Create a Paid Subscription Blog with Ghost

By David Utke •  Updated: August 4, 2022 •  Website Tutorials

Ghost.org is one of my favorite CMS to use when creating any sort of paid subscription blog. In fact, I currently use Ghost.org and the Ghost CMS for my personal blog (I currently have 20+ subscribers paying $3 a month). So in this tutorial, I’ll show you how to make a profitable, paid subscription blog using the Ghost CMS and all the helpful, unique features you need to be aware of.

What is Ghost?

Ghost is a content management system (CMS) you can install on a shared web host of your choice, alternatively you can use the hosted version. It’s similar to how WordPress is both a script you can install on any shared host or how you can create a blog at WordPress.com.

To be honest, Ghost is actually a bit technical to setup (here’s a video tutorial on how it is done) and for most reading this I strongly suggest you use Ghost.org (it’s what I use and I’m quite technical).

Ghost.org is the official hosted version of Ghost where everything is done for you. From the email marketing integration, managing paid subscriptions, themes and installation, Ghost is setup correctly. All you need to do is signup, pay for your account and get to work creating content.

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Why use Ghost for a paid subscription blog?

Ghost has payment processing and email marketing integration built in for one low price. It’s designed so when you create a blog post you can send that post out to your subscribers (free, paid or both). You can also content lock and have “members only” blog posts where you can hide content like videos, audio, text and images. Last, you can have hidden content readable in an email client only in the blog posts you send out.

If you’ve been wanting to blog, send those blog posts out to anyone who has subscribed, offer private members only content and have payment processing built in, then you’ll love Ghost. Think of it like an alternative to Patreon, except better because your Ghost site can get organic search traffic and Ghost takes zero transaction fees on subscription revenue unlike Patreon.

Last, don’t forget that your Ghost powered website is still your website. You’re totally free to run ads, leverage affiliate marketing or sell your own products. The CMS is open source and you don’t have to only focus on subscription revenue if you don’t want to.

In summary:

How to create a paid subscription blog with Ghost.org

So let’s get started creating a membership website with Ghost.org. You’ll be up and running in a hour or two with ease.

Signup to Ghost

Head over to Ghost.org to begin your 14 day free trial. After the free trial you’ll need to upgrade your account to a paid plan. I suggest you start with the “starter” plan as it’s adequate for anyone with a brand new blog.

“Members” refers to how many email subscribers you can have. This includes both paid and free subscribers. You’re not required to offer a free subscription, so if you’re goal is to get a few hundred paying members then the “starter” plan is a great deal.

A “staff user” refers to how many admin accounts you have. For new blogs you’ll have only you, but if your site grows into something like a subscription magazine you may want to bring on additional staff members to write content for you.

Last, you get access to the official free themes from Ghost and all the standard built in integrations. But at higher tiers you can upload your own custom themes and integrations. Integrations refers to the ability to add additional features to your website like Google Analytics, an online store and so forth.

Ghost.org – Turn your audience into a business

Build a professional, high traffic blog with subscription revenue and email marketing with Ghost.org today!

Get started today:

ghost cms orb

Set a custom domain

Now that you signed up to Ghost it’s time to set a custom domain. One aspect I really like about this CMS is how much control you have over your branding. Unlike Patreon where your Pateron page is something like Patreon.com/account-name, with Ghost you can set a custom domain.

Here’s how:

First you need to register a domain name at a domain name registrar.

I personally use and suggest Namecheap. At Namecheap search for the domain name you want to register. Try to get a .com as it is the legacy extension of the internet and the best extension overall for a blog style website.

On the checkout page you register your domain name for 1-10 years and you get WHOIS protection forever. WHOIS protection (also known as domain privacy) keeps your registration information private because you’re required by ICANN to use accurate information.

Next in your domain’s DNS settings in Namecheap, enter in the following in your DNS records:

DNS Configuration
Record TypeHostValue
CNAMEwww<subdomain>.ghost.io
A@178.128.137.126

In your Namecheap account all you have to do is navigate to the domain you want to edit, then click on “advanced DNS” to access your DNS settings.

You’ll have to add in two new records, a CNAME and an A record. Save these two records and then finally go back to your Ghost dashboard to connect this domain to your Ghost account.

