As WordPress alternatives go, there’s no denying that the Ghost blogging CMS seriously takes some beating. In fact, it may even be fair to say that in some respects, this unique publishing platform triumphs where WordPress has begun to falter in recent years.
Yes, I know. Writing that statement on a website like WPLift may be somewhat akin to blasphemy, but let’s be honest:
While the sheer wealth of available options and add-ons can make WordPress the perfect choice for building multi-functioning, dynamic websites, those same strengths can also make the platform seem excessive, overwhelming, and possibly even unfit for purpose if your primary objective is to publish a blog or other content-driven site.
It’s this problem that the creators of Ghost have tried to -and for the most part, succeeded in– solving – stripping away all of the bloat and access to create a simplified and streamlined platform built around content publishing.
Still, is Ghost really that good? And is it genuinely a viable alternative to WordPress? It’s those questions -and more- that we’ll aim to answer in today’s Ghost blogging platform review.
Ghost Blogging Platform Review
First things first, what is Ghost?
In a nutshell, it’s a Content Management System for which the emphasis really is all about the content.
One of the biggest criticisms of WordPress, especially among bloggers, writers, and creatives, is that it can very quickly become bloated, unwieldy, and expensive.
While it’s great that you can install plugins for everything from hosting podcasts to managing social media shares and even creating an online store, managing those plugins can be a hassle, especially if you encounter a plugin conflict that restricts or even ruins the functionality of your website.
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That’s to say nothing of how much all those plugins can make your site load really slowly.
Ghost sets out to do something different by including only those features that publishers really need while ensuring that you have enough flexibility and integration options to include multiple types of content, accept payments, and even create memberships.
This commitment to focussing only on what really matters to publishers has an impressive knock-on effect on performance. With many of Ghost’s most ardent supporters claiming to have seen a significant improvement in their site speeds since making the switch from WordPress.
With that being said, let’s take a closer look, shall we?
In his initial pre-launch notes, Ghost’s founder and creator John Nolan wrote that Ghost would be “free as in Mozilla” and honestly, when I came to test out the platform for myself, that’s precisely what I expected; a free platform.
The bad news is that this simply isn’t the case, though I’m happy to accept that this was probably a misunderstanding on my part rather than a classic bait-and-switch.
Ghost is a paid-for blogging platform available in three-tiered packages. The packages start with the Basic plan which costs $29 per month if billed annually (so $348 per year) or $36 per month if billed monthly (or $432 per year.)
The good news though, is that this is very affordable compared to the cost of running a WordPress website.
If you compared like-for-like with WordPress.com, then a package with similar features would cost you either $25 or $45 per month depending on which option you go for.
What’s more, if you factor in all of the costs associated with running a supposedly “free” self-hosted version of WordPress (hosting, premium plugins, Elementor subscriptions, etc.), you could easily end up spending much more than $348 per year on maintaining a website.
If you’re not quite convinced that Ghost is worth spending money on, you can always sign up for a 14-day free trial. Although you will need to enter card details for this trial, this isn’t one of those examples of an unethical company hoping you’ll forget to cancel after the trial so that they can automatically charge you.
Once your trial ends, you’ll have to manually opt-in to one of the monthly plans, so there’s no risk of you ending up paying for something you want. Credit where it’s due, that’s a classy move on Ghost’s part.
Getting Started With Ghost
Once you’ve signed up, you’re immediately taken to your Ghost dashboard, with a live view of your blog homepage on the right and your dashboard menu options on the right.
To begin with, your main blog is populated with helpful posts that tell you how to do everything from configuring your admin settings to writing and publishing your posts. To be honest, this really helps Ghost to make a strong first impression.
Starting with any platform can be a little daunting and confusing, so it’s good to know that Ghost will basically hold your hand through those early stages while you’re getting used to it.
What I like best though, is that this dashboard is very clean, tidy, and clutter-free. If you’ve ever had a large WordPress with multiple plugins installed, you’ll know how overwhelming your dashboard can get, with sub-menus within submenus and all kinds of data littering up the homepage.
There’s none of that here, and it only makes Ghost’s appeal all the stronger.
Themes and Design
As you can probably imagine, Ghost doesn’t have quite as many themes as WordPress, The number of themes available for Ghost isn’t as extensive as it is on WordPress. You’ve basically got 14 free themes and 73 premium options with prices ranging from $24 to $79+.
While that might not be all that great if you’re a fan of WordPress’s seemingly endless design options, it still gives you plenty of choices and does mean that you don’t get stuck in the familiar trap of spending countless hours searching out the perfect theme.
Of course, the best part about having a somewhat limited variety of themes is that it means you won’t find any poor-quality themes here. Though the design is largely subjective, I think it’s fair to say that every single theme is made to a good standard so you’re bound to find at least one that suits your tastes and still looks good for your readers.
Given Ghost’s whole M.O, each theme is also designed to put your content front-and-center and is fully responsive to ensure your audience will have no problem checking out your posts on mobile devices.
For my own Ghost-based blog, I chose the free ‘Massively’ theme simply because it appealed the most to my taste, but you’ll find a number of great-looking themes tailored to different types of content including not just blogs, but also photography, podcasts, video blogs, and more.
Theme Installation and Customization
The only downside when it comes to customizing the look and feel of your new Ghost blog is that editing your theme requires a bit of a steep learning curve. Rather than using any kind of drag-and-drop editor, or even a basic customization menu, ghost uses
the Handlebars templating language. On the one hand, this is positive since it doesn’t slow down your site in the way that some of the clunkier WordPress themes do.
However, it also comes with a pretty sizable learning curve, especially if you’re not already familiar with coding even on a basic level.
Honestly, there’s a lot to like about Ghost but design customization is not one of them. Nothing about the process is very intuitive and for newcomers or those who aren’t too tech-savvy, it can be very off-putting.
