I first started using WordPress in 2005, several years before the birth of 40Tech. For the uninitiated, when you say “WordPress,” you actually can be referring to two different products. You might be referring to the WordPress blogging platform, that you can download and install on your own web host. That’s what we do here at 40Tech. WordPress can also refer to WordPress.com, a site where you can set up a blog that runs on the WordPress platform. Recently, I wondered if there were a better choice than WordPress, so I gave Squarespace a spin.
I should preface this discussion by stating that this is not really a fair comparison. I’ve been using WordPress for a few years, and Squarespace for a few days. With that understanding in mind, this post includes my first impressions of Squarespace, broken down by looking at why you might choose to use Squarespace, and why it might not be a good choice for you.
Why You Might Choose Squarespace
Here are a few of the reasons why you might choose Squarespace:
- Don’t need to worry about the nuts and bolts. If you’re just starting a website, Squarespace could be an awesome solution. You don’t have to worry about learning how a platform works behind the scenes, like you do with a self-hosted WordPress installation if you really want it to shine. You also don’t have to install anything. Squarespace is largely a “what you see is what you get” experience, as I’ll describe below, and the platform is already in place. Sign up, pick a theme from several options, tweak it if you wish, and start writing.
- Don’t need to worry about security. If you’re running the self-hosted version of WordPress, you likely are paying a web host to host your site. While the host takes care of server security, this doesn’t absolve you of all security concerns. You still need to make sure that your WordPress installation is secure, and isn’t vulnerable because of a flaw in a plugin, theme, or code that you added. None of that is a concern with Squarespace. Squarespace is both a host and a platform, so you don’t need to worry about something that you installed on the server. Again, Squarespace is a blank slate, already configured and running, and waiting for you to tweak it.
- Easy customization. Squarespace does have some nice themes, but you’re not stuck with just the themes as they come out of the box. Squarespace’s hallmark is the ability that it gives you to tweak a theme to your heart’s content. You can change fonts, colors, margins, widths, and more with just a few clicks. This pertains to pretty much every element of your site – a drop down menu lets you choose which part of a page you want to edit, and then you can go in and make changes with ease. No understanding of CSS or HTML is required. If you do know CSS, you can tweak the appearance of your site even more.
- Markdown. We’ve talked about Markdown quite a bit here lately, so I’m pleased to report that Squarespace supports it, along with WYSIWYG, raw HTML, and Textile.
- Built in features. One aspect of WordPress that is worrisome is that to get some features, you must rely on external plugins. That brings with it both security concerns, and concerns about losing functionality on your site if a developer stops developing his or her plugin. Squarespace supports forums, photo galleries, Amazon items, and more, without the need to rely upon a third party.
- Great support. I sent a support inquiry to Squarespace support, and had a response moments later. Having a single “the buck stops here” location to look for support has its benefits, and my experience was outstanding.
- Reliable architecture. In my limited experience, I found Squarespace to be fast and stable. It also has built in scaling, to handle larger volumes of traffic. This differs from a self-hosted WordPress install, which often runs on a shared host that can be brought to its knees by a spike in traffic.
Why You Might Stay Away From Squarespace
Nothing in life is perfect, and Squarespace is no exception. Here are a few reasons why you might decide against using Squarespace:
- Less customization and control. While it is easy to customize a Squarespace theme, there is a tradeoff. You don’t have access to the guts of the platform, like you do with WordPress. The best way to characterize it is that customizations on Squarespace are easy and can be extensive, but not nearly as unlimited as you might find on WordPress. You’re also limited to working with the tools provided on Squarespace. On a self-hosted WordPress site, you have free reign, within whatever limits your host places on you.
- Smaller theme and plugin selection. One of the reasons that Squarespace isn’t as customizable as WordPress is because Squarespace doesn’t have nearly the same size theme and plugin repository that WordPress possesses. The vast number of plugins and themes is a selling point for WordPress. If you can imagine something – a look, or type of functionality – you can probably find a theme or plugin that does it on WordPress. On Squarespace you’re limited to the choices given, although those choices do give you a good bit of flexibility.
- Smaller community. One of the aspects of WordPress that I love is the helpful community. I don’t even usually end up getting help directly. Instead, if I have a problem, I perform a Google search, and chances are that multiple people have asked the same question, and received answers. Squarespace lacks that same massive community.
- Not free. Squarespace is a paid service., with prices ranging from $12 to $36 per month. WordPress is free to download, although you’ll still need to pay for most types of hosting. For low-traffic sites, this hosting can be cheap. Most hosts also allow you to run multiple sites on one hosting plan, reducing the cost even further.
The biggest problem I see with Squarespace is that it puts starting bloggers in sort of a Catch-22. Squarespace is ideal for starting bloggers, but starting bloggers might not know in the beginning if they’re in it for the long haul (or if they’re going to make any money, if that is the goal). The beginning is when a blogger has to decide whether he or she is shelling out money for a blogging platform. As a result, the people most likely to benefit from a service like Squarespace are the least likely to use it.
At the same time, experienced bloggers with a trove of content in a WordPress site are going to be loath to uproot everything and move to a completely new platform. My biggest concern when evaluating a move of 40Tech was whether I’d lose search ranking, because the link strutter on a new platform would be different. I wrote to Squarespace support to ask if links were preserved when importing a preexisting site, and was told that “our importer *should* be able to redirect your URLs automatically to preserve link structures.” At least with the free account, there’s no way to test this out to be sure, before you make the move.
In the end, the itch to look for another blogging platform subsided, and I decided that 40Tech would remain where it is – on a web host, running a self-hosted WordPress installation. If we had moved 40Tech, I would have missed having complete control over the site like I do now. I also wasn’t completely confidant that the our prior links wouldn’t have evaporated into cyberspace. Instead of moving, we’ve gone ahead and implemented a few hardening features to lock down the site. By keeping the site here, I’ve also been spared the likely wrath of Bobby Travis.
Have any of you tried Squarespace, or another all-in-one solution? If so, hop on down to the comment section, below, and let us know about your experience.