Why I chose Ghost as my blog platform
6 min read

Why I chose Ghost as my blog platform

A look into my thought process in choosing Ghost as my blogging platform.
White work table with notes, smartphone and laptop
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM / Unsplash

People are either very passionate about the blogging platform they use, or they say that platform doesn't matter.

For me, choosing the right platform was important because I wanted my website to be my online brand and grow with me.  As a new blogger, I needed the setup to be super easy, but I also wanted additional features in the future should the site become successful.

This article lays out my thought process in the decision to go with Ghost.  My goal is to provide perspective as a new blogger, who is also trying to think holistically about my long-term web presence.  I am not paid or supported by Ghost whatsoever (although I'm not opposed to that, wink wink).

My hope is that this can help others navigate their decision, whether it's with Ghost or another platform.

Ghost is open-source

Ghost is a content management system (CMS) that's offered by the Ghost Foundation, a non-profit focused on providing tools for independent writers.  If you self-host, the core application itself is 100% free to use.

Just take a look at this quote from Ghost CEO John O'Nolan in his interview with Stratechery (emphasis mine):

Ghost is at the intersection of all of the things that I love. We’ve managed to create a globally-distributed company which gives us the freedom to live lives we enjoy, the ability to work on a product that feels meaningful, in a market feels like it needs us and to me that’s enough. So my long term goal is for this to be a company and a product which is around for fifty, a hundred years. I’ve deliberately structured it at every juncture in a way to try and prevent myself from becoming enormously wealthy from it because I feel like the more my interests align with the customer’s interests, the more likely the business is to serve the interests of its users and not just focus on whatever is necessary to raise the next largest round or get the biggest acquisition number. My personal interest is deeply in publishing, it’s deeply in journalism, it’s deeply in seeing independent voices be able to have something meaningful to say in the world and to be able to sustain themselves doing it, and that’s what we optimize most of our product and business decisions around.

The obvious foil here is Substack, which has raised $82 million to date from top venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and has a post-money valuation of $650 million.  There's an argument to be made that the size and structure of the funding means that VCs, not writers or journalists, may actually be Substack's primary customer.

As a non-profit company built to sustain "freedom to live lives we enjoy," Ghost circumvents this concern completely.

Ghost has the best fee structure: free

Ghost takes 0% of the revenue your blog or newsletter makes.  If you self-host a Ghost site with paid subscriptions, the only fees you'll see are the 2.9% from Stripe for payment processing.  Even if you don't self-host and use Ghost(Pro), you'll pay a flat monthly bill of $9-$199 depending on your needs.  Compare this again to Substack, who takes takes 10% of all revenue, and it's a no-brainer especially if you plan to have a paid product.

The trickiest step (especially for non-tech folks) is the self-hosting part, but there are plenty of tutorials out there that give step-by-step instructions on how to install Ghost on a Digital Ocean droplet.

I want to give a shout-out to Louis Barclay of Cloakist who not only wrote a great article on how to install Ghost on a subdirectory (important for search engine optimization, or SEO), but also hopped on a Zoom call with me when I got stuck -- talk about customer service!

Ghost supports Markdown

I enjoy writing in Markdown because it seamlessly converts plain text from any desktop app to rich HTML.  It helps me write faster without worrying about formatting.  Additionally, I could make easily CSS edits in the backend to push formatting through all my posts.  Ghost also has integrations that connect automatically with many popular writing apps, making the experience seamless.

Medium, Substack, and Wordpress (and many others) are all WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") editors, meaning it's easier to get started but less usable overall.

Ghost supports custom domains for free

This was important to me.  I wanted to control and own my online presence, including my content and SEO.  If my blog succeeds, I would love to leverage that into a platform for other creative content.

A popular blogging platform like Medium is a no-go because my articles would be located under the medium.com domain.  The content would also be owned by Medium and be essentially behind a paywall.  Sure, it can theoretically reach a larger audience from the start, but there's no way for me to control how my content is discovered, promoted, or used.

Substack supports custom domains, but there's a $50 fee for just that, whereas Ghost supports it out-of-the-box.  And while Substack says that you own your content, you're still ultimately hosting on their platform and subject to their SEO.  With a self-hosted Ghost blog, I have complete control over what I want to do with my site.

Ghost is configurable

I wanted my website to look and feel a certain way.  And as someone with web design experience, I love that Ghost gives me the flexibility (and detailed documentation) to build custom themes, whereas Platforms like Medium and Substack don't offer much customization outside of swapping out colors or fonts.

If you're not picky about how your website looks, you can pick up one of the free and paid themes to get going immediately.  I like that Ghost offers deep customization options while also offering easy plug-and-play solutions.  For now, I've only made some tweaks to an existing theme, but I plan to dive deeper into design soon.

Ghost is easy to use

After getting it set up, Ghost has a simple, beautiful, and intuitive UI that's very easy to work with.

Platforms like Webflow or Wordpress may offer way more tools to build and power all types of websites including online stores, corporate sites, and more.  But all I'm doing is starting a blog right now.  As I add more content outside of blogging, I may choose to pivot, but Ghost is perfect to just get going.

In terms of future-proofing my site, I'm not too concerned about needing to pivot away from Ghost.  Because I installed Ghost on a subdirectory (hewsan.me/blog), I left my primary domain (hewsan.me) open for other content or other subdirectories.  What I can do in the future is leave Ghost as my blog CMS while using something else to power other portions of the site.  So many possibilities!

Ghost can power blogs, not just newsletters

The best newsletters focus on very defined topics to drive subscriptions and regular readers.  I opted not to go with a niche, at least to start, for many of the reasons that are well-outlined by Nat Eliason.  A personal blog across diverse topics was a better format for me.

Substack is a newsletter-first product and not great for blogs.  While Ghost has newsletter features built-in (such as memberships, emailing, and payments) so that you could build your own Substack, I was able to turn those features off and just focus on a subscription-free blog.

Again, this is another area where Ghost gives you the option to go in different directions depending on your needs.  I could turn on this feature in the future, which is something I can't do with a platform like Medium or Wordpress (at least without paying for a new product).

Ghost meets my needs

I'm only two weeks in, but I've been pretty pleased with Ghost so far.  I had a few hiccups during installation (maybe another article for another time), but now that it's up and running, it's meeting all my needs for this blog.

The takeaway here is to figure out what your needs are for your blog or newsletter, then optimize to solve for that.  There are many resources on the internet to help you make this decision.  I hope that presenting my thought process here can help you find the best platform for you.

I've also started on Twitter.  Please follow me there!