WordPress vs Ghost: Insights From A Picky Power User

Considering switching from WordPress to Ghost (or maybe the other way around)? Scroll down, you’ve come to the right place.

As a power user and not affiliated with either platform in any way. In this post, I’ll give you my honest and straight-up review of why and when you should use one platform over the other.

We’ll also cover a side-by-side comparison for three different use cases, building corporate sites, standalone blogs and affiliate sites.

Ready? Let’s go.

What is WordPress?

Wordpress vs Ghost

WordPress is a free and open-source content management system written in PHP and using a MySQL or MariaDB database. If you’re not familiar with any of this, let me explain:

Launched in 2013, WordPress is one of the most popular publishing platforms. In fact, WordPress powers more than 35% of all websites on the internet today. People use WordPress to power any kind of website, from simple blogs to corporate sites. WordPress is extremely powerful and it’s a great choice for many looking to start and scale an online business.

You can either host WordPress yourself (it’s dead easy) or use WordPress.com which has some restrictions, e.g. you can’t customise it with themes and plugins.

I’ve always self-hosted my WordPress sites so can’t really comment on using the WordPress.com service.

What is Ghost?

What Is Ghost

Now, this is where it gets interesting.

John O’Nolan, the founder of Ghost, was the former deputy design lead for WordPress. He started his idea of launching Ghost in November 2012.

Yes, I was surprised too.

Nolan was frustrated with the complexity of using WordPress as a blog rather than a content management system. In a blog post for Chart Mogul, Nolan says:

“We’re hoping to use technology to level the playing field of modern media and power some of the greatest journalists in the world.”

In 2013 he released the prototype of Ghost during a kickstarter campaign which is clearly targeted towards publishers. More on that later.

Ghost is also free & open source – although they’re also offering a PRO version which includes hosting. It’s built on NodeJS and modern technologies.

With the basics of both platforms covered, here’s the dilemma.

WordPress vs. Ghost: A Dilemma of Choice

As long as I can remember, I’ve been building blogs with WordPress. In fact, my first blog, “The Purity Experience”, launched in early 2010, seven years after WordPress was first released. (Just FYI, I don’t run this site any longer)

Back then, WordPress was really about blogging. And blogging was becoming the new hot thing – similar to what podcasts are today.

I’ve designed, dabbled, tinkered and developed and set up blogs for my friends and anyone who wanted to start writing.

But over the years things have changed. WordPress has become the tool of everything, not just blogs.

Today, I’m using WordPress primarily as a content management system (CMS) to build full websites and no longer simply as a standalone blogging platform.

I’ve not only used WordPress for the website of my design subscription service, not only corporate sites but also job boards, market places, eLearning platforms, eCommerce solutions & marketing pages.

At Zengrowth for example, we’re helping our clients build entire marketing systems on WordPress, from landing pages to email capture processes, to side-project marketing & more.

The fact that WordPress has a huge marketplace of free, paid and freemium plugins makes it the perfect platform for everything really. If you can think of it, you can probably make it in WordPress.

Now…

When I saw John Nolan’s kickstarter campaign for the first time, he marketed his “project” as:

“The open-source blogging platform which makes writing pleasurable and publishing simple”

A platform just for blogging? SEO out of the box? Markdown editor included? Blazing fast experience?

Clearly, Nolan had enough of the clunky WordPress experience for writers and publishers. And I do see where he was coming from.

But one thing really confused me.

Somewhere along the lines it also said something about being the “alternative to WordPress”. And I think this is what causes confusion in many peoples’ eyes.

People expected a new WordPress with similar goals, yet, Ghost’s value proposition was clearly based around publishing and writing and not building fully-fledged websites or web applications.

And that’s why I think the dilemma started in the first place.

Onwards.

With almost every technology, there are different use cases. Below, we’re exploring three different ones and I’ll share when I would use WordPress over Ghost and vice versa.

WordPress vs. Ghost: Different Platforms, Different Use Cases

Use Case 1: Building Corporate Websites

WordPress: If you’re a seasoned developer, you know what you’re doing and you’ve probably done it a million times, WordPress is awesome. You have full control over everything, plus you already know your way around, which plugins to install and how to make your WordPress website ultra fast.

Plus, most hosting sites offer easy one-click installs for WordPress. WordPress has a huge community supplying themes and extensions for almost every industry & use case.

