July 13, 2020

WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems (CMS) in the world. According to W3Techs, over 37% of all websites are powered by WordPress.

With its customisation features and an ecosystem of plugins built by WordPress developers around the world, you can build just about any kind of website using WordPress.

Yet, for the content creator who wants a simpler way to manage their work, WordPress’ features can feel a little overwhelming.

Enter Ghost – a content focused CMS built for modern publishing.

If you’ve been on a lookout for a WordPress alternative that’s easier to use, less clunky and has some extras built-in, you might want to consider Ghost.

In this post, I’ll be stacking Ghost CMS side by side WordPress to give you an idea of Ghost’s best features, and when you may want to pick Ghost over WordPress and vice versa.

Let’s jump right in:

What is Ghost CMS?

Ghost was launched by John O’ Nolan in 2013 on Kickstarter as “an open source blogging platform which makes writing pleasurable and publishing simple.”

Like WordPress, Ghost offers content creators an easy to use CMS to publish and manage their content online.

While less than 0.1% of websites use Ghost CMS, it is the preferred CMS for well-known companies like Tinder, Buffer, and Airtable.

Ghost is also open-source. So you can get all of Ghost’s features by self-hosting or by buying a Ghost Pro plan which starts at US$29/month.

Ghost CMS Features

Now, let’s take a look at Ghost’s best features:

Simple, intuitive publishing UI

When you log in, you’ll come face to face with a beautiful UI that inspires you to write:

Ghost CMS Clean Intuitive UI

If you love clean spaces for writing, you’ll fall in love with Ghost’s distraction-free writing canvas:

Professional, well-designed themes

Themes in the Ghost marketplace are always professionally designed. If you like clean, minimalistic designs which bring your content to the front and centre, you’ll have plenty to pick from.

These themes look great on desktop and mobile too.

SEO ready

Ghost comes with SEO meta data features. So you have the basic tools for SEO optimisation ready without having to install anything extra.

Membership built in

Although still under the testing stage, Ghost 3.0 comes with built-in membership features which makes it easy for content creators and publishers to monetise their content without needing a separate set up.

Lightweight

Even with all the features available out of the box, Ghost CMS is lightweight. Built on Node.js, there is almost no lag when you click around a site built on Ghost CMS.

Fast sites are not only provide a great user experience for your readers, they also help your website rank better.

Integrations

Ghost comes integrated with popular apps like Zapier, Slack, AMP, Unsplash and many more.

These integrations can help you work faster by automating some of your work flows.

Ghost CMS Pros over WordPress

So, what are the advantages of using Ghost compared to WordPress?

It’s easier to use

Ghost’s UI is a breath of fresh air compared to WordPress’ clunky, dated UI. It’s clean, modern and easy to use.

On top of that, things like SEO, and membership – all which require external plugins in WordPress – are available out of the box in Ghost.

Easier setup for monetisation

With publishers in mind, you can easily set up membership and add in Google AdSense to your site in a few clicks.

To achieve the same result, you’d need to spend some time installing and configuring a membership and ad plugin.

It’s faster (without optimisation)

Built on Node.js, Ghost sites are fast out of the box, even before you optimise it for speed.

In comparison, w WordPress site may still need some speed optimisation.

Less moving parts = less maintenance

With most of the essential publishing featured built-in, most content creators and publishers will be able to build a full-blown content-focused site on Ghost without needing any additional plugins.

WordPress, on the other hand, starts off pretty barebones. You’ll need to install a bunch of plugins to get even basic things like SEO and membership ready. Since these are usually third-party plugins, you risk breaking your site every time you run an update on the installed plugins.

Ghost CMS Cons over WordPress

Having looked at all of Ghost’s benefits over WordPress, now let’s look at where WordPress reigns superior compared to Ghost:

Too “minimal”

While Ghost CMS shines for sites focused on content, you won’t be able to build an entire site out like you can with WordPress. If you want to build a corporate site, for example, you’ll be better off with WordPress.

Ghost themes tend to also feel more minimalistic compared to WordPress. If you prefer a more design centric approach to your site, WordPress might be a safer bet.

Self-hosting is harder

At this point, there are not many hosts which support Ghost CMS. Unlike WordPress, where 1-click installs are everywhere, if you want to self-host Ghost CMS sites, you’ll need to know at least a bit of command line.

On top of that, you’ll most likely need to host it on a VPS. Personally, I am using BunnyShell, which does support 1-click installs for Ghost with a $5/month Vultr droplet.

If self-hosting feels too hard, you could always consider Ghost Pro.

Backups are not as straightforward

At this stage, backups from Ghost are done manually by exporting file. While I believe this is something Ghost’s team will fix sometime in the future, it doesn’t look like it is a priority for the time being.

The only way to automate this is by taking server level backups, which isn’t ideal.

Who Should Use Ghost CMS?

Now that you’ve looked at Ghost’s best features, advantages and disadvantages over WordPress, you might be thinking to yourself: are my needs going to be satisfied by using Ghost CMS?

Personally, I think Ghost CMS are best for

  • Blog sections for SaaS or corporates which have a different main site
  • Writers and content creators who want to quickly monetise using memberships

Verdict: Ideal for Content Creators, Not Great for Full-blown Websites

Ghost CMS is an ideal solution for the content creator who wants to grow their audience and monetise their content, but don’t want to go through the hassle of setting up a WordPress website with all its moving parts. SEO, and memberships are built-in on top of a beautiful UI which inspires you to create. Node.js also means the site will be fast.

No CMS is perfect, however. Simplicity comes at a price – you won’t be able to build a full-fledged site with Ghost. WordPress, on the other hand, is endlessly customisable. You can build any type of site on it. With a global ecosystem of WordPress-based developers, support is ever ready.

Which one to go for depends on the purpose of your site. Personally, I use Ghost CMS for content-only sites and WordPress for everything else.

Over to you: What do you think of Ghost CMS? Let me know if you have some experience using it yourself.

About the author 

Lu Wee Tang

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