Ghost is a straightforward and simple platform that relies on a crisp and minimal user interface. Unlike WordPress, Ghost does not power a wide array of websites; instead, it is purely a blogging platform, and it is meant to be used only for blogs. Hence this specific guide on how to start a blog with Ghost. You can’t start an e-commerce site or forum or other types of website with it.
Ghost uses Markdown rather than visual WYSIWYG editing, but you can change that by means of extensions. Much like WordPress, Ghost comes in two variants:
- self-hosted version that is free to download and use,
- and hosted version on Ghost’s own servers.
However, unlike WordPress.com, Ghost does not offer a free hosted plan (there is a 14-day trial though); and furthermore, you are not limited in the hosted version in any manner. You can upload your own themes and content by means of FTP, no matter which variant of Ghost you are using.
Ghost VS WordPress
Ghost offers SEO settings and social sharing features in the core itself, so you do not need external plugins for that purpose. That said, Ghost’s USP is minimalism, and that minimalism is visible not just in design but also in functioning: you can create and edit posts, and that’s pretty much it. Need gigantic multi-author blogs, magazines, portfolio sites? Ghost is not your winner of the WordPress vs Ghost vs Medium battle.
However, if you are looking for a no-nonsense blogging tool that lets you publish posts, format them, and have a basic setup of social sharing as well as SEO, Ghost is probably the best pick for you. It works straight out of the box, requires no configuration, and is easy to master.
On the downside, you should know that Ghost is coded in Node.js and that is not yet commonly supported by many shared web hosting providers. You can, always, go with Ghost’s hosted solution, but the cheapest plan is priced at $29 per month and capped at maximum 100,000 page views in a month. This pricing model might not be affordable for many folks who might be wanting to start a hobby blog.
Top Features of the Ghost Platform
The simplicity of Ghost is down to a carefully crafted suite of editorial tools that have been fine-tuned. It really feels like a platform where nothing is going to waste. Everything has been considered, and reduced to its most effective, light form. In a nutshell, Ghost strengths include:
- A suite of finely-tuned editing tools.
- Designed to be great at one thing: blogs.
- Integrated SEO & Social tools.
That includes the code the platform itself is built on, which is why it’s so fast. Ghost is built using ‘Node.js’—a lightweight form of code compared to other platforms that use PHP. This means Ghost performs significantly faster than some competitors.
And again, that’s only if the platform offers all the features you need.
How to Start a Blog with Ghost
Before we get into the details of how to start a blog with Ghost, let’s talk about what Ghost is – and what it isn’t.
Ghost is a blogging platform, pure and simple. Unlike WordPress, it is not a suitable option if you are looking to build a business website with a blog as part of that site. It is intended only to be used for blogs.
On the plus side, this specific focus means it has a crisp and minimal interface, it’s fast and lightweight and it’s easy to learn.
Where to Host Your Ghost Blog
Every blog needs to be hosted somewhere and this is the first thing you will need to decide. Like WordPress you have the two options for hosting:
- Self-hosting, i.e. you can download Ghost for free and then you organise the hosting and manage the installation and maintenance, or
- Hosted on Ghost’s own servers so they manage all the tech and you can focus on the blogging.
The second option, Ghost (Pro), is by far the simplest. They will look after the updates, backups, maintenance and security for you, and packages start from $29/month. You can start out with a free 14-day trial to see whether you like it.
Choose a Ghost Blog Theme
Like WordPress, the look and feel of your blog is determined by the theme you use. There are lots of themes available for Ghost, both free and premium (paid-for) and a web search for ‘ghost themes’ will turn up plenty of options including Ghost’s official marketplace.
Once you’ve selected your theme it’s simply a case of logging into the admin section of your Ghost blog, selecting General under settings in the left-hand column, scrolling to the bottom and clicking on ‘Upload a Theme’. You can then select the zip file containing your theme. Once it has uploaded, click ‘Activate Now’ and you’re all set.
You’ve got Ghost set up and you’ve installed a theme so now there’s nothing left to do but start blogging!
This is where Ghost might differ a bit from the way you are used to formatting your content because Ghost uses something called markdown. Usually, to format text we highlight areas and then use buttons or keystrokes to format it, e.g. to add italics, a heading or bullet points. In markdown, you do everything by typing in specific syntax as you go. For example, to create a heading you simply add # before your heading text.
Once you’ve got used to it, you will find markdown is a fast and efficient way to format your post because you never have to stop and highlight chunks of text.
Adding images is even easier because you can simply drag and drop them into the editor in the correct place.
Related: How to Start A Blog
Publishing Your First Post
Just a couple more things to think about and you’ll be ready to publish your first post.
- Ghost has a built-in tags feature which allows you to categorise your posts to help readers find the information they are looking for. Adding tags is a good habit to get into so start as you mean to go on. Just click the tools icon in the upper right corner and fill in the tags you want for this post.
- Ghost also has built-in support for SEO (search engine optimisation) to help you get found more easily by search engines such as Google. Ghost will automatically create a meta title and meta description for your post – these are the title and short description you see in the Google search results – but you can also edit them if you want to add specific keywords and/or make them more appealing for your target audience.
Finally, now you’ve written your post you’ll want to get some eyes on it so don’t forget to make the most of Ghost’s built-in social media and connect your social accounts to your Ghost blog.
A Note About Comments
One of the fun things about a blog is the ability for your readers to interact with you and leave comments. Ghost does not come with a built-in commenting feature but many of the themes do include this. If your theme doesn’t, you can still add commenting using a comment service like Disqus. If you have any questions about how to start a blog with Ghost, their official website has a lot of documentation to help you.
And that’s it! Your blog is up and running using the refreshingly simple Ghost platform.
If you’re looking for more features than Ghost offers, we suggest WordPress or Squarespace. Have a look at what professional website design can do with more features.