Last updated January 2019
Before we dive into why we recommend Squarespace for many of our small business clients and whether Squarespace is the right choice for your website, let’s take a look at what Squarespace is, where it sits in the overall market place and how, in broad terms, it compares to other website options.
What is Squarespace?
Squarespace is a cloud-based, all-in-one solution for anyone looking to create an impact online and grow their business via their website without needing to know how to code. As such it is one of many website builders and Content Management Systems available today.
A Content Management System (CMS) is the user interface through which you design and build your website, and set options for customising the front-end and back-end of your website.
When you buy into a product, particularly one that is cloud-based, you want to make sure that the company behind the product is as solid and as sound as the product itself.
Squarespace - the product
Squarespace powers millions of websites and is the platform and tool of choice for many bloggers, entrepreneurs, small businesses and brands.
From food to fashion, Squarespace provides customisable templates, a secure e-commerce platform and a complete marketing and analytics suite to help you optimise your website for engagement and lead generation, and boost conversion rates.
Squarespace - the company
Squarespace was founded in 2003 and has stayed true to its values and vision: to strive for excellence in the design and build of beautiful products.
With head-quarters in New York and offices in Portland and Dublin, the company often receives recognition for being a great place to work and, with two rounds of investment behind it, Squarespace (the product and the company) is well positioned to go from strength to strength.
Where Squarespace fits in the website market place
There are many alternatives to Squarespace: Wix, Weebly, Yola, SiteBuilder, Moonfruit, Shopify and Zoho Sites to name but a few. These products are all known as “website builders”.
Why choose a website builder?
Typically, website builders come with a range of templates (which may or may not suit your needs) and often, but not always, offer drag-and-drop interfaces to enable you to design and customise your website. The idea is that you can build a website without any knowledge of HTML (the computer language used by web browsers like Google Chrome, Safari and Microsoft Edge to display information) and without needing to use CSS (the language used to style the information displayed).
When choosing a website builder, you need to make sure that the templates that come with it, together with the range of options available to customise your website, will enable you to design your website to match your preferences and reflect your brand. If not, then you will need an understanding of HTML and CSS in order to write CSS code to modify the template’s styles (fonts, colours, spacing etc.).
There are, of course, disadvantages as well as advantages to using a website builder. As with other cloud-based website builders, all your content is stored on Squarespace servers and backups are done by Squarespace. There is no software to install and there are no software or security updates to do – all maintenance is taken care of by Squarespace. The trade-off is that you cannot download a copy of your website nor move it to a different website host.
Other website options
Most people will have heard of WordPress. Why? Because it is by far the most widely used website tool which provides a Content Management System (CMS); the user interface through which you design and build your website, and set options for customising the front-end and back-end of your website.
There is also a corresponding pool of web designers and developers with WordPress skills and experience, so if you get stuck you should always be able to find someone to help you. Many people choose WordPress over any other tool for this reason alone. However, there are some important differences to understand between Squarespace websites and WordPress websites.
The differences between Squarespace and WordPress
Squarespace and WordPress both provide a Content Management System (CMS) meaning, as mentioned above, they provide a user interface through which you can customise the front-end and back-end of your website.
However, one is a proprietary product – the other is not; one is hosted and managed – the other is not. To understand what this means and why it matters, you need to understand who owns the CMS and who hosts and manages your website.
Understanding who owns your website CMS
Squarespace is a proprietary product – its CMS has been designed and developed by Squarespace. When you buy Squarespace, you are buying a licence to use their CMS software (and, as it is a cloud-based product, you are also paying for Squarespace to host your website i.e. keep the physical files, databases and data on their website servers).
In contrast, WordPress is open source, meaning that it has been designed and built by a community of website developers who license it for free and collectively continue to update and improve the product.
You can download WordPress for free from WordPress.org after which you need to install it on a website hosting platform.
Although WordPress is free, you still need to pay for website hosting from a website hosting provider (e.g. GoDaddy, 1&1, EasyDNS, SiteGround or one of the many other providers). Alternatively, your web designer or web developer may offer to host it for you and you pay them to manage it on your behalf. Typically, they do not have their own website servers, instead they have an account with one of the main providers. If you go down that route, you should check with whom it is actually being hosted.
Whilst in both cases you own* all the content of your website, with Squarespace you cannot physically move it to a different website hosting company. With WordPress you can, unless you have chosen a WordPress website from WordPress.com which is actually a fully managed installation of WordPress hosted by the company, Automattic (see table below for more details).
