If you’re thinking of running a rapidly built personal website on Squarespace, my advice would be to look elsewhere. You’ll pay a premium for very standard services here. Squarespace is heavily geared towards business and e-commerce sites and most of their resources seem to indicate that. Learn more.
September 29, 2020•
Squarespace offers users a fast and easy way to build websites through a drag-and-drop interface. Founded in 2003, it has today grown to become on of the leading website builders available on the Internet. It boasts millions of websites launched through its auspices and today employs more than 800 staff in three locations; New York City, Portland and Dublin.
What makes site builders like Squarespace unique is that it not only empowers individuals, but also supports small businesses by giving them the power to create with limited technical knowledge. All users need to focus on are the aesthetics of their site and their own core business areas.
While it is true that there are a ton of website builders existing today, I have found that each has its differences. In some cases, subtly, in other cases not. Squarespace for example stands out in its e-commerce offerings.
This isn’t to say one is better than another, but evaluations need to be made as to whether each is a right fit for your needs.
Pro of Squarespace
Con of Squarespace
From most site builders, I expect relatively good speed test results. Squarespace didn’t really disappoint, although I was a little surprised that the rating wasn’t higher than what I got. For Webpagespeed test, there was a slight underperformance in terms of Time to First Byte (TTFB), but other than that, all the right boxes were checked.
|US (W)||US (E)||London||Singapore|
|81 ms||38 ms||96 ms||247 ms|
|157 ms||288 ms||273 ms||393 ms|
My test site scored a solid ‘A’ on the Bitcatcha test, which also raised an eyebrow, again, since it could be better. From the Bitcatcha results (see below), my guess is that there is a heavy reliance on US-based servers which pulls down performance from the Asia region a little.
If you look at the results, you’ll notice that tests from all Asia region servers were slower than those from either US or EU. Just something to take note of.
With a choice of 67 templates, it is likely that you’ll be able to find something or other that you like. Once you’ve chosen that it can be customized to your heart’s content. Normally, 67 choices aren’t outstanding. However, I have found that there is a depth to the choices that Squarespace offers.
The secret is to look past the initial design and towards the layout of the template. What Squarespace is offering is a massive combination of various segmented layouts for you to customize. They have almost everything, form the vertical scrolling single-page formats to massive multi-block options.
Take for example the two templates below;
On one hand you have the simple single-block format layout. On the other, you have a complex multi-block main page. And this is just the cover – you can choose templates with various configurations of sub-pages as well.
So, if you’re looking at Squarespace, look past the number of templates and you’ll realize that 67 is all they needed to offer a little bit of everything. All you need to do is worry about the aesthetics. In my opinion, this is the singular, most overlooked portion of their templates.
All these building blocks are organized according to a customizable structure and that makes it easy to track and build a complete site. For more details on this, look at ‘various page types’ under the next heading.
The drag-and-drop interface that Squarespace offers is a bit of a conundrum. I’ve found it to have both positive and negative points. For newbies, while it may take a bit of time to get used to, it does offer some nifty features.
The builder is also mobile-friendly by default, as are their templates. So once you choose any design and start working on it, you can rest assured that the layout will flow just as smoothly on any mobile device.
Unfortunately, you can’t customize specifically how you want the mobile version to flow, so you’ll need to adjust here and there if it doesn’t suit you. On the other hand, this way means that you don’t have to customize two separate sites – just trust in the editor to do it for you.
As with even your own websites, you’ll want to keep the overall size of your loading page down. This is simply because heavier pages take a long time to load. Impressively, Squarespace keeps their recommendations at below 5MB per page, which is substantial.
High level of control
Once you get used to the building block concept, you will come to realise that setting up your website is just a matter of fitting these blocks together. Want to embed a video? No problem – just drop in a video block. If it’s not where you want it to be, just drag it around till it goes somewhere you like.
Take for example the two layout options I’m showing below. To rearrange the blocks only takes a second, and it’s not limited to just these two positions either. You can drag them 4 to a row, or any other formation, if it looks great to you!
The block system I talked about earlier for Squarespace works like WordPress Widgets. There is a key difference though. WordPress widget positions are limited to what the theme you’ve selected allows. Widgets in Squarespace can be place, moved, or resized exactly the way you want them.
