Ghost CMS: An In-Dept and Objective Review

Aliko Sunawang

Aliko Sunawang

A blogger and photography hobbyist.

There are a number of open-source content management systems out there. From the market leader WordPress to lesser-known options like Drupal, Joomla, and Ghost. The last-mentioned is particularly great if you are looking for a CMS for blogging.

Ghost is a modern, simple blogging tool built specifically for professional publishing. The project initiator, John O’Nolan, has a mission to help indie publishers (bloggers, writers, indie publishing companies, and so on) to have a better revenue stream via recurring payments. To achieve the mission, Ghost is built with a built-in membership feature whereby you can set your content to be accessed by paid members only. Ghost has native integration with Stripe as the payment gateway.

Blogging with Ghost, you can focus on content development instead of website administration.

If you plan to switch to Ghost (or want to start your first blog with Ghost), this article has compiled some key things to know before you begin.

Ghost CMS: In a Nutshell

Before Ghost was released, bloggers had only one option to create a professional blog: WordPress. Both Drupal and Joomla are also great for blogging, but they are too complex. Ghost is built with simplicity in mind. It is designed solely for blogging. To keep the simplicity, you don’t even be allowed to install a plugin with the intention of adding a new feature to your blog. The only thing you can do if you need a certain feature is to integrate your Ghost blog with a third-party service. For instance, you can integrate your blog with Disqus to add a commenting feature (yes, Ghost has no built-in commenting feature).

Ghost is a JavaScript-based CMS running on Node.js. The core of the software is available for free as open-source software. You can download the source code of Ghost on its official GitHub page.

Ghost has an extremely simple dashboard as it has an emphasis on content creation and administration. You will find no complex setting options on the Ghost dashboard like, for instance, WordPress. All you will see on the Ghost dashboard are the menu items to manage the blog posts and static pages, a menu item to manage the post tags, and a menu item to manage the members/subscribers.

There is a page on its dashboard dedicated to customizing your website, though, but the options are extremely limited. You can only set things like the accent color of your website, website logo, and website icon. The rest, everything is controlled by your theme (header layout, blog post layout, homepage layout, and so on.).

In Ghost, you have one key monetization model: by offering paid members-only content. Ghost has a feature dedicated to handling membership administration. As mentioned earlier, Ghost also has native integration with Stripe to handle the payments. So far, it is the only native payment gateway offered by Ghost. You can also accept PayPal, but it requires custom integration.

Is there any other way to monetize a blog in Ghost?

Basically, you can adopt nearly all monetization models. For instance, you can sell an affiliate product by placing your affiliate link on a blog post. Want to install Google AdSense? Ghost also allows you to do so.

The Ghost Ecosystem

Before really switching to Ghost, you might want to know the Ghost ecosystem first. The term “ecosystem” here refers to all parties getting involved with Ghost. From the Ghost core developer, users, third-party developers, to Ghost-related services (web hosting, theme development service, etc.)

Although Ghost is open-source software, its ecosystem is not too open as it doesn’t allow third-party developers to develop plugins to extend the functionality and features of Ghost. The only way for third-party developers to get involved is by developing a theme.

Well, third-party developers can develop a Ghost-specific product (outside theme), but it can’t be installed as a plugin to run as an integral component of Ghost. Instead, the product should be running as a separate service. Let’s take Cove as an example.

Cove is a commenting system service developed specifically for Ghost. To use the service, users have to create an account on Cove and then connect it with their Ghost blog via HTML code.

Every time you want to add a new feature or functionality to your Ghost blog, you have to seek the right service and make sure the service supports integration with Ghost. You can visit this page to figure out whether the service you use has integration support with Ghost.

In some cases, integration requires theme file editing. Since Ghost doesn’t allow you to edit the files of your theme, you need to download your theme first and then re-upload it once you are done editing the files.

Another issue with Ghost is that it’s quite challenging to find a third-party hosting and theme. It is reasonable as Ghost is way less popular.

