I design websites for clients with businesses in many different industries—everything from healthcare to custom clothing—and lately they’ve been requesting websites built on the Squarespace platform over WordPress. Why? It’s a website they can change or update themselves without having to mess with any coding.
But is Squarespace right for your author website, freelance portfolio, or blog? In this Squarespace review, I take a look at the popular site-building tool and weigh the pros and cons for writers.
What is Squarespace?
Squarespace is an all-in-one website building platform. It provides you with professional templates, a drag-and-drop editor, a content management system, blogging platform, SEO tools, ecommerce solutions, and hosting.
Although many of my clients debate over whether to use Squarespace instead of self-hosted WordPress, Squarespace is more comparable to other all-inclusive website builders like Weebly or Wix. I haven’t used either of the latter so I’m not going to cover those in this article. The two I use are Squarespace and self-hosted WordPress, so I make a few comparisons below.
Squarespace templates are beautiful, clean, and professionally designed. They are so gorgeous that you can pick one of their templates out of the box and fill in your own photos and text and it will look like a highly polished website.
Their templates are all responsive—you can resize your browser and content including images, slideshows, and videos and they will automatically scale. This means they look great on tablets, cell phones, and other mobile devices.
Squarespace offers an extensive selection of styling options where you can easily change the typography (writers will love the huge range of fonts available), colors, sizes, button styles, sidebar width, background images, opacity, spacing/padding and more to your website without using code. However, if you are tech-savvy and want to use code, you can use their Custom CSS section and manually insert code.
You can easily change your template and preview it before you set it live. It automatically loads demo content that you can modify or delete, and will carry over existing pages. There are tweaks you will need to do explained in the link above, and you will probably want to style it before you set it live. I also discovered you can mix and match pages from different templates. You can only set one template live at a time, but you can install as many templates as you like and use a page from one and set it live, and then switch templates and that page will stay from the other template if you’ve saved it.
You may be thinking: with so many great features, why would anyone hire you to design their website on the Squarespace platform? Well, if you want your template to be totally different from the ones out of the box, you can hire a designer to custom code your site to make it different. For instance, I created a website for a client who has a Cryotherapy Salon. We used the Bedford template, but since my client didn’t have a strong focal image to use for their header but she had a great logo, I created a video of rolling cryofog and inserted it into the background with her logo over it (the video only plays on larger screens). This is where my learning curve started because I was so accustomed to WordPress that figuring out how Squarespace does things was a bit of a challenge. They have a code injection area in the header section and I also had to add code into the Custom CSS, which is a bit tricky and you can easily break your template.
Cons (Sort of):
Like I mentioned above, if you want to custom code your website extensively, Squarespace is not the best option. I’d go with a self-hosted WordPress site for more flexibility.
You can add, rearrange elements of your website by dragging and dropping blocks. This is great because you don’t have to install a new template or modify code, you can just rearrange the layout and see the results in real time in the live preview screen. The con is that it’s not as easy as it looks to get that little hand to show up that allows you to drag and drop. Perhaps it’s just me, but many times I was like, Oh, there’s the hand! And then a second later it disappeared because my mouse moved a millimeter over, which was frustrating.
The templates come with large, beautiful images, so you might find that when you replace them with your own images, the template doesn’t look as great. As a writer, I tend to be more text focused, but it seems like most templates are designed with photography in mind these days, so you’ll want to think about your brand and perhaps get professional author photographs taken or find the perfect stock image to use as a background. Squarespace has great tools for photos though, like Aviary online photo editing and Getty Images stock photography that you can search for and select while you’re editing and purchase for a fraction of the price you would at the actual Getty Images site. It’s $10 per any Getty Image on Squarespace, instead of $50 - $700 at Getty Images.
Everything is built into the Squarespace platform, so there’s no need to figure out which apps or extensions are available. Check out the integrations here.
For example, authors will find it easy to add:
- a contact form
- email subscription sign up via MailChimp or Google Apps
- a slideshow of their books
- an author events calendar
- social media sharing buttons
- social media streaming (automatic updating)
- integrated automatic posting to your Facebook Page
- shopping cart and buttons to purchase your books or downloadable content while staying on your website
- book trailer videos
- and more
All these tools update automatically as well, so you don’t need to manually maintenance anything, which is one of the most tedious parts about a self-hosted WordPress website. However, with WordPress you have way more plugin options available to you because it’s open source software and that means the WP community is constantly creating new plugins. Also, another disadvantage to Squarespace is that although they have ecommerce built in already, they only have Stripe as a payment gateway. So if you want to use PayPal, you’d have to use custom code for Buy Now buttons and plug it in to the html code box.
I haven’t delved extensively into blogging on the Squarespace platform, but from building client’s websites and creating blog posts, it seems almost comparable to WordPress. It has built in SEO (search engine optimization) tools and analytics, so out of the box it’s optimized. I’ve seen the websites I’ve built get Alexa rank in just a couple days of going live. I haven’t seen that on any other platform I’ve used, which is pretty exciting, but I'm sure there are other factors that contribute to that like social media links. But if you are planning on running a large blog with many posts, WordPress makes it easier for you to filter posts and add new categories. Also, if you have a group blog, WordPress is the way to go because you can have as many contributors as you’d like. You can do this with Squarespace, too, but you have to pay for a Business Account.
Everything is included in Squarespace, so you are paying for your website, template, ecommerce functionality, hosting and custom domain name. It’s $5 a month for a cover page, $12 for a personal site, and $18 a month for a business site. They also have ecommerce packages for power sellers that I didn't include here because I think the business site would be enough for most writers. Check out this page on Squarespace for discount codes. Before you purchase anything though, you should check out their free 14-day trial to see if you like it. You do not need to give any credit card info for the free trial. Below is a chart of what's included in their packages.
How does this compare with WordPress? With WordPress, you’d purchase your own domain name, which you can get for around $12 per year, and you’d need to purchase hosting, which on average would be around $85 a year. You can find professional free themes, but if you wanted to purchase a premium theme, you’d pay about $30 - $200. If you need someone to install it for you and need custom coding, you might need to contract a designer, which ranges on average of $200 - $1,500 or more. Same thing though with Squarespace. Designers are not cheap! But you probably won't need one with Squarespace.
Squarespace has customer support via email and live chat. For email, they attempt to get back to you within 1 hour. I’ve worked with them before and they were very prompt in replying. They also have an extensive discussion forum.
Before making any decisions, ask yourself: What do you want your author website to do?
It’s important to know what you need your website to do now and in the future. You may only need a portfolio site for your freelance clips right now or an author website for your books, but maybe in a couple of years you’ll want to create online writing classes or a membership site. Currently, Squarespace doesn’t have an option for either, but it does have an export feature that you can use if you want to move to WordPress.
Personally, I’m so used to WordPress and am comfortable with custom coding that it’s my first choice, but I’ve found that my clients are happier with Squarespace for easy editing and updating.
What do you think? If you have any questions about the Squarespace platform, I’d be happy to answer them.
Angela Mackintosh is publisher of WOW! Women On Writing. She also designs websites through her design company, Mackintosh Multimedia.