Why do I like Squarespace so much better than Wordpress? It’s a question I get asked a lot! And it’s a very valid one given Wordpress’ huge market presence and Squarespace’s growing popularity. As with most things in life, once your basic needs are taken care of it all comes down to personal preference, in this case with regards to your workflow, aesthetics and special requirements. What I am sharing in this post is all based on my own personal experience with both Wordpress and Squarespace.
Let me start at the beginning.
I created my first website in 1999 just with HTML and hosted it on Dreamhost. It was a blog of sorts, with a monthly diary and a couple of pages. I didn’t even know blogging was a thing until 2005, which is when I started my own proper blog on Blogger. I soon felt the itch for more design options so I moved to Typepad and from there it was a short step to a self-hosted Wordpress blog. I had fun with Wordpress and learned more about HTML and also CSS. But I am not a programmer and was never interested in digging deeper into PHP, Java and all that. I just wanted to know enough to change the look of my blog, and to influence some functionality.
Back then my needs were pretty basic: a blog with a banner, a sidebar and commenting system was more than sufficient. The Wordpress dashboard always felt a little clunky to me and I remember being quite intimidated by the need to perform regular version updates for Wordpress and the plugins.
Every time there was an update I was a little nervous, I rarely performed the recommended back-up (because it felt too complicated) and I just hit the update button and hoped for the best!
Then there were the mighty plugins! Very powerful but often with complex user interfaces that I didn’t really understand, and what if a plugin designer stopped supporting it or not keeping up with version updates? Plugins kept slowing down my site (I still see that happening today) and in some cases even breaking it, resulting in weird error messages that I had no idea how to fix. And then the plugin designer would not respond and I had to go in through the backdoor of my site and remove the plugin that way. I am the first to admit: much of this exceeded my technical ability and inclination. I was mostly interested in the design end of things, I just wanted a nice looking and well functioning blog that made reading it a good experience for my visitors.
Nonetheless, I kept persevering and learning and eventually I started feeling more comfortable around all the technical bits that were required to keep my Wordpress site up-to-date and working well.
And then... I discovered Squarespace.
It was 2008 and they were on version 5. Oh my. I loved version 5. The style editor was out of this world. Suddenly I could influence the design of my website without writing CSS code or needing some plugin to do things. The version 5 editor was super slick and intuitive, I had never seen anything like it. I was all in and happy for a few years! Until Squarespace launched version 6 in 2012. Sheesh. I did not like it! While the new layout engine enabled a rather powerful website builder and the user interface became much cleaner and simpler, I was miffed because they had stripped away much of the design capability and now I was back to using CSS again for many of the design tweaks.
So I went back to Wordpress!
Yes, I don’t normally mention that on here, simply because then it becomes too long a story, but in 2012 I returned to Wordpress and then spent a couple of years going back and forth between the two systems. I still really liked Squarespace, especially the beautiful templates that looked so much better than anything I could find on Wordpress. Alas, I also felt that if I needed to use CSS again I might as well use Wordpress because at least there I had some of the blogging features I liked, such as the CommentLuv plugin or the blog subscription widget. Fast forward two years and it’s October 2014 and Squarespace releases version 7, which is what we are still on today.
Version 7 completely reconciled me with Squarespace.
More functionality, more beautiful templates, improved styling options, an integrated commerce platform. Wow. And it changed my life. When my friend Maddie asked me to redesign her Luminous Elephant website and online shop I did so on version 7 and it was a smashing success and the beginning of my web design business. And I haven’t looked back since.
Wordpress is a powerful and flexible system, I will never deny that. It’s the PC of website platforms and as such it has a firm place in our online world. Alas, I am a Mac girl and I fell hard for Squarespace with its elegant and modern templates and intuitive website builder. So when I am writing this post it is absolutely with the intention of showing you why I love Squarespace so much and why I think it is such a great system, especially for small businesses owners and creative entrepreneurs.
Squarespace vs. Wordpress:
1. THE COST
Wordpress comes in two forms: hosted or self-hosted. The former (Wordpress.com) is free for a basic version and then they charge add-ons for things like connecting your site to a custom domain. A bit like airlines these days, the ticket prices are cheap but then they get you with fees for luggage and food etc.
The self-hosted version can be downloaded for free from Wordpress.org but this then needs to be hosted somewhere and many hosting services these days, while offering low-cost basic packages, end up charging you for extras like storage and number of visitors. GoDaddy’s Wordpress hosting starts at $3.99 per month, or Bluehost at $19.99 per month, or Dreamhost from $7.99 per month. There are of course many more hosting companies out there, some cheaper/better than others, and many have special offers as well.