They also offer a way to easily extend the functionality of your websites. Some of the widgets you can choose from can add discussion pages, link lists, photo galleries, or even a Twitter feed integrator.
Aside from its own widgets, Squarespace also supports several third-party widgets meant for its site. For example, you can link to your Etsy shop, or make use of Google Translate to offer your site content in various languages.
All you need to do is make use of a Code Block (see how useful those dedicated blocks are?!) and viola, magic. Do note though that Squarespace doesn’t offer support for third-party modifications, so you’ll have to rely on forums or outside help if you run into trouble.
The editor may be a little cumbersome, but it is powerful. This can clearly be seen since you can swap templates. Think about it for a second – you’re halfway through designing one site, then suddenly have a change of heart.
You can just swap templates and the design will change, keeping your content! Lots better than if you were stuck on the template and had to redo everything each time you decided on a change in look and feel, right?
This might not seem like an outstanding feature, but I’ve come across site builders who restrict content migration across templates and it is simply horrible and frustrating. So simple a feature and yet… sigh.
Various Page Types
Another key feature of the builder is the way in which it organizes, or structures websites. Pages are what make up the site, but there can be different types of pages. This helps you to customize further the structure of your own site.
For example, you can have the standard pages which are text and a mixture of other elements. You can also have what it calls ‘collections’. These are purpose-built pages that are meant for specific things – a photo gallery, perhaps.
All of these are kept organized by index pages, which are the backbone of your site. The index pages help you piece together all your other pages into a cohesive structure that’s easily navigable.
This is perhaps the single most important factor that I find in Squarespace’s favour. Unlike Wix which guards it customers jealously and locks them in by not allowing them to export their websites, Squarespace supports users who want to.
True, only certain content will be exported, but I think that’s fair since exporting everything will require a whole new level of complexity. The important thing is that you can shift content whenever you want to. For example, you can export your real content and import that into a WordPress site.
I find that is a much more reasonable solution and shows that Squarespace is confident in its product offering. Looking at things from a business standpoint, it’s also more acceptable than getting deadlocked in to one single service provider.
The items that won’t get exported (e.g. video blocks, product blocks, etc) are mostly limited by technicalities.
Out of all the features that Squarespace offers, perhaps this is one of the most critical ones. Given its pricing position that seems intended to keep personal sites away, Squarespace surprisingly views e-commerce sites on a different level.
This is as should be, of course, since e-commerce sites often have a different set of requirements, such as checkout options, inventory, tax and coupon systems, and customer accounts. What is impressive, though, is that it charges zero transaction fees on e-commerce sales and does not limit the number of products you can sell.
This is a bit of a different approach compared to many other e-commerce capable site builders, who will often try to milk e-commerce sites for all they are worth. Given that the marketing tools Squarespace has are all offered to e-commerce customers, it looks like that is their key area of focus.
It even has analytics that are skewed directly towards helping e-commerce sites. This lets business owners keep an eagle eye on their bottom line and adjust their businesses accordingly.
To go a little further into detail just as an example, Squarespace lets you customize the entire checkout process for e-commerce sites. This means that you can do many things to support the sale. For example, you can display terms and conditions to customers, collect information, or even encourage them to subscribe to a service or newsletter!
Every inch of the ‘selling process’ can be controlled. This even includes post-sale, such as asking the customer to complete a survey on the process, or anything else you might need to help you improve on your services or product offerings.
Other things which are supported are;
To say Squarespace is e-commerce oriented is like saying water is wet. Obvious and underwhelming a term.
Given my poor experience with customer support lately, I was pleasantly surprised that Squarespace has many avenues open for contact. Many vendors nowadays work on a ticketing system, which is great for metrics, but is usually horribly slow.
To get in touch with Squarespace you can email them any time of day (or night) or reach out to them on Twitter. Most importantly is the fact that they still have live chat support. Live chat often is a very fast way of getting help. They also have customer service staff based in New York, Portland and Dublin, not anywhere else.
Live chat hours are a little limited – between 8am to 8pm Eastern time, Mondays through Fridays. However, that’s still plenty in an industry that is cutting corners everywhere I see in terms of customer service.
Do take note though, that their support staff will only assist in areas directly relating to their product, or issues with it. They won’t talk to you about SEO, help with your own code or many other third-party services.
Yet customer support is only one part of the support process. Squarespace also has an extensive knowledge-base for self-help. This not only includes a searchable directory of sorts, but also has video tutorials.
