Squarespace Review: Is It as Good as Influencers Say It Is?
If you haven’t been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably heard an advertisement for Squarespace on your favorite podcast or seen it mentioned on Facebook or Instagram.
Everyone seems to love Squarespace — this website builder is supposed to be easy-to-use, comes with beautiful templates, and is backed by a very helpful and responsive support team.
Does Squarespace live up to the hype?
Is it good enough to challenge the ever-popular WordPress (which, unlike Squarespace, is free to use)?
Read on to find out.
Squarespace was established in 2003 by founder Anthony Casalena when he was a student at the University of Maryland.
At the time, Squarespace was based out of Casalena’s dorm room. Casalena was the sole software engineer, designer, and technical support representative.
Today, Squarespace is headquartered in New York City and employs just under 800 people. The company is worth $1.7 billion and (as of 2016) hosts over 1 million websites.
What is Squarespace?
Squarespace is an all-in-one website builder that comes with:
- The website building and editing tools you need to create your site
- Domain names
- Integrations with third-party tools, such as Google Apps for email and productivity tools
All-in-One Solution For Busy Site Owners
Squarespace charges a monthly fee which covers your use of the proprietary Squarespace platform, web hosting, an SSL certificate, and a CDN (content delivery network – which speeds site loading).
That monthly fee also provides you with expert technical support staff who are available 24/7.
The in-house staff:
- Monitor web servers (used for hosting) and security.
- Create and execute regular updates to improve the Squarespace software.
- Assist site owners with how-to questions and learning the Squarespace platform
Depending on the plan you select, your monthly fee may also cover advanced business and e-commerce options.
Understanding Website Builders and Content Management Systems (CMS)
Before we take a close look at what Squarespace offers, let’s take a look at what website builders are, what content management systems (CMS) are, and how they compare to each other.
As we mentioned above, a website builder is a visual design tool that allows you to design and build a website without writing a single line of code.
Drag-And-Drop or Coding?
These are typically editors that employ drag-and-drop functionality so that you can add the features and functionality you want with ease.
You can certainly code a website from scratch, but given the availability and the ease-of-use of a website builder, even professional web developers leverage such tools to make the building process go faster.
What is a CMS?
A CMS, however, is a system that enables you to manage content in a user-friendly way.
A CMS may come with a website builder, but it might also employ simple themes over which you have little design control.
This is rare, though. Today, many CMS, including the perennial favorite, WordPress, offer robust website building features on their platforms.
Squarespace is a CMS with a robust website builder
Who Should Consider Squarespace?
With Squarespace, the amount of system administration you have to do is significantly less than with WordPress.
A Managed System: Technical Details Are Handled For You
Squarespace is a managed system, which means the Squarespace team takes care of:
- Web hosting which includes monitoring of servers and security
- Software updates to Squarespace
- Security patches for Squarespace
- Optimization for your website
- Providing one-on-one, 24/7 support for any website questions, training questions, or issues that you have.
Squarespace’s professionally-designed templates (all of which are included in your subscription plan), means that you don’t have to tweak your design much to have a great-looking site.
Those who want to choose their own web host will want to choose a different CMS.
We’ve mentioned that Squarespace is an all-in-one website builder, but here’s what this means in more detail.
Squarespace is known for its professionally-designed, responsive templates.
The template gallery is searchable and organized based the templates’ ideal use case — for example, the options that work best for a Health & Fitness site are all grouped together.
An average user (versus a developer) doesn’t have full control over how a template looks, but Squarespace’s drag-and-drop editor means that you can customize the features and functionality of your site to some degree.
Unique Template Features
For example, you can easily add things like:
- Social media links
- Image galleries
- Contact forms
You can also change fonts, font pairings, sizes and colors of subheads, and so on.
Your subscription plan gets you access to all available templates.
After you select a design theme, you can choose to add a blog to your Squarespace site.
Adding Commenting Functionalities
Want to allow users to comment on your blog posts? Squarespace has a built-in commenting feature that allows considerable customization.
For example, you can choose to allow anonymous comments, moderate comments, threaded comments. You can also choose how comments are displayed (such as the newest or most popular displaying at the top).
Does Squarespace Offer the Facebook Comments Plugin?
No, Squarespace offers their own commenting feature. However, you can add Facebook comments.
For instructions on how to do this, see the Facebook for Developers website and look up “Facebook Comments Plugin.”
How Do I Add a Blog to Squarespace?
This is easy to do: Go to Pages, click on the plus sign, then click on “blog”.
Caution: Blog Features Vary By Template
One caveat, though: many of the blog styles and included functionality vary from template to template.
- Some templates include a sidebar with their blog; some don’t.
- Some have built-in author bios, some don’t.
- Some offer multiple customizations of share buttons
- Some feature an “infinite scroll” blog
- Some templates enable you to “turn on” a related posts feature and customize how it displays. For example, you could have related posts appear automatically with images (or no images)
- A handful of templates offer you multiple options for how you want your main blog page to display (e.g. as a grid a la Pinterest; or via single stacked headlines with excerpts)
Which Squarespace Templates are Best for Blogging?
Squarespace templates are part of “template families” — i.e. they share features and functionality.
