14 min read

Ghost CMS review: The best for content membership websites

Ghost CMS review, the best platform for membership websites and newsletters.

Wondering if Ghost CMS is the right fit for your blogging needs? My Ghost CMS review is here to help you make a decision.

I've been using Ghost CMS since June 2021 when I was looking for a WordPress alternative and will let you know everything you need to know.

My name is Tiago Silva, and I am a content creator who has been sharing my experience since 2020. My goal is to give you the best info to help you pick the right tool for your newsletter, while I write about something I enjoy.

Let's go!


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Affiliate Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links. My content is supported by readers like you. So if you buy after clicking on a link, I get a commission without costing you extra. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Ghost CMS review summary

9.4out of 10

Content creation9.0
Customization6.8
SEO9.0
Growth6.9
Management9.0
Monetization6.5

Ghost CMS is an open-source blogging platform that has been around since 2013.

Ghost born from the frustration of WordPress becoming too complicated to use for blogging.

So, it's normal to look at Ghost as a WordPress alternative and why businesses like Buffer, Airtable, and Kickstarter use Ghost CMS.

And unlike other platforms that try to do everything (like Substack and WordPress), Ghost stays focused on providing a clean and intuitive experience for content creators.

That's why the editor and writing experience on Ghost is great by having the right mix of easy-to-use and advanced capabilities like embedding code (useful for advanced users).

One of the things I like the most about Ghost is this balance of being easy for non-tech people and giving all the options advanced users need.

Ghost websites look modern as you have a lot of pretty themes to pick from, but customizing them from their default state isn't as easy as on WordPress. So, customization is one of the areas where Ghost doesn't shine.

From a security perspective, Ghost is fantastic, and sites using it aren't usually hacked, so that's one thing less to worry about.

And yes, Ghost sites can handle a lot of traffic without breaking a sweat.

Overall, Ghost has the right SEO tools to let you have a successful blog that looks good, is easy to use, and has decent prices.

Table of contents

Here's the table of contents of this post. Clicking on a link will jump to the section:


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Great SEO

Ghost CMS has great built-in SEO tools.

SEO is one of the most important things for blogs and websites. So, by using Ghost, you have a tool capable of ranking at the top of search engines like Google and Bing.

Ghost accomplishes this search engine optimization by having the most important features built into the tool. So, you don't need to install SEO plugins or be an SEO expert to benefit from this optimization.

A graph of traffic going on the site using Ghost CMS.
Traffic graph of a site using Ghost CMS.

I have used Ghost CMS since 2021 with good results as the screenshot above shows about my traffic. The traffic numbers aren't mindblowing, but that's because of me, not Ghost.

From an SEO perspective, Ghost has all the important things you need, like:

  • Ability to customize URLs;
  • XML sitemap to help search engines how all the important pages on your site;
  • Canonical tags to tell search engines which page is important in case you have different pages talking about very similar topics;
  • Possibility to create redirects if you want to delete or change URLs, which avoids broken links;
  • Adding meta descriptions to posts;
  • Schema markup on posts to help search engines understand your articles better;
  • Robots.txt file to tell crawlers what pages they can access;
  • Images alt text to help users with visual imparities understand the images.

Pricing

Ghost CMS is an open-source blogging platform, and this gives you the freedom to pick between self-hosting and managed hosting.

The official and most popular hosting option for Ghost is Ghost Pro, starting at $9/month.

This is the option I have been using to host my blog since August 2022 after migrating from another hosting service.

Pricing for Ghost CMS for 2023.
Ghost pricing

But you also have other managed hosting options provided by Midnight, Gloat, DigitalPress, and Firepress.

As for the most popular self-hosted versions, you have DigitalOcean and Github Pages.

However, I must warn you that if you don't know how to code and use the command line, you should avoid self-hosting Ghost.

Managed hosting is the way to go if you don't want to install, do backups, update Ghost by hand, and deal with security.

In essence, you pay a small cost to not worry about this technical side and have excellent customer service.

Customization

There are beautiful themes available for Ghost CMS, but unfortunately, Ghost isn't a website builder.

This means that if you want to create custom themes, you can only do it by changing the code (HTML and CSS).

So, customization isn't a strong point of Ghost.

