Squarespace and WordPress are two of the most recognizable brands in the website building industry. They are both excellent choices in general. But if you are comparing Squarespace vs. WordPress – which is the best fit for your project?
Before we look at different considerations between Squarespace and WordPress, we have to define exactly what Squarespace and WordPress are.
Squarespace is an all-in-one “hosted website platform” (aka “website builder“). A hosted website platform is where all the components needed for a website come in a single bundle with a single monthly price.
Squarespace provides the software to manage your website content; they provide the designs and functionality. And most importantly, they also provide the hosting (aka the server where your website files live) all in one price.
WordPress is technically free website software that you manage your website content, designs and functionality. But it’s used in two different ways because you also need a domain & hosting to use it.
First, there’s self-hosted WordPress (aka “WordPress.org). It’s free, open-source, community-supported software that anyone can install on any web host that meets minimum requirements. You pay for hosting, install WordPress, and run your website how you like. I wrote a setup guide here. I also built a way to try self-hosted WordPress here.
Second, there’s WordPress.com. It’s a hosted platform service sold by the main corporate supporter of WordPress. With WordPress.com, you can get any website running a limited, hosted version of WordPress for free. You then pay for upgrades. It’s basically a website builder like Squarespace….but built with WordPress.
Yes – it’s confusing. I wrote a bit more about the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org here if you want to dig deeper.
But here’s an analogy that works –
Imagine you are looking for a place to live.
Squarespace and WordPress.com are both like buying a condominium. You own everything inside your condo. You can do whatever you want inside. The condo association takes care of the water, electricity, security, and structural issues. They even have furnished unit options. However, you also have to abide by condo association rules. You are limited by their structure and you have to pay extra HOA fees.
Self-hosted WordPress is like buying a house. You can do anything you want. There’s no rules or limitations. But you have to take care of everything (or hire someone to take care of it). It’s also as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. There’s also a bit more of a learning curve.
Hosted vs. Self-hosted Platforms
To judge Squarespace vs. WordPress – we’re going to look at what I think are the primary considerations for most people. We’ll look at Squarespace, Self-hosted WordPress, and WordPress.com in each section.
Keep in mind, though, that the primary tradeoff will be control/convenience. Squarespace & WordPress.com are both hosted platforms interested in providing the best, most convenient experience. But to get the convenient experience, there’s a tradeoff with control & features.
If either doesn’t have a feature you want, you can’t just add it. If you want to migrate to a new platform – you can’t just pick up and leave to start elsewhere with your exact same website.
When you self-host on your own server – you can do both those things. However, it’s also not as convenient as a hosted platform.
That’s the core tradeoff to keep in mind. But like I’ve mentioned in other website builder reviews, my website setup guide, and my eCommerce platform reviews – it’s not the only tradeoff (which is what we’re gonna talk about).
Squarespace has two website plans. The Personal Plan runs $12/mo when billed annually. It’s limited to 20 pages. The Business Plan runs $18/mo when billed annually.
Keep in mind that with Squarespace – that includes hosting, customer support, designs, etc.
WordPress.com has a free plan for a [yourwebsite].wordpress.com subdomain. The Personal Plan runs $4/mo when billed annually. You can have a custom domain, but it’s limited by designs and storage space. The Premium Plan run $8/mo when billed annually. It adds more space and some more feature upgrades (though no Google Analytics support).
The Business Plan runs $25/mo when billed annually. It adds Google Analytics, more design options, unlimited storage – and critically – allows for 3rd party themes & plugins (which opens up a universe of extension options).
Keep in mind that both these companies only allow a single site on these plans.
Self-hosted WordPress is 100% free software that you can install on any server. If you are a real geek, you can technically run it for free off a home server. But realistically, your main cost will be paying for shared Linux hosting. You can get good hosting for less than $3/mo when billed annually – that renews at only $8/mo when billed annually.
Either way, self-hosted WordPress will have much cheaper pricing both relatively and absolutely no matter what host you use.
With self-hosted WordPress, you’re not only getting a cheaper price month to month, you are also getting the ability to have unlimited features, unlimited design options and *unlimited websites.*
If you have two, three or more website ideas, you can put all of them on the same self-hosted account without paying more. With Squarespace & WordPress.com – each new site is a new monthly cost.
The big pricing asterisk with self-hosted WordPress is that there are a lot of things you aren’t paying for – but are still responsible for.
