Up until last month, oksarah.com was powered by WordPress hosted on Dreamhost's cheapest shared hosting plan. This setup served me well over the last year, but as I neared the annual renewal date for my Dreamhost plan, I began to consider alternatives.
After researching several options, I found a different website builder and content management system (CMS) that better fit my needs called Ghost.
In this article, I'll discuss why I switched from WordPress to Ghost, why I decided to go with Ghost Pro instead of self-hosting, and finally why I chose Ghost over other website builders like Webflow or Squarespace.
It's important to preface, my priority for this blog has been and will continue to be publishing articles. Every potential option was evaluated accordingly. Also, this is not an in-depth technical comparison.
Why I switched from WordPress to Ghost
There's no denying WordPress is versatile. With thousands of plugins to choose from, the possibilities are endless; everything from an e-commerce shop to a simple portfolio is just a few clicks away. For better or worse, it's a jack of all trades and master of none.
WordPress' versatility has contributed to its widespread adoption, but for my use case, versatility wasn't necessary or even desirable. Because it was built to be good at everything, WordPress isn't great at the one thing I need it for.
Ghost, on the other hand, was specifically designed for publishing. Their developers not only pulled off a beautiful Medium-like UI, but they also built their platform on newer technologies. Since they didn't have to accommodate as many features as WordPress, it's faster and more lightweight.
When I first launched oksarah.com, I already knew about Ghost and, for the above reasons, would've preferred it over WordPress to begin with. However, I still went with WordPress because even the cheapest Ghost Pro plan was too expensive. At the time, the lowest tier Ghost Pro plan was $29 per month. (I did not yet know I could self-host Ghost for much cheaper, but I'll get to that later).
Therefore, despite my preference for Ghost, I chose WordPress + Dreamhost because it was the cheapest, easiest, and most reliable way I could find that would allow me to use a custom domain name.
Luckily, in the past few months pricing has changed dramatically in a favorable direction.
A year ago I paid $3.95/month for Dreamhost to host my WordPress site whereas Ghost Pro's cheapest plan was $29/month. Last month, Dreamhost announced they're increasing their rates to $6.99/month just a few months after Ghost dropped the price of their cheapest Pro plan to $9/month.
Dreamhost went from being $25 cheaper to $2 cheaper than Ghost Pro in the span of a year.
These price changes coupled with the fact that I already preferred Ghost to begin with made the switch a no-brainer. It's true that Dreamhost isn't the only WordPress hosting solution out there, but at $9/month, Ghost Pro is much more competitive with other WordPress hosting solutions than it used to be.
Price Last Year (9/20)
Price Now (9/21)
Dreamhost Shared Plan (cheapest)
$3.95/month (charged $47.40 annually)
$6.99/month (charged $83.88 annually)
Ghost Pro (cheapest)
$29/month (charged $348 annually)
$9/month (charged $108 annually)
Ghost hosted via Digital Ocean (cheapest)
Why I chose Ghost Pro instead of Self-hosting on Digital Ocean
Like I briefly mentioned earlier, I didn't know you could self-host Ghost without paying for their Ghost Pro subscription until a couple months ago.
Since Ghost is a freely available open-source project, much like WordPress, you can install it yourself for free (+ hosting costs). Upon finding this out, my original plan was to follow Steph Smith's tutorial on how to host Ghost yourself on a $5/month Digital Ocean droplet.
I was barely tech-literate enough to understand half of what Steph was talking about in her article, but it was so well-written that I figured I might as well try. After all, what could go wrong?
For the first day, everything ran smoothly. I had no issues setting up a droplet and installing Ghost. I was able to attach my oksarah.com domain name to this new Ghost site and transfer all my content from WordPress without any hiccups. At this point, I was patting myself on the back for saving a whole $4 per month by doing it myself.
That was until the next day rolled around, and I tried to access oksarah.com. When I searched my domain name, instead of my beautiful new website, a "504 Error" screen popped up. Uh oh.
I'll spare you the details because truthfully I'm not certain what happened, but I'm pretty sure the error had something to do with my SSL certificate. When you install Ghost, it automatically registers a free Let's Encrypt SSL certificate.
