My impressions of both platforms as a Web Developer and Blogger.
Firstly, should you publish on your own blog or use Medium? Others have written about this so many times, so I’ll just summarize it here:
If you’re trying to be successful on Medium, you have to write content that appeals to paying Medium members. Whereas if you’re writing articles that will do well on Google then it might be best to use your own blog.
Also, Medium frowns on stories containing marketing tactics like affiliate links or aggressive call to actions. So if you want to monetize your writing in this way, that’s another reason to use your own blog.
Don’t get me wrong, I love writing on Medium. But the different types of content you create will dictate where you should publish. Hence many top writers will recommend using both.
I have some articles and ideas where I would like to use affiliate links, so I’ve recently set up my own blog using Ghost CMS.
Why Ghost and not Wordpress?
I feel like I should address this because Wordpress is mostly the go-to solution for building your own blog.
I considered Wordpress, but my main priority was that my blog should be blazing fast.
I come from an eCommerce development background so slow loading speed is a huge priority for me in my work. (For online stores, every second of loading speed means a 7% loss in revenue).
Also, more people are now reading blogs on their mobile phone. This is another reason why loading speed is important, and also why a site should be visually clean and lightweight.
But is it possible to build a fast Wordpress site? Of course, but it’s more difficult in my opinion. You have to look into hosting solutions that are optimized for Wordpress sites, you have to pick a theme that is speed optimized, and when editing its code, you must always be careful not to slow it down by accident.
Even the themes that I previewed — praised as some of the fastest Wordpress themes around — just didn’t feel as snappy as the average Ghost blog.
Ghost is built on entirely different tech. Modern tech that is optimized for modern requirements and integrates with modern tools. Whereas Wordpress is 17 years old (as of 2020) and although it’s been updated, it feels like old tech. Simply working with the admin interface is much nicer in Ghost and Medium, than in Wordpress.
Anyway, I love to experiment with new technology, and there’s more to write about when you take the path less trodden.
Ghost Pro or Free?
Firstly, there are two options for actually getting Ghost.
1. Ghost Pro
Using their Pro hosting for $29/month means you don’t have to do any install process. Just create an account and you’re ready to go.
2. Installing on your own server.
You can use the Ghost software itself which is free and open source. All you pay is for your own hosting which is around $5/month. I’m using Digital Ocean.
I decided to DIY because I’m young and broke, and I’ve got the technical skills to set up my own server. If my blog was making me a bit more money I’d probably pay for the pro hosting just to avoid the hassle.
My first impressions of Ghost
- It is incredibly easy to use. It’s clean, and it’s fast, and I love when an admin is fast! It lets me work much smoother.
- From a developer’s perspective, I like it. Very simple.
- I like the code injections abilities. They allow you to quickly make CSS changes without touching the actual theme code.
- There’s no theme customizer. I expected to see a lot more under the design tab. Like at least a few options for changing the layout.
- The setup on digital ocean was a bit difficult even for me as a front-end developer, because I don’t know anything about setting up servers. (That being said it only took 90 mins which is pretty good.)
- The admin is very fast, and the writing interface is a joy to use. Very similar to Medium.
- Only two social accounts by default. Facebook and Twitter. To add more you will need to edit the theme code. This seemed a bit weird to me.
The writing experience
Overall, I’ve gotta say the writing experience on Medium is more comfortable. I will probably be writing all of my drafts on Medium, and then copying across to Ghost when they’re ready to publish.
Medium wins because:
- The fonts look nicer. (Actually the font on Medium is beautiful and very hard to beat).
- The editor is faster. The editor that pops up to make something bold or a title, is just half a second faster on Medium.
- Phone Editing! While writing this article in Ghost I also realized that I can’t write from my phone, like I do with Medium. This is important for me, because I have little bits of inspiration throughout the day and I need to write them down.
This being said, the editor on Ghost is still really good and a joy to use. It is the nicest I have seen on the web out of any platform, except for Medium’s. It definitely beats Wordpress even with their new Gutenberg editor.
Customizing your Ghost blog design
Right away Ghost wins this category, because you don’t really have any ability to customize your Medium blog.
For a developer Ghost is perfect. You can change anything you want. As a non-developer though, you’re quite limited.
