Like most folks, I had a few days off during the Holidays. I figured it was a good time to kick off a project I had meant to start for a while. What project, you ask? A personal blog focused on content marketing, growth & startup culture.
For the last 2+ years, I have been in charge of marketing at Snipcart. We're a developer-first e-commerce startup based in Québec City, Canada. As a whole, content has been our number one acquisition channel. We sure owe a whole lot of our growth to our blog and community outreach.
In the last months, an increasing number of people and businesses started reaching out to me. They wanted to talk content strategy, SEO, and startup marketing in general. And I was always happy to discuss this stuff with them. I enjoyed having these conversations, from which I often learned a lot myself. Eventually, I figured structuring my learnings and thoughts into a personal blog would be a valuable exercise. I knew myself and other peers could benefit from it.
So while the blizzard was hitting my hometown, I took a blanket and sat in my grandpa-ish rocking chair. Then I fired up my laptop and started researching different blog platforms.
What I was looking for in a blog platform
- A certain level of visual and architectural customization.
- Possibility to play a bit with the front-end code.
- Easy custom domain name set up.
- Good enough support & resources available online.
- Clear focus on content publishing; no bloated feature set.
- Preferably, support of Markdown formatting.
- Preferably, clean writing UI/editor.
So I surfed the web and found lots of blogging platforms. Some awful ones, original ones, and interesting ones. At first, I thought about using a static site generator to power a simple blog I could host on a service like Netlify. We had been diving into static e-commerce a lot on the Snipcart blog. So I already knew how performant and simple static site generators could be. I installed Cactus for Mac & Hugo and played around with them a bit. To be honest, I almost went for a Hugo/GitHub/Netlify setup.
But the more I went back and read about Ghost's Pro plan, the more it haunted my mind (see what I did there?). I wouldn't need to install anything. I wouldn't need to configure hosting. I wouldn't need to use an external, web-based Markdown editor. All I'd need to do was pick a free theme, tweak it a bit, and start writing stuff.
Why Ghost: the specifics
I came across the platform randomly, in some tech news blog I believe, about two years ago. But my then-active project was already running smoothly on WordPress at the time. So I promised myself I'd check back in on Ghost when I'd start something else. That something else is the blog you're reading now, and I'm proud to say it's powered by Ghost.
I compiled the main reasons behind my decision to go ahead with Ghost:
1 - The editor UI is clean, content-focused, and Markdown-based.
Since our blog at Snipcart uses Markdown for formatting, I have come to love this syntax's writing simplicity over the last two years. And according to the product roadmap, a new, better version of the UI should already be in the works. I'm excited to see how it looks.
2 - The feature set is well-balanced, perfect for blogging and publishing.
Crafting new posts is literally a breeze, and so is setting up a basic navigation with static pages. You can insert essential SEO meta data in a flash too.
3 - Integrating most 3rd party tools is easy and straightforward.
Whether you want to track your blog's performance, collect emails or do God knows what with a 3rd party tool, Ghost's got your back. It gives you access to two simple
foot boxes where you can inject code scripts & snippets. I integrated Google Analytics, SumoMe & Snipcart's demo cart in a few minutes only. However, I had to inject Snipcart directly in my theme's footer, not in Ghost's built-in Code injection section. Disqus (comments) was already integrated into my theme; all I had to do was replace my
shortname in the code.
4 - The theming isn't too scary to take on.
Ghost themes use the Handlebars.js templating language, which looks and feels like regular HTML, with the addition of "expressions." It made it easier for a web dev noob like me to modify and add a few things here and there. The themes documentation is thorough, and there are other helpful resources out there.
5 - It champions community and openness.
Ghost as an application is completely free and Open Source. It's developed by talented volunteers and members of the Ghost Foundation non-profit organization. Developers contribute to its source code regularly, others craft awesome themes for it... and paying users, by hosting the software on the Ghost(Pro) plan, contribute directly to funding the Ghost Foundation. Fair enough if you ask me.
6 - It's easy to get started.
Like I said, I chose the Ghost(Pro), hosted version of the blogging software. I might have liked trying to download the source code and upload it on a server myself. But I felt like my priority was getting some actual content out before playing geek.
And I'd say the reason that trumps all the others is just that: Ghost gets out of the way. It lets you focus on what you came to do: write & publish.
How I set up this blog
To end this first post, I thought I'd list the quick, simple steps I took to launch this personal blog:
Step 1: I signed up for a Ghost(Pro) account and created a blog. (5 mins)
Step 2: I browsed for themes on the Ghost marketplace, downloaded one and uploaded it to my blog. (20 mins)
Step 3: I opened Sublime Text and modified/added a few elements to my theme. Then, I re-uploaded it to my blog. (2 hours [noob])
Step 4: I bought a custom domain name on iwantmyname.com. Then, I linked it directly to my Ghost blog thanks to their native integration with I Want My Name. (5 mins)
Step 5: I created an About and a Contact page (using formspree.io), then integrated Google Analytics, SumoMe & Snipcart. (20 mins)
Step 6: I wrote this post. (2 hours)
In under 5 hours, I had this minimalistic blogging stack up and running. And a full introductory post published. Sure, I'll probably work on the theme a bit again later on. But for now, I've got a neat platform in place allowing me to easily publish quality content. And that's exactly what I intend to do in the upcoming year. :)
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