Chances are that if you are reading this you are considering building your own website. You may have heard of companies like Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, Wordpress. Or other content management systems like Drupal and Joomla.
If you are new to the website creation world, the amount of coding languages and programs available to you can be overwhelming. Especially if you don't have much of a coding background.
Squarespace is a template driven website creation program. It allows you to choose from many different templates. Then offers some customization through their back-end admin platform.
Wordpress was first built as a blogging platform. It is an open-source platform which allows anyone free access to use, modify and create code that works in the Wordpress architecture. This has allowed it to grow from a simple blogging platform to a website creation powerhouse. But before we jump into all that, let's start with the basics.
*Note - We are using the "self-hosted" version of Wordpress found at Wordpress.org. The program found at Wordpress.com is a version of Wordpress that allows you pay for setup and hosting of your Wordpress website.
Before you begin (please read!)
I plan to get into lots of various details between Squarespace and Wordpress. But if you are reading this trying to determine which program is best suited for your upcoming web design project let me simplify things for you.
If you have ZERO coding experience and ZERO desire to learn how to code but still want a great looking website, Squarespace is your answer. Don't even worry about reading the rest of this article, go to Squarespace.com and get started. It is very simple to learn and the customer support is top notch. Wordpress will take you a bit longer to get started and the amount of information out there will probably overwhelm you starting out.
The Apple Vs. Android Question
The question of using Squarespace versus Wordpress goes back to the closed versus open source debate.
Squarespace, like Apple, is a closed source program. This means you can only play in the sandbox that Squarespace has created for you. They have created ways to venture outside of the sandbox with custom CSS and embedded code boxes. But outside of a few select integrations, your options are limited.
What is the benefit of being such a limited system? Control. Like Apple products (most of the time), everything works well together. Having complete control over the code and how that code integrates with other programs allows Squarespace to offer a high-quality content management system that is reliable and easy to use.
Wordpress is an open source program. This means that anyone can see, use, modify, and play with the code. Like Android products, this allows developers to create an endless amount of programs that can run on Wordpress.
This also has its own pros and cons. That amount of flexibility you can have on a Wordpress site in endless. Yet, with that freedom comes some potential issues. These include security issues, programs that don't interact well together and crash your website and reliability issues.
This doesn't mean that one is better than the other. The amazing flexibility of Wordpress allows you to build anything you can dream up. The key is that code. Updates and the use of well-designed themes and plugins give Wordpress its power.
The control of Squarespace allows you to build a beautiful website with no coding knowledge. Your new site will work and still has a load of features.
So now that we have introduced both Squarespace and Wordpress to you, let's get into the nuts and bolts. Our hope is that this guide will allow you to choose the best content management program for your next website design project.
Open Source Versus Closed Source
Like we mentioned earlier, Squarespace and Wordpress take different paths when it comes to modifying the actual code and applications that run the website. Now we are going to dig into more on the benefits of open source and closed source programs
Open Source Benefits (Wordpress)
- Anyone can use, add to, change, build and develop programs to run on an open source platform.
- With access to all of the code, there is an endless amount of information on how to use and troubleshoot issues with your website.
- Lower cost due to the fact that it is available to everyone.
- More flexibility and more advanced technology
- With so many people accessing the code, developers can try new things and use new technology as it becomes available.
Closed Source Benefits (Squarespace)
- More control over the code so your website generally has better reliability and security
- This control leads to a better user (you) experience building your website.
- High-quality support for beginners and developers.
- A centralized organization that controls and supports that software to make sure it runs smoothly.
- Higher reliability and security.
While these are a few of the benefits of the two systems, it gives you an idea of what to expect. As we continue to compare these two programs, you will start to form an opinion on which platform is right for you.
Ease of Use
Depending on your level of coding experience, setting up Wordpress can be a little overwhelming. It requires choosing a hosting company or using your own server. You can also set up a server on your own computer that will allow you to build your site locally on your hard drive. From there, once you are ready to publish your site you can export it to a hosting service.
