There's almost no decision more important for a fledgling blogger than choosing the right blogging platform. It's an agonising decision — because switching costs are high once you're in too deep. Some people say WordPress, others say SquareSpace, yet others say something out of the ordinary like a headless CMS. What should you do?
I'm here to tell you for many of you, you want to use Ghost.
(Note: I get a small commission if you sign up. But I've been recommending Ghost for years before they offered this.)
In this guide... What's important to the blog writer?
I will consider Ghost vs WordPress from every angle that's important to writers. Here are the things important to most bloggers:
- Easy to design a website: Creating a nice looking website with templates that they get off the shelf and customise/modify slightly
- Easy content creation: Write articles and create pages
- Extensibility: Extend the website with plug-ins for useful features
- Speed: Have a really fast website
- Ease of maintenance: Not have to maintain servers or code
Onward to the analysis!
Like this article on Ghost blogging and want more? Subscribe!
Join the mailing list. Days of work go into each post.
Ghost's Mission: To create a great product, without seeking profit
Ghost was created initially by John Nolan as a simple answer to WordPress' complexity. He said WordPress was many things to many people, but had gone far beyond its initial mission as a blog platform for content creators. He said: let's see if we can create something pure and great within the framework of a not-for-profit company, and see how far we can go.
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?
They're so transparent, in fact, they even publish their revenue — verified by Stripe.
I give the overall advantage to Ghost. Even though WordPress makes it easier to design an overall attractive website, the whole point of blogging is content creation, and it's so much easier with Ghost that there's basically no competition.
Ghost vs WordPress for ease of designing attractive websites: WordPress 5/5, Ghost 2/5
Both Ghost and WordPress have amazing looking templates and can be the backbone of incredible websites, from simple travel blogs to full-featured company pages.
But WordPress wins easily in the domain of attractiveness for three reasons.
Firstly, WordPress has a vast array of themes out there created by developers eager to sell products and serve an audience. Ghost has a far smaller range of themes. They look nice, but they're on two or three websites tops, the best one being the Ghost marketplace, followed by Envato's websites.
Secondly, WordPress' templates are easy to customise from the dashboard. Depending on what theme you choose, there'll be a different interface, but they let you change all kinds of cool things like what goes on the front page, how the menus are configured, what fonts to use and many other things. Ghost lets you do no such thing. If you want to customise anything, you have to change the template codes and CSS. No thank you, not for most bloggers.
Finally, modifying WordPress' themes is way easier. Because you can use page builders (including WordPress' built-in block editor) to build pages, it's simple to take a page and make huge changes like put an email capture form right up front, or put an "About Me" section somewhere random. Not with Ghost. Again, you'll have to modify code (usually "handlebars" templates), and sometimes you'll just be straight outta luck.
Basically Ghost is fine if you're OK with themes as you get them, or are OK with coding.
Ghost vs WordPress for Content Creation: Ghost 5/5, WordPress 2/5
When it comes to writing articles and pages it's far easier in Ghost.
The Koenig editor, now a standard part of Ghost 2.0, is pure joy to use. You type, and what you display is basically what is published—just like typing in Medium, for example.
Ghost 2.0 has such a nice interface that is such a pleasure to use that I'll sometimes draft articles in Ghost and then copy-paste them into WordPress.
The Gutenberg editor, part of WordPress 5.0 (and now 5.2), is totally shambolic. It's laggy, and very unresponsive even on a modern computer and browser (in my case, a brand new MacBook Air with 16GB RAM, using any browser). I don't know how it made it into production. Often I'll type an entire sentence and only see it displayed on the screen about ten seconds after I'm done typing. Editing is painful. I've tried this on clean installs and it's the same.
Blogging is all about creating content, and so while Ghost wins on this, it's also weighted more highly. If your website is infrequently updated, and you're fine doing that updating from another interface, then it's a different story. But if you write a lot—Ghost is an easy choice.
For me, this is what wins me over to Ghost.
Ghost vs. WordPress for Extensibility: WordPress 5/5, Ghost 3/5
WordPress has so many plug-ins its ridiculous. I've been shocked at how much choice I have for plug-ins for things like
- Automatic backups
- Reformatting the comments system
- Debugging code conflicts
- Injecting header code
- Filtering comment spam
- Analytics dashboards
So many things. None of the above are available for Ghost.
Ghost does have extensibility via its API and emerging plug-ins platform, but it's sparse right now.
The main reason Ghost doesn't get 1/5 is that many of the reasons you extend WordPress are the reasons you choose Ghost in the first place. Firstly, many Ghost users simply choose to eschew the complex beast that WordPress has become. Secondly, many things come out of the box with Ghost, like
- A nice editing interface (as mentioned above)
- AMP support
- Image compression and optimised delivery
- Image library (doesn't even show it to you; takes care of that behind the scenes)
- Fast platform that requires no optimisation
Still, it has a long way to go.
For example, Ghost users are very limited in choice of comments — the most common free option is Discus, which widely disliked for being slow and intrusive on privacy, and then other options either require more hosting config or cost money.
Or take analytics. With Ghost, you can integrate third party analytics dashboards like Google Analytics of course. But there's no built-in dashboard, like Jetpack for WordPress. Some websites are trying to launch their own analytics platforms, but they cost money and I haven't tried them.
Ghost vs. WordPress for Speed: Ghost 5/5, WordPress 3/5
Ghost is fast. For many reasons.
Firstly, Ghost runs on NodeJS, which is faster than PHP on which WordPress runs.
Secondly, Ghost is more lightweight, not bogged down in plug-ins and legacy compatibility.
Finally, Ghost has a lot of intelligent stuff built-in to speed it up, like resizing images on the fly.
I manage to run two concurrent Ghost instances on the smallest possible DigitalOcean droplet without it batting an eye. That's $2.50 a month of server hosting!
WordPress... it CAN be fast, but to get it fast you have to do clever things like
- Use a CDN
- Install plug-ins like AutoOptimize and boosters, to minify JS and do some other crazy stuff
- Install plug-ins to optimize images
- Have a fast hosting service
- Have a nicely optimized theme
That's a lot of dependencies for a fast website. All my Ghost-hosted websites get a rating of Excellent on Google's page speed test and Pingdom. Again, this is on the cheapest server on DigitalOcean.
You can pay $29 a month from Ghost.org and probably get way faster response. Try it!
Ghost vs. WordPress for Ease of Maintenance: WordPress 3/5, Ghost 4/5
There are a number of ways of running WordPress or Ghost blogs:
- Self-hosted on your own server (like DigitalOcean) - $5 a month
- Self-hosted on shared hosting (like BlueHost) - $3-10 a month (but the cheaper optionsaremiserable)
- Hosted on WordPress.com or Ghost.org
Ghost is similar to WordPress, except option 2 is less available (if at all). Option 2 is the slowest, so lets not consider it anyway.
If self-hosting, WordPress is not terribly easy to use. Ghost is slightly better. You have to optimize the server, keeping code for PHP and MySQL up to date in order to run as fast as possible. You occasionally have to dive into server settings to change things like maximum image or file size. Ghost is similar in this way, but because there's less you need to configure, there's less impetus to ever go to the server or update anything.
Hosting on WordPress.com is fine, but it completely lacks extensibility via plug-ins. Ghost.org is a different story. It's a managed hosting service for $29/month that lets you do whatever you like with your server—but they manage the server.
Want to try Ghost? Get a two week trial
Sign up for Ghost.org's hosting and you get a two-week free trial. I wouldn't recommend it if I weren't sure you'd love it!