Ghost vs WordPress – Choosing the Right Platform

During the past decade or so WordPress has both continued to grow as a content management system (aka CMS) and further entrench itself as the blogging system of choice for millions upon millions of users: either in the form of the hosted WordPress.com or the self-hosted open-source package from WordPress.org.

If you were looking for new ways to publish content online, the last couple of years has been kind indeed. Not only have a slew of hosted solutions like svbtle and Medium made significant in-roads, there’s also now a number of new up-and-coming open source (potentially self-hosted) platforms to choose from: one of the most notable being Ghost.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at Ghost vs WordPress. We’ll be covering the differences and similarities, whether one really is better than the other, which one you should choose, and finally — what the future of Ghost and WordPress could bring.

An Introduction To Ghost

I’m pretty sure you need no introduction to WordPress. In light of that, for now, let’s focus on what Ghost actually is. Initially funded by an extremely successful Kickstarter Campaign by John O’Nolan — which raised almost $200,000 — Ghost is positioned as a simple publishing platform. It is, as the big introduction text on the official Ghost website clearly says: “Just a blogging platform“.

The installation screen is a single form, and the main admin screen gets right to the point: your posts.

Main Admin

You can tell from the main admin screen that Ghost really is meant for blogging, and blogging only. No custom post types, no plugins, no permalink tweaking, and complex settings to fiddle with. You get a list of your posts with a preview on the right and the option to add or edit posts.

The edit screen is a dual-pane affair that allows you to write Markdown on the left and see the result as you type on the right.

The bottom bar allows you to add tags, publish the post and change some settings like the post URL, publish date, author, and metadata. You can also add a featured image, make a post a static page and feature a post.

Post edit in Ghost

Ghost also has a minimalist settings section. Some general options allow you to change the title, description, logo, theme and similar settings. You can also create and modify users, tags, set your navigation menu items, and add code to the header or footer. You can even use some experimental features in the Labs section. But, again, that’s as far as it goes.

User Profile in Ghost

Once Ghost was installed, it took me about two minutes to put together something extremely presentable; something I would actually be fine using in production.

Example Ghost Post

WordPress vs Ghost

Now that we’ve established the basics of Ghost, let’s look at what differentiates it from WordPress.

Getting Started

The self-hosted version of WordPress is far more easily accessible than that of Ghost. This has to do with the underlying technology and popularity of the platform. Installing WordPress is as easy as getting the zip file, extracting it on your server and pointing your browser to your website. If you’ve never worked with files online before fear not, because almost all good hosting services have one-click installs — which means WordPress really is at your fingertips wherever you go.

Ghost, on the other hand, is built using Node.js — so you’ll need the terminal to install and run it. Since by default applications started in the terminal stop once you exit, you’ll need to do some more work to run a proper website using Ghost. It’s not hugely difficult, but you definitely need some developer chops to do this as it is right now.

There’s good news though: both platforms also offer hosted services. WordPress.com is around for WordPress-based sites, and you can sign up for Ghost, too.

Hosted Pricing

The source code for both platforms is free. If you can get the code up and running yourself, you can use it as much as you like for all your websites. If you don’t want to worry about running things yourself, you can use the hosted services mentioned above.

Ghost

The bad news is that hosted Ghost doesn’t have a free hosted option. I’m actually OK with this; I appreciate the work they’re doing, so they deserve a little compensation. They do, however, have a handy 14-day free trial, so you can always try things out before you commit.

There are three available plans: Personal, Advanced, Team, and Business.

The Personal plan is $8 per month and gives you one blog with up to 25,000 views. The Advanced plan will set you back $24 and give you three blogs with 100,000 combined views. The Team plan is $80 with 10 blogs and 350,000 views. The largest plan will cost $200 a month and give you unlimited blogs with 1,000,000 views.

There are some perks for choosing one of the larger plans, but I think if you need more than three blogs, you’d perhaps be better off paying someone $100 to set things up on your own domains than paying $100 every month for hosting. That said, the Personal and Advanced plans seem more than reasonable.

WordPress

WordPress’s main focus is openness, and their hosted plans reflect this. Their basic plan is free for life and gives you any number of websites you’d like. Although if you’d like to use your own domain (instead of myblog.wordpress.com), or you’d like more customization options, for example, you’ll need to open your wallet accordingly.

You can pay $99 a year for the premium service, which will give you a custom address and customization options, or you can just map your domain for $13 a year.

Personally, I think Ghost’s hosted service is much clearer; you know exactly what you’re getting. Because WordPress is so easily accessible, I actually don’t think the WordPress hosted service offers much of a benefit — except perhaps for larger networks.

First Impressions

My first impression of WordPress was quite a while back, but there’s no denying that it’s considerably more complicated that Ghost. I wouldn’t say WordPress is difficult to use per se, but there is so much there that it can, at times, be a bit overwhelming for newcomers.