Once you have your server, the user interface for Wordpress is pretty intuitive. The other nice thing about Wordpress's popularity is the number of tutorials, videos, and guides that are available. If you are having a problem with Wordpress, chances are someone else has already had that problem. The solution is out there and likely in video form! (Thanks YouTube!)
Being an open source platform, there are a lot of themes available for Wordpress. A theme is the layout of your website. Many themes are free and have some great flexibility and functionality depending on the goals of your website. Other themes are "Premium" and require a one-time or recurring payment to use them. Some also have a "Freemium" version that allows you to use the basics of the Theme for free. To unlock all the functionality of the theme you will have to pay.
It is very easy to switch from one theme to another. Most well-built themes can be customized to match your brand.
Plugins allow you to customize your website beyond the basics of your theme. The immense amount of plugins that are available is overwhelming. Many of them do the same things with a slight modification. Like themes, some plugins are free and others require a fee.
Plugins are easy to search for and add to your site. Most plugins are designed well and work with any theme. Yet, as we discussed before, some plugins may not be coded properly. This could have an adverse effect on your website.
While anyone can get started with Wordpress and build a great looking website, only a developer will really unlock the full potential of a Wordpress website.
Getting started with Squarespace is about as simple as it gets. The first roadblock you may run into is simply picking out which template to use. But don't worry! You can change your template anytime and not lose any of your content. It can be a little bit of work getting all your previous data updated into a new template, but once you understand how it works, it is pretty easy.
Squarespace uses "blocks" to build your website. These can be text blocks, image blocks, spacers, code blocks. There are a lot of options available. When you first get started you may think that you can do about anything in their ecosystem. Yet you will find a limited number of integrations. Limits with calendars, scheduling programs, forms, email management services and other programs.
There is also a learning curve to placing blocks on your site. You have limited options on where images are placed and how they are scaled. But as with all things, the more you play around, the more comfortable you will become.
It is also very easy to update and add information into your Squarespace site. This can allow you to build a basic site and get it launched quickly. Then you can come back and make updates and changes later.
For someone without much of a coding background, Squarespace is by far going to be easier to use. Their WYSIWYG design platform allows you to see what your site will look like as you are building it. The integrations that they do allow work very well and can be sufficient for someone building their first website.
Squarespace's customer support is also something to mention. Anyone who has tried to design a website their first time is going to have questions. It is great to have a team of dedicated support staff ready to help you. If you build in Wordpress, it will be up to you to research your questions and figure out a solution. Your other option would be to hire a Wordpress developer to either help you or build your site for you.
You may have heard that "Wordpress is free." Technically, yes, the software and underlying code are free. You can download it, host it on your own computer and build a website for free. Once you want to actually get your site live onto the internet you will need to pay for a hosting service. Companies like Bluehost, HostGator, SiteGround, and InMotion all provide server space for you to host your website so that it may reach the masses.
These hosting services all have different fees. Most of them will average $5-$10/month. While other companies offer a lower monthly fee, they may not provide the reliability you would expect. Any of the companies listed above provide secure and reliable hosting services for your new website.
The big cost of a Wordpress website comes from premium themes and plugins. Now, there are some great free themes to get started. But if you are looking for a feature-rich theme with all sorts of visuals and animations, you may need to pay for it. Here is where doing your research is key. Again, this is the beauty of open source. Because everyone's code is out in the open for everyone else to see, the good themes get noticed and many of the bad ones get identified.
If you do go the route of a premium theme, you may have a development team that can help you get the most out of your theme. They should answer any questions you have getting it set up.
If you want a custom website, you can always hire a developer to build a custom theme and custom plugins for your website. This can come with a rather large price tag $10k+ and is usually a solution for larger businesses.
Squarespace pricing is much more straightforward. You choose your plan and go. You can save money by selecting an annual plan over paying monthly. They have a "Website" plan and an "E-Commerce" plan. Both of those each have two levels of pricing depending on what sort of features you need.
