Your quest for the best CMS brought you here to see a head-to-head between Ghost vs WordPress.
This article aims to give a raw, honest, and different analysis of the 2 CMSs I have experience with.
And to arm you with the knowledge to decide which of these platforms can be a good companion for online success.
The goal isn't to say Ghost or WordPress is better. There is no answer for that. Because as cliche as it sounds: it depends!
WordPress is the king and most used platform. Ghost is an exciting contender for a piece of that pie.
But what exactly makes Ghost worthy of comparison? Let's find out.
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- Ghost and WordPress are open-source.
- You can self-host both.
- WordPress has a bigger community and tutorials available.
- WordPress relies on plugins to add functionalities missing by default.
- Ghost has a small community with high technical knowledge.
- Ghost is fantastic to publish online content.
- WordPress has great flexibility and can be used for anything.
- WordPress is the target of many hacker attacks.
- Ghost websites are easier to optimize.
- Ghost is faster.
What is the difference between WordPress.org, WordPress.com, Ghost, and Ghost (Pro)?
- Wordpress.org is the self-hosted version of WordPress.
- Wordpress.com is the official managed hosting service for WordPress, provided by Automattic.
- Ghost.org is the website of Ghost CMS.
- Ghost (Pro) is the official managed hosting for Ghost, provided by the Ghost Foundation.
Similarities between Ghost and WordPress
What Ghost and WordPress have in common:
- Free and open-source to use.
- Capable of good search engine optimization (SEO).
- They Can be turned into static websites.
- Their roots are in blogging.
But, if they are free, why do I have to pay to use them? You're paying for hosting them on online servers, not paying for the software itself.
Is Ghost or WordPress better for SEO? Not quite. Ghost has better SEO by default. But WordPress is optimized via plugins to achieve good results.
One thing to consider is because Ghost is optimized by default. But to make changes, you'll have to do it in the code. Whereas in WordPress, you optimize as you go with plugins.
And what about using them as static websites? Well, that would be another post. But, if you're curious about why you should use a static website, see this article.
In short, static websites are fast, cheap, and safer.
V0.7 was the first official public release of WordPress in 2003. At that time, the focus was on publishing content as a blog. Which is much different from today. Today, WP is used for almost everything, including membership websites, learning management systems, online shopping, or even forums.
Ghost was crowdfunded in 2013 as a response to WordPress getting further away from its origins.
That's why Ghost is highly focused on publishing online content and not evolve in the same direction as WordPress.
This leads us to the differences between them.
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Differences between Ghost and WordPress
WordPress is the CMS "for everything", and Ghost is the CMS for publishing. But to which extent do they differ? The answer: in almost every way.
To start, you can customize almost everything on WP. Even the dashboard aspect.
You can make those changes in 2 ways:
- Writing code.
- Using plugins.
The more popular option is the second one.
Plugins even make it possible to change the way you customize the website. For example, with a page builder, you can customize the website with drag & drop. This will give a similar experience to website builders like Squarespace or Wix.
But that's not everything on WordPress.
WP has many settings in the dashboard to change how the website looks, even without plugins.
On the other hand, on Ghost, you have fewer customization possibilities. This can be an advantage because you cannot mess things up or get distracted with non-essential stuff.
For starters, you cannot change the dashboard.
Further, the website aspect is controlled by the theme used. And if you want to make changes, you'll have to change the theme code. This is valid for pages layout or enabling multi-language translations.
This isn't intuitive as in WP, but your website speed will benefit from not using plugins.
Talking about plugins. There are no plugins on Ghost. Instead, functionality is extended via integrations.
This brings us to the following topic: the ecosystem in each platform.
This is a polarizing topic. Some love plugins; others despise them. But it comes down to your past experience, personal preferences, and needs.
In my case, I have mixed feelings about plugins.
I like to use them to solve problems beyond my coding skills, but I know this approach comes with risks.
What are those risks? As the articles above showed, plugins can leave your site vulnerable and can affect the speed. I'll address this statement later.
This extra worrying about plugins security and compatibility issues is one of the reasons I moved away from WordPress.
Ghost doesn't have plugins. And for me, this is an advantage. Mainly because there are no updates or compatibility issues.
Yet, if I want to extend functionality, I can use integrations. And Ghost has more than 100 available.
Plus, this number can grow exponentially with automation tools like Zapier and custom integrations. One of the advantages is that there's no need to install them like plugins.
So, integrations make communication or information retrieval possible between 2 different software. For an official definition, see this wiki entry.
As you can see, WordPress has way more plugins than Ghost has integrations.
This is also true for the number of themes available.
One of the reasons is that WP has more use cases and a substantial community.
Leading us to the next topic.
WordPress has a gigantic community and can be found everywhere.
Notable examples on the community:
- Winning WP has more than 100,000 visitors per month.
- Darrel Wilson has almost 300,000 subscribers on YouTube.
- Subreddit r/WordPress has over 146 thousand members.
Plus, you can find several freelancers on marketplaces specialized in WordPress.
Ghost is used by around 0.1% of all the websites globally, in contrast with 65% of WordPress.
Yet, we are talking about a couple of million websites running Ghost. That's nothing to shrug aside! Mainly because the Ghost Foundation has been profitable since day 1.
But, yeah, there's no comparison on the community size between them.
There is no shortage of articles and video tutorials about WP. This functions as a flywheel to bring even more people to use WordPress.
