Blogging should be one of the sharpest blades in your marketing survival knife.
Search traffic growth is like a daily injection of new life into your business. But it should not be a time suck, or be too complicated to use - it's hard enough for most of us to focus on marketing as it is. This is why it's so important to choose the right blogging platform for your startup.
The right blogging platform will;
- Make search engines happy, leading to increased your search traffic
- Reduce support requests by helping customers find what they need themselves
- Educate and entertain
- Show what you’re about.
So let’s get going and find you the best blogging platform for your startup in 2022.
Table of contents
- What we want from a blogging platform
- Most recommended blog platforms
- Top 3 blogging platforms for indie makers in 2022
- Conclusion - top 3 blogging platforms compared
What we want in a blogging platform
The primary functions of your blog will be to help the right people find your product, convince them that they need it, and show them how to use it.
In other words, we’re not aiming to learn a new tech stack, to figure out how to optimally design and code tags and categories, or spend hours optimising builds and deployments.
No, we need to just write, publish, and have a blogging platform handle all of that for you.
When you're in coding mode, it should be time spent working on your product. When you're in marketing mode, you should be spending creative energy coming up with articles and marketing ideas. Don't cross the streams, bad things will happen.
The best blogging platform would,
- Saves us time
- Designed to allow us to own our content
- Has built-in SEO
- Provides a great experience for our readers
- Optimises sharing on social media
- Cost us the least amount of money & time possible to maintain
- Looks great and modern
Most recommended blog platforms
I scoured the usual maker hotspots to see what people were using lately and came up with this list of 1o as a starting point.
Obviously, I excluded ones that had too much bad press, so theoretically any of these should be pretty good. I also excluded ones that clearly don’t match our criteria above.
Top 3 blogging platforms for indie makers in 2022
Great, 10 is better than 50, but it’s still too much. I'm working on this site as a side project, so I didn't have time to go exhaustively try them all out, so I narrowed it down by focussing on 3 easy to gauge properties, in order of importance;
- ease of use
- Fulfilment of the criteria we require
Note: this review is aimed at slightly technical indie makers!
I need to clarify on how I defined price and ease-of-use here, since these could vary greatly based on your skillset. I’m making the assumption that people who read this article are technically inclined - at least enough to be able to install and configure a blog platform themselves, using for instance Docker on a service like DigitalOcean.
Going the self-hosted route for open source platforms like WordPress or Ghost can work out a lot more economically than using their pro, hosted and managed services.
If you don't know how to use Docker or how to ssh into a DigitalOcean droplet, then I’d go even further and seriously recommend managed blog platforms instead. These would be something like Wix, Ghost Pro or SquareSpace.
Those are EXCELLENT platforms that do a hell of a lot for you out-of-the-box, things that you wouldn’t even be aware of. They cost more but they do more too. I use one myself, for this very site.
The top 3
Now, just too preface here, most static site generators did not meet my requirements above.
I’ve played around with quite a few of them and they always seem to lead to needless hours spent on maintenance and customisation issues. This is not helpful when you have a startup to grow and just want to blog just as a form of content marketing. So I purposely excluded them from my top 3, but will do a review on them in a later post.
The final options of worthy blog platforms to consider were thus Ghost, WordPress and Publii.
I then scored them on the following criteria;
- Price(including hosting costs for self-hosting)
- Ease of installation
- Ease of customisation
- Advanced integrations
- Email subscriptions
In order to test these criteria, I loaded each blog platform on a Docker instance on my laptop. This allowed me to do a fresh, clean install of each, with hardware and network parity to keep results fair and useful.
Let’s dig in.
Ghost is super minimalist but full of features. Its main focus is creating a means to publish content, send newsletters & offer paid subscriptions to members. The result of this focus is that Ghost has built-in tools that some of the others can only offer in the form of plugins - things like email signups, on-page SEO optimisation, engagement analytics, and subscription revenue functionality. This is tremendous.
Let’s see what some other reviewers had to say about it.
Simple and elegant
Built-in SEO & social functionality
The UI is straightforward and easy to use
Content creation focussed only, not much flexibility beyond that
Doesn’t really support plugins
Limited number of themes, compared to other platforms
Lack of native search functionality
Self-hosting can be frustrating to get right
Ghost Price - 9/10
A lot of reviews I read mentioned that Ghost Pro was just way too expensive to use at $29 per month, but the pricing seems to have changed sometime in the last year or so.