- Website Plan (paid annually)
- Personal - $12/month
- Business - $18/month
- E-Commerce (paid annually)
- Basic - $26/month
- Advanced - $40/month
These plans include access to all the templates and most of the features available on Squarespace. The plans are actually good descriptions of what services are included. If you are only building a website for yourself and want to blog and share pictures, the personal plan has everything you need.
If you are a business but you are not selling products, you are going to want some of the features in the Business plan. This includes some of their premium code blocks, 3rd party integrations, and promotional pop-ups.
With both platforms, you need to buy a domain. That is the web address visitors will type in or click on to find your website. Squarespace includes a domain name (for 1 year) in their plans if you pay annually. Some hosting platforms for Wordpress include a domain name (also just the first year) but you need to research if that is included.
You can get away with creating a pretty low-cost site using Wordpress. This may be exactly what you are looking for. You can create a very feature rich website with free themes and plugins. The only money you spend could be on hosting and your domain name could even for free for the first year.
Yet as we will get into later, Wordpress can have some security issues. You may need to pay for a spam filter plugin as well as some other security plugins to keep your site running.
With Squarespace, you pay one fee and you get the features you need and they take care of security and site reliability. So, while it may seem more expensive, at least you will have a fixed cost that will include all the features in your plan.
Wordpress has long used a back-end editor to create pages and posts on your website. This can get cumbersome if you make a lot of changes to your site. First, you would have to make your updates, save the changes, then select either preview or publish and then view your changes on the front-end of your site to see if they work like you expect.
With the launch of the Gutenberg (beta) editor plugin, Wordpress now has a WYSIWYG editor. This means you can make changes directly on the "front-end" of your website. Although you are still in your back-end admin panel, the Gutenberg editor will mimic what your website will actually look like. All you need to do is download and activate the free Gutenberg Editor from the Plugin catalog. This editor makes updating and editing your Wordpress site like Squarespace.
Editing content in Squarespace is simple. The ability to add, move, delete and edit blocks is very straightforward. The only trick to moving blocks in Squarespace is to learn the conventions they use to know where you block is going to end up. Once you have this part figured out, it is very easy to edit your site.
Also, it is very easy to edit your site by switching templates. If you want to completely change the look of your website you can change your template and still keep all your content. When you change templates, all of your previous pages move to an area called "Not Linked" in your page navigation. All you need to do is move those pages back into your desired navigation location on your new template. Then check them to make sure they present the way you expect.
Because the appearance of your Wordpress site depends on the theme you choose, that theme will dictate how your site appears on a mobile device. So, when you choose a theme you will want to make sure they have designed it with mobile devices in mind.
Most popular themes and any premium theme is going to work for mobile devices. If you go the route of a random free theme, be sure to test it on your phone or in a developer mode on your computer.
There are some great tools out there for checking your site's mobile responsiveness. Google's Mobile-Friendly Test is a good place to start. Google also has a Mobile Speed Test that can compute your average load time and provide recommendations to speed up your website.
Squarespace designed all their templates for mobile compatibility. While they are designed for such, that doesn't mean they will always present like you expect them to. The nice thing about the Squarespace platform is that it allows you to scale the screen on your computer down to a mobile phone view. This allows you to make changes and quickly see how it would present a phone or a tablet.
There is a little bit of a learning curve to getting your site to present correctly on a mobile device. But with all Squarespace questions, there is a lot of support from videos, articles, and forums on how to tackle most any issue.
Squarespace also uses AMP (Accelerated Mobile Page) formatting. I am not going to get into all the details here. Simply put, AMP allows for faster loading times for pages viewed on mobile devices. If you would like to learn more about AMP here is a great video and reference guide.
Both Wordpress and Squarespace can build stunning mobile website designs. They both have an equal capability and with the proper plugins, by the way, Wordpress can also use AMP formatting for your website. This isn't only a Squarespace thing. It just requires a plugin.