Still, I managed to get to grips with things on my own Ghost blog just long enough to get it looking how I wanted before moving on to other features.
Editing Your Ghost Settings
Editing the look and feel of your blog may not be straight forward, but thankfully everything else.
Click the ‘General Settings’ option in your left-hand menu and you can configure key details such as title and description, your site logo and favicon, and the time zone used for your posts.
Elsewhere, you can also choose which language your blog is published in and edit important SEO and social media sharing options such as your Twitter and Facebook cards. This in itself is a bonus as with WordPress you’d normally have to install a plugin like Yoast in order to access this kind of functionality.
While Ghost may be all about stripping out the bloated excess that comes with a plugin-heavy website, that doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice functionality.
From mailing list tools like Mailchimp and Aweber to social media sites such as Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram, all the way to platforms such as Patreon, PayPal, and even Shopify, Ghost can be integrated with a huge number of third-party tools.
While the majority of them can take a little bit of work, the good news is that Ghost provides you with step-by-step instructions for integrating just about any platform you can think of and will often use the Zapier tool to make the whole thing as simple as it can be.
And if it isn’t possible to set up a straightforward integration? You can also use the “Code injection” tab to paste your code in the old-fashioned way.
So, your blog is all setup, all of the third-party integrations you want are setup, now it’s time to get on with what we’re really all here for:
Publishing Blog Posts
Fortunately, this is the easiest part of the whole process.
Indeed, while Ghost does require some knowledge of code to set up, actually writing and publishing your articles is no more difficult than creating a Microsoft Word document or using another platform such as Medium.
After selecting ‘Posts’ from the dashboard menu, you can then move to “New post” which will bring up an editor that is -thankfully- an absolute breeze to use.
The most intuitive part of the process, the post editor I’ll make sense to you if you’ve used WordPress’ Gutenberg editor in the past, and if you’ve ever published on the aforementioned Medium.com before, then you’ll be pleased to know that the process is practically identical.
After adding a title, you can simply begin typing or click the “+” icon at the side of each new block to add different types of content including images, galleries, page dividers, raw HTML, or a visual bookmark.
You can also use this method for embedding rich content such as YouTube and Vimeo videos, tweets, or other social media posts, though to be honest, you don’t really need to do this. Simply paste in the URL of the content in question and Ghost will automatically embed it for you.
It’s also very nice that Ghost has included a handy little word count in the corner, perfect if you’re trying to write articles of a certain length or if you’re concerned that a long piece might take too long to read.
If you’re looking for all the usual post settings, you won’t automatically find them in the right-hand menu as you will with WordPress.
Rater, you’ll find a little gear icon (the universal symbol for “settings”) neatly tucked away in the top-right hand corner. If you ask me, that’s generally positive as it means you’re less likely to be distracted while focussing on your content, though it did take me a minute or two to figure out how to edit those settings.
Once you’re into it, you can use the post settings panel to manage all the non-content essentials such as featured images, URLs, publishing dates, tags, content excerpts, and social media sharing options.
When you’re finished, all that’s left to do is either directly publish your blog or schedule it for later and move on to the next one.
If you need to go back and re-edit your drafts, scheduled posts, or even previously published posts, you can do all this from the simple options in your dashboard menu which seems easier and neater than having to search and sort through an extensive list of all your posts.
It really is that simple to publish great-looking content and from an actual publishing perspective, there’s practically nothing to criticize.
Ghost CMS Pros and Cons
The Ghost CMS may have a lot going for it, but as with most things in life, it’s far from perfect.
If you’re struggling to decide whether or not to use it for your own publishing endeavors, the following quick pros and cons list may help you make that decision.
- Very easy-to-use, distraction-free post editor makes writing and publishing content a breeze
- Doesn’t rely on resource-intensive themes and plugins meaning your blog loads fast and delivers optimum performance at all times
- A simple, straightforward dashboard layout means you can instantly see everything and never have to look too far to find the option you need.
- Comes with helpful tools for creating membership sites that don’t charge a percentage of your income in the way that sites like Patreon do.
- $29 per month entry-level package may prove to be a better deal for some users than self-hosted WordPress.
- The limited number of themes may be disappointing to those more used to WordPress’ seemingly limitless selection
- Editing theme and customizing your blog relies on code that can be off-putting to beginners
- The $29 basic plan is limited to 100k page views per month and 2 users, so you’ll need to spend even more once your site begins to grow.
Ghost Blogging Platform: The Bottom Line
So, is the Ghost CMS really as good as its biggest fans say it is? More importantly, is it a viable alternative to WordPress?
Truthfully, it all depends on what you’re aiming to achieve with your website.
If your focus is on building interactive websites, brochure-style sites for your business, or some other kind of dynamic online presence, then Ghost may not be very suitable for you, but then, that’s not really what it’s designed for.
If, on the other hand, you’re a writer, blogger, or other creative types whose main goal is to publish your work, build an audience, and maybe even generate income by offering site memberships then yes, Ghost may well be worth a look.
The actual post editor is both highly intuitive and designed for distraction-free content creation, offering a similar publishing experience to Medium.com while still offering more control over the look, feel, and functionality of your site than you get with that particular platform.
Speaking of look and feel, that really is the only major drawback you’ll find with Ghost. Sure, the themes themselves look impressive, and even the premium ones are fairly affordable, but when it comes to doing any kind of customization work and really making that site your own, expect a few headaches.
This is particularly true if you’re not at least vaguely familiar with how coding works and prefer a simple visual approach to theme customization.
That aside, what you’ve got here is a smart, high-performance blogging tool that certainly deserves recognition as one of the best alternatives to WordPress for bloggers that there is.