Over my nearly ten years of blogging I have tried over half a dozen different blogging platforms and experiences. I'm a massive nerd about tools, and trying to find the best of the best. I came this close to even making my own CMS, but now I don't have to!
To put it into perspective I looked at all 11,000 plugins for Wordpress in order to find the best ones. I went through all 2,800 Ghost themes online to find the best one, and now I have probably THE BEST solely Ghost website on the internet... modestly speaking of course.
This isn't taking into account the sites that use it as a headless CMS of course, which is one of the benefits of the tool. First and foremost the simplicity is second to none, and the minimalist mindset is there front to back.
Disclaimer: I believe in transparency, and so today's review is going to have an affiliate link to Ghost Pro since I endorse them. You'll see why from the post down below!
Why I Moved to Ghost in the First Place
Not only did Wordpress have a limited system of what you could do built in, but you had to have plugins for EVERYTHING. Some people may look at me saying "limited system", and say "oh but it can do this or that.... with a plugin".
Plugins are required for everything, they are constant security threats, and they always needed to be updated. Not only was the admin interface rather ancient, but there were always unnecessary levels of abstraction. You also had to update plugins, or wordpress itself every time you'd log on. Increasing your meta work, and don't get me started on web design.
Things like SEO, memberships, email marketing (basic form), SSL, and content delivery network or "CDN", are all included with Ghost Pro.
Note: If you use Ghost on your own server, then you'd have to provide SSL and CDN yourself, but everything else is baked into Ghost which is so important!
Basically I was constantly working on my tool for creation, rather than actually creating.
What I have used in the Past
As a blogger for the better half of a decade I have played around with my fair share of tools and platforms. It has been an interesting journey to say the least, and I have a ton of blog posts under my belt at this point.
An Omnichannel Experience
Part of why I tried so many platforms was because I wanted to be everywhere. I still do in a way, but I realized that the best content for the most part should be on my home site. Not to mention I no longer wanted to be beholden to any platform's wishes (i.e. Medium).
Let's start off by saying that WP powers 39% of ALL of the internet. It is certainly a beast, and has over 11,000 plugins to expand your use case. I have gone through that entire directory too, and I saw some amazing things you could do with wordpress. The problem is the limited scope of the base system. No built in SEO, no cacheing, custom post types take a lot of work, and overall the system is clunkly.
I ended up with far too much "Meta-work" every time I logged on, that I never got around to writing!! That isn't okay for a CMS, let alone a blogging based one, and since I moved to Ghost I have actually finished some pieces that were sitting in limbo on WP.
As a creative person I wanted to express my design choices in my own way. When I first moved to WP it had only a small selection of themes, and I didn't know what to do. (it was WP .com jsyk)
I ended up moving to Wix because it had the freedom of moving anything anywhere, and I was able to express my creative drives.
I realized quickly that the site still wasn't very fast, and I often over created the design. Added too much, and it felt cluttered. Or I'd have the problem with spacing on my layout.
I wanted to have a daily writing habit at the beginning of the 2020 Quarantine, and so I chose this blockchain based platform to be my home for that side blog. The Fireside Blog I called it.
It was very limited, and was trying to emulate the whole minimalist style of modern CMS's like Ghost and Substack.
I had some interesting posts there, and it was a good start for a personl endeavor.
I wanted to expand what I could do with my Fireside Blog, and also to consolidate some of my places. At that time I had four different blog sites!
Thus began the first bit of intrigue of having the Fireside Codex, and I started writing more on there for about a month or two. At this time I was strongly comparing Substack and Ghost. The former was "free", but whenever you made money in the future they would take 10%.
That adds up very quickly, and although I have to pay for Ghost monthly; I know it will be worth it in the end when I start doing more PolyPro subscriptions.
This was just an outlet with many sub-sites, and I wanted to expand my reach for the Modular Degree. I tried it out, and I hated the writing experience there. EVERY other modern blog writing tool (besides Airtext) has an autosave feature.
I lost my writings a few times there because I couldn't get to the button in time. Here on Ghost as I was writing this I was able to press ctrl-s and save it.