The key here is that whichever system you are on, that you check your website on many devices throughout the process of building your website. Send links of your website to your friends and have them check your site on their various phones. This way you can get a wide view of how your site will interact on screens of every size.
Wordpress is a true content management system. What that means is that as you load blog posts and images to your website, Wordpress is storing those files in a database. When your website gets viewed, Wordpress calls up those files and inserts them into your theme and presents them as your webpage.
This is cool for a bunch of reasons. You get a lot of flexibility with information stored in a database rather than only on a webpage. You can reuse it on many pages and you can store information to recall later. Wordpress also lets you tag posts and images with a bit more freedom than Squarespace.
The other benefit of storing information this way is that you can easily export or download all your information at any time. This means you could download all your content and move it to a different hosting service if you wanted to. Your information is not captive to the provider you first built it on. It shouldn't be surprising that a plugin can take care of exporting your content for you.
Squarespace works a little different. They will manage your content, but it is more cumbersome to reuse items. For example, if you wanted to reuse an image in multiple places on your website, you would need to upload that image each time you wanted to use it.
You do have the option of creating a gallery and reusing images in that gallery, but rarely do you need the exact same group of images in different locations. This makes Squarespace a bit more difficult when it comes to managing all your content like images, blog posts, comments, and media.
Because Squarespace manages all your content for you, they have made it a little more difficult to export it if you ever wanted to take your website and host it somewhere else. They will let you create and export an XML file but that file will not include your product pages, album pages, audio or video files among others.
The process of picking up and moving your site from one hosting service to another is much easier with Wordpress than Squarespace. Like Apple, Squarespace makes it much more enticing to stay in their ecosystem and much harder to leave. Which is fine if you are willing to play in their sandbox. The fact that Wordpress was built for the end user by the end user provides more options.
Wordpress has a mobile app for iOS and Android that allows you to create and edit both posts and pages. This can be great for quick updates and minor edits. While most designers build from their computers, having the option of adding content to your site without having your computers around is a nice option. It can be a great way to create draft posts when a new idea strikes you. Then you can always refine and publish the post the next time you boot up your computer.
As usual, Squarespace to a little different approach to mobile apps. They created 5 of them, each with a different functionality. They are:
- Blog - Allows you to add, edit, delete blog posts and manage comments.
- Portfolio - Allows you to add and delete items from your image galleries. Galleries can also be saved for offline viewing.
- Analytics - Shows website traffic and statistics. Like the Analytics page on your Squarespace Dashboard.
- Commerce - Fulfill orders, manage inventory, resolve issues relating to your online store
- Note - Capture your thoughts anytime. You can sync with Evernote, Google Drive, and Dropbox
Downloading 5 apps is obviously more cumbersome than one, but chances are you may not need all 5. Like almost all Squarespace products though, they work very well and are pretty intuitive.
The fact that both platforms have apps that allow you to change your website while away from your computer is helpful. The Wordpress app is for managing content while Squarespace does have a little more functionality. Depending on your business you can choose which apps you need.
Like we mentioned before, Wordpress was first built as a blogging platform. But with all things open source, the possibilities are endless.
This goes for Wordpress's e-commerce functionality as well. You have a lot of options when it comes to finding a solid e-commerce plugin in for your website.
- WooCommerce - Probably the most popular Wordpress e-commerce platform out there. From soloprenuers to large corporations, many companies sell products from Wordpress sites using WooCommerce.
- Shopify - Shopify is an e-commerce platform of its own. So while you may have a Wordpress website, you may choose to host your store with Shopify. This can be done with simple linking. Using similar designs on your Wordpress website and your Shopify website so visitors don't feel like they are visiting two different sites.
- Easy Digital Downloads - Provides a great solution if you are offering downloadable products like ebooks, downloadable programs, and other files.
- Shopp - Offers a plugin to your Wordpress site that allows you to sell physical, digital and subscription-based products directly from your Wordpress website. Shopp is a great option if you have a development background and want to modify back-end code for optimum performance.