For pricing with Squarespace vs. WordPress – Squarespace has a better deal compared to WordPress.com…unless you want some of WordPress’ 3rd party plugins. However, self-hosted WordPress represents a much better deal based on pricing alone.
But let’s move to the next asterisk/considerations.
Onboarding & User Experience
“Onboarding” describes the process of moving a brand new customer from signup to active user.
Basically, it’s helping new customers figure stuff out. Nobody likes to buy something and immediately regret it solely because they have no idea how to use what they bought.
Like I mentioned in my Squarespace review, Squarespace has greatly improved their onboarding. Their backend is fairly intuitive, but still has some quirks.
With their pre-loaded designs, a beginner really can have a working website within minutes. To improve and customize the site, it takes a bit of time to figure out all of Squarespace’s features. But they have customer support on call to answer any questions.
WordPress.com also has an excellent onboarding process. Their backend requires new users to pick up on some vocabulary. But if your goal is to start publishing content quickly on a nice website, WordPress.com beats Squarespace’s onboarding experience.
The likely reason it’s so excellent (which we’ll return to) is that WordPress.com does not really have customer support for lower-tier plans – at least not in the way Squarespace does. Because of that, WordPress.com almost *has* to make their setup intuitive to work well.
Onboarding with self-hosted WordPress varies wildly among hosting companies.
Some hosts like Web Hosting Hub or InMotion will ask some signup questions and send you some starter resources. They’ll also offer a WordPress builder app to help. But for setup and onboarding, you’re still pretty much on your own.
You can email support for specific questions, but there’s no obvious “do this, then that” process after you install WordPress.
If terms like “FTP” or “Security Patch” or Googling for answers are not daunting to you, then you may appreciate self-hosted WordPress’ minimalist onboarding. It’s not complicated once you get past the learning curve.
However, for onboarding & user experience – WordPress.com has a slight edge over Squarespace’s already excellent onboarding. Self-hosted WordPress is fine if you’d rather have control over guided tours.
A common myth in website building is that a “WordPress website” or “Squarespace website” or “Wix website” is a specific web design or look. Too many customers choose or rule out a platform because they “don’t like the look.”
Here’s the thing – just because a software uses “themes” or “templates” as a base does not mean that you can’t have whatever design you want.
The look of a webpage is created with HTML/CSS. Any software that allows you to edit CSS is software that can generate nearly any design you can imagine.
So the main three questions become –
- How accessible are their “plug & play” designs?
- What is the variety of their premium “plug & play” designs?
- How far can a professional developer/designer go with the design?
On question #1 – all three have great, accessible plug-n-play designs. Squarespace offers a variety of free designs that you simply select.
For WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress, there are thousands of free designs that you simply select in the Appearance menu.
On question #2 – all three have a pretty great variety of designs with self-hosted WordPress providing the most options. For years now, professional designers/developers have created premium “off the shelf” themes for WordPress. Many do for Squarespace as well.
However, the WordPress universe is simply much, much bigger. That bigger market draws more designers/developers.
On question #3 – all three allow for designers (not developers) to do their thing with self-hosted WordPress offering the greatest freedom (for better and for worse). Squarespace recently rolled out support for common developer tools like Git whereas self-hosted WordPress can do anything a professional developer could want.
WordPress.com has more limits than either Squarespace or self-hosted WordPress simply because they don’t allow scripts, FTP access or custom themes.
For design options, all three have good options with different “flavors.”
WordPress.com has a wide choice of click and go themes. Squarespace has a wide freedom and good designs with a smaller premium theme selection.
Self-hosted WordPress offers unlimited choice & control, which is great, but can create problems of its own with quality control, security and/or code conflicts.
Technical & Customization Features
The technical feature set illustrates the control/convenience tradeoff spectrum better than anything with these three options.
WordPress.com holds the highest amount of control (no scripts and no FTP access) but also has the most convenient setup. It has built-in features that simply work. And the features that most users need/want are there.
Squarespace offers more control than WordPress.com but still is not open-ended. You can make many changes, add scripts, and tweak many technical settings.
If you are a developer, you can get access via Git or SFTP to design related files. But you cannot make changes to functionality or implement anything you want. That said, the Squarespace system ensures that the features that they do have work – and they work well; no crashing or conflicts.
Self-hosted WordPress allows unlimited technical & customization features. It’s also fairly convenient for beginners to add new functionality. Self-hosted WordPress allows “plugins” which are little mini-apps that you can add to your WordPress install with the click of a button.
Whether it’s for better SEO functionality, setting up an eCommerce site, adding appointments, bulk uploading information, adding a social network or really anything you can think of – you can do it with self-hosted WordPress.
