Squarespace is one of the best known brands in the website building space. They do a ton of advertising with everything from podcasts to the Super Bowl, and have a beautiful product with a long trusted history. I recently had a project that was a fit for a bundled website builder software. I gave Squarespace a try, along with several others. Here’s my 5 pros, 5 cons and full Squarespace review.
Editor’s Note – This Squarespace review was originally published in June 2015. It’s been throughly revised for January 2017. Enjoy!
But first, a bit of an overview. There’s a lot of considerations that go into an choosing a website builder. There’s also a ton of options, tons of pricing – and really a thousand ways to get what you want in the end (aka someone to type in a website address and see your information in their browser). Whether you are building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.
In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short term it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only a such thing as the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.
What Is Squarespace?
On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Squarespace lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It’s in contrast to solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.
Using Squarespace is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.
Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Squarespace, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.
Those options as a group compete with options like self-hosted WordPress (which provides the free software to build a website that you own & control – see my WordPress setup guide here) all the way to options like typing actual HTML code into a text file. Make sense? Awesome, let’s dive in to the Squarespace review.
One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.
Squarespace Company Pitch
Pros of Using Squarespace
Here’s what I found to be the pros of Squarespace – not just in comparison to Weebly and Wix and their competition, but also as an overall online website solution.
Squarespace’s tagline is “Build It Beautiful.” They live up to it with their design templates. When you setup an account, you have to choose a template to start your design.
You can upload your own design. But most of Squarespace’s appeal lies in the fact that they have a huge selection of design templates that are truly professional and beautiful.
Their designs also rely heavily on photography. That means that you can make your template uniquely yours by swapping in your own photographs. The typography, color schemes, responsiveness all stay aligned to provide a professional touch.
Providing a single, curated hub of beautiful design is a huge plus for using Squarespace.
Their Build It Beautiful tagline extends beyond their design templates to the backend experience for their customers.
You know the feeling you get when you open a new Apple product or handle a beautifully designed physical product? Ok, you get that same feeling navigating Squarespace.
They build the beautiful brand in their ads and extend it to the user experience. Simply clicking around the admin section makes you think that Squarespace is really cool software. If you’ve ever used purely functional ugly software, it’s a bit of fresh air. It makes building the website interesting.
Squarespace has all their features built-in. Everything is Squarespace owned and developed. That means that everything just works. There’s no figuring out if this app or extension is compatible. There’s no troubleshooting or topics outside their Knowledge Base and/or customer support.
Even things like website analytics are included with the platform.
When there’s less research and troubleshooting, that means you can spend more time on stuff that matters – like content, design and promotion.
Speed, Security & Data Export
On the same theme as all-in-one platform, but on a different note is speed and security. Squarespace hosts the websites built with their software, and the cost of hosting is included in the monthly price.
This bundled approach not only ensures that your hosting is compatible & optimized, but also that Squarespace handles all the technical needs of hosting. They take care of website speed. Here’s my speed test:
They take care of website security. Anyone trying to hack your website is Squarespace’s responsibility, not yours. You don’t have to buy and configure security software.
But not only does Squarespace provide hosting in a bundle – they still provide some benefits of self-hosting. They have a full developer platform including the ability to use Git in addition to solid data export in case you want to leave.
Customer Support & Improved Onboarding
Squarespace offers 24/7 customer support. They do support via live chat and email tickets.
Additionally, they have a thorough Knowledge Base with video walkthroughs and guides. They also maintain a pretty high quality customer forum.
The only thing lacking is phone support, but given the chat/email efficiency and direct competitor’s support options, Squarespace’s customer support is a strong pro of using the platform.
But there’s more to customer support than just answering questions – you want to prevent questions before they even happen. And many of the questions happen during onboarding.
Onboarding is the process of getting a brand new user setup and rolling. It’s when you have a chance to convert a customer that is excited but nervous to a customer who confident with no buyer’s remorse.
For me, even as someone with a lot of experience in different platforms, Squarespace’s onboarding was lacking when I first tried it in 2015. The backend was beautiful…but it took way too long to figure out how to edit and publish my homepage. And that’s not even to mention figuring out design edits or setting up analytics.
Their backend is well-designed, but there’s no sequence, priorities or help immediately after sign up.
In 2016, Squarespace rolled out a new customer onboarding email sequence. It’s well-done and straightforward.
Plus – their walkthroughs in Support are well-done. Compared to my last experience with Squarespace – onboarding has moved from a disadvantage to a strong pro.