What are Tools? Why are they different from Settings? Why do some themes have their custom settings page and some use the WordPress theme customizer? These are just some of the sorts of many questions that often come up when getting started with WordPress.

In addition, the WordPress admin panel is arguably a bit outdated. It’s received a few overhauls over the years, but structurally it’s still the same as it was five or six years ago — and it shows.

Ghost, on the other hand, feels like a breath of fresh air. The initial admin screen shows your posts and has so few controls that you can figure out everything at a glance. Think big, bold, obvious, and beautiful. Even the settings section is clean and lean enough to understand in just a few minutes.

Ghost really does deliver simplicity in the admin. Navigating around it is easy and relatively intuitive; you soon learn where everything is, and it makes you want to write — which is something every blogging platform should be doing!

Writing Posts

I’m a big fan of writing in Markdown, which is the format Ghost uses. If you’re not used to it, it takes a couple of minutes to learn but is really very easy. You can take a look at this Markdown Cheatsheet or (if you’re already using Ghost) click the little Markdown icon within Ghost’s post edit screen to see the syntax.

If you use WordPress.com for hosting, you can enable markdown in your writing settings. If you’re using the self-hosted version, however, you’ll need a plugin like WP-Markdown.

Basic Writing

Both platforms have previews available. WordPress has the visual editor, which allows you to see the result of your work and edit it as you go along. The preview isn’t terribly accurate, though, unless your theme’s creator went to some lengths to make sure it is (note: it should be noted that WordPress is actively working on making the visual editor a lot better).

Ghost has a two-pane system, which is a joy to work with. You don’t need to switch back and forth, and your Markdown is parsed and displayed as you write.

For me, Ghost wins on this point just because it looks so darn good. It makes you both want to write more and write better, more engaging content. It’s also much easier to write common elements like lists, etc.

Adding Images

I was very pleasantly surprised at Ghost’s implementation of images. I was worried that they wouldn’t be able to pull it off with the markdown. The way it works goes like this: You create an image element with Markdown. This gets turned into an image placeholder where you can drag-and-drop the image.

Ghost image placeholder

In WordPress, you drag and drop the image into the editor, which will then open the ‘add media’ section and automatically upload the image. You then click insert, and the image gets added.

WordPress Media Dialog

This doesn’t sound too hard — and indeed it isn’t — but there are few additional factors. The media dialog box is big and full of options. Waiting for it to open, upload the image, clicking the button and waiting for it to insert the shortcode takes a noticeable amount of time. What’s more, uploading can take a while, especially if your theme implements a number of image sizes.

With Ghost, the process is a lot faster. Just type three markdown characters, drag-and-drop the image and continue writing. If that’s all you need, Ghost wins this category too, but WordPress still has more options up its sleeve.

With WordPress, you can set the title, caption, alt-text and description of the image, in addition to choosing an image size and alignment. For complex websites, this can be a godsend and well worth the extra two or three seconds it takes to add an image.

In a nutshell: if you need lots of options for your images, WordPress will be better at providing them for you. Ghost doesn’t have the advanced capabilities that WordPress does, but it can still give you beautiful images if you’re happy with simply inserting a single size.

Advanced Editing

WordPress will definitely win on this count, since we’ve run out of options for Ghost. WordPress has a few shortcodes to use for things like embedding content, galleries and such built in; plus you can also add a lot more with plugins, giving you access to complex elements with a just few simple characters.

For example, you can use [gallery] to display a gallery with all images uploaded to the current post in WordPress. You can use the media window to assemble a gallery of arbitrary images as well — like this: [gallery ids='2,33,54']. Ghost doesn’t have an option for this at all.

Content Presentation

Both platforms have added support for themes, so this one isn’t really all that relevant to a direct comparison of WordPress and Ghost, it’s more a question of theme availability. Since WordPress has been around for a decade now, it’s no surprise that there are 100s of times more themes for it.

WordPress themes range from the minimal to the impossibly convoluted, from general business themes to specific app-like themes for vets, spas, car dealerships, cooking blogs and more.

You can find thousands of free themes on WordPress.org or buy a premium theme from Themeforest or smaller theme shops like Elegant Themes, ThemeIsle, or WPMU DEV — there are, in fact, literally hundreds of places to buy quality WordPress themes!

In contrast, there’s only around 150 free Ghost themes on the official Ghost Marketplace, although there are also somewhere around 250+ premium themes mentioned there as well (although it seems like these are largely links from external sites like Themeforest — who also display a large selection of premium Ghost themes here).

The default theme for WordPress is currently Twenty Fifteen, for Ghost it’s Casper.

It’s difficult to compare the two because Ghost doesn’t have features like a widgetized sidebar for example. Casper is great if you have a very focused website like a food blog or a travel blog, but if you need a bit more from your theme, you’ll probably want to go with something else.

From a user’s perspective, installing themes is easier with WordPress since you can search for themes right within the admin and live preview them.

