20 min read

Ghost CMS review - The best for content membership websites

I've been using Ghost since June 2021 and this is my review about what I feel is the best platform for publishing content.

Ghost CMS is a simple and modern platform for blogs and membership websites.

It's like WordPress and Substack had a baby.

Ghost has the power and flexibility of WordPress but is also simple to use, like Substack.

Keep reading to know why more creators are moving away from WordPress and Substack to use Ghost every day.


Affiliate Disclaimer: Some links are affiliates. This means that if you buy after clicking on one of those, I get a commission at no additional cost for you.


Ghost Review Summary

Category Rating (out of 10)
SEO & Growth Tools 9.4
Content creation 9.2
Customization 8.3
Site Management 9.3
Monetization 8.0
Rating as a Blog 9.2
Rating as Newsletter 7,9

Ghost CMS is fantastic for SEO and makes it super easy to focus on creating content to monetize via memberships.

Which makes it best suited for blogs, newsletters, or podcasts websites.

You publish articles and decide whether to turn on the membership or not.

It's also possible to monetize blogs with affiliate marketing and advertisement. Although Ghost isn't the best for display ads.

For newsletters, Ghost's rating is a 6/10, but this doesn't mean it's bad. Instead, it means Ghost is simple.

So, they have the essential features for publishing and sending a newsletter, not for running sales funnels.

For newsletters, things are more fluid as you can:

  1. Use Ghost only for the newsletter and decide between publishing issues on the site as a public archive or just keeping them private;
  2. But also use Ghost as a hybrid platform (blog + newsletter). This way, you write articles and send some posts as a newsletter all inside Ghost.

The second option is what I am doing with this site.

I 100% recommend Ghost with Ghost (Pro) if you want to focus on creating content without struggling with "managing" the website.

Major Ghost's strong points (clicking on a link will jump to details below):

Major Ghost's limitations (clicking on a link will jump to details below):

Features details

This section shows the major features one might be looking for on a platform like Ghost.

This extensive list includes some features missing on Ghost CMS, so you can know the full details asap.

Feature Info
A/B testing newsletters No
Automated email sequences No
CDN (included or compatible) Yes
Call to actions Yes
Click tracking newsletters Yes
Code injection (CSS or JavaScript) Yes
Comments on posts Yes
Custom HTML Yes
Custom domain Yes
Custom meta description Yes
Custom sending domain (newsletter) Yes
Custom social cards Yes
Customizable Canonical tags Yes
Display ads Yes
Editable robots.txt Yes, but hard to do
Export content Yes, 1-click
Fast website Yes
Form embed support Yes
Iframe support (Tweets and YouTube) Yes
Image alt text Yes
Import content Yes, 1-click
Likes on posts No
Make external links open in new tab Yes
Make nofollow links Yes, with custom HTML
Multi-language support No, only theme translation
Noindex URLs Yes, but hard to do
Open rate analytics Yes
Paid Memberships Yes
Parent and child page URL customization Yes, but hard to do
Plugins or integrations Yes
RSS feed Yes
Redirects Yes, but hard to do
Referral program Yes, via integration
Related posts Yes
Robots.txt Yes
SSL Yes
Schema markup Yes
Search functionality on the website Yes
Segmentation Yes
Sitemap Yes
Tags and categories Yes
Team permissions Yes
Themes or templates Yes
URL customization Yes
Use on a subfolder Yes, but hard to do
Visual customization (beyond default themes and templates) No
e-Commerce / selling capabilities No

What is Ghost CMS?

Ghost CMS is an open-source blogging platform belonging to the non-profit Ghost Foundation.

This means Ghost CMS cannot be acquired or sold and the Foundation's primary source of income comes from selling Ghost (Pro) hosting.

John O'Nolan was a WordPress UI contributor who grew frustrated with

WP's path because it was becoming complicated for blogging.

That's why he decided to create Ghost in 2013 via a Kickstarter campaign named "Ghost: Just a Blogging Platform".

John built Ghost using Node.JS, a more modern framework than PHP, which offers several advantages.

Since Ghost's creation, they have focused relentlessly on blogging and publishing content, making Ghost a valuable platform for any creator wanting to monetize content via memberships.

What is Ghost (Pro)?

Ghost (Pro) is the official managed hosting for Ghost CMS.

This service solves one of the biggest pain points about having a website: the technical side.

Ghost (Pro) covers installation, backups, upgrades, and security. All this with prices starting at $9/ month.

Hosting options

There is a lot of confusion about hosting on Ghost, and most people think that Ghost (Pro) is the only option. That's not the case.

Ghost is open-source, which means you can decide between self-hosting and managed hosting.

