Updated: November 2020
I’ve written on many popular blogging platforms, and I love Medium’s beautiful, clean editor nearly most of all. Nearly, because Medium’s editor not quite as good as Ghost.
And luckily, there’s more reasons to switch from Medium to Ghost than the editor interface. And this is all about Ghost 3.0+, with the Koenig visual editor interface.
Note: some of the links in this blog earn me a commission for referring Ghost. But I’ve been recommending Ghost (and using it) way before that was the case!
Ghost vs Medium — Why Ghost is a Medium Alternative
When comparing Ghost vs Medium it’s because I think that Ghost, being a small company is a “Medium alternative”.
The reason why I think of Ghost as being an alternative to Medium is that they’re both pure blogging platforms that have great visual editors that are focused on writers and a pleasure to use.
It’s amazing to me how bad the visual editors are on most other blogging platforms.
On WordPress, the standard editor since version 5.0 (called “Gutenberg” to people used to the old rich text editor) is a compromise between flexibility and ease of use.
You can do a broad range of things on the WordPress editor, including multi-column layouts and quite a few things that the Ghost editor doesn’t do at all.
But on the other hand, the WordPress editor can be frustrating to use. Clicking on objects (e.g. to change their settings) can send you jumping around a page in unpredictable ways. Clicking on something to move it down means it might move to a place where you can’t click it easily to move down again. It has improved since 2018, but it’s still annoying.
We still use WordPress for most of our sites sites due to its flexibility as a platform, but for pure writing purposes, it’s a long way behind both Ghost and Medium.
Publishing an article is very similar in both Ghost and Medium. You write your content, add some images (and alt text), add a little SEO information, and hit “publish”.
The second thing that Medium and Ghost have in common is that they’re easy to get started on.
With Ghost, you can get started right away. You don’t need a domain name, although I’d suggest most people start with one.
With Medium you don’t have a choice of domain name, but you do have to choose a username. So once you’ve found one that’s available, it’s just as easy to get started.
What Ghost does better than Medium
Medium is “free”… but if they can do anything with your content, what price are you actually paying?
This is a pitch for Ghost and saying why I chose it. You might not agree with all this, and prefer the advantages that Medium has. (See below for a few things that Medium does better than Ghost.)
In a nutshell, this is Ghost vs Medium and why I believe Ghost is better:
- Mission statement: Ghost is a non-profit aimed at giving you the best writing experience possible; Medium is a for-profit company that has its own interests at heart
- Ownership and license: Ghost does not do anything with your content; You grant Medium a broad license to do whatever it wants with your content
- Monetisation — With Ghost you can monetise however you want; with Medium you’re restricted
- Branding — With Ghost you can brand however you want (logos, themes, domains); with Medium you publish in their publication
- Media — with Ghost you can use a broad range of media; you’re more limited in Medium
- SEO and discoverability — You can control a lot in Ghost, and less in Medium
- The Koenig visual editor — simply beautiful and easy to use in Ghost, even better than Medium’s
More detail on these in the sub-sections below.
1. Mission — Ghost is a non-profit company with values.
Ghost is transparent and honest, and has high degree of integrity. It all comes the personality of the founder, John Nolan, and what he wrote in the mission statement.
Ghost builds tools for writers. Their mission is exactly that. It says it all in their initial mission statement in detail.
We started working on Ghost because we wanted to build a great open source publishing platform which would empower independent creators, but we also started this company as a social experiment. We wanted to know: What would it look like if you built a technology startup which could not make anyone rich. If you eliminated all the promises of wealth from the roadmap up front, and tried to build a good company, how would that affect the product, business, customers, and every little decision in between?
Ghost is so transparent, in fact, they even publish their revenue — verified by Stripe (their payment platform).
Medium’s mission statement is more about what they do, and not why.
Medium is a new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends. It’s designed for little stories that make your day better and manifestos that change the world. It’s used by everyone from professional journalists to amateur cooks. It’s simple, beautiful, collaborative, and it helps you find the right audience for whatever you have to say.
Medium does these things well, but it does it with a for-profit focus that isn’t always aligned with your values.
2. Ownership and license — Ghost lets you keep your own content and allows you to do what you like with it.
On Medium, you do keep your content, but you give a broad license over your content to them. They make money on it however they want, either through charging members or advertising money. They share that money with you, but it’s not predictable how much you’ll get.
In their terms of service, Medium makes it clear that you own your content, but “…you grant Medium a nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid, and sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your content in all media formats and distribution methods now known or later developed” on the platform. Basically, they can do what they want with it.
Further, Medium can change their pricing or payment structure whenever they want. Sometimes it could be to your advantage, but not necessarily.
So yes, Medium is “free”… but if they can do anything with your content, what price are you actually paying?
With Ghost, you own all your own data. You can even download it at a moment’s notice. You upload pictures and it gets stored on a server that you own (or are renting). You can keep it free, and you can make money however you want (with affiliate links or whatever).
3. Monetisation — Ghost lets you profit from your blog content however you want.
Ghost lets you set up your own membership platform where there are members-only posts, and where you set the pricing and collect all the revenue.
If you don’t want to use members (I don’t), then Ghost also lets you use ads.
On Ghost, say you hit 100,000 page-views a month and think “Dang! I should put some ads on here.” Well, you can, using whatever partner you want. You can use Google Adsense, MediaVine, you name it. (I’ve used each of those on this site at different times.)
I don’t love having ads, but it keeps the lights on. Across our various properties, it’s how we survive and live another day to write more for our users.
And if you want to add affiliate links with Ghost — well, you can. Many affiliate programs (like Amazon’s) require you to only host links on your own website or other properties. With Ghost, you have your own website; with Medium you don’t.
