WordPress is a huge, flexible, and complicated content management system. Ghost is an unbelievably simple, easy to use, and lightweight blogging platform. WordPress is the past (and present), but platforms like Ghost (especially as part of a broader JAMstack vision) are the future. But is is safe to use Ghost for a production travel blog?
We've been using WordPress for Discover Discomfort for a year so far. We chose it because it's the industry standard, powering 25 million live websites worldwide.
But I use Ghost for this website, because I love it (and I think there are lots of reasons to choose Ghost over WordPress).
The question is: is it safe to build a travel blog using something as focused as Ghost as the foundation?
We'll analyse our decision of whether to use Ghost or WordPress piece by piece.
In this article...
- Description of what you really need to build a successful travel blog
- Piece-by-piece analysis of whether Ghost meets these standards
- How to get started in Ghost
- Alternatives to consider
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What should a travel blog's CMS and web server be able to do?
Let's consider all the requirements of a travel blog from its web server and CMS. The same applies to many blogs that have a target of growth and profitability in many lifestyle niches, including food, parenting, and health.
After a year of writing, extreme amounts of research and analysis, and having written some 200,000 words (!), here's what I think is vitally important to a blogging platform that's profitable, flexible, and accessible.
- Attractiveness: A blogging platform must be able to produce output that's attractive to readers, with relative ease. This usually means good support for themes, and a wide variety of affordable themes available, and developers who can work on themes cheaply.
- Ease of creating content: It must be easy to write articles and design pages. There must be minimal repetitive work, or anything irritating about the process
- Flexible commercialisation: There must be various options for commercialisation of the blog be extended in different ways for different versions of the future, like by adding e-commerce, subscriptions or advertising.
- Customisability: Users (everyday folks) should be able to change the front page content and structure and layout, plus blog content and layout easily. This means things like being able to easily use columns, hero images, borders, tables, and other custom elements.
So how does Ghost score on this? Lets see...
Summary: Ghost is great. But WordPress has more options.
Ghost definitely serves attractive webpages. They're no more attractive than WordPress' web pages, and not the most beautiful web pages on the internet, but they definitely meet a professional standard for travel blogs.
The best place to see whether Ghost can meet your needs is in the themes marketplace. There's a selection of top-quality themes in there that you can take for a test-drive. Installing them and using them is very easy.
A quick glance at Themeforest, on the other hand, will show you that there are many thousands of WordPress themes. So many that it takes a lot of effort just to pick one and then start to use it! It's not to say they're not attractive — they are, and we use one. But even we wrote custom CSS for it to truly make it our own.
At most, Ghost has "hundreds" of themes. But they're really good! In fact, many people using Ghost just use Casper, after all (for example, the blog for Glossika, a very well-known language learning app that we recommend).
Ease of Creating Content: Awesome
Summary: It's a joy to create content with Ghost. Creating content with WordPress is more laborious than ever.
One of the things I love most about Ghost is how wonderful the editor is to use. It's just a joy.
Things that make it a joy are
- The Ghost blogg editor is extremely fast and responsive. When I type, words appear on the page. It's easy to drag images and embedded content around. On the same computer (a 2018 high-spec MacBook Air), the Gutenberg editor on WordPress moves like molasses — especially when doing something like editing a table.
- The Ghost editor supports many kinds of dynamic content. When you paste a link like from YouTube or Instagram into the Ghost editor, it retrieves the embedded format automatically. In other cases, you can use the built-in editor functionality.
- Ghost's editor is very "What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get". It looks, and feels, a lot like "Medium" (though it's still far superior to Medium because of the fact that you keep your content).
The WordPress Gutenberg experience, on the other hand, is a nightmare. At times, it moves like molasses: I type a sentence and watch as it takes up to 20 seconds for it to display. The promise of Gutenberg (a page builder without having to install something like Elementor) is great, but the reality is awful.
It's not just me who thinks so — see the reviews:
Yes, this is a review from six months ago. But in late 2019, I can promise you as a daily user of WordPress in its latest version: the experience has barely improved.