We suggest you explore themes in the Brine family and Bedford family, as their respective blogs have robust blogging features.
If you want a grid (Pinterest-style) layout option for your blog, go with a template from the Brine family.
You can think of Cover Pages as a bold, one-page statement for things like announcements, collecting emails, or showcasing content (like a resume). They can also be used as landing pages for advertising campaigns.
Cover Pages are single pages that include a pre-styled layout with minimal styling options — you get the editing tools for adding things like images, text, and video, but you don’t get blocks or design elements like buttons.
In short, you get what you get, and the ability to change the layout is much more limited compared to regular Squarespace templates.
To help you reach a broader audience, Squarespace ships with a comprehensive set of marketing tools. These include:
- Support for email campaigns, so that you can reach out to subscribers on a regular basis. You’ll also get assistance with collecting information from visitors through contact/signup forms.
- Pop-ups that display important information when users land on your blog
- Search engine optimization tools to help your website get listed at the top of search results whenever someone queries with keywords related to your blog
- Easy social media integration
- Analytics, so you can gain insight into who is visiting your site and what they’re doing on your site. (If you’re familiar with Google Analytics, this is Squarespace’s comparable offering. You probably won’t need both, though you can certainly gather data using both tools!)
If you have a Business or Commerce Squarespace plan, you can take advantage of Developer Mode.
With Developer Mode, you get increased control over your Squarespace site, including complete access to the code underlying your site’s template.
If you’re interested in selling online in addition to blogging, Squarespace offers two e-commerce-friendly plans in which you might be interested.
Both plans come with features like product catalog functionality, merchandise organization features, and a shopping cart/checkout process.
Other Bonus Features of Premium Plans
However, if you upgrade to the premium plan, you’ll also get bonus features like:
- Abandoned cart recovery (automated messaging to those who have added items to their cart, but didn’t check out)
- Support for subscription services
- Support for discounts and gift cards
Squarespace Speed and Performance
When it comes to performance, page load speed is king. How do sites built using and hosted with Squarespace do?
Some performance analysis tools (notably Google’s PageSpeed Insights) show that Squarespace templates often show issues like render-blocking resources that need to be moved/changed.
Render-blocking resources are those that must be fully loaded before subsequent resources load — you want to minimize these as much as possible in favor of resources capable of loading simultaneously.
Squarespace, however, argues that such results are misleading (and may indicate false negatives) and that you should use Pingdom’s speed tools instead. The company claims that its engineers follow best practices.
What Do We Think Of Squarespace E-Commerce?
We don’t agree with Squarespace in that Google’s tests should be ignored.
However, like all tests, PageSpeed Insights works best when used in conjunction with other tools and practices (like building your blog with best practices in mind).
Render Blocking and Image Loading Times
For example, the render-blocking resources aren’t a primary problem if you’re not optimizing your images.
Forcing all your users to load large, uncompressed images is a problem the site owner needs to avoid. (See Squarespace’s guidelines on image use.)
By optimizing your images you can have your Squarespace site loading in under 3 or 2 seconds, and meeting Google’s overall speed guideline.
Squarespace vs WordPress on Speed and Performance
Many WordPress templates also display the same results (e.g. rendering) as Squarespace templates when tested in Google Page Insights.
However, making adjustments in WordPress is easier, given a large number of ready-made plugins that address speed and performance.
To prove that your site is legitimate and to prevent the unauthorized access of your visitors’ data, all Squarespace accounts come with free SSL certificates.
SSL certificates enable your users to communicate with you over a secure, encrypted connection.
Furthermore, enabling SSL means that Squarespace will use the HTTP/2 protocol, which means faster load times for your users.
As seen in the image above, you’ll also have the option to select “HSTS” secure, which adds another layer of security.
HSTS stands for “HTTP Strict Transport Security” and is a security technology that protects against a specific type of hack.
PCI compliance is a universally accepted security standard for e-commerce transactions. You can learn more about it at the PCI Security Standards Council website.
PCI compliance is important for operators of e-commerce stores or any site owner engaged in financial transactions:
Squarespace states that “all” of their “built-in Commerce tools are compliant. Sensitive card data is never handled by Squarespace. It goes directly to the payment processor’s servers; Squarespace doesn’t have access to this information.”
It offers its users two third-party payment processors: Stripe or PayPal. Both of these are PCI compliant as well.
Squarespace offers top-notch customer and technical support. You can contact the support team 24/7 via email or Twitter.
If you’d prefer to use live chat, representatives are available Monday to Friday from 4 AM to 8 PM (Eastern Time).
In-House Experts Available 24/7
All of Squarespace’s technical support representatives (called Customer Care Advisors) are in-house. They work out of offices in:
- New York
Key Differentiator with WordPress
This 24/7 website support is a key differentiator with WordPress.
If you opt for a WordPress website, you’ll need to obtain a web host. That host will give you support for hosting issues, but not for your website.
Having 24/7 professional assistance available for your website can be important if you’re a beginner blogger or site owner.
Excellent Self-Help Resources
Squarespace’s self-help resources (how-to guides, tutorials, FAQ pages), are comprehensive, easy to understand, and excellent.
