Why I Chose Hugo for My Personal Website

Technology

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jotham.lim

Having my own website is essential to me.

Being an online lurker for so long, I have often regretted not contributing more to the internet space rather than just passive consumption . However, I disliked the idea of posting on social media and contributing towards data-hungry big tech corporations.

Hence, building a site on a custom domain is my way of carving out a small slice of the internet I can call my own.

I have tried many other platforms in the past (read below), but Hugo fits my current needs for now.

Hugo: My Current CMS of Choice

To be honest, I LOVE the platform! Here are a few reasons why:

  • Hugo is blazingly fast. Hugo’s rendering speed is measured in milliseconds. I’ve seen full-blown websites being generated faster than a pro CS gamer clicking heads. SEO benefits aside, I just like how snappy the website is, which reminds me of the great UI/UX of many Mac apps.
  • Makes me feel like a badass. I love the idea of tinkering around Git, HTML/YAML files & using the terminal despite not being a programmer. Yet, Hugo is very accessible even to non-technical people if you follow the instructions carefully and understand what’s going on.
  • Obsidian is a core part of my daily life. Hugo uses markdown files, which I can load into my vault. With a git community plugin, I can publish content easily without leaving Obsidian!
  • It’s free to set up. By hosting HUGO on Cloudflare Pages and using analytics tracking tools like Umami, I don’t have to pay a single penny beyond purchasing a domain name. (Highly recommend Namecheap.)
  • There’s endless opportunities for tinkering. With thousands of free, open-source themes on Github, I can change the look and style of my site quickly without migrating the entire site.
  • I like publishing pure text blog posts. Hugo has plenty of themes that are built for this. Many other platforms are designed in such a way that requires some level of commitment for images — even if it’s a quick royalty-free one. I’m a writer, not a designer.

But there are a few minor annoyances with the platform as well.

  • A mid-high learning curve. I can see why Hugo can be intimidating for many people. It still took me a while to understand how to set everything up. Sure, I can build a HUGO website in less than 2 minutes, but it takes a lot of troubleshooting to get it the way I want it.
  • There’s no default email-newsletter support. This feature comes by default on platforms like Ghost, Beehiiv or Substack. But it is entirely possible to create an RSS to email newsletter system. I heard good things about Brevo.

Hugo is the latest — but by no means the only website creation platform I’ve used. Here are the other options that I’ve tried in chronological order.

Notion & Super.so

Story

Mid-way through the pandemic, Notion had upturned how I created content, which at that point was primarily Google Docs. Beyond quickly organising and creating professional-looking documents, it allowed users to share documents publicly.

Naturally, I created my first personal website with it. This opened the doors to Notion → website translation services such as super.so. Since then, Notion has introduced their own “Sites” feature.

What I like

Notion really knows how to strike a fine balance between customisation & ease-of-use.

The way it handles images, text and page navigation… It opened up many doors that were previously tedious, cumbersome and impossible in traditional word processors.

It’s very easy for users to create a nice-looking website without any prior technical knowledge, which led me down the rabbit hole I’m currently in.

What I disliked

The reason I stopped using Notion has less to do with it being a terrible CMS, and more to do with problems with Notion as a PKM in itself.

It requires an internet connection. It’s powerful, but also bloated. Pages took a long time to load. I no longer enjoyed writing on Notion, and have since moved to other writing tools.

As a CMS, Notion’s SEO and website loading speed is not great. It wasn’t designed to be a website creation tool after all. But the real deal-breaker was the lack of custom domain support. It defeats the whole “carve out a corner of the internet” point of me starting a website.

Substack & Ghost

Story

At this point, I’ve learned about the importance of audience ownership.

Being a novice marketer, my attention was primarily focused on website visits and social media engagements. A sizable chunk of marketing dollars are essentially spent “renting” traffic and eyeballs from Big Tech companies like Meta and Google.