* Before purchasing a website tool, particularly a cloud-based one, make sure you read their terms and conditions. Reputable providers, like Squarespace, acknowledge that you own your data and will allow you to export your data (but not your whole website, because they own the CMS software). If you use a third party to host your WordPress website, then make sure you understand their terms and conditions, in case you want to move your website to another company.
Understanding who hosts and manages your website
Cloud-based website builders, like Squarespace, provide website hosting as part of their package for which you pay a monthly or annual fee. Typically, you pay more for additional features e.g. e-commerce or if your website is particularly large or has lots of traffic. They also manage all of the back-end so you don’t have to worry about backups or installing the latest version of the CMS software.
As mentioned above, with WordPress you need to find and pay for website hosting from a provider. You then need to install WordPress on the web server. In addition, you need to remember to regularly backup your website (or install a plugin to automate the process) and update all plugins and the WordPress software to the latest versions. This either takes time and effort (and you need to know what you’re doing) or you need to pay someone else to do it for you.
Alternatively, you can pay slightly more for a managed service from a website hosting provider. There are various levels of managed web hosting, from one-click install services through to purchasing WordPress pre-installed and ready-to-go from WordPress.com. This is where some users get confused. The summary below highlights the key differences.
A proprietary Content Management System (CMS); hosted and fully managed
- Takes 1-2 hours to learn the basics even if you are not tech savvy
- Easy to use drag-and-drop website builder with customisable templates
- No set up or technical maintenance required
- You don’t have full access to the back-end files and databases so you can’t tweak everything*
- You can’t move your website to another provider
An open source CMS website which you need to install on a web server
- It is an open source CMS so you can customise everything (if you have technical skills)
- You can move your website to another provider that supports WordPress installations
- Takes 4+ hours to learn the basics of the CMS but days if not weeks to master the auxiliary technical skills you need
- You need technical skills to install it on a web server
- You need to do and manage backups (although these can be automated)
- It is best practice to regularly install software updates (again, these can be automated but you still need to test your website after the updates)
A fully managed installation of WordPress hosted by the company Automattic
- No set up or technical maintenance required
- Limited customisation and theme support
- You have to export your website data in order to move it to a self-hosted platform or alternative website hosting provider
* If you use Squarespace in developer mode then you will have full access to the back-end files and databases, but Squarespace does not offer support for custom code so you would need support from a Squarespace website developer with the appropriate level of skills and expertise.
Why Squarespace is great for small business websites
Seven reasons why you should consider using Squarespace for your website:
- It is easy to use and customise. With award-winning templates and a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface, you can construct your website without ever having to look at or write a single line of code.
- There is no back-end maintenance to worry about. Squarespace is cloud-based and as such you do not need to download, back-up or update your website to the latest software version. All of that is taken care of for you.
- It is search engine friendly. Squarespace have designed their platform in such a way that you do not need to be an expert in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Obviously it is preferable to have a reasonable understanding in this area (check out our blog, “Top 20 tips for website search engine ranking“) and if SEO is key to your marketing strategy, then SEO advice and/or training is recommended. Squarespace is search engine friendly in many ways; it is mobile friendly, generates a sitemap.xml, uses clean HTML markup, provides AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) for blog posts, allows you to add alt tags to images and meta descriptions on pages, and provides SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) security, all of which will help your website pages to be prioritised in search engine results.
Update December 2018 – Squarespace now gives you more control over how website content appears in search engines and on social channels.
- It is designed for marketers. Squarespace is easy to integrate with marketing tools e.g. social media accounts and email marketing tools such as MailChimp. It’s also easy to add lead generation forms and to set up promotional pop-ups (not available in the personal plan), announcement bars and EU (European Union) cookie and privacy banners.
Update January 2019 – Squarespace now offers its own, fully integrated email marketing tool, so you can build beautifully designed email marketing campaigns, manage your marketing lists and view campaign analytics.
- It provides simply presented website analytics. We always recommend Google Analytics for in-depth analysis but for many website owners and marketers Squarespace provides, and makes accessible, key data in a clearly presented format enabling website owners and marketers to make more informed business decisions. If you want to use Google Analytics, then Squarespace has built-in integration to connect your site.
- There are excellent resources in terms of online documentation, training videos and 24/7 customer support.