Set your custom domain:

In your dashboard, find the “Ghost Pro” menu item and select on the domain settings. Here is where you can set a custom domain. If you’ve added the DNS records correctly, it will take a few hours to set connect and propagate correctly so please be patient.

Choose a theme

Now that you have a custom domain setup, it’s time to choose a theme and design your website. Depending on the tier you subscribed to will influence what themes you have access to.

With the starter plan you can access to the official free themes only, most of which are quite good. I’m using the Casper theme and am very happy with how my personal blog looks.

If you want to upload your own theme you’ll need to upgrade your plan to creator or higher. Then navigate over to the Ghost theme marketplace to and buy a premium theme or download and unofficial free theme.

Design your website

Under your settings is where you can design your website. Here you can upload a logo, favicon and a site SEO description. You’re also able to change the font family for both titles and the body as well as being able to set your design to a site wide “dark theme” if you like.

In addition you can adjust the homepage setting, design and layout at the click of a button through changing the header style and feed list (your blog roll). Finally you can adjust a few settings for individual blog posts with regards to the post image style.

Each theme has it’s own unique customization options, so pick a theme you like and play around with the design options will you create something your happy with.

Setup your membership

You’ll notice a little “subscribe” button in both the menu and a sticky button in the right hand corner. This is how visitors subscribe to your website with Ghost.

In the “membership” section found in your settings you can customize the portal. The “portal” is simply the light box that pops up when someone clicks on the “subscribe” button in the lower right corner. You can adjust the membership tier signup options through offering a paid subscription, a free subscription or a combination of the two.

You can also adjust the look and feel of the button as it is presented on your website as well as the signup text. If you’re charging for signups then state that with copy like “Join $5/Month” and so forth depending on your price point.

Last, please adjust the email that your content is set out under. By default Ghost.org will set your email as noreply@example.com. For delivery purposes it’s always best to use a professional email. At a minimum at least set it to a free Gmail account so your audience can reply to you.

Connect Stipe

In order to offer a paid subscription you’ll need to connect your Ghost account to your Stipe account. The process is straight forward with a clear and easy to use on-boarding process to follow.

However if you don’t yet have a Stripe account I would strongly suggesting signing up to Stripe first and create a free account. You’ll need to add in accurate information with regards to your business, bank accounts and tax details. Once setup however, you’re ready to get paid.

Create a pricing page (optional)

If you decide to offer a paid subscription, I’ve found it very helpful for driving more sales by creating a “pricing” menu item and a dedicated pricing page. The goal of this page is to explain to your visitors what they are exactly getting through subscribing, how much a subscription costs, how to cancel and how their payment information is safe and secure (because it is).

The unique aspects of a Ghost powered blog that you can emphasize to any potential subscriber on this pricing page is private, members only blog posts that can have audio (like a podcast), video and text.

In addition, when you write a blog post and send that blog post out to your audience, you can add in unique blocks to each and every post that is only readable to your subscribers. You can even set it to what tier of subscriber sees these hidden email blocks.

Thank you page redirect setup (optional)

When someone subscribes to a tier you’re offering you have the option to setup a “welcome page.” While optional, it’s a huge mistake not to set a welcome page because the goal of this page is to inform your new subscriber what happens next.

Personally, I keep it casual with language like “cool, you’re in” and then proceed to tell my new subscriber to look out from emails from me because they sometimes end up in the spam folder or promotions tab. You should also mention how to actually log into their account so they can access private content too.

Create a “members only” category

Ghost themes do a poor job of offering up the specific blog posts you want on your homepage and instead go for more of a traditional blog roll layout. As such, one design aspect I’ve implemented is the use is to categorize all private content in its own category.

That way you can link to this category from the main menu if you like or have a link to it in on your “pricing” page. This way, it helps drive sales as any potential paying subscriber can see exactly what they are going to get access too by subscribing.

Create discount offers

Last, you’ll notice an “offers” menu item in your dashboard. Here you can drive even more sales by creating unique discount offers for your audience. You can leverage this by offering a discount for what ever reason you want. Your birthday, a holiday, something specific for a social media channel, whatever.

Blogging tips with Ghost

So now that you understand how to create a paid subscription blog/website powered by Ghost, let’s get into some specific, unique blogging features of the Ghost CMS.

