Ghost CMS Review: Simply delightful

Ghost is a Node.js based open-source blogging platform founded by ex WordPress employee John O’Nolan (CEO) and Hannah Wolfe (CTO).

Ghost CMS Review
Ghost Review

I had heard of Ghost a few years back but paid little attention as I have always been a WordPress advocate. I remember visiting the Ghost website once or twice in its infancy stages, but it did not appeal to me at the time, and I forgot all about it.

Several months back (2021) I was on the hunt for an all-in-one publishing and membership solution as an alternative to WordPress. I love WordPress; don’t get me wrong, but I could not find anything remotely close to what I was looking for.

I know what I wanted to achieve can be done with WordPress, but not without a handful of plugins and several third-party services which is not something I was keen on.

After a few days of research, I stumbled upon Ghost; it was being advertised as – content, newsletters, members, payments — all in one place.

Upon visiting the Ghost website, I was immediately sold; it included almost everything I was looking for and then some.

The Ghost Trial

I was pretty excited about the project, and I couldn’t wait to sign up and sink my teeth into a Ghost Pro trial so that I could test the platform.

This is what I found.

Ghost Pro is a fully managed and hosted service, similar to that of WordPress.com. There is no need to worry about installation, setup, security or updates; this is all taken care of by the Ghost team.

You can also self-host Ghost just like you can with WordPress, but Ghost is far more technically challenging when it comes to the installation and setup process and not many web hosts support the platform - yet.

So unless you have some basic understanding of server configuration and command-line experience, installing Ghost could prove to be a difficult task.

Ghost does have its own command line, ‘Ghost-CLI’, which makes it possible to install or update with single-line commands, but I would recommend that you stick with Ghost Pro if you want to avoid dealing with technical headaches.

The Ghost Backend

The Ghost user interface has a minimalistic look and feel; it’s speedy, there is no bloat, and there is no need for plugins, which I found very refreshing.

SEO features are built-in, and you get an awesome writing experience thanks to the minimalistic, distraction-free editor that prevents any interruptions to the flow of writing, it’s simply delightful.

One feature I did see missing from Ghost was article commenting, which was a little disappointing. There is no way for visitors or members to spark conversations or give you feedback on articles.

There are ways to integrate third-party commenting platforms, but for me personally, I think this is a huge miss on Ghost’s part.

Front-end-wise, you instantly notice a huge difference in loading time; there is no bloat, and it’s all very lightweight. I was very impressed.

You can change the look and feel of your Ghost website by simply switching themes from the admin area. There is a small selection of free themes, and you can also purchase some premium themes. The overall collection of themes available is still very small compared to its closest competitors.

Ghost is very flexible, and if you have a little HTML experience, you will be able to tweak or customise themes very easily. Ghost uses the Handlebars templating language, which is very easy to work with, so customising themes can be an enjoyable experience. Still, if you are not familiar with HTML, you will most likely have to hire a designer/developer if you are looking for something specific.

Memberships and Newsletters

On the Ghost website, it says: “Until now, building a publication with memberships and subscriptions has been difficult and complicated. Ghost makes it easy, with native signup forms that work on any site”.

I agree with this 100%. I have not come across an all-in-one platform as lightweight or as flexible. Ghost can pretty much do it all without the need for additional extensions.

With Ghost, you can offer tiered memberships and send newsletters directly to your subscribers. You also get a snapshot of member engagement, emails open rates and revenue statistics directly from the dashboard.

The beauty of it all is that there is no need to use third-party services such as Mailchimp or Mailerlite to manage newsletters.

But that’s not all; if you want to continue using third-party services like Mailchimp, you can do so with Ghost Integrations. Ghost has an extensive library of integrations that make it possible for you to connect your website with many popular third-party apps.

Ghost Pricing

Ghost is open source which means you are free to use it however you want. Advanced users and developers choose to self-host Ghost themselves as there are no limitations on the number of members and staff users you can have, which is not something you get with the Pro version.

Ghost Pro is the paid version. There are no differences other than you getting a fully managed service that includes hosting, CDN and SSL and perhaps receiving new features before self-hosted versions do.

There is no free plan, but Ghost offers you a free 14-day trial, which is more than enough time to evaluate the platform.

Pricing starts from $11 per month, with the cheapest option being the starter plan.

The Starter package includes a limit of 500 members and one staff user (admin user). You can have unlimited contributors (authors).

You can not use custom themes or custom integrations with the starter plan.

Next up is the Creator plan, which is $35 per month and includes a limit of 1000 members and two staff members with the option to use custom themes and custom integrations.

The Team plan is $63 per month and includes a limit of 1000 members, priority support, and is optimised to handle large traffic volumes.

The fourth and final plan, Business, is $240 per month and can accommodate an unlimited number of staff members, up to 10,000 members, and includes the option of using custom SSL certificates and a 99.9% uptime SLA guarantee.

Last Words

There are pros and cons like any other software, and although Ghost's pros outweigh the cons, there is definitely room for improvement.

What can you do with Ghost?

  • Build any type of publication
  • Build a newsletter business
  • Offer paid memberships
  • Have tiered member levels
  • Accept payments via Stripe
  • Send out newsletters
  • Build custom themes
  • Integrate with third-party apps

What can’t you do with Ghost Pro?

  • Customise member welcome and registration emails
  • You can not remove branding from the Ghost portal

What Ghost is missing?

  • Commenting system
  • Media management
  • Newsletter segmentation options for members
  • In-house analytics
  • More themes

Who is Ghost Pro for?

  • Bloggers, publications and content creators
  • Users with little or no HTML experience
  • Users with little to no technical experience