The cheapest package was now only $9 per month, which is quite reasonable, although that package does have some limitations. No custom themes, for instance. But, that should be good enough to get started.
Ghost does allow you to self-host though, so I will be doing that. This would mean that if I can get it working, I would be able to run it on a DigitalOcean instance that costs like $5 a month. At least, according to the Ghost hosting requirements, that should be enough to run a small Ghost instance.
Going the self-hosted approach could save us 45% on costs - at least until the traffic on our blog scales enough to warrant an upgrade our servers.
Ghost ease of installation - 9/10
Going the self-hosted route would cost us more in time, on the other hand, since we’ll need to set up SSL and manage the server security ourselves. This was one of the things we didn't want, so installation better be buttery smooth and painless.
There is an official Ghost Docker image, which would hopefully make things easy enough.
I loaded the image on my machine and started an instance. I then headed to my browser and the Ghost admin panel, and a minute or so later I was ready to go.
The setup with Docker was insanely fast and easy.
The hardest part of going the self-hosted route would be server maintenance(like keeping SSL up to date, security and backing up the database), and not because of Ghost itself.
Ghost ease of customisation - 10/10
Them I wanted to see how easy it would be to make the site mine. This meant trying to customise site settings and the theme, enough at least, to satisfy the needs of a startup blog.
I started with my author's profile, followed by some of the global site details.
I could easily set not only my site name and description, but site-wide SEO and Open Graph settings. Very good!
Theme selection was available at the bottom of the page, and then options to customise the current theme's brand, site-wide(fonts, basically), and then some homepage and posts specific adjustments.
The flexibility of these settings should be good enough too quickly and easily set up a blog that would match the general look and feel of your startup.
Ghost integrations - 9.5/10
Now we needed to add some integrations to make it more useful blog. These would be things like analytics and email subscriptions.
To do this, I headed over to integrations.
Pretty much anything you’d need was there. Let's look at analytics and email in particular.
Ghost analytics - 9/10
Ghost offers integrations with pretty much any analytics platform you’d like. There are even some indie options, like Simple and Plausible Analytics.
When you select an analytics option however, you seem to only get sent to a walkthrough page, instead of having the platform do the heavy lifting for you.
I tried other ones like Google Analytics too, and they all seem to do the same thing. All of the analytics platforms seem to actually get integrated via Ghosts Code Injection page under settings.
While this is a clever use of the documentation, I must say I expected to click the integration button, have a wizard pop up, add an API key or something and have it be done. Adding snippets to the code injection section is not hard, sure, but I do feel kind of bait-and-switched here.
Anyway, not a big deal. It’s easy and the docs are thorough enough.
Ghost email subscriptions sharing - 10/10
Now this is where Ghost really shines. Email subscriptions are built into the platform by default. What!
It has a feature called Memberships, available through the settings menu, which allows you to set up and manage your email list. You can even set up paid memberships, if you’re lucky enough to be in a country that supports Stripe.
Then, under settings > email newsletter, you can set up your email preferences, and send by memberships.
You’ll need to create a Mailgun account, but you can apparently use other mail providers too. Then, once that is set up, you can create a new post, and send it to your mailing list straight from the post page.
Ghost SEO - 8.6/10
To test SEO performance, I ran a Lighthouse audit on the default installation home page for both mobile and desktop performance.
The lighthouse score for mobile was
And for desktop
Ghost SEO speed - 7.2 /10
This was a simple calculation. I averaged the performance scores and got 71.5%, or 7.2 out of 10.
Ghost SEO technical customisation - 9.9/10
The SEO score on Lighthouse is a good indication of a site's technical SEO optimisation. So let’s average that too - 9.9!
Ghost final score - 9.2/10
We now have a final score for Ghost.
All together, that gave Ghost a really good score of 9.2
WordPress is the dinosaur of the blogging world. Or the undefeated champion, depending on your perspective. Everyone who reads this will know WordPress, so no need for me to elaborate further. Let’s just get to the scores.
But first, let’s have a look at what other reviewers say about it.
I love the WordPress editor, it gives me a lot of flexibility in designing my website and making it look exactly how I want it to look.
They have a lot of beautiful pre-made templates that you can do slight customizations if you prefer.
Wordpress can be great for beginners, especially if they're looking for a blog-based website. And with the mountain of powerful plugins and themes available, the site can scale with the user's needs.
The various themes available helped me to design my blog without the need to code.