Content blocks explained

Like WordPress, Ghost uses a block based editor for creating content. You can write text, set text to be a header or sub header and then add in an addition block for added usability. Here are my favorite Ghost CMS blocks explained:

Image / Video / Audio – Ghost easily allows you to add multi-media to your blog posts. While images and video are fairly standard, I do personally love that I can add in audio and it is embed with it’s own player in the post.

Markdown – You add markdown language to your blog post so you can edit and format plain text in a more creative, and visual way.

HTML – Very helpful for adding in social share buttons, a specific AdSense ad or a a product from Amazon as part of the Amazon Associates program.

Email Content – Content that is only readable in an email client. You can hide sections of your blog posts that are only readable to people who subscribe and read your emails. I always tag theses sections as “subscribers only” so my audience knows the secret content they are getting.

Email Call to Action – Similar to the first option, when you send out a blog post to your email list you can set a specific and unique call to action that is only seen in email.

Public Preview – With this block you can offer part of the blog post for free and then cut it off with a call to action box that states “this post is for paying subscribers only.”

GIF – Add in funny GIF’s to your blog post to emphasize a point.

Product – Create simple, but effective looking product boxes when promoting a service, software or product.

Hide content in emails

With the “email content” and the “email call to action” blocks you can hide content that is only available to people who subscribe to your blog. You even have the option to have these blocks be for free members or paid members.

I personally only offer the content hidden in my emails to my paying subscribers. That way there is more incentive and another selling point as to why you should become a paying subscriber.

Create product boxes

Product boxes are this:

Ghost.org – Turn your audience into a business

Build a professional, high traffic blog with subscription revenue and email marketing with Ghost.org today!

Get started today:

ghost cms orb

They work, their effective and beautiful and they make your website look more professional. With Ghost, their block editor has a product box feature built in so use it.

Make blog posts private with Ghost

You can make your entire blog private and for paid members only if you like. When creating a blog post you have the option to set it as a free blog post or for a specific tier (if you have multiple tiers).

If you’re wanting to use the “preview” block you’ll need to set the blog post to private, members only so it works correctly.

In general, if I’m going after a specific keyword I know has search volume I’ll keep the blog post public and leverage ads or an affiliate marketing offer. If it’s a blog post about anything else, something controversial or something too good to give away for free then I’ll put it behind a paywall.

Ghost Integrations for added usability

Ghost Integrations is where you can add on additional software and services to expand the functionality of your website. On this page it links to a dedicated article about how to integrate whatever 3rd party software you want.

From integrating Slack, Discord or an online shop powered by Snipcart of a digital product found at Gumarod, Ghost has easy to follow documentation about how to integrate into your website. Here are a few of my favorites:

Discourse – This allows you to add a private forum on your website. So you can build out an active community.

Snipcart – Have a few physical products you want to sell directly to your audience? Now you can through integrating Snipcart with your blog.

Discord – A popular choice amongst YouTubers for their Patreon page. You can offer Discord access to your paying members.

Email marketing and Ghost – A potential negative

If Ghost is so great, why don’t you use it for this website? Ghost is not ideal if you want to use an email marketing client like Convert Kit or Active Campaign. Ghost is focused primarily on content marketing, email subscribers and running a paid subscription through Ghost’s own email marketing platform (included in your subscription).

If you’re wanting to do more complicated email marketing then you’ll want to stick to WordPress and proper email marketing software.

How to start a subscription blog with Ghost – Conclusion

So that’s it for this free tutorial on how to start a paid subscription website with the Ghost CMS platform. Overall I love using Ghost for my personal blog because it gets organic search traffic through the free content that ranks well. As such, I’m able to drive affiliate sales and advertising revenue.

On top of that I can offer a paid subscription to earn recurring revenue from my audience and make any blog post I want into private “members only” content.

Overall, Ghost is very flexible. If you want to create a totally private, paying subscriber only website you can. If you want to blog publicly and simply collect emails and send out blog posts to your subscribers you can do that too.

Ghost.org – Turn your audience into a business

Build a professional, high traffic blog with subscription revenue and email marketing with Ghost.org today!

Get started today:

ghost cms orb

David Utke

David Utke is a professional blogger, YouTuber and a highly rated user experience consultant. He and his team create helpful tutorials, software reviews, videos and more based on real-world experience. Join over 30,000 monthly readers and 20k+ YouTube subscribers!