The good part is that Ghost themes are a 1-time purchase, so they will be cheaper than most WordPress themes because those are based on a subscription.

Sample of the best themes for Ghost CMS.
Ghost CMS themes

Ghost is slowly introducing more customization options that don't require coding, and the best Ghost themes are also doing what they can to let creators customize more things.

But we are still far away from not needing code, similar to a website builder (and I don't think we will ever get there).

Monetization capabilities

The main monetization option on Ghost CMS is via memberships where readers pay to access the content on the site.

Ghost is one of the best platforms for this type of monetization because of the native memberships, and you don't need to install anything to monetize with a subscription model.

Other popular ways to make money on Ghost CMS are via affiliate marketing and display ads.

To make money from affiliate commissions you just need to put your affiliate links on Ghost, as simple as that.

For display ads, you can use Google Adsense or other advertisement networks. But it's Adsense is the easier and more common for ads on Ghost.

0% membership fees

Ghost CMS has 0% fees on paid subscribers.

Ghost is the best for content membership websites, and that's one of its most attractive features because memberships are native.

This means you don't need to install any plugins or make integrations for them to work.

Dashboard on how to create a membership on Ghost CMS.
Creating membership on Ghost CMS

To enable the membership feature, you need a Stripe account and connect it with Ghost on the dashboard.

One possible negative of memberships on Ghost is that Stripe is a requirement as a payment gateway, and it's not possible to use another payment provider as a membership method.

Stripe is excellent but doesn't operate in all countries, so check if your country is on the list.

Safety record

Ghost websites are safe even without 2-factor authentication.

There's barely any record of Ghost websites being hacked. The last major incident I know of, happened in May 2020.

This is in contrast to the constant WordPress vulnerabilities.

And even when there are security vulnerabilities with Ghost, it doesn't affect everyone and not at the same time, which gives time for updates and fixes.

On top of that, there aren't plugins on Ghost with potential backdoors to millions of websites. So yes, plugins aren't only potentially annoying, they also could be dangerous for your website or computer.

Fast websites

Ghost websites have fast loading times by default.

The best part is that you don't need to spend 1 second worrying about making your site faster. Especially when you use managed hosting for Ghost with a CDN enabled.

Speed is a Google ranking factor, and almost all Ghost websites pass Core Web Vitals, which is good and gives you an SEO boost.

A-rating for my site using Ghost CMS and completely loading the page in 3 seconds.
GTmetrix page speed test results for my site using Ghost CMS.

Writing experience

Ghost also has the best text editors I've tried.

The editor has the right balance between being clean, providing a distraction-free environment, and having all the features one expects from a great text editor, including the optimization of post metadata.

Another lovely thing is the ability to save most used links or text as a snippet. Ghost keeps them inside the editor, and this is a big time saver as I don't have to remember or be always copying and pasting stuff!

For example, I use this for my affiliate disclaimer and most used HTML for affiliate links.

Ghost edition to write posts showing post settings and the editor dashboard.
Ghost CMS editor

Here is a list of the existing cards on Ghost:

  • Image: for adding single images;
  • Markdown: for pasting markdown into the post, which is then converted into HTML;
  • HTML: for writing code for your use cases;
  • Gallery: for displaying images close together in a gallery;
  • Divider: for adding space between paragraphs;
  • Bookmark: for embedding links with metadata;
  • Email content: content that will only show on email;
  • Email call to action: a button when posts are sent by email;
  • Public preview: text above this card is public for everyone, and below is only for members;
  • Button: for putting buttons on the body of the post;
  • Callout: put a box with style around your text;
  • GIF: to entertain users when they are reading;
  • Toggle: for collapsible text, useful for FAQs;
  • Video: for uploading videos directly from your device;
  • Audio: upload an audio file from your device;
  • File: a downloadable file for visitors;
  • Product: for reviews and recommendations with style;
  • Header: put more style into your post headers;
  • YouTube: for embedding videos;
  • Twitter: for embedding tweets;
  • Vimeo: for embedding videos;
  • Codepen: embed code snippets;
  • Spotify: give music to visitors;
  • SoundCloud: yes, some people still use it;
  • NFT: show your artistic monkeys;
  • Other: for general URL embedding.