In addition to hosting you also have to pay for Wordpress templates these days, you don’t get many nice ones for free anymore. ThemeForest charges anything from $14 to $500 per theme, and Elegant Themes starts at $69 per year, and of course there are many others - Wordpress templates have become a lucrative business.
Another cost that is often not mentioned in these comparisons is the investment in a Wordpress designer to maintain your site. See point 3 below.
With Squarespace you have two website and two commerce packages. Everything is spelled out very clearly and there are no limits on bandwidth or storage and templates are always included. You get a nice discount if you pay annually and the price range is $12 - $46 per month depending on the plan you choose. You can try Squarespace free for two weeks and don’t need a credit card to get started.
My thoughts: Wherever you go, you have to pay for hosting. I like Squarespace’s pricing structure because it’s simple, affordable and transparent, and there are no hidden or unexpected additional costs.
2. EASE OF USE
While there is an adjustment phase when you move from Wordpress to Squarespace most people soon realize just how much easier and more intuitive the Squarespace website builder is. Squarespace is a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) system where you can see your changes right there on the page, before even saving it. Playing around with colors and fonts in the style editor is easy peasy in Squarespace, as is creating your page structure with the intuitive drag-and-drop content blocks. Click here for an example that compares page layouts and adding images in Squarespace and Wordpress.
Wordpress is much clunkier in this respect. You make your changes in the backend and then you refresh your page in another browser window to see the changes. There are plugins and themes that make this process easier but nothing comes close to the elegance and ease of Squarespace’s style editor and drag-and-drop system.
Wordpress has a pretty comprehensive dashboard from where you manage your pages, posts, plugins and settings. Over the years this has changed very little and that no doubt contributes to its popularity: once you know how to navigate and use the dashboard it’s a very predictable and familiar environment to work in.
The Squarespace admin area is also very powerful, from here you manage your content, your blog and comments, your design, statistics, commerce functions and website settings. Wordpress proponents often say that the dashboard offers more flexibility and options but I would actually argue the opposite, I think that the Squarespace admin area can do more than Wordpress and all the information and settings are organized in a much more intuitive and user-friendly way.
My thoughts: Squarespace is easier to use than Wordpress. There is a learning curve with both systems but Squarespace is more straightforward and has a simpler and better organized admin area. The drag-and-drop website builder and intuitive style editor make designing a website easy and fun.
3. DO I NEED TO BE A TECH WIZARD?
With self-hosted Wordpress, definitely. Many design tweaks require HTML and CSS knowledge and you are also managing the updates, the database and hosting. If you are not that technical it can get very confusing very fast and you will soon start looking for help. Which is precisely why so many designers want you to use Wordpress - maintenance is their bread and butter! And of course there is nothing wrong with that. If you are lucky enough to be in the hands of an experienced and good Wordpress designer then you can absolutely have a great website and positive experience with Wordpress.
Can you go it alone with Wordpress? Yes, you can learn it if you have the time and patience to do so but in my experience many people don’t really know how to maintain their Wordpress sites properly, and as a result the internet is full of poorly designed and badly performing Wordpress sites. It is much harder to mess this up in Squarespace!
Because Squarespace is a hosted service you never need to worry about the back-end. There are no system updates, no plugins to manage. And if there ever is a technical issue you just reach out to their amazing customer support team and they will fix it and won’t charge you extra for that, either.
Are you like me and enjoy a bit of coding and tweaking your design beyond the given parameters? You can still do so in Squarespace. And unlike with Wordpress it is very transparent where that code goes and you can easily add or remove it without having to remember where you put it in the first place. And in the case of CSS I can see the changes of my code immediately on the page before saving it! It’s quite magical :)
My thoughts: If web technology isn’t your thing but you want to maintain your website yourself then Squarespace is definitely the better choice. And if you like a bit of technical flexibility then you can still work your coding magic with Squarespace but in a safer and more intuitive environment.
4. BEAUTIFUL & INTUITIVE DESIGN
It’s a bit like the PC versus Mac question, don’t you think? Wordpress is pretty robust and you can do a lot with it, but many Wordpress sites also feel decidedly ‘PC-ish’ to me. Proponents like to enthuse about having 1,000s of templates to choose from (design options galore!) but to me that has never felt anything but completely overwhelming and a little paralyzing.
I much prefer the Squarespace template options, there are enough to give you variety and because they are presented so beautifully and efficiently choosing your template is a much more enjoyable experience.