This idea bothered me. I then turned my attention to newsletters — a form of audience engagement that’s more loyal, intimate, and resilient to the ebb and flow of the social media trends.

That’s how I got to know Substack and Ghost.

What I like Substack & Ghost are built for and by writers; The website design, how posts are displayed, and the community sharing aspects are what made Substack a great place for journalists and casual bloggers.

Best of all, you can run a website on either platform for free or at a very low cost. It’s also the first platform I came across that merges both the idea of blogging and newsletters.

Ghost is just Substack with more customisation options, self-hosting capabilities and fewer community functions. I’ve tried it for a bit, found the theme system too cumbersome and expensive, and ultimately left Ghost after the trial period.

What I dislike There’s nothing inherently bad about Substack as a platform for writers — I just don’t think it’s the right platform for me.

Writing on Substack made me feel that my website’s fate is heavily dependent on the platform. Sure, I could export a .csv file containing my email subscribers and migrate easily…but something about the platform made me uneasy.

I was conscious about the Nazi Controversy, and was paying attention to how the website ranked in Google Trends within my country. I found myself comparing Substack and Medium a whole lot, and worrying about the platform more than actually creating content.

I dislike how most Substack websites look the same and are part of a singular ecosystem. Great for readers, but not for someone who wants their site to be unique.

I dislike how readers are bombarded with requests to subscribe from the get-go.

I dislike how I still need to add featured images to posts to make it “complete”.

I dislike how badly the domain performs on SEO.

Again, it’s mostly a ‘me problem’. Substack is still what I’d recommend for most people.

WordPress

Story Ah, ye old reliable. There’s nothing to be said about WordPress , because its history and prominence speak for itself.

WordPress’ customisability, matured ecosystem and permanence is what drew me into the platform. After getting bored with Substack, I took a whole weekend to study plugins and hosting options to make my own website.

What I like.

It’s the go-to platform if you want your website to last for decades. Website development used to be hard, but is now easier thanks to drag and drop systems like Gutenberg and Elementor.

WordPress is extremely cheap to host and run. You can customise it however you want with the plugin marketplace.

But…that’s about it.

What I dislike

It’s no secret that most website developers hate using WordPress because it’s such a legacy system to work with.

The backend UI/UX is horrible. I dislike the idea of logging into my /wp-admin/ account to publish anything. There are ways around this, such as using APIs and tools like Ulysses, but it’s finicky.

WordPress can load at the speed of light or crawl like a bug depending on your level of technical expertise. Fiddling around with Caches, CDNs and image optimisation is annoying.

WordPress reminds me of Notion. Many people hate it, but it’s a system that works. There’s only a few systems in the market like it, so we have no choice but to use it.

Obsidian Publish

Story I LOVE Obsidian. I’ve been disloyal — flirting with Apple Notes, Mem, Bear, Capacities, AnyType.io, Noteplan and countless others — but I always return to Obsidian.

I used Obsidian Publish for a few days, but the subscription price at $8 per month and lack of comprehensive customisation options made me look elsewhere.

What I like

The best thing about Obsidian Publish is that obsidian.md files translate perfectly onto the web. What you see on obsidian is exactly what you get on the web.

Plus, it’s integrated directly into Obsidian which means publishing is as simple as marking a note as ‘For Publishing’.

What I dislike

The price is quite steep for the service it provides, especially compared to actually hosting your own website.

The customisation options are very limited, from aesthetic choices (themes), to functionality with widgets and plugins. Other publishing systems are far more flexible and customizable.

In Conclusion

There’s no “Perfect” CMS; only one that evolves according to your needs.

Will I stick with Hugo long-term? Who knows.

Is it bad that I spent hours switching between platforms? I don’t care. It’s my website and I can do whatever I want with it. Plus, I’ve learnt a just by tinkering with these systems and had loads of fun.

What’s your CMS of choice? I’d love to know!

There’s a comment section below.

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