On Medium, you are much more restricted in how you can make money.
The main option to make money on Medium is through their own monetisation network. Medium charges users $5 a month to see more than 3 premium content articles a month, and it shares that with users. But unlike Amazon or other platforms that tell you what share you get, with Medium you can never be sure how your views are monetised.
You can perhaps use a few private affiliate relationships on Medium, but with many, you’d be violating the terms of service.
4. Branding — You get to brand your own blog with Ghost.
With Ghost, you can use your own
- Colour scheme
Basically, on Ghost you can change the entire theme/template of the website.
This is an advantage and a disadvantage. Sometimes you can get stuck in a rabbit hole of making incremental changes!
Of course, straight out of the box Ghost looks amazing (with the default Casper theme). Medium also looks amazing, and is the inspiration for many blogs. But the point is, with Ghost, you can do anything.
Medium does some incredible things with your content. It automatically optimises all the images, and displays all your content in away that’s beautiful. But it’s still all just the one format — with Ghost, you can choose your own.
5. Media — You get to put more media in with Ghost.
In Medium, you do get to add a few types of media — videos, photos, and code blocks.
In Ghost you can do anything. You can easily add embedded Instagram posts, Spotify songs, and many more.
And it’s easy to do things like embed videos from any source because on Ghost you can directly embed and edit HTML — not an option on Medium.
For example, to embed a video at the bottom of this post, I put in HTML code:
<figure class="kg-image-card"><img src="https://casper.ghost.org/v2.0.0/images/formatting-editor-demo.gif" class="kg-image"></figure>
6. SEO and discoverability — Ghost gives you infinitely more control over things like SEO discoverability
In the Ghost interface, you can do a whole bunch of things to fully target your website to the right audiences. You can add SEO meta tags and other meta data into the header and footer, plus alter the schema of pages by changing the theme.
In addition, because you have your own domain, you can use third-party services to track how well your website can be discovered.
- Using Google Analytics and tracking (still the best — I prefer it over attempts to build Ghost-style analytics) — completely not an option with Medium, where you’re left in the dark
- Using Google Search Console and other tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush to track keywords — again, you can’t track how you rank for keywords with Medium
- Editing meta content and image names so that you have a higher chance of being discovered for certain keywords — you can do this to a limited degree with Medium
If you’re already an expert at SEO, you can make very SEO-optimised articles on Medium that will rank well. But you’re limited in how you can benefit from them.
7. Ghost’s Koenig editor is even better than Medium’s.
Medium has a great editor. It’s definitely better than nearly every other editor I’ve seen out there.
But Ghost’s editor has been a distinct pleasure to use every since version 2.0 in 2018.
Ghost’s editor is a full what-you-see-is-what-you-get visual editor that lets you create a document. Whatever you write is produced in the blog post.
Look at the video above. What more could you need?
To be fair, Medium’s editor is just as good — but it’s also much less flexible. There’s less content you can insert, and you’re not allowed to change the theme. So even though they’re comparable, I give this one to Ghost because it manages to remain a pleasure to use even with the much-broadened flexibility.
8. Ghost is more than a site publisher — it’s an email platform, and a private member site platform too
Since 2020, Ghost has added two massive new features that really differentiate it from Medium:
- Memberships, and
- Email newsletters
Memberships mean that when you publish on Ghost, you can charge readers for premium content. You can’t do this with Medium! You can set content as premium, but then Medium charges for it, and throws you some coins.
Ghost also lets you send out beautifully formatted email newsletters without even trying. You just collect emails, and hit “send” with new blog posts. It’s magic.
Convinced yet? Try Ghost, and get a 14 day free trial. After that, if you’re not happy, you can export your data easily.
Counterpoints: What does Medium do better?
To be fair, there are a few reasons to choose Medium over Ghost:
- You want Medium’s content distribution. When you publish on Medium, especially if you publish behind their paywall, Medium sends it out to people, puts it on their pages, and otherwise promotes your content. People may discover your content on Medium that they might never have found on your own website. But that said, some of my articles have been viewed 2,000 times on Medium… whereas I’ve had articles viewed 10s of thousands of times on my own website, in less time.
- You don’t want to do any SEO optimisation of images. With Ghost, it’s up to you to do SEO optimisation of images and to ensure they’re small and load fast. Medium does this for you (and I love it!).
- You just want to dip your toes into blogging (and not spend money). Maybe you’re not sure you’re that into it and don’t want to spend money for a bit. I think it’s fine to publish your first 10 posts somewhere else, like on LinkedIn or on Medium. If you write ten and feel like you’ve got 50 more – now’s your time to open your Ghost account!
- You like comments and discussion. Personally, I’ve grown to quite dislike comments. In many ways they’re the worst part of the internet. I find too large a percentage of comments (for me) are ill-informed or plain rude. Many have an agenda of promoting their own things. So I don’t use them. If you like comments, then Medium makes it easy; with Ghost you have to add in your own solution like Disqus.
Epilogue: Just these reasons to prefer Ghost vs Medium?
There’s actually more than just these reasons to prefer Ghost, but these are the simple ones. I also like
- Customising Ghost’s theme for personal use
- Using the Ghost editor it as a headless CMS to publish content to other publishing systems like Gatsby
- Collecting email addresses for my own newsletter
- Using other tracking tools like a Facebook pixel (not at present, but in the past)
There’s probably more. Basically Ghost offers me flexibility without making it harder to use just the basic publisher.
And those all come later. The first thing to do is to publish your first 10-20 posts, get some traffic and comments, and then it’s up to you — you either will want flexibility in the future, or you’ll be happy within Medium’s walled garden.