The fact that the software is basically free is a good thing. I guess I would say because the popularity of the software, based on so many people I know, made me think it would be awesome.
The time it took to learn how to use the software. Having to manually update plugins.
It can be notoriously slow, plugin compatibility can break (and must be monitored constantly), and themes can be easily broken and become ugly/non-functional.
WP is a target of hackers.
Defective plugins can be a problem when using Wordpress. In some cases, plugins can slow down the performance of a website, and sometimes become a gateway to a hacking attack.
Sometimes there is the occasional time where you may have a critical error. The worst thing that can happen to you is that you don't backup your website and then you update and it all goes away.
WordPress Price - 10/10
Like Ghost, WordPress can be self-hosted, or used on one of the thousands of hosting providers out there. The prices for hosting providers vary a lot, so let’s just go with the official WordPress one.
We’ll use the lowest paid plan here as the reference, because the free one doesn’t allow custom domain names and has ads. So that’s $4 per month(if paid annually). That’s less than a DigitalOcean droplet.
AND it comes with SSL, email support, a free domain name for the first year, and the option to enable paid subscriptions. That’s a lot of value for a very low price.
WordPress ease of installation -10 /10
Well, at the $4 a month price, it’s worth it to just use the paid hosted option. So there is no installation required.
WordPress ease of customisation - 6/10
Right, then I choose an appropriate startup blog theme and customise it. We want to be able to change our basic branding and fonts.
Unlike with Ghost, the default theme didn't look that great. There were hundreds of themes, but I had to do quite a bit of theme browsing to find something that looks OK and finally found one called Inspiro.
Customising the theme was slightly more confusing than Ghost, and I found myself browsing around the theme customiser quite a bit more just to find what I need. But it was still really good.
WordPress integrations- 6.5/10
WordPress handles integrations via plugins. So off to the plugin menu I went.
When I landed on the Plugins page, I suddenly saw that the theme I installed apparently had missing plugins. OK? Why was it not installed when I installed the theme? Another point off for customisation then.
I installed the theme plugins, all the ticks were green, so I went back to the plugin page. And then another warning…
This is not good, WordPress. Why the hell were these plugins not activated when I installed them? Why wasn’t I asked to do that on the plugin install page? Another point off of customisation.
WordPress analytics - 6/10
I activated the bloody theme plugins and then FINALLY could continue and look for analytics plugins. And I found a lot. There were multiple pages of options available.
I installed the first one - Site Kit by Google. It took a minute to install, and then present an Activate button. I dutifully clicked it and was routed to this page.
Ok? Now what? I clicked on Site Kit “View Details” and it opened up the standard landing page for the plugin. I had no idea what to do next. Do I need to add a key somewhere? How does it link up with Google somehow? There was no clue for me on how to proceed.
Then, finally, I noticed that there was now a new Site Kit option on the side menu. I clicked it, and from there could sign in to Google and continue linking my site with Google Analytics.
Wow, what a bad user experience.
WordPress email subscriptions sharing - 7/10
So then I wanted to have an email signup form. I read somewhere that Jetpack(made by Automattic themselves) was good for this kind of thing. It looked really good, it had backups, CDN, logging, analytics, spam protection, image optimisation, uptime monitoring - all kinds of awesome stuff.
Good, good, but this begs the question; why did I have to discover it by googling around on some other random site? Why did I need to install it as a plugin? Why is this not part of WordPress by default? What the hell? I’ll be taking 2 more points off for that.
Ok, but let's focus on email signups. After a but of browsing, it seemed my sources were incorrect - Jetpack does not offer email signups. OK. I won’t blame WordPress for that - I got my info from a third-party site.
Plan B - I defaulted to choosing my regular email provider, Email Octopus.
I found it under plugins, but only by specifically searching “emailoctopus”. When I searched for “email octopus”, I couldn’t find anything. Clearly the plugin search functionality is crap. How many plugins will people miss because of this? One point less.
I added my api key and finished the setup. Email Octopus, at least, made a very easy to use plugin.
WordPress SEO - 6.1/10
For the SEO test I needed to keep it fair, so I ran WordPress in Docker on my local laptop too. I activated all the SEO settings I could find in Jetpack and started the tests.
For mobile, I got this.
WordPress SEO speed - 3.8/10
The average SEO speed was calculated at 3.8.