I saved the worst for last. Seriously I spent literal years on this platform, made over 100 stories, some really long form too. Yet I never felt appreciated by the Medium team, and more importantly never reached that many people.
Over the last two years especially they have been ramping up their pushes for paid subscriptions. Perhaps becuase of their business model being limited, they needed to in order to survive. Ironically despite how much I wrote on there and read, I never really wanted to pay for it. I never read more than 4 or so blog posts a month. Wasn't worth the cost to me.
It also felt slimely to me how quickly they switched over, and literally told people via email ("to their face" essentially) that if they didn't make Paid only posts that it wouldn't get shared on the platform. Most people went to Medium in the first place to have the chance to "go viral". Some did, and I think some people make like a $1000 a month on there. woo, you can make more on substack or ghost, just saying.
I had originally moved there from my wix site, and had both of my publications on there. However now I was easily able to have them here as separate tags. :)
How do they Compare?
With some tools like substack and airtext they are literally just blog posts and an archive nothing more. Substack does offer email services, but honestly if you want to build your email list you really need to have more to offer. Such as gated content, and probably an expanded email system.
As for Medium you don't really own your content, as they have full control over your publication. Recently they even made it to where big publications can't actually export their content away. 😱 Probably to prevent another situation like Hackernoon (one of their biggests pubs) leaving the platform because of oppression.
In all cases they don't either compare to the feature set of Ghost, which basic things like SEO opimization and AMP support are built into it, vs Wordpress where you have to have nearly 12 plugins just for basic functionality (including SSL, security); Or they don't compare to the monetization options. Sure it costs per month to host the site, but they don't take anything out of your revenue. Unlike Medium, Vocal, and Substack.
Ghost costs $36 a month, or $29 per month for annual plans, and that seemed steep to me at first. However then I realized it also includes SSL and more importantly even a CDN. Which with Cloudflare, whom I was using for WP, it would have costed $12 a month for a CDN. Plus my hosting which you CAN get for cheap, but the speed on those shared VPS servers are just abysmal.
So by the time you get done paying for all the plugins you need, like SEO or security, then it really actually is CHEAPER with Ghost than Wordpress.
The other platforms take a cut from your income, whether or not they tell you that. Substack is the only one that is upfront about it, and they take 10%. Not a big deal if you're making $100 a month (they take $10), but if you start to go viral and make $100,000 a month (ideal situation). Then they get $10,000 from you. It just doesn't seem to be worth it IMO.
Also with WP I just remembered, in order to have any sort of decent looking site you HAVE to have a page builder. I.e. Elementor ($50 a year), brizy, or Divi ($300 one off). Adding more to the cost and metawork.
Ease of Use
I absolutely love the minimalism of Ghost, there is just the basics you need. I'm a poweruser too so normally I try to really push the limits, which I did with the coding aspect. However WP had me dealing with custom post types just to do some basic things, and it really wasn't worth also dealing with Elementor.
However I found a theme that supported podcasts as well, essentially just made an archive for it, and then the video posts also had a special template for a bigger video display on the blog post. Making those posts that much better.
Ghost's theme marketplace has some pretty nice looking modern websites too. I particularly liked Hue and Liebling. You don't have to go crazy like me, and look at all of the github repositories. Although you certainly can, and then have access to 2700 or so more themes. Mine for clarification is called Simply!
There is even a theme that makes it look like substack if you want! #substation
Ownership of Content
I hated how much control Medium had over my works, and the export process was concerning at best. Of course with WP you have ownership just like Ghost, but the security and the prevelant scrapping bots on wordpress makes me worried too. I was able to use Steempress to syndicate my content to the blockchain, so I hope one day they'll support Ghost too!
With Medium or Substack, even if they say it is all your content, it can be subject to change. We have seen that with Medium especially, and these centralized companies are something you should tread carefully on. With Ghost it is a non-profit, so they aren't worried about monetizing YOUR content. They leave that all for you.
What I love about My Ghost Site!
Okay so why am I so happy about this tool? I'm realizing at this point that this review became quite long, and I actually have a lot to say. I think this section in particular is the most important. Pros and Cons so to speak.