I really expected Ghost to have more design functionality — various options to change the positions of content, ways to customize the header and footer, add social icons, maybe change some font sizes.
You can’t do anything like that. And I think that’s a big deal for a lot of people.
I get that they are trying to keep things simple. The point of Ghost is a minimalist platform similar to Medium, and yes you do get a lot more flexibility than on Medium. But I feel that if they just took it one step further it could be a whole lot better.
Shopify does this really well for eCommerce stores with their admin panel. There are plenty of options for making small changes to the design for non-technical people.
The good news is that if you at least know CSS you can use the code injection panel to make the few simple changes that you need. I only needed 17 lines of CSS to be happy with the look of my blog (for now).
Needless to say, SEO is incredibly important for bloggers. And I’m happy to say that the SEO options provided with Ghost are excellent.
- Easily add excerpts and metadata.
- Entire sections to customize the look of the Twitter and Facebook Cards. (What your post preview looks like when you share)
- The site itself is fast which is a huge boost to SEO.
- There is structured data built-in. You can see this using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.
- Default Google AMP integration. Making the blog mobile-friendly.
In short, it has everything you need to optimize the SEO of your blog. There wasn’t really anything that I missed.
Now as for Medium, it’s a huge plus that you benefit from Medium’s domain authority. Google will show articles from Medium just because it knows that Medium is a reputable platform, and it crawls it very regularly, meaning your article will come up in search results quickly.
However, if you’re trying to earn from the Medium Partner program and you’re not using affiliate links to monetize your article, then coming up in Google search is a meaningless achievement for you.
The other problem is that you as an author aren’t building any domain authority. I’m really not sure if your Medium author profile can rise in rankings on Google. Your own site definitely can though.
The Medium community
I feel like this is a very underrated point when people compare writing on Medium vs writing on other platforms or their own blog.
When I write on Medium, I have a different mindset. There is a community that I am writing to, and I know that my post will be seen and read by intelligent people. People that read (in this day and age)! It kind of pressures me to write more thoughtful things.
When I write on Medium, I have the Medium curators and publication editors in mind — the success of my post depends on them — and then also people that follow the topics I’m posting in, and finally my followers.
Each is a slightly different target audience, and I tweak my writing a bit to make it more understandable for everyone.
In short, Medium’s built-in community allows me to put more effort into my writing, and consequently, become a better writer.
In contrast, on my own blog, although I know that a few posts might become successful on Google, there’s still a feeling that it might never be read by anyone.
Ghost as a subdomain addition to your main site
One idea that I had after setting up my site was that Ghost was ideal for blogging, so why not use it just for the blog parts of your website, and have the rest of your website built on another platform?
For example, you can have your main site at example.com, and then have Ghost running on a subdomain at blog.example.com. You gain all the SEO benefits of having a Ghost blog — super-fast loading, rich snippets, AMP, etc…but you also have your main site attached to it on another platform, with the domain authority growing thanks to the blog.
With some coding adjustments, you can make your Ghost blog look on-brand with your main site, and even set up a header and footer with all the same links and content.
So should you use Ghost?
It really depends on your skills and requirements.
- You just need a blog, not a fully-featured website.
- You priorities are speed, simplicity, and SEO. Not customizability.
- You are a developer, or you at least have a basic understanding of HTML & CSS.
- You plan to have a blog on a subdomain, separate from your main site.
- You are already quite experienced with Wordpress.
- You want a high level of customizability or a larger website.
- You don’t know any HTML & CSS.
Overall I’m just not sure what sort of niche Ghost fits into. It really lacks enough customizability for the average Joe to use it how they want.
It’s great as a low-effort blog for developers. But developers can just as easily use a more custom solution. A static site generator for example, like Jekyll or Hugo, has always been the most popular blogging tool for developers. You can combine your blog with your main portfolio site too. It just takes a bit more work.
I guess the main benefit for the average person is that it belongs to you. It’s hosted on your domain. You can write whatever you want. And I love that Ghost is minimal and focused on blogging. That’s great but I just feel like it needs to be a bit more powerful.
Perhaps Ghost just needs to mature. Maybe in a couple years it could become a Wordpress killer. Let’s wait and see. Meanwhile, I will be using both.