Building a website is a lot like buying a car, in that it’s expensive, you don’t always know what you’re getting into, and ultimately you really hope to be safe and happy in the driver’s seat.
Choosing where to build your first (or next) website can therefore be a challenge. Every platform promises flexibility and ease, but promises and reality rarely turn out to be equal. Most of us want our websites not only to look good, but also be easy to manage, and vice versa.
As a Squarespace designer, I wonder sometimes if potential clients think I’ll try to talk them into Squarespace even if it isn’t right for them. On the contrary; I’ve turned away many a client because what she wanted and what Squarespace is designed for weren’t the same.
If you’re thinking of launching a site or making a switch from, say, WordPress.org to Squarespace.com, look over the following 8 factors, which I’m posing in the form of questions, and weigh your answers carefully. These aren’t the only elements that should weigh into your decision, but they’re big ones!
#1 - How fast do you need to get your site up and running?
WordPress.org is a platform designed for web developers who want complete control. Literally hundreds of themes and plugins have been created to satisfy every wish under the sun for piecing together the most customized website you can imagine… but this usually means that building a site on WordPress takes a lot of time, even if you hire it out to an experienced developer.
Squarespace, on the other hand, is designed for the savvy, streamlining entrepreneur or small-to-mid-sized business, and sites on this platform can often be built in 1-6 weeks. And unlike WordPress, Squarespace has the most highly-requested “plugins” built right in so that you don’t need to shop, integrate and test third-party options until you find the right fit. If you’re opening an online store, for instance, you simply use the e-commerce option that’s already built in, and you can manage pricing, discounts, shipping, payment processing and more - and you know it’s going to work with the site you’ve designed!
#2 - Do you want to be able to update your own site, or hire it out?
Squarespace sites can be hard to build beautifully if you don’t have design training and experience. The same is true of WordPress sites. However, once they’re built, Squarespace sites are fairly easy to update without any special knowledge of code or design, particularly if your designer sparsely used code blocks, or didn’t use them at all.
WordPress, on the other hand, is often very difficult to update and customize if you aren’t the original developer, especially if your developer used a “theme” that overrides the WordPress dashboard when you’re logged in as an admin. In this case, no matter how many YouTube tutorials you watch, you often won’t be able to find what you’re looking for, or make the “tools” inside the dashboard do what you tell them to do.
Of course, if you plan to keep your designer/developer on retainer to make changes for you, then these details won’t matter. If you do plan to make updates yourself, ask your designer two questions: One, is there a backup site in case I “break” the live version, and two, could I have a thorough, recorded tutorial on how to make changes without having to ask for your help?
#3 - Will your site require any special elements?
Most highly common website needs, such as e-commerce, Google Analytics, newsletter blocks, opt-in pop-up windows, and integrated blog capability, are available for both WordPress and Squarespace. However, some elements, such as membership sites and “drip content”, are easier to create on WordPress.
This is one of the biggest areas where Squarespace currently falls short. Although I host a “private lounge” for my Squarespace Designer Intensive right here on Squarespace, and my membership site for Learn to Live Stream is, in fact, hosted on Squarespace, my students are not able to create their own passwords to log in; I create all security access for them. While third-party paid options like MemberSpace exist, as of this writing, I have not tried them, and as I understand, there still aren’t any options that keep track of a member’s progress through a series, allowing them to see new content on a schedule based on when they entered the course.
On WordPress, there are plugins that allow members to create and change their own access login information at will, and until Squarespace creates something similar, WordPress will be the winner in this area.
Do your research on the elements your site will need, and choose what trade-offs you’re willing to make accordingly.
#4 - Do you plan on having multiple landing pages on your website?
WordPress themes start to get expensive when you want them to be highly customizable, and even the themes that make the loftiest promises are often difficult enough to customize that DIY’ers often end up spending hours in customer service, asking for help, or outsourcing customization to someone on Fiverr.
On Squarespace, every single page can be a landing page if you want it to be. Basically, this means that every page can look like its own “homepage.” You can integrate any sort of dynamic element you want, anywhere you want—from videos to slideshows to galleries to newsletter blocks and more. You can create your own sidebars, split a section into columns, or add a contact form to every page if you choose… and none of it requires custom CSS or hours or work.
This is particularly useful for the business or creative freelancer with so much content to share that entire pages are dedicated to specific categories. For instance, a health expert might blog on recipes for both vegans and pescatarians, and have an entire page on the website dedicated to each category.
#5 - Who provides your CRM (customer relationship management) software?
Squarespace integrates seamlessly with MailChimp, so if that’s where you currently host your email list, you’re in luck—almost no fancy work is required to encourage visitors to hop onto your list! And if you don’t yet have an email list (or CRM), Squarespace also has a paid service much like MailChimp where you can customize your e-blasts to look just like your website and send directly from your Squarespace account.
However, if you’re using another CRM, you may want to make sure that they create a responsive, embeddable form if you want to use them to build your email list directly from your Squarespace site. Otherwise, most CRMs have created something that will work well on WordPress, and they ought to have tutorials available for how to set this up.
#6 - Who is your target audience?
Just like people of different generations experience fashion, cars, choosing a home, and entertainment in entirely different ways, so do they experience websites differently.
Squarespace has been built with a youthful audience in mind, particularly millennials. And while the way you lay out your content, who your photographer is, and what types of content you share will have an impact, in the end, there are some characteristics that are simply uniquely “Squarespace,” and will appeal much more to a particular audience than others.
WordPress, being more customizable in many cases, can often appeal to a broader range of people, but can also look highly dated, depending on the design. Talk with your designer about the market you’re trying to reach, and consider all options before committing to a platform.
#7 - Where are your competitors’ sites built?
If you have 1-3 competitors who are THE businesses to compete with in the industry, they may have already done some market research to decide what web platform would work best for them, and in doing so, they may have created a standard in the industry that consumers in that industry now expect.
I happen to know that many of the people that I want to reach hang out on sites that are hosted on Squarespace, and they also like and expect sites to look like the ones they spend time on already. My biggest web design competitor has a Squarespace site, and that tells me something!
If you’re not sure where your competitors’ sites are built, you can right click any page of one of their sites (control+click on a Mac), and select “Inspect” in the window that appears. In the panel that opens up on the right side of your screen, press control+F (or command+F) and type in “WordPress” or “Squarespace” and hit “enter” to see what results come up!
#8 - What does your gut tell you?
Your intuition is not a voice to be ignored. If there’s a steady, quiet voice deep under the din of reasons to go with this platform or that one, then you want to really consider that voice. It’s probably saying something important that you need to pay attention to, whether it’s asking a question that you need answered or reminding you of something factor you don’t want to forget. If you’re chatting with ATG, we’re not pushy… but other design agencies can be, and you should never let them pressure you into choosing a platform your gut says is wrong for you!
Was this helpful? If so, leave a comment below and tell me what tip has helped clarify for you where your next site will be built. I can’t wait to hear your answers! And if there’s anything else I can help you with when it comes to this decision, don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and reference this blog post.
Hello! My name is Alexis.
Coffee lover, day dreamer, foodie, and creative. Currently working and living in New Hampshire, I’m an eclectic mix of forward-looking and completely old-fashioned.