Unfortunately, I was already using Cloudflare as my CDN, and as someone on this Ghost forum so eloquently explained, my Cloudflare setup caused issues with Let's Encrypt:
"The most common error scenario is You are trying to issue a letsencrypt SSL when your DNS record entry is proxied, then the certificate issuing interrupt with some errors unable to authenticate. The reason is when you use Proxied dns entry, your domain points to the cloudflares IP not your server IP & Letsencrypt will only authenticate your server IP for verification."
To troubleshoot, I tried changing my proxy status on Ghost to DNS only; no luck. Then, I tried following this tutorial to replace the Let's Encrypt certificate with a Cloudflare certificate but again kept running into issues.
After 48 hours of pouring over Ghost forums, trying and failing to get my website working, I started to re-evaluate my decision to self-host instead of signing up for Ghost Pro.
What was my time worth?
In my state of frustration, I was reminded of a tweet of advice by Naval: "Set and enforce an aspirational hourly rate. If fixing a problem will save less than your rate, ignore it. If outsourcing a task will cost less than your rate, outsource it. Get comfortable disappointing people whose expectations will eat your life up, one hour at a time."
Based on the amount of time and energy I was pouring into this project to save $4 a month, I was setting an embarrassingly low aspirational hourly rate for myself.
Although installing Ghost myself would save me money and I would learn some new things, it was causing me a bigger headache than either of those things was worth. Plus, even if I did figure out how to fix my SSL issue, I knew the problems wouldn't stop there.
Since I was striking it out on my own, technical support for the lifetime of my blog would fall on me, myself, and I. Without having an existing technical knowledge set, this would likely drain a significant amount of time and energy for months or years to come.
One of the biggest benefits of signing up for Ghost Pro is the technical support. I've had nothing but pleasant and extremely helpful experiences with support.
Even though setting up an account and using the website editor is straightforward, I still managed to run into some kinks. With a quick email to support, I was able to fix all of my problems in less than 24 hours each time. I now realize, the headaches Ghost support has saved and probably will save me is well worth $4 extra per month.
Perhaps all this effort would've been worth it if Ghost's cheapest plan still started at $29 per month as it did a year ago, but that's no longer the case. Their entry-level plan is much more affordable even for someone (like me) who doesn't make money from their blog. It's even cheaper than both Squarespace and Webflow's entry-level plans.
Furthermore, as far as I can tell, Ghost no longer limits your number of monthly visitors and instead bases their pricing on how many members your website has. Since I'm using my website solely as a publishing platform and not as a membership site, limited members won't be an issue for me.
What should you do?
Overall, my decision to sign up for Ghost Pro instead of self-hosting came down to the fact that I didn't want to pour any more time or energy getting my site running than I have to when I instead could be spending that time writing--the whole point of launching the site in the first place. The relatively plug-n-play nature of Ghost Pro coupled with it's amazing support is worth more to me than a few dollars a month in the long run.
Just because I decided against self-hosting doesn't mean I think everyone should do the same. Self-hosting does come with the benefits of customizability, cost savings, and no arbitrary limits on members.
If you're someone who already knows what you're doing from a technical standpoint (you know who you are), then the flexibility and cost savings of self-hosting will probably be totally worth it.
However, if you don't already have that existing skillset (and don't particularly want to learn), it's probably far more trouble than it's worth.
Even if you do know what you're doing, but would rather not spend your time fixing, updating, and maintaining your website for years to come, it may be worth paying a few more dollars to have Ghost take care of everything for you.
Why I chose Ghost over Webflow or Squarespace
This section is brief because I barely considered Webflow or Squarespace. This is merely because Ghost was specifically built for publishing in mind, and the other two were not.
Webflow is a powerful website builder that has potential for a ton of functionality but was more than I needed.
Squarespace is simple and clean but seemed better for a simple portfolio or a personal brand website than a blog.
Seeing as Ghost Pro is now cheaper than both Webflow and Squarespace, Ghost was the obvious choice for me.
In all, I couldn't be happier with my decision. Ghost runs so much smoother than WordPress especially on the back end, it looks better on the front-end, and I have access to incredible technical support whenever I need it. If you're looking to build a website as a platform to publish writing, perhaps Ghost is the best fit for you too.