What is Squarespace?
Squarespace is a website builder that’s becoming widely known and used for its intuitive building tools and beautiful templates.
As a WordPress user/designer for many years, I was skeptical that a site builder (many of which have been disappointing failures in terms of offering the ideal marriage of style & ease of use) could fulfil the needs of most clients. WordPress is considered a stand-alone, open-source platform, meaning that developers & designers can readily adapt and change the software to meet their needs, and add plugins and themes to extend its native capabilities.
Squarespace is, by contrast, proprietary software (owned & operated by a single company) that trades the unlimited hackability of WordPress for a solid, streamlined, consistently attractive web builder application that is accessible and intuitive even for non-technical users.
Why is this so important?
There are lots of website builder platforms that end up hoodwinking the uninitiated. They advertise themselves as user friendly, easy to build without any knowledge of code and consistently attractive across all devices.
Usually I’m called in to clean up after an attempt by a well-intentioned user to construct a professional-looking website with one of these site builder tools (Wix, VistaPrint and iPage have been the most egregious offenders). They never look quite right because, even though they can be set up without any knowledge of code, you need some experience with css/html to finesse your content so that it’s appropriate for the template you’ve chosen.
Squarespace is different. I’ve been working with it for several months now on client sites and I’m a big fan. The major reason is that Squarespace really knows what people want: a beautiful website that’s easy to customize but will stay beautiful even when sticky, non-technical fingers are fumbling about. Here are some reasons I’m such a fan:
- High level of native functionality. Of course WordPress (.org not .com) is a much more open-ended platform than Squarespace, which tightly controls the style of the site while allowing a surprising amount of flexibility in the structure. With WordPress, you need to add plugins and/or a feature-loaded theme to add things like event calendars, e-commerce, maps, newsletters, buttons, charts and many other features that Squarespace provides natively. This means that, though you have the choice of thousands of plugins designed for WordPress, you also need to try out your options (install and configure) to see what will work best for you. Squarespace offers less customizability but everything works solidly, seamlessly integrated into the website and easy to manipulate.
- Intuitive relationship between front and back ends. If you’ve ever used WordPress, you know that it can sometimes be very confusing to parse the language and visual elements of the theme that control the construction of the user end of the website. Themes and plugins are designed in different ways, and without the help of an expert or a foundation of varied experience, working with WordPress can be a process of controlled guesswork (and reading lots of documentation). With Squarespace, there is also a much closer relationship between the “front end” and the “back end” of the website. It’s a true WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get): in edit mode, a side panel appears on the lefthand side and offers options while you click, drag and fill in content right in the visual front end of the website, eliminating the scavenger hunt that can occur given the idiosyncratic nature of WordPress.
- Beautiful, responsive themes that always look great across platforms, even during setup. I’ve witnessed much disappointment from students in my WordPress class when they discover that their premium $60 theme doesn’t immediately make their website look like the theme demo. But when you start a Squarespace site, you begin with the dummy content already in place so that you can explore, piece by piece, how it goes together and you can edit, add and delete elements at will. This means that the user is never flailing around in the ether, trying to figure out how the demo can look so good while their own site looks like hot shit. It’s a very smart choice by the developers: everyone knows that a website has to work perfectly from a technical standpoint, but if your website doesn’t visually appear to be at the sharpest edge of professional design, it hurts the impression that you’re trying to build with clients and customers.
- No external hosting. With Squarespace there’s no setting up hosting accounts, installing software or configuring DNS, just a flat monthly fee based on your requirements. This alone is enough to make me want to turn first to Squarespace for appropriate projects.
Frankly, almost no one needs a custom designed website anymore. Some clients have a really hard time with this and expect that their website should be unique and different from everything else on the internet. (Conceptual projects aside, print designers don’t generally rethink the entire concept of the printed book every time they design one.) What makes websites stand out is content: the graphic design, colours, photos and written material. All that clients usually need is an attractive and eminently usable display case for their content and Squarespace excels at doing just that.
Since Squarespace is proprietary (much like Shopify), users pay a monthly fee that covers all hosting, maintenance and support costs. There are several different levels that you can choose from when setting up your account:
- Landing page ($5/month): This is appropriate for anyone who needs a simple, single page web presence.
- Personal site ($7/month): Build a website up to 20 pages with the ability to sell one product and accept donations — perfect for artists or craftspeople who already have an online shop with a service like Etsy but still need a website in order to showcase their work and write a blog.
- Business site ($18/month): Create unlimited pages and sell up to 20 different products (product variations count only as one product). This works well for anyone who has multiple products with variants — different colours, sizes or styles — to sell online. The shop, checkout and inventory database are already built in and can be customized to meet your needs. Customer payments are made through a service called Stripe, which connects directly to your bank account and allows you to accept payments by credit card, PayPal and other methods.
- Basic Commerce site ($26/month): Make unlimited pages and sell unlimited products without any transaction fees — best for established artists/businesses who have many unique products and are looking to get their shop up and running quickly and efficiently.