Migrating from Wordpress to Ghost — for Dummies

This has nothing to do with Ghost, but enjoy this view from the Three Sisters Wilderness.

A couple of months ago, Wild Westish got... attacked? Contaminated? Infested? Whatever the verb, something agressive and upsetting took place as mega-amounts of malware moved onto the server, primarily for the purpose of sending spam, I believe. It took over two days for the files to delete. Even granting that our internet is not the fastest in the world, that is a shit-ton of infestation.

It seemed as good a time as any to once again take a look at Ghost, a platform that was super hip a few years ago and is probably not so hip anymore, but looks nice and does the things I want a platform to do — look nice, mostly, and make posting content easy. The main problem for me was that using Ghost Pro means paying for managed hosting and I have always self-hosted my websites. Partly because I don't want to spend the money and partly because I like to figure out how things work. As I read about self-hosting Ghost, however, I was pretty sure that I did not have enough developer knowledge to pull it off. But I signed up for the two-week trial on Ghost Pro just to check it out.

There are plenty of tutorials on how to move sites from Wordpress to Ghost (and back again). I installed some plugins to export the site from WP, uploaded it to Ghost and... it kind of worked. The content was all in html blocks and many, lots, of the images were not showing up, but the bulk of the site was there. If you care about things being perfect and tidy and consistent, the transfer process that seems easy actually takes several days to make right.

There are tons of articles and posts on how to do all the things you want a Ghost site to do: open external links in a new tab! Have search! Change the fonts! I was stoked! The website looked great, was lightning fast, and I really enjoyed how the admin area worked. I was almost ready to push the buy button on a hosted site!

Thank you to all the generous people out there on the internet that helped me piece together in painful steps a site that looked and functioned how I wanted it to.

Sadly, all my customization pushed me into the higher monthly cost, which I was definitely not up for. Wild Westish is not a money-making machine, which means I can and often do, neglect it for long periods of time. But I wasn't ready to give up the site I had reconstructed and re-built into something I rather liked. Could I figure out how to self-host a Ghost site (which would cost a fraction)?

If, like me, you are an artist or not an artist, but a person who is not a developer, you will want to read several times the detailed directions to follow every painstaking step on how to do this. If you don't know what something means, you can search another article that states it a little differently until you feel pieces falling into place. I created droplets! I opened the Terminal and typed in commands! I made SSH keys! I actually got the whole site moved over to a server on Digital Ocean... except for the f*$%ing images! I emailed support, I emailed bloggers who had clear instructions that didn't make sense, I tried all kinds of very creative ways to find out where images lived in this droplet-land.

I took a break from images and signed up for Mail Gun, a service which makes it so the subscribe feature in Ghost works. Easy! Except for the part where you have to make it actually work... I can't even remember what went awry here, but it was enough for me to call it quits. While I felt satisfied and even a little proud that I had managed to pull it off... 85%, anyway... if, by some miracle, I got the site to fully work, I was never going to be able to fix anything if it went wrong. Luckily destroying droplets is clearly marked. I killed the self-hosting ghost project.

I went back to the hosted site on Ghost Pro. I removed some of the customizations to get back to the basic level and decided I could live with it. It feels a little lazy and a bit like giving up, but I have come to terms with my limitations as a person who has made many websites over the years, but not had to learn much beyond html and css. On the plus side, support on Ghost Pro has been incredibly helpful. The site has never been faster and I am pleased with how it looks. And having re-introduced myself to the content here, I am motivated to start writing posts again.

Questions about migrating to Ghost? I am more than happy to help, as so many other strangers helped me. The answer will almost certainly be this: if you value your time and you are not a developer, just skip the rigarmarole and get the hosted site on Ghost Pro. If you have no dollars to spend, self-host on Wordpress (which is actually pretty darn easy), but be prepared to deal with malware and all kinds of other evil invaders.  

The end.

Laurel Hunter

Laurel Hunter

Central Oregon, USA