Newsletter capabilities

Ghost CMS can be used for blogs and newsletters. It's even possible to use Ghost to do both things at the same time: send the newsletter from Ghost and make it available on the website, similar to a blog.

You can see this in the same way Substack operates as you send newsletters to your audience and have them displayed on the site.

Yet, on Ghost, you can decide not to show newsletter posts on the site.

Team capabilities

Ghost is also suitable for team collaboration.

It has 4 levels of user role-based permissions:

  • Administrator: staff user that can manage all the content, settings, and options of the site;
  • Editor: can publish and edit any posts on the site, as well as invite Authors and Contributors;
  • Author: a user who can create, edit and publish their own posts, but canโ€™t modify others;
  • Contributor: a user who can create and edit their own posts but cannot publish them. An Editor needs to approve and publish for them.
Dashboard showing how you can invite a team on Ghost CMS.
Ghost CMS team capabilities

These user permissions remove the need to share passwords while helping editors and admins publishing content. News websites and other big media entities benefit a lot from this.

Ghost CMS reviews around the web

When searching online for Ghost CMS reviews, most of the content you will find is about self-hosting Ghost.

This happens because most people creating this content are developers who know how to code, which makes self-hosting easy and cheap for them.

The most popular self-hosting Ghost tutorial is from Jessica Deen (video below).

You can also see people comparing Ghost vs WordPress on Reddit, but again, most of the comparisons are about self-hosting.

Ghost CMS has more than a 4.0 average rating on G2, where you can read about people's experiences with Ghost. A common "complaint" people have is the not-so-easy customization without code. This is the same thing I mentioned earlier in my review.

Ghost alternatives

In this section, I'll show you alternatives to Ghost CMS with a summary of the comparison blog posts for each platform.

Substack vs Ghost

Picking between Ghost or Substack is a debate several creators make for their content membership. However, they have massive differences between them.

Substack is a hosted platform with content guideline rules that can result in bans.
Ghost has excellent SEO features, and Substack is not so great at SEO.

Substack has limited layout options and customization, making every newsletter on the platform look the same. Ghost has several themes and allows customization with code if you don't want a regular theme.

Writing on Ghost is satisfying, and the editor has lots of features. On the other hand, Substack's editor is simple and lacks the depth of what you can do with it.

Substack is free to use, and you only pay when charging memberships. In that case, they will take a 10% commission. Ghost Pro prices start at $9/month with 0% membership fees.

Read the full Ghost vs Substack comparison guide to learn the differences in detail.

Beehiiv vs Ghost

The Ghost vs beehiiv comparison is not like comparing apples to apples.

Beehiiv is more advanced and better suited for creators who want to focus on the newsletter, while Ghost is better for the blogging and the website part.

That's why beehiiv is better when it comes to customization, monetization, and newsletter growth capabilities.

On the other hand, Ghost has better SEO and more freedom to put custom code on the website. This openness in Ghost is also visible by the ability to buy a theme from a 3rd-party developer, for example.

Beehiiv and Ghost are 2 great tools for creators and are both suited for hobby and professional use.

ConvertKit vs Ghost

ConvertKit can be used as a Ghost alternative, but most times, these 2 are used as complementary tools.

ConvertKit focus is on newsletters, and they excel at it. CK's email sequences and monetization are stand-out points!

However, if you plan to blog or have a website, ConvertKit isn't a good fit. As you saw above, Ghost is excellent for websites where content is supposed to shine.

Their overlapping features are on the newsletters. ConvertKit is undeniably better for newsletters. Maybe that's why several people use Ghost in combination with it.

Using Ghost for blogging and ConvertKit for newsletters is a powerful combination where you pick the best of both tools!

Ghost vs WordPress

Comparing Ghost to WordPress is tricky. Their origins are in content publishing, but the way they work are almost opposites.

Both platforms are open-source and allow picking hosting from different vendors.

WordPress is the most used CMS globally by a large margin and has a big community.

In contrast, the Ghost community is small, friendly, and has high technical knowledge.

WordPress can be whatever you want it to be. A CMS, a website builder, a Learning Management Software, a newsletter platform, it can do it all.