Some useful websites related to Ghost:

Ghost CMS: Blogging Experience

Ghost is designed to be a simple, yet professional blogging tool. In Ghost, the emphasis is on content creation and administration, not site administration. Due to this, Ghost offers minimum setting options on its dashboard.

Content Administration

Ghost has a minimalist dashboard. There are only seven menu items you will find. Three of them are dedicated to managing the content:

The main dashboard of Ghost CMS
  • Posts: You can use this menu to create and manage blog posts.
  • Pages: You can use this menu to create and manage the static pages
  • Tags: You can use this menu to manage tags.

Ghost uses only one parameter — tag — to group posts. A tag is used to group posts in an archive page. There is no option to add a category in Ghost. A blog post can have two or more tags.

In Ghost, you have to go to the editor to make a minor change (e.g., changing the slug or assigning a post to another tag) to your posts or pages. There is no quick edit feature offered by Ghost so far. As a comparison, WordPress has a quick edit feature to allow you to make a minor change such as changing the slug, assigning a post to another category, changing the layout, and so on.

The Editor

One of the things you will love about Ghost is its editor. The Ghost editor — codenamed Koenig — offers a very pleasurable, distraction-free writing experience thanks to its extremely simple interface. No side panel until you click the settings panel by clicking an icon on the top-right corner.

The content editor of Ghost CMS

The Ghost editor is based on Markdown instead of HTML like Gutenberg (the editor of WordPress). In addition to text, there are several other elements you can add to your blog post or page. You can simply click the plus icon on the editor to add a new element. Some elements you can add are:

  • Image
  • Video
  • Social media content (YouTube videos, tweets, etc.)
  • Button
  • GIF
  • Call to action

Ghost offers minimum text formatting option. To add a certain text format (e.g., bullet and numbering), you need to have basic Markdown knowledge.

A minor drawback of the Ghost editor is that it doesn’t allow you to add attributes to a link such as nofollow or blank. When you add a link to a certain text, the link will be set as dofollow and will be opened in the same tab.

Built-in Features

It’s true that Ghost doesn’t allow you to add a plugin to extend the functionality as well as the feature of your blog, but it already has useful features you need for blogging. There are two notable, useful built-in features you can get from Ghost:

  • SEO
  • Newsletter and membership

— SEO

SEO is the marketing pillar of any online business type, including blog. SEO is the best marketing channel to acquire organic traffic.

Ghost has some built-in features you can maximize to make your blog posts be on the front page of search engine. You can set the custom meta title and the custom meta description of your blog posts. Also, Ghost allows you to set custom title and description for Twitter and Facebook.

Built-in SEO feature of Ghost CMS

In addition, Ghost also has a built-in sitemap (which you can access by typing yourblog.com/sitemap.xml/ on web browser). You can also set a custom URL for a blog post to make it more SEO friendly.

Here are some SEO features offered by Ghost:

  • Custom meta title and description
  • Custom URL
  • Custom social media title and description
  • Built-in sitemaps
  • Google AMP pages
  • Canonical tags

— Membership and Newsletter

Ghost is developed with a main grand mission to help indie publishers to earn better revenue stream via recurring payments. Pretty similar to SaaS, but you offer content instead of service.

To make it easier for you to offer paid content, Ghost has a built-in membership feature whereby the members are divided into two groups: free members and paid members. When publishing a blog post, you can set which user group can access it.

Content restriction feature of Ghost CMS

Regarding the payment, you can integrate Ghost blog with Stripe to handle the payment.

What is Stripe?

Stripe is a payment gateway service that bridges a customer and a merchant (you in this context). Stripe will handle the membership payments on your blog. Stripe allows your members to make the payments via credit card/debit card.

As long as you live in a country supported by Stripe, the integration process between Stripe and Ghost is not too complicated. You can visit this page to figure out the list of countries already supported by Stripe.

Ghost has a dedicated menu to managing your members. If you have some email subscribers on services like MailChimp and ActiveCampaign, you can bring them to Ghost by importing them.

Ghost has a component called Portal. It is a component to control the pages — including the registration form — related to membership.

