A friend of mine asked me recently what platform to get started with for his blog. Basically, "what's the simplest platform for blogging?" And after doing some digging around I still concluded the same thing: Ghost is still the best simple blogging platform in 2020.
If you're curious to try Ghost for your blog, then try it. It's free for two weeks.Try Ghost for 2 Weeks for Free
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In this article I'll cover...
- What most people want — What's a "simple blogging platform"?
- How Ghost compares to the main competition — WordPress, Squarespace, and Medium
- How to get started with Ghost — two ways (one cheap and hard, one cheap-ish and easy)
What people want from blogs — what's a "simple blogging platform"?
Most people that I know that are interested in starting a blog have very few requirements.
They want: (well, my friend wanted)
- A platform that's very easy to create content on — a writer that's a pleasure to use
- To not have to muck around with tech — to not have to code ever, nor dealing with things like crashes, the website being "down", etc.
- Something rock solid stable that isn't going to vanish in a few years
- A website that's easy to set up and format (upload themes and do minor customisation)
- To be able to keep their content and move it around if necessary
- To retain a degree of flexibility about where it'll go
- Something cheap as those $10-30/month subscriptions really add up
Ghost vs the Competition
There are so, sooo many blogging platforms out there that it's really hard sifting through the chaff.
I can safely say that most of the new website platforms are chaff. No disrespect to the founders who talented and are nobly trying to do something different. But in this established market it's so hard to get a foothold that I am confident that 99% of the new platforms won't last more than a few years before the owners have to throw in the towel, no matter how advanced their tech (unless they somehow get tens of millions in funding).
So in the end, I only have to compare to the very most established places for publishing your writing — Medium, WordPress, and Squarespace.
Ghost vs Medium
I really enjoy writing on Medium, and I quite enjoy reading on it too!
- A beautiful interface — it's such a pleasure writing on Medium!
- An audience that it shares your content to (like a social network)
- Easy monetisation — you can get paid for popular posts
But Medium doesn't
- Let you own publish whatever you want or do whatever you want with your content
- Give you full ownership over your content — you (in part) give Medium some rights
- Allow you to format and customise the presentation
- Let you use your own domain (it's always medium.com these days)
Medium is great if you plan on doing a few one-off articles and don't want to have a blog that's your corner of the internet.
But if you plan on making your website what people find when they google you (or google your company), then Medium isn't for you.
It's even impossible to set up redirects from Medium to your blog once you've published posts there. So I wouldn't recommend it to any but the most casual of bloggers.
Ghost vs WordPress
WordPress is amazing. They say it powers a quarter of the internet, which might be true. It powers nearly all of our websites in our portfolio (except this one, which is on Ghost).
WordPress is amazing because it's so much more than a blog host — it's a platform on which you make websites that can do pretty much anything.
It's very easy (for an advanced user) to use WordPress to create things like
- A full eCommerce store selling things,
- A highly optimised affiliate marketing website,
- Landing pages for apps,
- Manuals for software,
- Simple web applications, like reference ones,
- Marketplace type applications, like Groupon or AirBnB
You can do all that and so much more. The wonderful thing is that if you change your mind with WordPress about what you want to do, you can. You can add and remove features like e-commerce, totally change the theme, and move to other servers. It's very flexible, and quite cheap to start off (a few bucks a month goes a long way).
The main problem with WordPress is that it's very complicated, as you have to manage the whole platform. If you are willing to spend about 25% of the time managing the tech platform, it's for you.
But for most people who want to just use WordPress as a blog, they'll find themselves dealing with things like
- The server being down for some reason (out of resources, over the allocated bandwidth, or some conflict betweeen plugins)
- Layout looking weird in mobile or on desktop for some reason, usually a plugin conflict
- Minimising and optimising photos
- Messing around with typefaces, font sizes, colours constantly trying to get things to look "good"
- Constant hacking attempts, some getting through if it's not relentlessly updated
- Debugging, debugging, debugging obscure errors
- Trying to make it go faster — balancing between plugins for cache, optimisation, and other things, and messing with a thousand settings
- Constantly learning new concepts like coding in html and css, debugging database errors
In short, if you use WordPress, get used to managing a tech stack — if not right away, then later.
Ghost vs Squarespace
What's really amazing about Squarespace is how easy it is to make a really beautiful site. You pick a theme, upload a logo or two and it takes care of a LOT for you.
Creating websites and web pages with Squarespace is easy. It's trivial to use the layout engine.
Here are the pros of Squarespace
- You can use it for a variety of things, including shopfronts, affiliate websites, and more
- It's easy to make a pretty website.
- It's adequate for using as a simple blog, but can do a lot more.
- You can use your own URL, as you can in everything other than Medium (or LinkedIn).
But here are the downsides to Squarespace:
- It's more oriented towards website creation; not blogging. If you just want to pen some articles, it wouldn't be my first choice. If you want to layout some pages of photos or products, it would be.
- It doesn't create fast websites. Squarespace websites are noticeably slower than a website made on Ghost or a well-optimised WordPress website. Speed equals traffic which equals rankings which equals more traffic, so I wouldn't use Squarespace for a website that you plan on using for SEO traffic.
- The editor is a bit complex and is more about building pages than just typing blog entries.
- It's a bit cookie-cutter — it feels more like an application than a host for your data.
In general, I found Squarespace to be OK, but over the top for most purposes. And because I prioritise page speed, I didn't like Squarespace in the end.
Ghost vs Others
There are lots of other decent blogging platforms — other website builders like Wix, social networks like LinkedIn, and more custom solutions.
How to get started with Ghost
There are two main ways to get started with Ghost blogging. The first could be described as "hard but cheap", and the second one would be "very easy and modestly priced".
"Hard but Very Cheap" — Self hosting on DigitalOcean
Are you technically inclined?
Do phrases like "ssh as a root user to your Ubuntu instance", "add a cron job" and "change the permissions and owner of the file" not intimidate you?
Do you want something really fast and really cheap — but don't mind hacking a bit occasionally?
If all the above rings true then hosting on DigitalOcean is for you.
Sign up to DigitalOcean with the below link and follow their guide to create a Ubuntu droplet with Ghost pre-installed. Then SSH to your droplet, configure your server, and get blogging!Get $100 in Free Credits on DigitalOcean
After you've set up your droplet you'll want to do things like
- Set up Cloudflare (for protection and speed enhancement)
Very Easy and Modestly Priced — Host on Ghost (Pro)!
The solution I recommend for basically everyone is to host on Ghost Pro.
Here's why — basically, it ticks all the boxes above.
- The editor is wonderfully easy to use
- You own your own content
- It's deployed on infrastructure you never have to worry about
- It's trivially easy to start a good-looking website
- You'll never have to customise the theme code (unless you want to)
- It's modestly priced at $29/mo
There are a whole other bunch of reasons why I love Ghost.
But in a nutshell, the most important one is that Ghost is a company with values. It's a real non-profit and it's centred exclusively around making a great platform. That's all they do — they want to improve for you, not for themselves.
That's why I chose Ghost in 2018 for this blog, and now, two years later, I've stuck with it.Try Ghost for 2 Weeks for Free
Try Ghost for two weeks and see if you like it — no obligations.