WordPressSEO technical customisation - 8.3/10
The average technical SEO score was 8.3
WordPress final score - 7.7/10
Publii is an open source desktop CMS and website builder. It was started in 2016, and has developed a small but seemingly loyal cult following.
What makes it different from Ghost and WordPress, is that you create and manage your site on your local machine, on a desktop application, and can then sync it to your remote server. It’s like a static site generator that doesn’t require you to mess around with code.
Another cool thing to mention is that you can import an existing WordPress blog and port it to Publii.
Let’s look at some of the comments surrounding Publii.
“You don’t need to have access to an Internet connection to work on your website.”
“Other website builders use a database, which is good for more complicated websites but is a bit overkill for blogs.”
“With Publii, you don’t have to worry about server crashes and the like. Publii comes with in-built backup and restore tools.”
“It has built in search engine optimization tools that let you control things like the page title, slug and meta information.”
“I was a bit skeptical about the possibility of automatically importing my WordPress content into Publii but it was frictionless.”
“It's not plug & play, like a "one-click WordPress install”
“Very limited free themes, that really are quite useless. Other themes cost quite a bit of money.”
“Poor support community”
“If you need a complex, dynamic website that lets users log in and purchase things, and on which you can change stock levels, Publii probably would not be your best choice.”
“Another potential weakness I noticed, from reading posts in the official Publii Forum, was that many users who wanted to configure their post URL’s a certain way could not because Publii doesn’t allow that.”
Publii Price - 10/10
Publii is open source and free. Just download, install and you’re good to go. And since it generates clean, static sites, you can host for free on services like GitHub Pages, Vervel or Netlify. Really convenient.
Publii ease of installation - 10/10
Installation consists of downloading the program, installing it and done. My mom can do that.
I suppose one point of complication would be setting up the deployment server connection, but since I’m assuming you’re technically capable, I won’t consider it big a deal.
Publii ease of customisation - 9/10
On the default theme, the customisation options were amazing. All colors, headers, logos, fonts - even lazy loading effects could be customised.
But let’s say I wanted another theme. I struggled to figure this out, but after a while spotted 3 dots top right on the themes screen. I hate this use of iconography - don't do it. Anyway, clicking this revealed the world of installable themes on Publii.
Beyond themes, there’s a whole host of things you can easily customise - site SEO settings, post SEO settings, deployment destinations, a whole lot of things.
Safe to say, you can tweak Publii to your hearts delight, without getting bogged down in coding and technical nonsense.
Publii integrations - 9/10
Next, I investigated how extensible Publii was with third-party services. Although the Publii site title and media releases mention that you can install themes and plugins/extensions, I couldn't find any official extensions or plugins at all. If they exist, they’re very hard to find.
But, you could still add third-party integrations.
Publii analytics - 9/10
There was only one place to add analytics in the UI in an ‘official’ way, and it’s only Google Analytics. Under the site setting AMP menu, strangely enough.
However, you can add custom HTML snippets under the tools menu, which means you can add scripts the traditional(like with Ghost), albeit in a less user friendly way.
Publii email subscriptions sharing - 9/10
I had to add custom email subscription services in the same way - via the HTML snippets screen. Not hard, not ideal either.
Publii SEO - 9.6/10
Then I ran this puppy through Lighthouse. So with Publii we needed to build our site out to a static site first, run that on a local server, and then test.
Publii SEO speed - 10/10
Since it was a statically generated site, things looked really good. The average SEO speed gave us a score of 9.95. I mean, I might as well make 10.
Publii SEO technical customisation - 9.2/10
The average technical SEO score is almost as good at 9.15
So the average technical optimisation SEO gives us a score of 10
Publii final score - 9.5/10
Publii really surprised me! I hadn’t really heard of them before, but they have a total score of 9.5! The only real limitation is probably that if you wanted anything other than a blogging platform in the future, you’d hit the wall pretty fast. But, this is a blogging platform review, and that Publii does very, very well.
Conclusion - top 3 blogging platforms for 2022 compared
This has been quite an enlightening exercise. Any of these options would be good enough for your startup's blog, but WordPress is starting to show its age.
Publii won out in a surprise move, but Ghost is right on its heels. A big part of why Ghost didn't win was its SEO score, but if you could just spend a couple of minutes setting up a CDN and it will sort most of it out.
This very site runs on Ghost. I chose it because I need just a little more flexibility than Publii offers, but if it wasn't for that, Publii would probably be my choice.
Hope you found this post useful.