The interface of Portal, one of the Ghost CMS built-in features.

Once you have enough members on your blog, you can send them email newsletters on a regular basis. Sending email newsletter is extremely straightforward. When writing a new blog post, you have two publication options: publish it as a regular blog post and send it as an email newsletter. There is also a scheduling feature in case you want to deliver the blog post at a specific time.

Ghost also allows you to design the look of your email newsletter. You can set things like header image, set the font of the email body, enable/disable feature image, and so on.

More interestingly, Ghost has built-in open-rate analytics feature to allow you to track how many members are reading your emails. This feature is super useful to figure out whether you have active members or not.

Where You Should Host Your Ghost Blog

Ghost has some things in common with WordPress. One of which, it is available in two versions: hosted (Ghost.org) and self-hosted.

If you are a non-tech blogger who has no sysadmin experience or knowledge, we strongly recommend you create your blog on Ghost.org. Installing Ghost on your own hosting requires complex steps. Also, you need to have access to terminal/shell to run some Linux commands. So far, it is very challenging to find a hosting provider that offers a managed hosting solution for Ghost.

Hosted or Self-Hosted?

While Ghost.org offers a managed solution to run your Ghost-based blog, you might face issues in the future as your blog gets bigger and bigger (indicated by a large number of traffic).

Ghost.org offers no access to the database and the Ghost files. This will make it hard to make a migration to another hosting in case you need to. All you can do if you want to migrate to another hosting is to export your content and then import it to your new Ghost blog on your new hosting.

If you need migration flexibility, you can consider using the self-hosted version instead. If dealing with Linux command lines looks scary for you, you can hire an expert to install your Ghost. By the way, we have just found a great managed Ghost hosting called Gloat, but we are not sure if it offers access to the database and the Ghost files.

Ghost CMS Performance

There are two main elements affecting the performance of a website: the website itself and the hosting used. When it comes to CMS, the theme a website uses also plays a role.

In case you are curious, we have tested the performance of Ghost on Lowest ISO, one of our networks. We used GTmetix to test the performance and here are the results:

Ghost performance review

Lowest ISO itself is hosted on Ghost.org. It uses the Edition theme, one of the default Ghost themes.

The Verdict — Ghost Review

WordPress has been the first option to create a professional blog, but have you tried Ghost?

Ghost is a simple, modern CMS designed specifically for professional publishing. It has an indie publishing spirit. Ghost is available in two versions: hosted and self-hosted.

If you are looking for a minimalist CMS for blogging, Ghost is obviously worth trying. In Ghost, you are encouraged to focus on content development instead of website administration. That is why Ghost offers extremely limited site customization options. Ghost comes with some useful built-in features such as SEO and newsletter.

Ghost is an Ideal Blogging Tool If

Ghost CMS is built for professional publishers. Meaning that when you blog with Ghost, you have a business purpose with your blog. The main idea of Ghost is to make it easy for publishers to monetize their blog by offering paid content. Ghost has a built-in membership functionality to allow you to publish content to paid members or regular (free) members. If you want to apply this monetization model on your blog, then Ghost is a perfect option. Ghost, however, also allows you to apply other monetization models on your blog.

Blog is also a great option if you are looking for a simple blogging tool with the focus on content development. Not site administration.

Ghost is Not an Ideal Blogging Tool If

Despite being open source, the ecosystem of Ghost is not too open. Third-party developers are allowed to get involved, but only for themes. So far, they are not allowed to develop plugins to extend the functionality and features of Ghost. If a developer wants to create a Ghost-specific product, he/she has to offer the product as a separate service. There is no option to run the product as an integral component of Ghost.

Ghost supports integration with many popular online services, but some integrations (such as Disqus) require theme file editing. The problem is that Ghost has no feature to edit a theme file directly from its dashboard. To edit a certain theme file, you need to download the whole theme and re-upload it once you are done editing the file.

Ghost is also not an ideal option if you want to have more control over your website regarding the site appearance (header layout, homepage layout, blog post layout, etc.)

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