- Squarespace is reasonably priced and, in particular, value-for-money when you consider the overall cost of your website.
Whilst it is true that several website builders offer all of the above, we have found that overall Squarespace out performs its competitors when considering, collectively, the criteria that are important to small businesses.
Is Squarespace the best website solution for your business?
Squarespace is great for many websites (small, medium and even some larger organisations), but every business will have a different set of requirements. We recommend that you list your objectives and identify the features and functionality that you need your website to deliver. If you need help to assess the merits of different tools and platforms against your criteria, then seek the advice and expertise of a website specialist and discuss your requirements with them.
Broadly speaking, we recommend Squarespace when:
- you want to stand out on the web with a professional website, portfolio, or online store without it costing you an arm and a leg to set up and maintain
- you want to keep things simple – easy to implement and easy to maintain
- you want peace of mind that your website is being hosted by a reputable company, that provides a fully managed service on a secure and robust platform.
There are a couple of situations where Squarespace will not be the right solution (unless you are working with a website developer who has the skills and expertise to use Squarespace in developer mode):
- when you need more than two levels of navigation (typically not the case for small businesses)
- you need a membership-based website and/or a client portal.
In addition, when considering whether a product is the right choice for your business, you also need to consider what it will cost you to purchase, implement and maintain relative to other options available.
To design, build and make your website live, you will need a combination of design, marketing, copywriting and technical skills. Some of these skills, if you don’t have them already, can be learnt online for free. However, it may be more time and cost efficient to pay for training and support or outsource some or all of the work. If that sounds like a good idea to you, then get in touch to find out how our website team can help you.
What will a Squarespace website cost?
When it comes to comparing website costs, it is important to review the total cost of ownership rather than just the fee that you pay to the company that is going to host your website. The following costs need to be considered:
- your website domain name – some companies, like Squarespace, offer free custom domains with certain packages. Alternatively you can buy your website domain elsewhere. Typically when you purchase a domain name from a reputable company it will include the first year registration (all website domain names have to be registered). There is a one-off fee to purchase your domain and then, typically, an annual fee to register it. Sometimes you can pay for two or three years. Make sure your domain name does not include any trademark (unless you own the trademark).
- the renewal costs of your domain name registration – your domain name may be registered with another company. If this is the case, then you will need to point your domain name to your physical website once it is live.
- website hosting (this may include a website builder or other CMS; or website hosting may be included in the cost of your website builder/CMS depending upon how the provider has packaged and presented its pricing) – even if there are monthly payment terms, check the contract term i.e. how long you are tied in for. Squarespace has very clear pricing with four options to choose from: https://www.squarespace.com/pricing.
- transaction fees (related to e-commerce sales through your website) – these fees (where charged) are additional to the transactional fees paid to the payment processing company e.g. PayPal or Stripe.
- preparation – do not underestimate the time and money that it will take you to prepare your website content (copy and images). Make sure you start by considering who your website visitors will be and what customer journeys you need to provide to deliver a great customer experience. With regard to content, make sure it gets your marketing message across in the right tone of voice and on brand, and don’t forget to have it proofread. With regard to images, it takes time and money to source the right images, have them designed or to have photography taken.
- training – whilst you can learn the basics of Squarespace in a couple of hours and you may be tech savvy, it will still take you some time to work through everything that you need to do to create and make your website live. Squarespace has excellent online resources but you may find it more time efficient to pay for some fast-track and/or tailored training from an Authorised Squarespace Trainer.
- support – Squarespace provides 24/7 support but sometimes you may need additional support from a Squarespace specialist, particularly if you need to customise your website beyond the controls that Squarespace provides through its CMS and you need to write some CSS or, for example, integrate a booking system.
Websites should be easy to use at the front-end and simple to maintain at the back-end. This becomes even more important when you don’t have access to your own IT or training department. Squarespace delivers on both fronts.
In summary, Squarespace is an all-in-one, easy-to-use, cloud-based and SEO friendly, website builder on a fully-managed website hosting platform which is competitively priced and value-for-money.
How to get started with Squarespace
If you think Squarespace is the right choice for your website, then we can set you up with a trial account so that you can test it out for yourself. If you’re not sure, then speak to one of our website consultants or advisers (we also offer a free consultation).
For an extended FREE trial of Squarespace or FREE consultation, please sign up below. We will also give you a code to receive 20% off your first Squarespace payment.
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