However, it doesn't mean WP is good at all of those things or that I recommend you to use it for any of them.

I lean toward the people who don't like WordPress and avoid it because of its complexity and security risks.

Final Thoughts based on my experience using Ghost

I've been using Ghost since June 2021, and my experience has been super positive after transitioning from WordPress. However, I also picked Ghost because of some of its limitations.

I was frustrated with WP because I spent too much time "developing" the site and doing maintenance.

So, I picked a managed hosting service for Ghost, and I don't have to do maintenance.

With managed hosting I outsource management, like security, backups, and updates. This means I never have to worry about any of this.

Instead, I contact customer support from my hosting company if there is a problem.

Customization on Ghost is more limited than WordPress if you don't know how to code, but this is a forcing function for me to focus on writing instead of playing around trying to make the website prettier.

I love that Ghost websites are fast.

I never had to spend a second improving the speed of my website or thinking of reducing the number of plugins... Ghost is fast and remains fast. Simple as that.

The editor on Ghost. It's amazing and the best text editor of any CMS I've used so far.

I like the absence of plugins. This means there aren't complications with security or performance. I struggled with these problems on WordPress, so I'm happy Ghost uses integrations, as they are usually simpler.

My struggles with Ghost have revolved around the lack of email automation.

Also, I still feel that I haven't found a "perfect" theme for me. I like how most themes look, but it lacks that extra bit to fit what I want to build.

Even if I "complained" about needing to use code to customize themes, that's not a negative.

On the contrary, that limitation helps keep my focus and over-optimizing bug under control.

I also knew that Ghost doesn't have plugins, that's another thing I accepted, and integrations are a superior option, IMO.

Also, I struggled a bit with tutorials at the start because most content was made for developers, so if there were tutorials for non-technical people, that would have helped me.

To finish, let me tell you that I 1 000% recommend using managed hosting with Ghost. I cannot overstate how peaceful it is to run a website this way.

Even if you hear that managed hosting is "risky" because you don't have access to files, that's not a problem. The people who say that are developers who want to make customizations for their use cases.

With Ghost, you will rarely need access to the files to make changes. So, you should consider the tradeoff of having to maintain the website in exchange for "small" customizations.

I don't regret moving from WordPress to Ghost!

WP has its uses, but it's a hassle for the type of project I want. So, today, I would pick Ghost again without hesitation.

9.4out of 10

Content creation9.0
Customization6.8
SEO9.0
Growth6.9
Management9.0
Monetization6.5

Ghost CMS FAQs

Is Ghost free?

Yes, Ghost CMS is open-source and free. This means you don't have to pay for the software.

What you have to pay for Ghost is hosting. These are the servers that make the website accessible through the internet.

Does Ghost have plugins?

No. Ghost CMS has integrations.

In practice, integrations do most of the things a plugin does. However, they are different, as you don't need to install anything for these integrations to work.

Also, integrations usually have fewer security issues and don't negatively impact speed, so that's a bonus.

How do you enable payments on Ghost?

  1. Go to settings;
  2. Memberships;
  3. Click on "Connect to Stripe";
  4. Create/ connect your Stripe account;
  5. Define the prices and tiers;
  6. Save.

Is ghost good for blogging?

Ghost CMS's focus is on blogging, and they're excellent at it!

By default, all sites are fast, safe, and have good SEO out of the box.

As a result, they work pretty well and don't require technical configuration when using managed hosting.

Is Ghost better than WordPress?

I consider Ghost better than WordPress.

WordPress offers more flexibility, but it also means WP is more complex and has more security risks.

Ghost is better for creators who want to focus on writing and not worry about coding and maintaining a site.

Is Ghost better than Substack?

Yes, Ghost is far superior in technical terms to Substack.

Ghost has better SEO, lots of custom integrations, and no content guidelines that can get you banned.

The part where Ghost lags behind Substack is on community features and the ability to publish a podcast.

Can you run ads on Ghost?

Yes, Adsense and Carbon Ads.

Is Ghost a website builder?

No. Ghost is a CMS.

A website builder is different than a CMS.

On Ghost, you have the freedom to pick your vendors for hosting, themes, and integrations.

With a website builder, you would have to buy all those things from the same vendor.