I have heard nay-sayers complain that with Squarespace you are stuck with a certain look, you know: the over imposed super stylish photos, the young hipster-bearded-coffee-cup perfect scenarios. But here is maybe one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to Squarespace: The templates have a beautiful and distinct look and feel, but you can absolutely take any of them and make it your own while getting all the benefits of an attractive design foundation and great functionality. Just have a look at my portfolio and you will see a nice diversity of designs, reflecting my client’s own personalities and businesses.
My thoughts: Steve Jobs was right, good design is all about appearance, emotion and functionality. And with Squarespace you get the triple hat trick! They provide clean and modern elegance built on a strong and capable engine. Squarespace doesn’t miss many details when it comes to good design.
5. WHO OWNS MY STUFF?
Here is another misconception: some Wordpress designers argue that you don’t own your content with Squarespace. Here is a quote: “The simple fact of the matter is, with sites like Squarespace and Blogger, you don’t own your content.” Well, that is simply not true.
Squarespace reserves the right to terminate your website if you violate their terms of service which is pretty standard. What you don’t own is the design, that’s proprietary to Squarespace, but as far as your own creations are concerned it’s all yours and Squarespace are very clear about this, see extract from their Terms of Service below.
In the second paragraph of these terms they even note that in the case of a termination ‘Your Content’ will survive such termination. And just for comparison I had a look at the Dreamhost Terms of Service, this is where I’ve been hosting sites since 1999. And they are not all that different, stuff can certainly happen to your content here as well, see below.
To me it’s clear that I own my content on Squarespace and I have made it a habit to regularly export my content to an XML file so that I also have a local back-up. In fact, despite changing blogging providers and hosts multiple times over the last 11 years I still have all of my content from day one.
Squarespace Terms of Service:
“When you upload content to Squarespace, you still own it. You do, however, give us permission to use it in the ways necessary to provide our services [...] We reserve the right to suspend or terminate the Services at any time at our sole discretion and without notice. For example, we may suspend or terminate your use of the Services if you're violating these Terms or our Acceptable Use Policy [...] All sections of this Agreement that by their nature should survive termination shall survive termination, including without limitation Your Content [...].
Dreamhost Terms of Service:
“Notwithstanding the above, DreamHost Web Hosting may terminate service under this contract at any time, without penalty, if the Customer fails to comply with the terms of this contract [...] Under no circumstances, including negligence, shall DreamHost Web Hosting [...] be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, special or consequential damages that result from the use of or inability to use the DreamHost Web Hosting Server service, or that results from mistakes, omissions, interruptions, deletion of files, errors, defects, delays in operation [...]"
My thoughts: Having been a Squarespace customer since 2008 I am not worried about this. In all my dealings with them they have been nothing but helpful, courteous and responsive. I have no reason to believe that they are somehow out to get me or screw with my content. And it gives me peace of mind knowing that I can always contact a real life person if I have any concerns.
This is always touted as the big advantage of Wordpress: thanks to the plugins and open source code it’s a very flexible system that can do a lot. And I have no issue with that whatsoever and agree that there are certain things, such as secure membership interfaces or blog subscription widgets, that are better in Wordpress.
However, Squarespace is much more flexible than many think. You can for instance get into the source code as well if you work in developer mode. I don’t do that because I am not a back-end developer and sites in developer mode are not supported by customer service.
Plus, I don’t need to be in developer mode to get more out of Squarespace than meets the eye. I can and do for instance inject code into my website’s header and footer sections. I can also embed 3rd party code via page code blocks for things like scheduling or hotel availability widgets. I also use a lot of custom CSS for additional styling options.
My thoughts: Whether you are able and willing to dig into a bit of coding, or just want to use the system as it is, you can get a lot out of both.
There is a lot of Wordpress support out there: many forums where you can get help, YouTube videos are plentiful and you’ll be hard pressed to not find an answer on Google.
However. In addition to all of this Squarespace also has an amazing 24/7 customer support team who are only a short email or live chat away. They respond very quickly and apart from being super nice they are always helpful and efficient. If there is a bigger issue at stake they escalate it and they will notify you when the issue has been resolved. And all of this is included with your subscription fees.
My thoughts: You can’t contact Wordpress! Squarespace customer support is hard to beat, they are pretty amazing. Knowing that I can always reach out to them and get help has given me so much peace over the years.
It is of course no surprise that I would wholeheartedly recommend Squarespace to anyone who wants a beautiful feature-rich and reasonably priced website where they can blog, showcase their business and/or sell products, all without the hassle of having to maintain a back-end. Having used both Wordpress and Squarespace for many years I never want to go back to Wordpress. I have made it my mission to help make the web a more beautiful place, one website at a time, and Squarespace is my perfect partner for this mission. And I am confident that they will just keep getting better and better. Are they perfect? Of course not. But they are darn close.
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