This is also one of the reasons I'm creating so much content about Ghost: It's a great CMS that lacks discoverability.
Also, WP is frustrating for so many people, so why keep struggling instead of changing to another platform?
If you are a Ghost (Pro) customer, they got you covered on tech support. This is an excellent thing to have when there are fewer tutorials available.
However, when you're self-hosting a Ghost website, you can use the forum to find help or help others! So, yes, the community is smaller, but you create stronger connections.
As I said before, plugins can represent a security risk for the website.
Actually, many things can put your website at risk.
Some of the most common causes of exploits are:
- Outdated core (example, using an older version of WordPress).
- Outdated plugins and themes.
- Bugs (a bug on a plugin).
- Bad configuration (using the wrong version of PHP).
- Bad code (exploiting the code of a theme).
- Servers breached (servers of the hosting company breached).
- Brute force attacks (bots trying several passwords until it gets access to the website).
As you can see, security issues can happen in different ways.
And there's nothing sacred or exempt from exploits. It can even happen to the most popular plugins. For example, Google Site Kit was exploited at one time in the past.
These attacks can have some of the following consequences:
- Delete/unlist pages.
- Inject malicious code into the website.
- Change the sitemap (this hurts rankings on search engines).
- Take the website down.
- Loss of the information in databases.
- Steal customer data.
- Loss of money.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to mitigate risks.
Here's what you can do to avoid most of the problems:
- Only use the plugins you need.
- Remove inactive plugins and themes.
- Only use plugins and themes from trusted sources.
- Update to the latest version of each software.
- Make regular backups of the website.
- Use a CDN.
- Have some form of DDoS protection.
- Use an uptime monitor to know when the website is down.
- Always keep up with the latest security news on WordPress.
- Use secure passwords for all the users.
So far, I've focused on common exploits for WordPress.
I'm not saying Ghost is safer. I don't have the knowledge to state that.
I'm just showing, the amount of known exploits for Ghost is nowhere near the ones on WordPress.
Ghost (Pro) was the target of hackers in May 2020.
But I know one thing, I don't have to worry with plugins on Ghost. It's one less headache at so many levels.
Consider that your website is constantly under attack. And prepare for it. Trust me, you don't want to be caught without a backup or a plan.
One of the complaints about plugins on WordPress is their impact on speed.
In short, the more plugins, the slower the website.
Bear in mind that some plugins will have a higher impact than others.
For example, a backup plugin will barely have an impact when it's not doing backups. But when it's the scheduled time for the backup... Oh boy, things can get slow.
I don't have numbers to back this statement. But when I was starting with WP, one of those plugins drained so much RAM that the website became unusable. Maybe that's an extreme example. and it's not like that anymore. Either way, I now do backups without plugins.
The number of HTTP requests explains why some plugins have a higher impact than others.
So, the more requests a plugin or theme makes, the longer it takes for the server to fetch information and serve the page to visitors.
This is basic math: more requests = longer loading time.
One of the reasons to avoid using too many plugins and remove the inactive ones is to reduce the number of requests.
Ghost is arguably faster than WordPress because it uses NodeJS instead of PHP. And according to Ghost itself, it can be 19 times faster.
WP, with a CDN and other caching plugins, can have a good performance. So, it's not a rule that it will be slow and all cases. Heck, it can be converted to a static website and be blazing fast.
Yet, on average, a WordPress website will be slower than Ghost. And on top of that, it requires more work and money to optimize. Because, you know, those plugins don't come cheap.
WordPress and Ghost have their roots in publishing.
But WP has grown to be more than just a blogging platform. With the help of plugins, you can turn it into an e-commerce store, a learning management system, or a forum.
WordPress can be a solid option for any of those use cases. However, it will depend on how you set things up and optimize.
Yes, I've said this idea before, and I'll do it again because you should know WordPress isn't a walk in the park: WordPress is a lot of work to use correctly.
Things won't magically work. Especially when you are using software from different developers, incompatibilities are bound to happen.
So, use Ghost if you want the better CMS for publishing.
The native functionalities on Ghost will help you monetize the content with ease. Be it with a newsletter or premium articles.
In contrast, you should use WordPress when you want to make complex websites.
What complexity is that? Suppose you want to offer several services or products. In that case, WP will be the better tool because modifying the URL structure will be easier.
So, WordPress is better for e-commerce stores, services, or advanced affiliate websites, for example.
WordPress is better for:
- Using for complex websites.
Ghost is better to:
- Focus on publishing.
- Create membership/ paywall.
WordPress is a lot of work to manage and customize, don't be fooled by tutorials. Heck, there are tutorials close to 2 hours talking about how to use 1 theme.
Also, don't forget that you'll have to pause and make those configurations on your website. So, that number can double or triple quickly.
Ghost is better with a managed hosting like Ghost (Pro).
. Because you don't have to install, update or take care of backups, you'll be able to produce more and focus on what is beneficial for your business.
Plus, you count on their support if you ever run into problems.
WP is the most used and popular, but it's not the answer for everything. Even if you have more tutorials and tools available, it doesn't mean it will be easier to use.
WordPress has a bigger community and ecosystem with thousands of themes and plugins available.
Plugins will make your WordPress better, but they are expensive. However, more than the money they cost, they can have a high impact on the speed and security of the website.
On Ghost, you can rely on integrations to add those juicy features to your website. And the community is smaller, with much stronger connections between them.
Ghost isn't for everybody or every use case, unlike WordPress. But Ghost is way better at publishing!