Ghost vs WordPress: Is it Time to Make the Switch?

Ghost vs WordPress: Is it Time to Make the Switch?

The range of uses WordPress can be put to makes it easy to forget the software’s humble roots as a fork of an obscure blogging solution.

These days, you’ll see it powering everything from major news sites to high-traffic eCommerce businesses, and much more in-between.

As WordPress has expanded into ever more of an all-purpose online solution, a new breed of offerings has emerged that make blogging their primary point of concern.

With roots in the WordPress community and a highly successful Kickstarter campaign behind it, Ghost is one of the most interesting of those options.

In this article we’ll explore the background to Ghost’s creation, take its latest version for a test drive and consider what lessons WordPress stands to learn from this relatively new arrival in the online publishing space.

Let’s start with how the platform came to be.

The Background and Birth of Ghost

The idea for Ghost first appeared as a post on developer John O’Nolan’s blog back in November of 2012.

His overall argument was straightforward: WordPress has evolved into a complex and at times bewilderingly general purpose CMS, whereas all many users want is “just a blogging platform.”

“WordPress is so much more than just a blogging platform.”

O’Nolan outlined his vision for a new publishing tool called Ghost that would be a fork of WordPress seeking to provide a number of key features:

  • An intuitive dashboard open to third-party plugins
  • Better post management with a simple, email-like interface
  • An improved writing and editing environment
  • No native commenting support
  • A more structured approach to backwards compatibility
Ghost editor
Ghost’s proposed editing view.

Reaction to the post was extremely positive, with one of the factors lending real weight to the proposal being O’Nolan’s own background.

As the Deputy Head of the WordPress UI Group from 2009 to 2011, O’Nolan played a major role in putting together the existing WordPress interface. He also had over a decade of development experience under his belt across an impressive roster of top-tier corporate clients including Microsoft, Nokia and Easyjet.

Interest around the initial post quickly transformed into a standalone site at and an associated Kickstarter campaign aimed at making the proposal a reality.

Support for the Kickstarter campaign was immediate and intense.

Ghost blew past its £25,000 funding target in less than twelve hours and went on to raise a staggering £196,362 from more than 5,000 backers across the world. The project also started to garner praise from major publications such as Forbes, Wired, and The Guardian.

A mere five months on from the successful conclusion of that initial funding round, the first public release of the software was announced in September of 2013: Ghost 0.3 – Kerouac.

Rather than forking WordPress as originally intended, the developers decided to leverage the power of Google’s Chrome Javascript Runtime by basing Ghost on the Node.js platform and Express.js web framework.

This shift to Javascript was a bold step, explicitly ruling out the possibility of any immediate integration with the wider WordPress ecosphere.

The developer version of Ghost has since been downloaded over 600,000 times and pushed into production by a string of high-profile online properties such as Square, Coinbase and Mailgun.

Ghost also announced a hosted version of the software, known as Ghost(Pro), with pricing ranging from $8 per month for a single blog up to $200 per month for business packages.

Square Ghost-powered blog
The Town Square blog, powered by Ghost.

Along the way, Ghost also managed to secure important early-stage support from theming giants such as WooThemes and Envato, who both pledged to develop for the new platform.

Managing to deliver all of the above in the short window of time between that initial blog post and launch was a considerable achievement by the Ghost team and bodes well for future development.

Let’s move on to how you can take a look at Ghost for yourself.

Getting Ghost

The easiest way of taking Ghost for a spin – and the one we’ll be using here – is to create a demo Ghost (Pro) account.

You get 14 days to explore the functionality on offer and you don’t need to enter any credit card details. The signup process is incredibly straightforward and should take no more than a couple of minutes.

Ghost signup screen
Sign up to GhostPro or download the developer version.

There’s also a developer version of Ghost you can install either locally or remotely. Full installation guides for all scenarios are available at Ghost’s well-maintained support pages.

The sticking point for less tech savvy users is likely to come with installing Node on your target machine rather than any inherent complexities in Ghost’s setup. Luckily, Bitnami has created one-click installs to take the heavy lifting out of the process across a variety of platforms.

It’s worth pointing out a further option of particular relevance to WordPress users at this stage – the Export to Ghost plugin. This gives you a simple way of quickly migrating WordPress content into Ghost if you’re looking to make a direct comparison between the platforms using existing material.

Considering the relatively short time period Ghost has existed for, the options available for installation and demoing are impressive and compare favorably with WordPress. The developers have obviously put some serious work into making your start with the platform as straightforward as possible.

Now that we know how to get Ghost, let’s move on to actually using it.

Using Ghost

The two most heavily touted parts of Ghost’s proposed feature set were its ambitions to re-imagine the post editing experience and provide a new take on dashboard instrumentation. Plugin and theming support were also promised from the outset.

Let’s look at how those elements made it into the real world. We’ll begin with the dashboard.

The Dashboard

Upon logging into the backend, you’re presented with a pleasantly modern, stripped-down interface and an invitation to create your first post.

Initial Ghost dashboard
Ghost’s current dashboard.

What you’re conspicuously not presented with, however, is anything resembling the slick looking dashboard feature that was pushed as one of Ghost’s key differentiators.

Original Ghost dashboard mockup
The original Ghost dashboard mockup.

