The website builder market is getting quite crowded and it almost seems like there’s a new starter on the block every week.
Squarespace is one of the veterans (in digital years - which are somewhat like doggy years) and has been steadily been making inroads on those businesses that want/need a quality, high-end visual finish for their website.
If you put aside the focus on high-end design values, Squarespace is a one of the best website builders on the market for businesses that:
- have a portfolio to showcase such as photographers, artists, designers and clothing lines
- are primarily an information or service based business such as consultants
- don’t have any tailored or unique functionality requirements and use their website primarily for lead generation and conversion.
They’ve also targeted the niche markets of restaurants and bands. They’ve got the creative community locked and loaded.
So what’s the criteria to make this call?
1. Completely delivers to their audience needs
Squarespace has a really strong sense of ‘who they are for’. They’re not trying to be a one size fits all. They’ve made sure that a lot of core functionality for it’s market is ‘out of the box’ and ready to go such as Opentable and Bands in town. They've made displaying galleries of pictures a cinch to show off your catalogue of products or creations, as well as making nicely formatted menus for restaurants easy.
2. Simplicity - Easy to use
It has a very flexible drag and drop interface which means that you can easily insert, move and resize things without having to use coding to make it happen. To me this is one of the strengths that allows you to format your pages easily - something that is actually a bit hard in a lot of other website builders eg. Shopify and Wordpress without code to adjust the html on page or the CSS that sets the design and layout.
There is a bit of a learning curve to learn to use Squarespace, but there is plenty of help on hand with lots of videos and tutorials. Alternatively there’s a big community of freelancers for Squarespace that can help you get started with an initial design setup - leaving you to be able to self-manage after that.
3. Templates - free and fabulously good looking
From a design perspective Squarespace have great templates that are very flexible. When I compare them to other similar website builder, none have the graphical finesse of these. What’s also a great resource is how many real live sites are available as examples of each of the templates. It gives you lots of ideas on how use it to the best advantage, as well as ideas on how to design your own site.
You don’t have to pay for any of the templates like Wordpress, Shopify or Bigcommerce but it does mean you’re restricted to the templates that Squarespace have created - 28 at last count.
However, the upside of this is you don’t have to worry about the code being slightly ‘off’. For example I quite often get frustrated with templates that you ‘purchase’ that are non-standard and it can leave you with nowhere to turn for help and you end up having to pay.
With the Squarespace designed and tested templates there is no variation in quality, and on the rare instance that you come across something that is not quite right, they fix it. For a non-techie this is a big bonus, no need to try and work out the fix yourself.
4. Great out of the box functionality
Without having to do much other than insert your account details you can literally have integrated or inserted into your website a Mailchimp linkup to your newsletter lists, linked up all your social accounts, OpenTable, Google analytics, Xero, Amazon associate support, Typekit and Google fonts. It’s really easy, you just need to insert a ‘block’ where you want it on a page and then configure it.
The gallery functionality is also a highlight with enough variation to suit most. Generally with a little bit of experimentation you can get a great mix of portfolio views drilling down to specific groups or categories.
The blog feature is also quite good out of the box, although it’s not Wordpress in terms of blogging features and functionality, but if your primary web purpose is not blogging, then it suits most needs.
In addition, there are simple forms, Google maps and charts all made simple by inserting a ‘block’ and then configuring to meet your needs.
Another great feature is the on-board Aviary tool to edit images. You can resize, crop, move focus and apply a variety of filters, all from within the website. Linked to this is Getty images, where for $10 you can license an high quality image for use on your site. For many, this won’t be of interest, given that there’s so many free image sites out there, but Getty have a lot of very fine quality images which may give you the exact look that you’re looking for and save you quite a bit of time searching across so many different free image sites.
5. Easy to integrate with other services
It’s easy to insert a third party service into your website. Let’s just say you wanted to have your click to chat service appear on a page of your website. It’s as simple as copying the code that you are given by your click to chat provider and pasting into a box.
6. Mobile ready
All the templates are responsive. You still need to think about your page layout to work well on mobiles but Squarespace have made sure that all templates are ready to go on mobile. Not only that, they’ve created some apps that can help make life easier including:
a blog app for android, iphone and ipad so you can post on the go
an iphone, ipad and iwatch app to view your site metrics
an iphone and ipad to show your portfolio of work
a note app for iphone which you can then email to Squarespace or Evernote.
Out of the box there’s a slick e-commerce solution that is quick and simple to set up. It’s got a lot of nice visual display options for your products as well.
However, there’s only one merchant vendor to choose from, Stripe, and only one shipping service for out of the box integration. Unfortunately this is only US based, so not helpful for us based in Australia or other countries.
If you’re a more traditional e-commerce business, chances are that the Squarespace commerce feature will be too limited into terms of how you can tailor the check out service without hiring a developer.
In particular, the thing I don’t like is that the shopping cart takes you to a different site, which can be alarming and very off putting for potential customers.
Also, they don’t offer any payment options other than the big credit cards. No paypal, no COD etc.
I would grade the e-commerce feature as the biggest weakness in the solution, but having said this, e-commerce stores are not the Squarespace market and what they've built seems to meet their core customer needs.
I have heard of people using Squarespace for the front end sales piece before linking people off to a Shopify or BigCommerce store, giving you the best of both worlds.
8. Great customer support
Squarespace has a lot of documentation and workshops to help people get up and running and make the most out of the service. There's are also email and click to chat when you run into problems or need a little more guidance. The email support is 1 hour turn around 24/7 and click to chat is 3am - 8pm US EST which at least gives Australian users access to click to chat early to mid morning.
9. SEO built in
SEO fundamentals are built into page titles, descriptions, meta tags for images and H1 tags as well as a sitemap that is auto generated. No need for plugins. It leaves you to focus on good headings, descriptions and copy with your keywords. If however, you are using any third party services and inserting code into your site, make sure you test the impact of this on the speed of your site, as this will influence (negatively) your search results.
All hosting is part of the subscription cost. No need to worry about anything to do with uploading files, updates, monitoring etc.
Pricing is not as cheap as hosting a Wordpress but for the ease of use, robustness, support and design cred that comes with a Squarespace site, the pricing is still competitive with similar other web builders.
- Standard – $8 per month for an annual plan (or $12 if you are paying month-to-month)
- Business – $18 per month for an annual plan (or $26 if you are paying month-to-month)
- Commerce – $26 per month for an annual plan (or $36 if you are paying month-to-month).
These figures are in US dollars.
12. Export to Wordpress when and if you outgrow Squarespace
Squarespace is focused on the small creatively based business or group. As your company grows and you need more tailored functionality that can’t be catered for with Squarespace, they do offer easy exporting to a Wordpress site. This means as an entry level service to help you grow your business to a certain size, it offers a lot of flexibility, control and low cost by being able to avoid expensive developer costs.
13. Logo builder
One other feature which doesn’t get talked about a lot is for customers of Squarespace, they have a basic logo builder, which allows a startup to get a professionally looking logo designed for nix. Nice.
Squarespace is one of the best hosted website builder services on the market at the moment. The combination of easy to use, out of the box functionality coupled with the ability to get a beautiful and professional looking website without having to pay a designer or web developers makes it a great option for smaller sized businesses.