And they’re not only ‘how to’ videos, but offer advice, such as on good design practices. To be honest, some of the topics are refreshing and I recommend browsing through them even if you aren’t sure if you’re going to sign on for an account.
If you’re starting out a new website, especially for business, Squarespace has a partnership with Google that you can leverage on to use G Suite. If you opt for this, you can make use of Google’s mail, calendar, drive and other functions (customized, of course) through your Squarespace account.
For all purposes, the integration is seamless, and you’ll pay through your Squarespace invoices and billings. This makes for one less account you’ll have to manage separately. Do note though that G Suite is only compatible with newer Squarespace accounts (they refer to any Squarespace accounts created after 2012 as Squarespace). Squarespace 5 accounts (pre-2012) aren’t supported.
Squarespace gives you a 14-day trial – on their editor. This means that you can sign up and create a website from a template. You can edit it as much as you like for 14 days. After that it’s the proverbial s**t or get off the pot.
Unless you’re willing to buy in to one of the paid plans, once your website trial expires and is locked, you’ll no longer be able to edit any part of it.
Most drag-and -drop website builders and/or editors are normally easy to use. After all, that is one of their key selling points. People with limited coding or design experience rely on these to produce original content. However, people with little or no computer literacy may also do so.
I know that people say it’s impossible to idiot-proof something, at least try.
The key to building a user-interface that is easy to use is that it needs to be intuitive. That means that simply by similarity to existing designs, or just pure common sense, most people will be able to use it.
Unfortunately, while the Squarespace editor is certainly useful, it isn’t very intuitive.
Here are a couple of examples;
a. Once you’ve chosen a template, you’re brought to the editing (?) page. I added a question mark because you can’t edit your site from that page, it’s more of a management page, of sorts.
b. To start editing, you can’t click or double click on an element and change it from there. You need to hover over it and chase after a box which gives you a couple of options.
c. If you double click in some places, then it brings up a full-page editor where you can edit any of the text elements page-wide. The problem is, you’ll have to guess where to double click.
SEO is the most crucial parts of a website. It is what helps the search engines rank and index websites, drawing readers in to your content. For a website builder in 2019 to offer so little in SEO management for a website, is almost criminal.
All you can do on Squarespace, SEO-wise is to edit your site title and meta description. That’s it. You can’t tweak specific content keywords, you can’t tag segments separately, you can’t really do anything.
Although there have been a number of complaints that the native CDN used by Squarespace faces problems in some areas and is poorly optimized, as of 2018 the company has decided to cease offering support to customers trying to connect their accounts with CloudFlare.
Their official explanation for this is that their built-in option is better;
This may or may not be true, but it really sticks in my craw when a service provider ignores user feedback. Not only that, but to arbitrarily insist that their in-house options are better than the solution of a company which is the number one CDN provider globally is simply shocking.
I understand that as a business, Squarespace needs revenue. After all, they need the money to further develop their product and build the business. Yet too many things about Squarespace seems to involve money.
For starters, their lowest plan (Personal) clocks in at $12 per month, IF you’re willing to get billed annually in advance. If you’re going month to month a Personal plan will cost a whopping $16 per month.
For that price, all you’re getting is what a very average web hosting provider offers – bandwidth and storage, SSL certificate and customer support. True, you can argue that the website builder function is what drives the cost up, but that’s a high price to pay for a drag and drop editor for personal use.
Too many of Squarespace’s better features are excluded from the Personal plan to make it worthwhile. Facebook ads, Instagram integration, use of pop-ups – all require at the least a Business plan or one of the online store options. These range in price from $18 to $40 (annual subscription, payable in advance).
Honestly speaking, I find that because of a combination of factors, Squarespace isn’t necessarily the best option for everybody. As I mentioned early on in this review, it’s probably best that small sites owners steer clear as you can get much better priced options elsewhere.
When it comes to businesses, it’s a touch and go. True, they are expensive, but they are also fuss-free and have great customer support.
Where Squarespace really shines in is its extensive back-to-back offerings that are open to e-commerce sites. The fact alone that they don’t charge e-commerce sites a fee per transaction is a very inviting prospect and not easily found elsewhere. This probably won’t help small online businesses that are struggling to survive though, due to steeper monthly fees.