Ghost: There are definitely sites that run Ghost as a fully-fledged CMS. Here’s an example, and here’s another one. But Ghost is designed to be a publishing platform. It’s not a fully functioning website CMS and you would probably need to hack it quite a bit to make it work. In my opinion, it’s not worth even trying. There are two completely different use cases.

Recommendation? Go with WordPress.

Use Case 2: Building & Publishing Standalone Blogs

WordPress:  WordPress is overkill if you’re looking to become an independent publisher or create a standalone blog. For example, to create a subscription service like Substack or a similar experience like Medium, you need to install or design custom themes. You need to dabble with plugins for SEO, plugins for caching, plugins for social sharing and plugins that help with speed optimization.

What’s the point of publishing if no one reads your content, right?

In addition, WordPress is notoriously slow unless you know how to optimise for speed and have the time.

Ghost: Ghost, on the other hand, has amazing support for SEO and social sharing out of the box. You don’t need any plugins or extensions, and you don’t need to write extra code. It simply works.

Here are a few corporate & personal blog examples:

Ghost provides you with everything you need in order to start and launch your online publication. Check out these corporate publications built with Ghost:

Websites Built With Ghost

Ghost is built with Node.js which has a massive community of developers to help it scale.

It’s super lightweight and focuses on the main area, writing and publishing. If you’re already familiar with online publication platforms like Medium or Substack, Ghost integrates with Unsplash for imagery, offers subscription functionality, Disqus comments, analytics and accelerated mobile pages.

Recommendation? Ghost
(unless you’re already running a corporate website on WordPress)

Use Case 3: Building Affiliate Websites

If you’re looking to use affiliate marketing in your business model, let’s say through product review sites, you may also be exploring WordPress vs. Ghost.

Most users are concerned about using monetization tools like Amazon Affiliate or Google Adsense, but there are also concerns about each platform’s suitability.

Let’s break it down.

WordPress: WordPress is a great platform to build strong affiliate sites. And it doesn’t matter if you’re using networks like Amazon, Clickbank or Google. WordPress already has a huge library of affiliate related themes and plugins that work out of the box. The alleviates the need to custom code any solutions. Most affiliate themes are optimized for speed out of the box.

Ghost, on the other hand, doesn’t have anything specific in the realm of building affiliate sites. If you want to integrate Google Adsense, you need to add the codes via script code injection. If you want to have link tracking, you can use out-of-the-box tools like Bit.ly.

Recommendation? It’s a tie between Ghost & WordPress. Product review sites where you need a lot of custom HTML to create tables & are you’re probably better off using WordPress. If you’re a blogger who has affiliate links here and there, you could benefit from Ghost’s simplicity, focus & ease of use.

WordPress vs. Ghost:

This one seems obvious.

Whenever I’m confronted with picking the best technology, I look at the founders’ story and their goals. Instead of trying to find the all-dancing, all-whistling all-in-one solution, I tend to go with specialised software. And if that specialisation matches with my intentions and goals, I make a quick decision.

Now, why am I writing this?

The choice between WordPress and Ghost is much easier if you know your goals.

Here are my two cents on Ghost vs. WordPress

Ghost

  • A far better user interface: You can get everywhere in just a few clicks
  • Amazingly fast: In comparison with WordPress, Ghost is many times faster and has SEO already built-in
  • Markdown: If you love markdown, you’ll fall in love with Ghost

WordPress

  • Developer freedom: You can customise the heck out of WordPress. If you do know how to code (and enjoy it), WordPress is awesome
  • An amazing community that supports WordPress users
  • Many different themes & plugins for every use case
  • Incredible site-building tools like Elementor & Oxygen Builder

Let me summarise:

If you’re looking for a platform that does everything and you don’t mind wading through menus, installing and maintaining dozens of plugins, have some coding knowledge and experience and want to build fully-fledged websites rather than content-driven blogs, then WordPress might be the best solution for you.

If you’re looking for an easy-to-use, simple, and focused publishing platform that allows you to focus on content more than anything else, go with Ghost.

Final Thoughts

Let’s be real here: WordPress is not going anywhere. It’s a popular tool used by many to achieve a vast number of things. But if you’re a serious publisher and you care about the user experience for you and your team you should definitely have a go at Ghost. It’s simply beautiful.

About LEWIS OGDEN

Lewis is the founder of WP Loaded, a passionate entrepreneur with a passion for online business and a curiosity for all things WordPress.