While it is not a dedicated e-commerce platform, Squarespace does allow you to create a store, sell physical and digital products and manage inventory. Both e-commerce plans include unlimited products, no transaction fees, inventory control, commerce metrics and customer accounts. The Advanced plan also includes abandoned cart recovery, real-time carrier shipping rates, and gift cards.
If you are looking to open up an online store and you do not have a website yet, a platform like Shopify may be a better bet. If you already have a Squarespace website and want to start selling products, then sticking to Squarespace upgrading your plan would be a smart option.
Search Engine Optimization
This wouldn't be an Ultimate guide if we didn't talk about SEO.
The tribal wisdom here is that Wordpress is by far the leader when it comes to SEO. This is hard to deny with so many Wordpress websites on the web and so many tools to analyze performance.
The key to Wordpress is its simplicity. Like we mentioned before, the content is stored in a database that outputs into your theme and is presented to the visitor. As long as your theme is coded efficiently, this process works very well.
Also, with your data stored in a database, it is easier to optimize that data (image file size, type, formatting, alt text, metadata). This allows someone with a little know how to use more SEO best practices.
There are a lot of plugins available for Wordpress websites that can help your SEO score. By far the most popular plugin is YOAST. YOAST has a free plugin option as well as a premium paid plugin that adds content insights into your top 5 keywords and actual SEO scores for your website.
Squarespace understands how important SEO is for a website. They throw a lot of functionality into your website that allows for it to do well in the search engine rankings.
Providing SSL security to your website is a nice perk. Also providing a sitemap, tagging and redirects help in the SEO game. All these things can be done in Wordpress as well but they require the use of a plugin to make it happen.
Squarespace also provides internal access to Google Search Console. This added benefit that can help you understand what your visitors are searching for when they come to your site.
For someone starting out with web design, Squarespace is a great option because their SEO is straightforward.
Because Squarespace controls their templates, it is challenging to change anything in them that may influence your pages load speed. Yet unless you open up the developer mode, you will not have much access to deeper level HTML and CSS issues that may affect your SEO rankings.
If you have made it this far, you are noticing a theme by now. Wordpress has a lot more functionality and flexibility while Squarespace is much more controlled and streamlined.
This is no different from the way they approach SEO.
Squarespace is built for those who do not want to code anything. Yet that comes at a price. A Wordpress site that is optimized correctly will typically load faster and rate higher with search engines. But this requires a bit of understanding and experience with Wordpress and the various plugins that are available.
Squarespace is optimized in terms of SEO in a lot of ways. But it doesn't have the flexibility and control that Wordpress offers when it comes to making small tweaks in the code. Don't think that a Squarespace website can't rank well with Google. There are a lot of guides on how to make sure you are optimizing your Squarespace website.
More on SEO
I would like to take a moment and speak to the importance of great content on your website. This is the true driver of good SEO.
The most important thing you can do for SEO on your website is to give visitors a reason to spend time on your website and keep coming back. The best way to do that is through valuable content that is accurate and helpful.
Let's Wrap This Up...
You should have a pretty good idea which direction you need to go.
A good guide will lead the way, but the decision is up to you. You may have been leaning one way or another and looking for validation on which website platform to use.
In my humble opinion, it comes down to time and experience. If you lack both, then I would highly recommend saving yourself a lot of headaches and go with Squarespace. The support and ease of use will allow you to get up and running so you can build your online presence. If you then decide to upgrade your website for more enhanced SEO or e-commerce reasons, then take the time to learn Wordpress well. You could always build it after you have a Squarespace site up and running. Validate your business first, then dig into a more sophisticated website.
If you have a lot of free time and don't mind getting a little nerdy, then you will enjoy learning Wordpress. There are a lot of resources out there and even local meet-ups where you can meet other folks working in the Wordpress space.
I am actually starting a Facebook page for anyone interested in learning more about website design. Maybe you are thinking of starting their own web design company. I would like to personally invite you to join our group. If you would like to join a collection of like-minded folks to share ideas and ask questions click here.