On the downside, it’s also possible to create a code conflict in WordPress and crash your website. It’s not common if you stick to well-support plugins, but it is something that can happen.
It’s just like owning a house – you can build a deck or add shutters if you want to. Things will probably be fine, but if you accidentally damage your house – it’s on you to fix.
On this consideration – there’s no real overall winner. It’s all about what’s best for you.
Marketing Features & SEO
Marketing & SEO considerations are very similar to the technical considerations.
All three platforms are “good” for marketing & SEO in that they generate well-coded, crawlable, HTML & CSS.
They all support social networking tags such as Facebook’s Open Graph.
That said, there are plenty of digital marketing tools that are not available due to the previously mentioned technical limitations.
WordPress.com only allows Google Analytics with their Business plan. Additionally, they do not allow tracking or conversion pixels (ie from Google or Facebook). They also do not allow specific technical SEO additions such as Schema, category page edits or other technical fixes.
Squarespace allows more scripts and tagging. They also have more technical SEO options, but even with Squarespace, you can’t do all the SEO or technical marketing work. On the upside, for many beginner / small websites, implementing tags & technical fixes are not (and should not) be a high priority.
The best thing you can do is publish quality content that gets linked to and shared by lots of people (and will not crash under sudden massive popularity)…and WordPress.com and Squarespace allow you to do that.
If you want to do all the marketing things – a self-hosted WordPress website will allow even beginners to implement highly advanced tactics ranging from implementing tags, tracking data to advanced SEO changes to running email opt-ins, schema, A/B tests and anything you could possibly want to do.
So again, with marketing features the “winner” really depends on your priority. If your priority is straightforward, user-friendly publishing then WordPress.com and Squarespace do that well.
If you want/need a complete technical marketing toolset – then you’ll need a self-hosted WordPress website.
Customer Support & Service
No matter who you are or what you’re building – you’ll likely need customer support.
WordPress.com approaches customer support differently. They do everything to make customer support “scale” (aka they aren’t answering the same question over and over).
WordPress.com structures their backend to try to eliminate questions & problems. But if you do have an issue, you have to post it in a public forum.
The contact form automatically searches old posts as you type to get your question answered from an old post. When you submit, WordPress.com’s “Happiness Engineers” quickly and concisely answer your question – either publicly or via private email.
It’s all virtual, interesting, and efficient – but not necessarily for everyone.
Squarespace offers more traditional customer support via support tickets. They do not do phone support but do offer 24/7 support via email, chat and Twitter.
When you have a self-hosted WordPress website, you go to your hosting company for technical issues and Google/forums for other issues. I’ve reviewed a bunch of hosting companies and service levels/approaches vary wildly.
Some companies like InMotion (review), Web Hosting Hub (review), SiteGround (review), and DreamHost (review) are independent companies that actively invest in customer service – and will help with more WordPress-specific issues than others.
That said, even if you have excellent hosting support, your self-hosted WordPress website is inherently unique.
Since WordPress.com and Squarespace operate hosted platforms – their customer service has fewer variables to work with. They know that you can only customize your site so much, thus potential problems are limited.
If you have a highly customized self-hosted WordPress website with lots of plugins and theme edits, you will have to go through a troubleshooting process no matter how good your hosting company’s support is.
If you are comfortable problem-solving and troubleshooting, a self-hosted WordPress site with a good hosting company will be the best fit. Otherwise, Squarespace/WordPress.com will have a better setup.
Speed, Backups, Security & Maintenance
Very much related to customer support are the issues of speed, security and maintenance.
If you are using WordPress.com or Squarespace – these are not your problems. They take care of all three as part of the package deal.
If you are self-hosting, you’ll need to regularly update your WordPress install and plugins. Additionally, you’ll need to install a basic security plugin and understand what makes your site fast/slow.
None of these topics require a developer or deep technical knowledge, but they are topics that you need to be aware of.
Going back to the house analogy – it’s like changing the air filter monthly and setting a security system. They aren’t complicated, but they are your responsibility. My post on essential plugins for WordPress is a good resource.
Squarespace vs. WordPress Conclusion
Squarespace and WordPress are well-known brands for good reasons. They have both made getting a website so much easier than it used to be.
They are both good choices. If you value control over convenience – then go with a self-hosted WordPress site. Use my website setup guide here.
If you value more convenience, have more budget and want a focus on publishing & ease of use – then I’d go with WordPress.com.