There aren't a whole bunch of both, and that is actually interestingly a good thing. It has to do with the minimalist philosophy of Ghost. Because of that you can get straight into the work.
The Pros of a Simple Yet Complicated Site
Let's be honest here PolyInnovator ISN'T a simply brand. Even the name alone is based off of being a Polymath of Innovation. Polymathy meaning many learnings and areas of knowledge. Then beyond the blog there is the Fireside Codex, another blog within the blog. Multiple video series, a NOW page series, the United Living Construct series (my old brand), four different kinds of PolyCasts (thus far), and of course my main series the OmniContent. Phew that is a lot!
Why is all that important to this section? Well how the hell do I explain all of that, let alone ORGANIZE the information architecture aspect of it on a web design standpoint? A drop down menu is important for that, and we will get into that in the Cons, but from a creator standpoint how do I tag them or organize?
With other tools like Medium or Substack, there is literally just no way of doing it. The tag system is too basic. However with wordpress they have categories and tags, and you would think those two levels of abstraction HELPS, but in fact it is quite the opposite. They just get confusing for users, and me, and in the end it makes it even more complicated with custom post types. The tag system on Ghost is two fold, public and private, the private ones allow me to tag them as polycast or video. Keeping a collection for my own sake, and helps me put them into the proper templates for user viewing.
Not to mention it makes everything one layer, so if I want to show you an archive of the U.L.C.'s work I can. If I want to show you an archive of interview posts from the polycast I can, and so forth.
Not to mention the beauty of having basic modern features like AMP and SEO built right in. It is so frustrating switching between SEO plugins on WP trying to find the best one. SCREW YOAST. Not to mention essentially RESETTING my SEO every time I switch them too.
Instead of plugins Ghost has integrations, which are inherently much deeper connections, and has built in zapier support too for exponentially more things the site can do. Like connect to my other email service too.
I literally could keep going, but this section is already too long.
Some Cons, for full disclosure!
Now when it came to my ghost site I will say I had a couple problems with it, that are now solved. Those were that the import system still needs work. On the pricing page it said it could import from a variety of platforms, but in my personal experience that isn't really true. The only thing I could actually properly import was my list of members from substack. When I imported my wordpress over it didn't quite work, the images were broken, and the posts were in html inside the blog post. Luckily for the other plans for Ghost Pro, they do offer a concierge service, and I think that is what most people would want to do anyways! Save you the trouble!
Note: I had used their wordpress plugin to convert into the Json file needed for Ghost's Import feature. You may end up having a different experience too. Other services don't provide it, but you can try and convert it yourself too when you export as html or whatever the cms you're coming from uses. I ended up having to do it manually, but I think it was very much worth it.
I already had to manually move my medium posts over, so moving my wordpress and substack over wasn't going to be that much more of a deal. However it was 160 blog posts that I had to copy paste into Ghost. I actually moved them to Notion.so first because then I could have a backup. In the end it actually helped me by doing it manually, as I probably wouldn't have made that backup otherwise!
The other things were that Ghost doesn't natively support static home pages and drop down menus. You can make a "page" from their taxonomy, and route that to being a home static page. Honestly for most people that would work just fine, and I encourage that. Although since my content is varied, and I have a lot to share I needed a bit more on there!
I actually got that done pretty quickly on my own, about a week, without a deep level of coding knowledge! The real problem came from the drop down menu, where I tried over 6 css menus, and they didn't work. Although I think my theme is to blame for that more so than Ghost!
This is a review, and I didn't want to be negative. However I believe in being transparent, and the fact that I was able to overcome those challenges ^ is a great thing. Not to mention that if those are the only problems I've faced, then it is already far better than Wordpress (which gave me hell on many occasions).
If you're looking to start a blog, newsletter, and/or some sort of personal brand website, then I recommend the fantastic CMS that is Ghost.io!
Disclaimer: Of course I do want to disclose that I am including an affiliate link to the service, as since I endorse their service I would like to keep track of referrals.
This does mean that part of your subscription does go to me as a referrer, at no additional cost to you!
I really think most people are sleeping on this CMS, and if you get in now while things are building. I think there could be a great first mover advantage here.