Development

The Pros and Cons of Squarespace

Squarespace is one of the best-known website platforms. But does that mean it’s the right solution for you?

A picture of Alex Sanchez smiling

Alex Sanchez-Olvera

January 23, 2019

Image credit Squarespace

Squarespace is easily one of the best-known brands in the web design and development market. Even if you know absolutely nothing about either topic, I’m sure you’ve heard of the platform at least once or twice before.

This is due, in large part, to Squarespace’s rather aggressive marketing campaign — which it promotes both on social media and elsewhere to great success.

The company’s YouTube channel, for example, currently boasts more than 57 thousand unique subscribers. And its videos have collectively been watched millions of times!

But setting aside the issue of popularity for the time being … let’s take a moment to consider just what Squarespace is exactly and whether or not it’s the right fit for you and your organization’s website.

What Is Squarespace?

Competing with the slew of other DIY website builders on the market — products like Wix and Weebly, for example — Squarespace is a code-free tool that allows users to easily create their own websites using pre-built templates.

It was founded in 2003 and has grown significantly since then, having evolved from a simple blog-hosting service into a full-featured platform that includes (among other things) domain name services, eCommerce tools, and analytics.

Its simplicity and full suite of features have made it an attractive choice for users — including bloggers, content creators, and independent professionals — looking to create their own websites without enlisting the help of designers or developers.

And in this regard, it is an incredibly useful tool.

The company should be commended for having created a simple, powerful service that allows non-designers to quickly build (and host) their own websites at a relatively affordable cost.

But as a platform that is intended primarily for casual users, hobbyists, and micro-business owners … it is not an ideal solution for most large, established organizations, especially online businesses whose entire existence is dependent upon their web presence.

So whether you’re a business owner yourself, or a designer wondering whether Squarespace would be a good solution for your next professional project …

I encourage you to take a moment and first read through the following five cases in which the platform might not be the best fit for you.

You need a distinguished brand

It’s pretty easy to quickly assess whether a website was built with Squarespace — and not just because the platform includes a handy <!-- This is Squarespace. --> comment in the source code of every single one of its sites.

It’s because they all look pretty much the same.

As of the time of this writing, Squarespace does not allow its users to design their websites from scratch. All sites built on the platform must be developed using one of Squarespace’s pre-designed templates.

And this makes sense, considering that the platform is intended primarily for non-designers and non-developers.

However, this can also present a major stumbling block for brands looking to set themselves apart from the competition with a unique brand presence.

Squarespace is currently used by approximately 2.5 million websites. Distributed evenly among the platform’s roughly 110 available templates, this means that each design is used by more than 22 thousand websites on average.

This can make it extremely difficult for businesses to carve out a unique niche for themselves and establish both credibility and visual brand recognition within a crowded marketplace.

According to BlueCorona, nearly half of all survey respondents cited a website’s visual design as the number one factor in assessing a business’s credibility.

Site visitors and potential customers want to feel that they are engaging with an established, reputable business — not one among tens of thousands of other copy-cat businesses on the web.

You need search-engine optimization (SEO)

One of the most frustrating aspects of site builders like Squarespace and its competitors is the notoriously hideous markup they create.

The source code of websites built using these technologies is often poorly-structured, redundant, and lacking in the elements needed to help these sites rank highly on Google and other search engines.

This is bad — especially considering that one of the primary reasons business owners choose to invest in a website is to reach a larger potential customer base through search-engine optimization (or SEO).

What’s more: This poorly-written code will also slow down site loading speeds, thereby negatively affecting user experience and further dinging the site in search engine rankings.

A recent study found that among Squarespace websites, only about 25% were rated as “fast” in terms of first contentful paint — or the amount of time required to display meaningful content to users.

While this is on par with competitors WordPress and Joomla!, it falls far short of other popular content management systems (or CMS) like Drupal, Contentful, Craft CMS — and even Weebly!

And most of these will necessarily perform far worse than simple, HTML-based static websites, which will more often than not prove better solutions for most Squarespace business users.

You need advanced customization options

Squarespace is kind of like the iOS or macOS of web development software.

By hiding or removing many of the functionalities typically found in most web design tools, Squarespace attempts to create a simple, clutter-free environment that can be quickly navigated by non-tech-savvy users.

And for the most part, it’s successful in this regard.

However, Squarespace’s simplicity and ease of use come at the cost of significantly reduced functionality and customization options — both of which are important to many businesses.

On many templates, relatively simple customizations like box shadows and transitions can’t be accomplished without custom CSS or JavaScript.

Moreover, Squarespace doesn’t allow for custom code to be included on sites developed through its $16 per month “personal” plan. This option is only available on the more expensive “business” plan, which costs $26 per month.

Part of this is understandable given that Squarespace presents itself as a code-free site builder. But it does seem a bit silly to fork over an extra $10 per month for basic customizations that ought to be free.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that custom code is considered “an advanced modification that falls outside of the scope of Squarespace support” — just something to keep in mind.

You need hosting options

All Squarespace plans include fully-managed cloud hosting provided through the company’s partner, Tucows. The cost of hosting your website though Squarespace is covered in the monthly price.

And admittedly, the hosting you get through the platform is pretty darn solid.

Squarespace provides SSL certificates on all of their hosting plans. Additional features include unlimited storage and bandwidth, a global content delivery network (CDN), and DDoS protection.

But if your business requires additional — or more cost-effective — hosting options, you will need to look elsewhere, as all users are defaulted onto the same hosting plan.

The cost of this hosting can become quite expensive over time, especially for eCommerce merchants who will pay either $30 per month for the “basic” plan or $46 per month for the “advanced” plan.

For reference: Static-site hosting is available for free through providers like Netlify and GitHub Pages, while shared hosting plans through SiteGround begin at just $3.95 per month.

You need flexibility (and ownership)

With website builders like Wix and Squarespace, it’s often incredibly difficult (if not outright impossible) to migrate your site to another platform should your business ever outgrow the original.

Currently, Squarespace only offers .XML export for transfer to WordPress — and this doesn’t include style changes or custom CSS (like your box shadows).

And Squarespace users don’t actually have any meaningful ownership over their websites (aside from their domains).

As customers, they are simply licensing the platform and underlying template designs from Squarespace and must continue making payments each month in order to use, access, and edit their websites.

It’s never a good idea for businesses to become so dependent upon another entity they cannot control.

Should Squarespace’s headquarters be stuck by a meteor — or if the company declares bankruptcy — business owners using the platform could find themselves with a huge financial headache that could have been avoided.

The final verdict

Overall, Squarespace is a solid site-building platform that provides a quality service for non-technical users to easily create websites for either personal or business use.

This makes it a great solution for content creators, bloggers, hobbyists, freelancers, micro-business owners, and the like.

(After all, it’s not like an independent wedding photographer needs a React-based portfolio website with a custom Node back-end. Squarespace will serve her needs just fine!)

However, the platform’s limitations make it unsuitable for larger, established businesses with more complex needs.

Subscribe

Stay up to date

Subscribe to my newsletter to make sure you're the first to know whenever I publish a new blog post.

(Don't worry. I won't send you spam, and I'll keep your email address safe.)