I prefer managed hosting for Ghost because they cover all the maintenance.

These managed hosting services exist for people like you and me who want to focus on creating content, not on managing a site.

Overall, the best hosting is Ghost (Pro), which is why I use them for this site.

But if you prefer to self-host because you have a lower budget or can do maintenance, the most popular option is DigitalOcean.

Best Ghost themes

There are a lot of beautiful themes available for Ghost.

They vary a lot in style and pricing.

And I'm sure you'll find one theme that will make your Ghost site shine!

3 of my favorites are:

  • Ubud: Personal and minimalist theme.
  • Substation: Mimic Substack style on a Ghost site.
  • Mundana: Theme inspired on Medium style.

Ubud theme fore Ghost homepage showing the layout.
Ubud theme fore Ghost homepage showing the layout.

Ghost strong points

In this section, I'll go into the details about what makes Ghost a fantastic platform that I consider the best option for creators.

Memberships with 0% fees

Ghost is one of the best options in the market for content membership websites.

And the part is that these memberships are native.

This means you don't need to install any plugin or integration for them to work.

Another benefit is that people will not be able to bypass the paywall on your site like on WordPress sites.

Most WordPress plugins create the paywall on the browser, but Ghost content gets locked on the server. This means that disabling JavaScript or using extensions to bypass the paywall won't work! So, only paying users can access it.

Do you know what's better than having native memberships? 0% in fees!

That's right, Ghost doesn't charge you fees.

That's way better than Substack and other platforms charging fees for memberships.

With Ghost, you keep more money from each subscriber, and you only get deducted Stripe fees (usually between 2%-3.5%).

You only need a Stripe account and connect it with Ghost on the dashboard to enable memberships.

Ghost CMS membership management in the dashboard.
Membership management in the Ghost dashboard
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One possible negative of memberships on Ghost is that Stripe is a requirement, and using another payment provider as a membership method is impossible. Stripe is excellent but doesn't operate in all countries, so check if your country is on the list.

Great SEO

In terms of SEO, Ghost is rock solid! I'll divide this section into technical and "support" features. Don't worry! You don't need to be an SEO expert to understand this section.

First, the technical features Ghost has that make it optimized in the eyes of Google:

  • Custom URLs: Short, clear, and easy to read are helpful for SEO. With Ghost, you can customize them;
  • Robots.txt: this file tells search engines what pages they can and cannot crawl, which is very important. In Ghost, this file blocks the dashboard, and posts sent by email;
  • XML sitemap: this file lists all posts and pages on your site. This helps search engines find pages faster;
  • Social cards: you can optimize how the links appear on social media.
  • Canonical tags: this tag tells search engines to avoid showing duplicate pages on the search results, which is very important;
  • Schema markup: this helps search engines understand the type of content on the page. Article schema is enabled by default in Ghost;
  • Redirects: sometimes, you might delete pages or change a URL. When you do, consider using a redirect to preserve the value from existing links;
  • Meta description: this is the text that appears on the Google search results. In Ghost, you can customize this text and optimize it to make it more relevant and clickable;
  • Image alt text: this text is used by screen readers for users with imparities. Describe what is each image on your site using the alt text field.

The "support" features mentioned next might be Google ranking factors or not. Still, they are stuff that website owners should consider for optimal results.

Here are other features that also contribute to Ghost's good SEO performance:

  • SSL certificates: This is an essential feature and a Google ranking factor. Ghost supports them, and with managed hosting, this comes already installed.
  • Custom domain: This isn't a ranking factor, but you should always use a custom domain for building authority for your "brand", especially as they are allowed by Ghost.
  • Nofollow links: Google requires publishers to disclose relationships when there is a monetary incentive for linking from one website to another. This is particularly important if you use affiliate links, as these links must use a sponsored tag. In Ghost, you can put the correct tags and avoid penalties from Google. With Substack, you can't and are at the mercy of a penalty.

Fast website

This section will be as fast as Ghost.

Ghost websites are fast and support CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) to make your site even faster.

Speed is a Google ranking factor, and 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.

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.

Historically safe

There's barely any record of Ghost websites being hacked. The last major incident happened in May 2020. A contrast to constant WordPress vulnerabilities that occur almost weekly.

Ghost websites are secure even without 2-factor authentication.

However, 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.

One of the main reasons is that Ghost sites use VPS (Virtual Private Servers).

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, but they also could be dangerous for your website or computer.

If you have ever used and struggled with plugins, let me assure you that you won't miss them much because Ghost uses integrations.

These are safer as well!

The bottom line is Ghost websites barely have security problems. So this won't be a concern for you.

Amazing text editor

Ghost also has the best text editor I've tried. The only one that comes close to being as good and a joy to use is blogstatic.