The self-help resources are organized into:
- Guides – In-depth articles and how-to videos on every aspect of Squarespace
- Video workshops – How-to videos categorized by topics like “Getting Started With Squarespace,” “All About Images,” “Next Steps With Squarespace, “Account and Billing,” “Marketing” and much more.
- A Community forum
- Webinars – Provides a live walk-through of Squarespace delivered by an expert
At the bottom of the nicely organized self-help page is a large “Contact us” button and a message: “Can’t find what you’re looking for? We’ll help you find the answer or connect with an advisor.”
Our Verdict On Self-Help Resources
It seems Squarespace has thought of everything the new site owner might need.
Even if you’re building your first ever webpage with Squarespace, we think you won’t have any problems using the platform if you refer to the company’s documentation.
Refunds and Money-Back Guarantees
Squarespace offers a free 14-day trial. Afterward, you’ll need to spring for a subscription.
You can choose to pay on a month-to-month basis or you can opt for an annual subscription).
If you’re unsatisfied, you can cancel your subscription within the first 14 days and receive a full refund.
Squarespace vs. WordPress
If you’re trying to decide between Squarespace and WordPress, here are some things we think you should know.
|Ease of Setup||Easier to set up due to inclusion of hosting. Domain name registration is easy, too||Easy to install, but requires familiarity with servers/web servers. Slightly more complex that Squarespace due to larger number of moving parts.|
|Monthly Fees||Monthly fee for using Squarespace and web hosting. Comes with dedicated customer support.||Free to use. Fees for web hosting and any proprietary options you choose (e.g., plugins, themes). No guaranteed support.|
|Adding a Blog||You can add a blog to your site, since inclusion of one isn’t the default.||WordPress is ready for blogging from the get-go.|
|Customizing a Blog||Different templates offer different levels of customization for your blog. All features can be found in a single section called Design.||WordPress is infinitely customizable due its open source codebase being available to whomever is brave enough do so.|
|Hosting||Included in your plan, so you don’t have to seek out third-party hosting||You’ll need to obtain your own hosting, and it can be difficult to find the right option for you since there are so many. You will likely pay less for hosting than if you had opted for Squarespace.|
|SEO||Includes robust SEO features.||Includes robust SEO features.|
|Marketing Functionality||Comes with robust marketing functionality, but you can add more by adding custom code to the Squarespace code.||Can add plugins offering additional functionality. Plugins are easier to use than custom code, but you’re limited to the functionality offered by the developer.|
|Support and Community||Subscribers get access to a top-notch support team.||No guaranteed support, though the WordPress community is large and you’ll likely find the help you need on the internet.|
|Analytics||Included, though you integrate with Google Analytics as well.||You’ll need to install Google Analytics if you want data on your WordPress site.|
|Dashboards||Streamlined; very easy to use.||Slightly cluttered. It’s fairly to use, but not as easy as Squarespace’s.|
|User Interface (UI)||Excellent. Squarespace takes pride in producing a well-designed product and it shows||WordPress’ UI has gotten complex and less easy to use over the years as the company adds more and more functionality to the core.|
|Security||The Squarespace team manages all things security, so you don’t have to do much to have a secure site.||You’re responsible for updating the core and your plugins, otherwise your site could become compromised.|
Alternatives to Squarespace
While both offer fairly simple free trials, both companies have expanded their all-in-one website building platforms into robust options capable of building complex websites.
Here are a few common Q&As about Squarespace.
What is Squarespace G-Suite?
If you want productivity tools as part of your website (e.g., Google Docs and Google Sheets), you can purchase such services. This product is called the G-Suite.
Why is Squarespace not secure?
Your Squarespace site may be labeled as not secure if you forgot to enable SSL. You need to manually enable HTTPs/SSL by clicking a button. In the left-hand dashboard, go to Settings > Advanced > SSL. Under “Security preferences” click “Secure (Preferred)”. Now your “Certificate Status” near the top should be labeled “Active.” Note: You’ll also see an option to select “HSTS Secure.” This is another layer of protection that we recommend you select.
Is Squarespace fully customizable?
Yes, via the Squarespace Developer Platform, you can access all of the template files or build a site completely from scratch. As Squarespace says, you can “Change anything from the doctype to the footer.”
You can also choose to customize by adding code injections to the Header, Footer, Lock page, or Order Confirmation page. To add custom code to these sections, go to Settings > Advanced > Code Injection.
Lastly, you can choose to alter the visual appearance of a theme by adding custom CSS code. (Go to Design > Custom CSS)
Bloggers and others who are uncomfortable dealing with website or hosting matters should consider using Squarespace.
All security patches, software updates, and hosting details are handled for you by Squarespace staff.
Squarespace might also appeal to those looking for high-end designs elements or looking to appeal to an audience that values that.
Bloggers looking to monetize long-term should look to WordPress (and its AdSense plugins) as should specialty bloggers like food bloggers, who need recipe plugins and special display features.
Those seeking maximum versatility and marketing options should consider WordPress. Those seeking minimum versatility and maximum performance should consider a static site generator.
Contributing Editor: Sherrie Gossett