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magyar.blog: custom domains on Substack
My experience might save you $50. (Updated April, 2023)
So I tried this feature.
magyar.blog was irresistible, and I don’t actually mind buying it, but more on that later.
I’m not unfamiliar with custom domains, as I once oversaw the implementation of this feature. Now I’m no sysadmin, never was, I was merely the CTO, long ago, so I got familiar with the possibilities, managed it, bullet stopping with me and all, then my brain graciously purged all the details the day after it went live, as it should, getting rid of irrelevant mental garbage to prevent the early onset of Alzheimer’s. Yet it’s a path I sort of remember walking, once.
So I brazenly went ahead and pulled the trigger.
I bought a domain at hover.com as they were recommended in tech podcasts. It went fine. (I could use Apple Pay from Safari, nice.)
Then I started the procedure on Substack’s end. I payed the entry fee ($50) blind. Oh boy.
So, first of all, I can’t just point my domain’s A record to an IP on Substack’s end, which should be 100% technically possible (and preferable). Instead, I have to use a CNAME DNS record that points to a domain name.
Substack kind of tells you, although in no clear terms, that you might have to use
“www.example.com” instead of
“example.com”, like it’s 1999.
But hey, I like 1999.
So I enter
“magyar.blog”, Substack gives me what to add to the CNAME record, with the HOST as
“@”. It totally accepts my input as
“magyar.blog”, even though in a helper doc I’m told it must be starting with
“www”, as it can’t be a naked domain.
“@” as a HOST. Substack’s config doesn’t work. There’s no support contact for Substack. (I could still turn to the Vatican, that’s always an option.)
Alright, I go to hover.com and enter a CNAME record with
“www” instead of
“@” and wait. Nothing happens on Substack’s end. I get some Cloudflare DNS error.
After a while I realize that I have to abandon the process on Substack, start again, and type in
“www.magyar.blog”. Now Substack tells me HOST should be
“www”, as I have already figured out.
Now it starts to work.
I also set up an HTTP 302 redirect on Hover.com from
“https://www.magyar.blog”. Not elegant, but whatever. Now my naked domain at least points here.
Overall, this way it works. However: during the process while I was stuck, Substack actually detected my registrar as hover.com and directed me to a help page. So they could have told me to use
“www.” in front of the domain, since you can’t have a “flat” CNAME record at hover.com.
Also, now I have to sign in. And so does everyone else, as the Substack login cookie is not yet present on this domain. That’s not good for the conversion rate. Fortunately it’s only a click and a redirect/reload, but still. Every extra click bleeds conversion. This issue can’t be solved by Substack, or even by the Vatican, it’s the way the World Wide Web (www!) works, but at least I could have been warned before paying $50 for a subpar experience.
On the plus side, the SSL certificate was handled by Substack.
Another plus (I wasn’t supposed to check this, but my trust was a bit shaken at this point) is that old links continue to work, so anything from
menyhei.substack.com/p/whatever123 gets redirected to
Overall, I do not recommend custom domains at this stage. But I like magyar.blog, and if it’s www.magyar.blog, I can put up with it.
So it stays. 🇭🇺
I’ve set it up. It doesn’t add anything, all is free.
Update: got my first annual subscriber. Guess I’ll be writin’. Also taxpayin’, the technicalities of which I’m not entirely sure about, but hey. Chicken and egg and internal revenues.
I trusted my virgin hand in tax matters so far, paying income taxes after investment gains, self-employment on the side, all done by the book (as far as I could decipher the bureauspeak), and no SWAT team showed up, yet.
I’ll be getting some royalties from my book in a month, so it’s shit I will have to figure out soon anyway.
Substack is not ad supported, so if you stay free, you’re low priority. I can’t even get Google to index this stuff, yet.
Update: I’m no Substack whisperer, so I can’t tell you which one caused it, but after enabling payments and custom domain, now I have the option in settings to add Google Site Verification.
Make sure you specify your sitemap in Search Console once you take ownership of your property. It’s the root URL +
I’m out of the indexing ghetto, baby! Not the best $50 I’ve ever spent, but not in the worst 10 either.
Isn’t SEO fun?
MY HOVER.COM CONFIG
For those who want to go ahead with a custom domain.
You can set the TTL higher once everything is as it should be.
Well, it will never be as it should be otherwise I wouldn’t have written this post, so once everything is as good as it can be.
Please Substack give us an IP to point the A record to!
or shall I say, “sign my guestbook”?
“the human brain is a binary system—synapses either fire or they don’t—they are on or off, like a computer switch. The brain has over a hundred trillion switches”
— Dan Brown, Origin (2017)
Update (April 10, 2023): now that Twitter is screwing with Substack, yes, custom domains seem to pass Twitter’s filter.
Google may prompt you this. No worry!
Choose the TXT option, then add a new DNS record on Hover as such:
Wait for the TTL to expire. (I’m no DNS guru, but previous records for the root record probably dictate the shortest time a DNS server will cache your domain’s record. For mine it’s 15 minutes.)
Then ask Google to try and verify your ownership.
Note: the lack of verification won’t impact your SEO, it will just lock you out of Search Console, until you get it done.