Cons of Using Squarespace
But of course, no Squarespace review would be complete without looking at the downsides of Squarespace. Let’s look at 5 specific cons I found.
One of the toughest parts of shopping for a website solution is looking at price based on value. Everything is relative to your goals, budget and specific feature set.
The main issue for Squarespace’s pricing versus non-all-inclusive solutions is their caps. Their plans are limited to a single website. Their lower tier plans cap the number of pages and products.
The main issue for Squarespace’s pricing versus direct competitors is that they are simply more expensive. Weebly’s plans are cheaper for the same value (excluding ecommerce options).
Even though their pricing is competitive on overall value, I’d say Squarespace’s pricing is a disadvantage.
Advanced Marketing Tools
If you build a website, people will not simply show up. You have to actively market your work. There’s thousands of marketing & advertising channels. Some are better than others. But all give an advantage to websites with the right tools for that channel.
Squarespace has all the basics (aka, share buttons), and a few advanced ones (aka URL redirect options). Overall though, there are lots of marketing features that either aren’t there, or require some workarounds.
For example, their SEO options are sort of present, but require workarounds to get the right meta data in place. Their support for Twitter Cards and Facebook Open Graph is touch and go. A/B Testing is not integrated.
You can get all the right marketing tools in place, but the platform certainly has a bias towards design over functionality and marketing. I’d say that marketing is a disadvantage for Squarespace.
Apps & Extensions
I mentioned Squarespace’s all-in-one platform as a solid pro for the platform, but it does have a large disadvantage. And that is Squarespace’s lack of support for 3rd party apps and extensions.
Any features that can be rolled out have to be rolled out by Squarespace, which is a big disadvantage if you want seamless integration of specific functionality.
Unlike some website builders, Squarespace does allow for Code Injection and has a developer toolset. So 3rd party features are possible, but you have to use a developer to integrate it…which defeats the main purpose of using an inclusive drag and drop website builder.
Backend User Functionality
For a website builder that is advertised as simple, straightforward and easy, Squarespace’s backend functionality is not a breeze to use.
I’m talking about things like editing and adding content, opening new pages, adding blog functionality, editing the design template, moving elements around, etc.
You never have to touch or edit HTML or CSS code, but the actual mechanics of building a website with Squarespace are not smooth at all. Compared to competitors like Weebly, finding the right touch elements can be frustrating.
And it’s really odd in a way because the setup is uniform, beautiful and apparently easy, until it’s not.
In fact, it’s like Squarespace is the IKEA furniture of website building. It’s all beautiful and well-designed. It has good instructions, and it all fits together. But when you are actually building it, there’s this sneaking feeling that this is harder than it really should be. Either that, or it’s easy to get something turned around that throws off the whole setup (in my case it was adding pages to the navigation which didn’t actually exist with any content).
I’d say user functionality is a disadvantage for Squarespace. Not because it’s bad, but the whole point of choosing Squarespace instead of building your own website on your own hosting is to have a fluid, easy setup experience.
Squarespace Ecommerce Addendum
A big advertising point for Squarespace is their ecommerce functionality. You can sell products from your Squarespace website without switching platforms or any special development.
Ecommerce is a nice bit of functionality, but I’d hate to call it full-fledged ecommerce capabilities that online store platforms such as Shopify or Bigcommerce have. It’s more like Squarespace has shopping cart and accepting payments functionality.
It’s great for websites that are primarily lead-generation, informational, etc but also want to sell a few products. Think a restaurant that wants to sell t-shirts and mugs.
It’s not so great for websites that are ecommerce-first. The functionality is there. It’s great.
But I would not choose Squarespace for the ecommerce functionality. I’d either build an online store you own with WordPress + WooCommerce or go with a specialty ecommerce platform like Shopify (review) or Bigcommerce (review).
Video Overview & Tour
Squarespace Review Conclusion
Squarespace is a solid all-inclusive website builder. They live up to their tagline of “Build It Beautiful.” There are a lot of tradeoffs for using an all-inclusive website builder. If that route fits your goals, then I’d evaluate Squarespace and Weebly to see what fits your goals (design price, functionality, etc). I wrote a comparison of Squarespace and Weebly here.
If you are more confused than ever – I created a BuzzFeed style quiz to help you choose the best website builder here…
If you think building your own website on your own hosting is a better route, be sure to check out my step by step guide to setting a website with WordPress from scratch here.