I recently launched my blog using the Ghost platform. The choice was made after some investigation, and it seems like the right one.
I wanted to create my one personal blog for quite some time, even before writing on Medium, without knowing why or for whom. I decided to publish on Medium during my master's degree, I was out of home, working and studying, and it was the right time for me to start.
Let's be clear, I wasn't really active. I published only 11 articles in two years. I wasn't writing consistently, and I had to grind my way through articles. Besides being a new writer, I wanted to make my pieces as good as possible. I'm not saying that I don't care about the articles I currently write, just that there is a balance to find in all the work we undertake.
Writing on Medium
As a first experience, Medium was great. I was able to easily reach a broad audience and have some interaction with people. The publications were also a great way to get some sharp feedback on the pieces I wrote.
The learning was somewhat limited since I only wrote 11 articles before deciding that Medium wasn't for me. I can't explain why but I wasn't feeling comfortable on Medium, nothing wrong with the platform. It was just too much for me. Many articles recommend publishing one article a day, and I was sitting on my 11 articles.
For those reasons, I decided that it was time for me to take another route. I wanted to create my own blog where I was in complete control and the sole responsible for my (eventual) success.
The Quest for the Perfect Solution
For a long time, I heard YouTubers talking about the importance of a personal website, how branding yourself can open opportunities that you can't imagine. I was sensible to this message but never fully committed to it.
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I decided to write down the features that I would love to see in a solution that might replace Medium.
Here are the things that come up:
- As easy as Medium to use
- Support for custom domains
- Support for newsletters
- Support for theming
- Support for page customization
- As little maintenance as possible
Many renowned competitors of Ghost came up: WordPress or Squarespace being the most similar to what Ghost offers.
Here comes Ghost
As said, I was looking at WordPress and Squarespace when, out of the blue, I discovered Ghost. I immediately found the offer attractive and was eager to try it. But like many times in life, I decided to do it the next day.
After several months, I finally decided to install Ghost on a Digital Ocean droplet to do some testing. The installation process was fast, and it was pretty easy to have something up and running. I connected to my Mailgun account, published articles, and created an account in a matter of minutes. This was pleasing, and I liked the fact that it simply worked.
I had some issues with my Mailgun configuration, but it was due to my inexperience with DNS configuration rather than a Ghost issue.
I liked what I saw and hesitated to launch my blog on this droplet to avoid top pay for Ghost(Pro). - Ghost(Pro) is a paid subscription that Ghost offers where everything is hosted by Ghost and the team take care of everything -
Since I wanted to fully commit to my blog, I decided to scrap my Digital Ocean droplet and create everything with Ghost(Pro). This would avoid some headaches in the future since I wasn't seeing myself using Digital Ocean in the long run.
There is nothing wrong with the solution, but I want something dirt simple, and the solution offered by Ghost(Pro) seems more appropriate to my needs. I'd much rather spend 2 hours writing an article than having to do server maintenance.
After my testing, I was convinced that I wanted to use Ghost as my primary blogging platform. Here are the reasons that make me pay for Ghost(Pro).
As said before, Ghost(Pro) is a paid subscription where the team at Ghost handles everything for me. I liked this idea since I want to focus on writing. I'm not interested in getting some knowledge on servers. I'm all for paying so I don't have to worry about this kind of problem.
Simple but Powerful
One great advantage of Ghost is its simplicity. It's easy to add a page to the website, change the theme or edit the navigation menu. They built a really great CMS stripped down to the bare minimum while allowing more advanced features. The current set of features is compelling, and it provides all the necessary tools to start a career in the content creation industry.
Having a newsletter was essential for me too. I read many times that emails lists are a great way to start a business or get some side revenue online. Even tho that's not the goal, for now, I'm happy to know that I have newsletter support. It allows me to see if people are interested in the content I write.
Great Performance and SEO
Having great SEO and performance is critical. It makes the experience more enjoyable, and search engines will recommend your page over another. I did some simple lighthouse testing, and the result was quite remarkable. Testing the home page gave me a score of 73, with 7 articles present. The article gave a score between 77 and 87, which is excellent.
Ghost is one of the few modern CMS offering a range of features that is open-source. I'm happy to help finance a project I like and that I want to see evolving in the future.
Ghost - Two Months After
It's been nearly two months since I started using Ghost(Pro). I took some time at first to configure the website to look as good as I wanted. I officially launched it with a LinkedIn post in early June. Since I could see things that I liked and other elements that might be improved or can be a limiting factor for some.
I have to say, Ghost offers a perfect solution. It's robust and easy to use. Here are the things that I love:
- Ease of customizations: as said before, Ghost is effortless to customize. Adding a new page, changing the navigation menu, or publishing a post can be done in a breeze.
- Theme customization: I wanted to give my blog a true identity. I had to find a theme that looked good. The Marketplace offers a broad variety of themes, Ghost Themes - The Marketplace I ended up choosing shoji.
- Post creation: I don't write directly on Ghost. I use an app called Bear for that (I already presented the application in a recent post: post slow software). I use the Ghost editor to create the post layout, find images and schedule my publication. The experience is very similar to what competitors such as Medium offers with more advanced options such as SEO image customization or hidden tags (which are a brilliant idea).
As always, not everything is rosy, and I had some issues/limitations with the tool. I found a workaround for all those issues but having a more streamlined experience might be better for other platform users.
- Analytics tool: one of the most requested features on the Ghost Forum is to have analytics baked right into the CMS. This is something I agree with. I find that analytics is critical and helps websites to understand their customers. I currently use Plausible as an analytics tool, and I'm pretty pleased with it. It's a privacy-conscious solution that doesn't require a cookie consent banner, which is excellent for visitors. One other project catches my eye: Ghostboard, it looks pretty promising, and I decided to test it alongside Plausible.
- Image management: by default, Ghost proposes images that come from Unsplash. It's a great image bank, and it's always possible to find original content. However, the Lighthouse report informed me that some images might be optimized to get a better score. Nothing alarming, and I guess that the Ghost team must find the best picture to accommodate all the different themes. Finding a standard solution for images can also impede the artistic freedom of people building themes. One solution to the problem is to have a CDN and host the appropriate image there. It's a bit more cumbersome, but if the Lighthouse score is too low or if the content takes too much time to load, it could be something worth giving a shot.
- Light and dark branding support: Many Ghost themes have a dark and light version. Sadly, Ghost only supports one version of branding, and changing the logo might require some custom code.
- The whole article is sent in the email: by default, the entire piece is sent in the newsletter. This must be a design decision since someone that is subscribed has already converted and only wants to read the article. Like an RSS feed would do. This is totally fine, in my opinion, but it would be great to recommend other articles at the end of the email to make users go on the website.
As you might have guessed, I'm delighted with my experience with Ghost so far. Everything went quite smoothly, and it ignited a desire to write. A lot of care was put into the platform's development, and it's easy to tell, the Ghost(Pro) offer is a turnkey solution that simply works.
I can easily recommend Ghost to anyone who wants to speak to the world and be serious about it. They support a broad range of features that helps the work of an independent writer. Since I'm a one-man operation, I can't say if the solution works great for larger teams, but it seems that they have some permission management which might be plenty enough for bigger teams.
I'm really thrilled by the experience so far, and I'm eager to see where this adventure is headed!