With Ghost, you’ll need to upload the theme into the content folder of your installation. It’s not a huge hassle, but it nevertheless requires more time.

Website Management

Ghost is a simple affair, so it provides fewer tools to manage your site. I think this is a breath of fresh air in today’s sea of over-managed sites. I strongly believe that good content manages itself to some extent, and Ghost provides you with all the necessary tools to do that.

With Ghost, sharing is built right in, you have basic search engine optimization (SEO) settings available per post and the user management side is really pretty decent. In fact, the fact that the user management is so well done points to more emphasis being put on the authors behind the site. While there aren’t any specific features at the moment, multi-author setups and other author-based functionality seems like something that can be built naturally out of the existing system.

While WordPress is a monster when it comes to settings, there isn’t really as big a difference as you might think. Many of the WordPress settings you’re perhaps used to, like SEO settings, for example, will be there because of the plugins you’re using and not from the system itself.

There are perhaps a few more general site settings, but plugins aside I would actually give this category to Ghost because for the user group that will most likely be using Ghost, the most important management features are already built in, whereas with WordPress you’ll need to use a number of plugins to cover all the bases.

Extensions

Again, it’s not a very fair comparison on this count since Ghost has no extendability. In WordPress, plugins can do basically anything. From completely re-modelling the backend, to giving you a full company management application to a simple website — it’s all possible with WordPress!

With Ghost, however, what you see is what you get. For many people, this will be just fine, but don’t expect any advanced content management stuff to come along any time soon. The only extendability in Ghost is the option to inject some code into the header and footer, and that’s that.

Future Plans

Currently, WordPress is hard at work polishing what it already has. There aren’t any huge features being planned that I’m aware of, and at the moment, development is mostly focused on improving the interface and user experience. That said, I wouldn’t hold my breath for an easier-to-use admin panel and slicker interface in the backend.

The development on Ghost, on the other hand, is much more exciting. They have Ghost Apps (plugins) planned, which, when released, will make Ghost a much more viable alternative to WordPress. A dashboard is also in the works, which will be the starting point in the admin panel (I assume) and will be modifiable via Ghost Apps. To view all the planned features take a look at the Feature Documentation they have going on Github.

Should I Use Ghost?

So how do you compare these two, what’s the result of a WordPress vs Ghost showdown? For starters, it’s not really a fair comparison — like apples and oranges. Yes, both are fruit, but they’re very different. Whether or not you should use Ghost really comes down to the project at hand.

Are you working on a simple blog where the main focus is content, and you won’t need to do any advanced things like ads or custom structuring? If so, Ghost is a perfectly viable alternative to WordPress. It’s inviting, easy to use, modern-looking and has plenty of themes to choose from. You’ll also be contributing to a great little project!

However, if you’re operating a website for business, need complicated features or might need to extend and modify features in the future, I’d recommend choosing/staying with WordPress for the time being. WordPress can be clunky and cumbersome, and it does contain a metric ton of things you don’t need, but it also contains a metric ton of things that you may very well need.

Final Verdict

Personally, I would be quite happy to write a personal blog about my life, food, travel, my dog or anything else on Ghost. The modern interface really clicks with me; I love writing in Markdown, and I love the speed with which it all works. It makes writing fun again!

Everything about WordPress is much more complex. From administration to editing, even choosing a hosting option for your website, it’s got more options and more to consider. That said, the complexity is there for a reason — there’s much more power under the hood.

That said, at the moment, I see Ghost as a tablet while WordPress is like my iMac. I wouldn’t bring my iMac on Holiday with me, or lug it out into the backyard — that’s why I have a tablet. However, in contrast, I can’t really get any serious work done on my tablet, which is why I have an iMac.

At the end of the day, Ghost and WordPress are two very different products. Ghost is aimed at those wanting to concentrate on simply writing and publishing online, while WordPress continues to morph into a tool capable of powering not only blogs but just about any kind of website imaginable!

(Update – 5th June 2015: For an additional — important — note on the comparison between Ghost and WordPress.com (not WordPress.org), take a quick look at this new post quoting a few words from John O’Nolan)

Using/used Ghost or WordPress? Thoughts?

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By Daniel Pataki

Hello, my name is Daniel. I build plugins, themes and apps – then proceed to write or talk about them. I'm the editor for the WordPress section on Smashing Magazine and I write for a bunch of other online magazines. When not coding or writing you'll find me playing board games or running with my dog. Drop me a line on Twitter or visit my personal website.
Comments (policy)
  • Nice comparison about these two platforms. Personally, I don’t like the direction WordPress is going. They add too much to the core, which I think should be plugin domain. This results in bloated software that has a lot of possible conflicts and hooks to consider when developping. For example, after updating WordPress I found out that emoji support was added. An extra javascript call to support older browser was even included, I don’t like that.

  • Agree with you mate, wordpress is something else but if you wanna try something new or something simple ghost just perfect

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