If you think maybe my setup is wrong, my computer is terrible, my browser settings are bad... well, firstly, I know my way around computers. Secondly, I've tried a lot of configs, and googled the heck out of this. Finally, it's a common issue. That said, if you know a solution, save me!
Summary: Both Ghost and WordPress are fast enough. Ghost has enough SEO options, but WordPress has more.
If you want an elementary introduction to SEO, check out my guide "SEO in one sentence". It's this:
"A search engine-optimised website is fast, attractive, and rich in relevant, interesting content."
The core of an SEO-optimised website in terms of platform choice is "fast" and "relevant".
For "Fast", part of it is serving up the content quickly. Both Ghost and WordPress are fast enough for many websites. But a critical part of speed is delivering small files, and very few of them. It means things like
- Compressing images, and sending only the right sizes: Neither WordPress nor Ghost do a very good job of this. For both, I have to go through an annoying workflow of resizing an image, renaming it, compressing it, uploading it, and then adding tags and descriptions. It takes me about a minute per image, but that adds up (and it's repetitive and boring). Platforms like Medium do this automatically.
- Combining files, and minimising requests: WordPress does this, and Ghost does not. However again, there are very few files and requests.
In all, Ghost servers perform very well. There's little complaint on the speed side.
The other part of SEO that's connected to platform choice is relevancy. This means you should be able to tell Google what your blog is about through meta tags and alt descriptions. WordPress has some edge here, because you can add plug-ins for all kinds of meta content like
- Ratings (e.g. 5-stars, 4000 reviews)
- Last updated date
Ghost provides minimal effective functionality here, but not as much as WordPress. I really enjoy, for example, the "last updated" plug-in in WordPress. Every time I update a post it adds a comment about when it was last updated and also adds meta tags.
<meta property="article:modified_time" content="2019-09-25T09:41:05+00:00" /> <meta property="og:updated_time" content="2019-09-25T09:41:05+00:00" />
This helps with SEO because search engines display this information in search, and it helps users believe the content is up to date and relevant to them, improving click-through rates.
Summary: You can commercialise both Ghost and WordPress blogs, but WordPress has more options.
At some point, people want to make money off their blogs. This includes through ads, affiliate income, product sales, memberships, courses and maybe other things. Ghost is able to do many of these, but WordPress does have the edge in nearly every method of monetisation. This is one of the consequences of WordPress' size: it's just incredibly extensible and flexible.
Monetisation options in more detail:
- Ads: You can add Google Adwords to either WordPress or Ghost with similar ease. But when it comes to more advanced media platforms like MediaVine, WordPress is a much easier choice — it's as-yet unproven on Ghost, according to a customer rep I contacted.
- Affiliate income: You can do this just as easily on either platform, adding links to posts. WordPress makes it slightly easier because the bigger players, like Amazpn, have plugins to make it simple to add in affiliate codes.
- Selling your own products: You can add sales pages using Gumroad or similar to both Ghost and WordPress. But on WordPress, you can open a full on e-commerce store. This is in fact what many people use WordPress for.
- Memberships: Ghost has no paid membership options; WordPress does.
- Courses: While it's easier to sell a course on another platform, you can sell courses on both Ghost and WordPress.
In summary: I'd choose Ghost to write. I'd choose WordPress for a business website.
Page customisability: Complicated
Summary: You customise a lot with Ghost, but it's hard because you have to edit the theme. It's much easier on WordPress.
WordPress has a clear advantage in how easy it is to build a page. For years, they'vehad "page builders", like Elementor.
These are free (although you can pay more and get more flexible, extensible options), fast, and let you do pretty much anything on your blog.
Even if you don't use Elementor, since Version 5, WordPress has included the "Gutenberg" page builder out of the box.
Now, I don't enjoy using Gutenberg, as I mentioned above. It's slow and annoying, and makes me want to pull my hair out. But admittedly, if you're patient with it, it'll let you create some amazing layouts.
Overall, Ghost is great if you're looking for a more pure experience, and don't plan to commercialise your site with a full e-commerce store. Give Ghost a try, with a two-week free trial.