I participated, open source projects I contribute and even a session that talks about what people have written about me and my work.

You are more than what a resume shows. And you must have a space to put the things that are relevant to you, not necessarily the companies. It’s like “your little corner of success.” Do not be ashamed of it.

Ok… but which platform should I choose?

The choice remains difficult. Having a personal website gives a lot more work and requires looking for tutorials on the internet (and sometimes even a little technical knowledge). If your goal is just writing for writing (without much philosophical questioning on it), if it’s just to have a portfolio and generate visualizations to leverage your career, I would go with Medium.

Now, if you plan to have a “little corner of yours” on the internet, you want your content to be freely accessed and you have more control over what happens with it, I would make a personal website.

But see: regardless of which you choose you can always change your mind later. I changed. You have no obligation to choose the tool you will use for the rest of your life. You can use one to leverage another, too! Put some of the text in Medium redirecting to the full version on your site and vice versa. Deep down, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to create content, increase your knowledge, share learning and generate value for society as a whole. No matter where that happens.