As John O’Nolan recently confirmed, the initial dashboard plan – including integration with third-party services – has been shelved. Ghost will instead be concentrating on improving post analytics in the existing dashboard.

This could be seen as something of a climbdown, but the candour shown in admitting defeat on this point is admirable. The suggestion of using a dedicated product costing a minimum of $49 per month as a replacement may not be to everyone’s liking, but does at least provide an alternative solution.

The Post Editor

A pre-formatted “Welcome to Ghost” article highlights Ghost’s clean take on post management and serves as a solid introduction to the options at your disposal in the editing interface itself.

Initial post content
A demo post in Ghost.

The split-screen post editor is a pleasure to use with its slick, Markdown-powered interface providing an instant preview of your work in progress. It’s a refreshing change from the constant context switching often associated with the editor in WordPress.

Ghost post editor
Ghost post editor

A number of carefully considered extra UI touches, such as the ability to leave descriptive placeholders for image upload, also contribute substantially to overall ease of use and would be a welcome addition to WordPress.


A quick visit to the marketplace shows that Ghost has certainly succeeded in capturing the attention of the theming community.

Where it’s fallen down to date is on plugin implementation, or apps, as they are referred to in Ghost. The first iteration of app functionality is scheduled for delivery this year

A Comparison with WordPress

If you’re an experienced WordPress user, it’s easy to forget just how much accumulated knowledge about the platform you’re carrying around in your head. Much of this is used on a daily level to navigate its increasingly complex interface. New users are, of course, not so lucky.

A notable feature of Ghost when using it for the first time is just how streamlined and simple the process of content creation is. You really feel like you’re free to simply sit down and write.

It’s a real contrast with the standard experience of using WordPress these days, which can often feel more like trying to land an airplane than a calm writing environment.

To its credit, the WordPress community has been quick to port over some of the most useful features that emerged in Ghost in the form of plugins.

Lessons for WordPress from Ghost

One of the interesting things about assessing new publishing platforms is the perspective it gives you on WordPress itself. While Ghost won’t be usurping WordPress’ dominant market position any time soon, the story of its creation and continued growth offers a number of lessons for the older platform to reflect on.

1. Users Demand Simplicity

From Apple to Uber, one clear trend is emerging across the technological landscape: The rise in power and performance of both hardware and software is matched only by users’ desire for simplicity.

Very few people enjoy fumbling through endless admin screens to accomplish basic tasks. Stuff should just work.

The initial wave of enthusiasm Ghost’s stripped down approach generated shows that this is a trend WordPress ignores at its peril.

2. Never Forget Where You Came from

With the imminent integration of the WP REST API, WordPress is on the verge of making a play for a much wider slice of the web than the one it currently dominates.

These are exciting times for the platform as a whole, but it would be foolish to ignore the needs of the core blogging audience who have driven so much of the software’s success to date.

Back in 2003, blogging was a niche pursuit. Thanks in no small part to WordPress itself, that’s no longer the case. How the platform juggles expanding its reach while continuing to serve the interests of a key slice of its user base is a question worth reflecting on.

3. Dashboard Instrumentation is a Business Opportunity

A big part of Ghost’s early appeal lay in the tantalising mockups of a slick, configurable dashboard capable of integrating with third-party services.

That promise didn’t quite play out, but as shown by Geckoboard and Ducksboard, there’s no doubt that a large market exists that is actively looking for precisely that functionality.

The upcoming REST API could be the route to WordPress making some significant moves in that area.

4. Writing Environments Matter

Regardless of theme or topic, users of online publishing platforms end up spending most of their time in the editing environment.

Software such as Ghost, Squarespace and Medium have raised the bar here considerably and are setting a new level of user expectation. WordPress needs to continually innovate just to stay up to speed.

5. PHP Isn’t the Only Game in Town

O’Nolan’s decision to jump on board the Javascript bandwagon shows which way a significant portion of the development world is leaning.

While WordPress – in common with other online giants such as Facebook – has stayed true to its PHP roots, it will increasingly have to integrate with the outside world and pay close attention to developments outside its own ecosystem. The REST API will again be critical here.

Should You Use Ghost?

As O’Nolan’s candid review of the first two years of Ghost’s existence makes clear, it’s a product still very much in its infancy. That said, it’s still likely to appeal to two distinct classes of users at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of technological savviness:

  1. Bloggers: If you’re just looking for an easy way of posting content online, the Ghost(Pro) package is a seriously attractive option. You can be up and running within minutes and sharing your writing with the world for a reasonable monthly fee.
  2. Developers: Users with an interest in the underlying technologies of Node.js and Express.js are also likely to be tempted by the fresh start the platform offers and its prospects for future growth. It will be particularly interesting to see what direction the app functionality goes in when it finally arrives.

To sum up, if you’re concerned exclusively with blogging, Ghost is an interesting option to explore. If you’re looking for a CMS to build a business around, WordPress is still clearly the go-to solution.


The arrival of Ghost could be looked at as a net win for WordPress.

Ithas sparked healthy discussion and debate over the direction WordPress’ own interface should be going and provides several UI innovations to take inspiration from.

It’s also provided serious food for thought with the wider issues it raises about where WordPress should be heading as a platform and how best to get there.

Have you used Ghost, or switched any of your sites to this blogging platform? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

James Farmer

James Farmer CEO of Incsub, WPMU DEV, CampusPress & Edublogs