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Sidenote: WordPress Gutenberg is great, but it's not a joy to use, IMO.

The editor has the right balance between being clean and having all the features one expects from a great text editor.

The features on the editor are called cards.

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 that you might need;
  • 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: 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.

Another lovely thing with Ghost is the ability to save the most used links or text as a snippet. Ghost keeps them inside the editor, which is a big time saver as I don't have to copy it back and forth!

For example, I use this for my affiliate disclaimer, the most used HTML for affiliate links, and the closing text of the newsletter.

Optimizing post metadata is also a breeze.

Team features

Ghost is suitable for team collaboration and professional use.

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 inviting Authors and Contributors;
  • Author: a user who can create, edit and publish their own posts, but can’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.

These user permissions remove the need to share passwords while helping editors and admins publish posts faster.

News websites and other big media sites benefit a lot from this.

Hybrid platform (blog + newsletter)

A hybrid platform is a fancy term for using (1) a blog as a public archive for a newsletter or (2) using the same platform for blogging and sending newsletters.

I'm in the second group that uses Ghost for blogging and sends newsletters through it.

Obsidian Roundup is a popular example of Ghost as a public archive for a newsletter.

You can see this in the same way Substack operates as you send newsletters and have newsletters shown on the site.

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

Open-source

It is debatable that open-source software is an advantage, but its flexibility makes it more appealing.

In Ghost's case, the software is free. This means everyone can make a copy of the source code and use it without paying anything to the Ghost Foundation.

So, in essence, Ghost is free to use.

However, making a Ghost website available online is something you usually have to pay for, depending on the hosting you pick.

Also, because Ghost is open-source, you can decide between self-hosting or managed hosting.

An essential distinction I shared in the video below is that there is no difference between the open-source Ghost and the Ghost used by other hosting companies.

It's also possible to make a copy of Ghost and modify its core to add or modify features.

This is called forking and is like creating an alternate version of the software not related to the original anymore.

Forking Ghost isn't recommended and would take a lot of work to maintain, but it's possible if you are interested.

Another reason open-source software is viewed as an advantage is because of transparency. This means people can inspect the code and make sure you can trust it.

There's also a community aspect to open-source software. This is especially true regarding development, as almost anyone with the knowledge can volunteer to help fix bugs and work on new versions.

Volunteers helping with development are essential for the long-term of open-source software.

Even in the worst scenario, if the Ghost Foundation stops developing Ghost, someone can fork Ghost and keep working on it.

Ghost limitations

Ghost is great, but it isn't perfect. So let's explore what some of its limitations are.

Theme customization

There are beautiful Ghost themes available. But unfortunately, Ghost isn't a website builder, nor does it offer easy modifications.

Theme customization on Ghost is only possible by writing code (HTML, CSS, and Handlebars).

This is a shame because you must know how to code or pay a developer if you want to make layout changes.

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The best Ghost themes offer more customization through the theme settings in the dashboard but mainly allow changing the text in some fields. This way, not everything is done in the theme files.

For these reasons, I don't recommend Ghost to you if you want to make regular customizations to the website.

Self-hosting isn't intuitive

If you have ever used a WordPress self-hosted website, let me tell you that Ghost is much different.

On the one hand, you'll use the dashboard to manage everything that goes into the site, like content and members.

But on the other, you'll need to use Ghost CLI (Command Line Interface) for installing and updating the site.

This significantly differs from WP as updates aren't accessible by clicking a couple of buttons.

So, if you venture into self-hosting, be ready to use the command line.

Probably a lot more than you expect or would like if you aren't a developer. If that's the case, be ready to watch many tutorials.

Ghost's dashboard is the same for self and managed hosting.

Extreme focus on publishing

Ghost only focuses on publishing content such as a blog, newsletter, or podcast. So, if you try to use it for other purposes, you might not have a good time.

WordPress will be a better use case of your time and efforts for a more complex website structure.

Miscellaneous limitations

Here I would like to address minor limitations on Ghost:

  • No post version history: the text editor doesn't have version history, so it's better you do backups before any change;
  • No welcome emails: after members sign up, Ghost doesn't send welcome emails;
  • Creating nofollow links requires writing HTML: this is important for SEO, and to do it, I have to write HTML code;

Most things on this list have solutions when using other tools.

Still, it's annoying for great software like Ghost to have these little quirks, as they can cost a lot of time or money to overcome.

Ghost CMS alternatives

In this section, I'll approach alternatives to Ghost CMS with a summary of the comparison article for each platform.

Ghost vs Substack

Picking between Ghost or Substack is a debate several creators make for their content membership. Both platforms are some of the best platforms for writers. However, they have massive differences between them.

