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Ghost touts itself as a “simple, modern WordPress alternative.”
And that’s true, to an extent.
While Ghost, which claims a "virtual" headquarters in Singapore, focuses solely on the blogging process, San Francisco-based WordPress has evolved into something far greater than just a blogging platform.
So as a blogger looking to publish content on a personal or business level, which blogging solution is best?
WordPress is a free and open source PHP-based blogging beast. It comes in two flavors: self-hosted WordPress and WordPress.com, the latter offering a hosting service in return for some restrictions (which you can learn more about from our Medium vs. WordPress comparison).
Matt Mullenweg launched WordPress in 2003, but somewhere along the line, it stopped being just a blogging platform. Today, publishing content is just one more thing WordPress can do, alongside ecommerce, forums, landing pages, intranets, event microsites, corporate websites and more.
Ghost was launched in 2013 after a successful Kickstarter campaign led by former WordPress employee John O'Nolan. During that campaign, O’Nolan described Ghost with the same words that used to describe WordPress, “just a blogging platform.”
It’s free, open source, built on NodeJS and it mimics WordPress’ dual offering of self-hosted and hosted options — although there aren’t as many restrictions if you opt for the hosted version of Ghost.
Both platforms are open source and free to download, meaning you can customize them and monetize them in any way you like, without restrictions. This makes them popular solutions among bloggers who know their way around code (and even those who don’t) as well as businesses looking to give their internal content publishers a user-friendly blogging experience.
WordPress and Ghost both have all the core features a blogger could want, but that doesn’t mean they’re alike. Here’s a breakdown of how they differ.
Ghost and WordPress approach the act of blogging in two very different ways.
The biggest difference is that, with Ghost, you’re blogging in Markdown — which is essentially shorthand HTML. With WordPress, you’re working with a more approachable WYSIWYG editor.
Markdown may sound daunting for those used to WYSIWYG editors, but once you get the hang of it, the time-saving shortcuts of Markdown become a luxury that you’d hate to blog without. Plus, Ghost’s interface is as clean and pretty as they come.
WordPress on the other hand, boasts a world-renowned blogging experience that can be extended in almost any direction (you can even install a Markdown plugin, if so inclined). The editor can toggle between WYSIWYG and HTML, allowing more advanced users to make HTML changes on the fly.
WordPress’ editor is by no means the prettiest, but it possesses a brilliant blend of power and usability — particularly when you get plugins involved.
Speaking of plugins, to get the most out of WordPress’ blogging experience, you’ll need a handful. For example, without plugins like Yoast SEO, you’ll be struggling to configure your posts correctly for search engines.
Ghost on the other hand has such SEO features (like meta descriptions and meta tags) coded into its core, so you don’t have to worry about enhancing the publishing experience with plugins.
Out of the box, neither WordPress or Ghost will automatically push your content anywhere other than to your blog.
With WordPress, you’ll need to install Jetpack or a similar plugin in order to automate your social sharing. As for social sharing buttons, that depends on the theme you’re using, and the plugins you install.
Ghost on the other hand, has built-in social sharing buttons that show up on each published blog post.
While Ghost does have a growing list of themes found both on its official website and across third-party marketplaces, it’s just a drop in the WordPress’ vast theme ocean.
Similarly, WordPress users can bolster their websites with the tens of thousands of plugins available online, whereas Ghost Apps are still a project in the making. At the time of writing, there are just two integration available for Ghost — Slack and Google AMP.
However, it’s worth noting that — like the SEO features Ghost has built into its core — Ghost has more native publishing features (like forms, buttons and code snippets), making it less reliant on third-party enhancements.
Both Ghost and WordPress are free to download and host via a web host of your choice. That service is typically available for as little as $5 per month.
With that being said, it’s worth briefly exploring the price difference between WordPress.com and Ghost Pro — the two cloud-hosted options.
WordPress.com offers a free plan, but with many restrictions and the presence of WordPress ads on your blog. Not ideal for serious brands.
Ghost’s free offering is less restricted, has no ads, but only lasts for 14 days. After that, you’ll be forking out at least $19 per month.
Over the years, WordPress has evolved into the Jack of all trades of the CMS world. Ghost on the other hand, is what WordPress used to be — a platform just for bloggers.
Ghost is ideal for the WordPress user who adopted WordPress way back when for its blogging prowess, but has since been drowning in all the extra functionality that has flooded the platform.
With a purer approach to publishing, Ghost is a solid choice for both startup bloggers and businesses looking to adopt a no-thrills blogging platform to operate separately from their core CMS.
And yet, it’s difficult to sit back and allow Ghost to market itself as an alternative to WordPress as a whole, because if you need more than just a blog (ecommerce, anyone?), WordPress is the obvious choice each and every time.