Substack is a 100% hosted platform with content guideline rules that can result in bans. Ghost is the opposite: open-source and no content guidelines or bans.

Ghost has excellent SEO features, and Substack is awful.

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 hosting prices vary a lot.

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 (but friendly) and has high technical knowledge.

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

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

I lean towards people who don't like WordPress. I prefer to avoid it because WP is a hassle to use, and is a security nightmare to me.

Ghost vs ConvertKit

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

ConvertKit focus is on newsletters, and they excel at it. Their analytics and email sequences are stand-out points!

However, ConvertKit alone doesn't work as a CMS if you plan to blog or have a website.

As you saw above, Ghost is excellent for websites where content is the focus.

Their overlapping features are on the newsletters. ConvertKit is undeniably better.

That's why several people use Ghost in combination with ConvertKit.

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

Best Ghost CMS resources

Here I'll mention the known communities, Ghost developers, and content creators.

Ghost communities

The best places to hang out with other Ghost users are on the official forum and the r/Ghost subreddit.

The forum is a lot more active and the #1 place to post questions and have any discussion about Ghost CMS.

You can also make feature requests in the forum and upvote existing requests.

Ghost content creators

A shortlist of best content creators talking about Ghost:

  • The Stack Junction (Me): I have this blog and YouTube channel with lots of videos about Ghost;
  • Ghost for beginners: an OG website dedicated to Ghost (don't be scared if you get a warning when clicking on the link. This website currently doesn't have HTTPS, but it's OK to read stuff)
  • Tools for Ghost: a website with resources related to Ghost, this website was made by Dan Rowden.
  • Biron Themes blog: Norbert makes not only cool themes for Ghost but also has excellent tutorials there;
  • David Utke (YouTube channel): there are some cool tutorials here about Ghost;
  • David Ramos (YouTube channel): in the past, David created several videos Ghost related;
  • A Better Computer (YouTube channel): Matt was one of the first Ghost videos I remember watching.

Ghost developers and software for integrations

Here I want to focus on developers, agencies, and companies with products specific to Ghost:

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 managed hosting with Ghost and didn't have to do any of that.

That's why the limitation of not being able to customize everything is not a problem for me.

Even though I would like to tweak my site, this limitation helps me keep focused on writing on this blog. Focusing on writing is a priority for me.

In 2021, with the release of Ghost V4 and Ghost (Pro) price dropped to $9 per month, I gave it a go and I never looked back!

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.

I picked managed hosting for my Ghost website to 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.

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 them on WordPress, so I'm happy Ghost uses integrations, as they are usually less complicated.

My struggles with Ghost have revolved around the lack of welcome emails, and no 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.

So, how do I rate my experience using Ghost? I rate it as a 9/10.

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.

In the future, I plan to have a custom theme made for my website to realize my vision while enjoying Ghost's capabilities.

To finish, let me tell you that I 100% 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 wanting to make customizations for their use cases.

With Ghost, you 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.

FAQs

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. You would have to buy it all in one package with a website builder from the same vendor.

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 to 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 sole 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?

Yes. I rate Ghost higher than WordPress.

Making a content membership website on Ghost is better because it is simpler and their specialty.

WordPress offers more flexibility, but that opens the door to complexity and potential security risks. So, Ghost is a simpler and better place to blog.

Is Ghost better than Substack?

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

With Ghost, you don't have the risk of bans, get better SEO, a better editor, and lots of integrations, and they don't take 10% in fees. The part where Ghost lags is on community features.

Can you run ads on Ghost?

Yes, Adsense, Carbon Ads, and Ezoic Ads.

How to know if Ghost is good for you?

Watch my video about the 4 questions you need to answer before starting a blog to see if Ghost is a good fit for you.

Top companies using Ghost

Airtable

Airtable blog homepage using Ghost CMS.
Airtable blog using Ghost

Buffer

Buffer blog homepage using Ghost CMS.
Buffer blog using Ghost

Cloudflare

Cloudflare blog homepage using Ghost CMS.
Cloudflare blog using Ghost

Duckduckgo

Duckduckgo blog homepage using Ghost CMS.
Duckduckgo blog using Ghost

Duolingo

Duolingo blog homepage using Ghost CMS.
Duolingo blog using Ghost

Mozilla

Mozilla blog homepage using Ghost CMS.
Mozilla blog using Ghost

Revolut

Revolut blog homepage using Ghost CMS.
Revolut blog using Ghost

Ulysses

Ulysses blog homepage using Ghost CMS.
Ulysses blog using Ghost

Unsplash

Unsplash blog homepage using Ghost CMS.
Unsplash blog using Ghost