Which website design platform should you choose for your DIY or professional project?
You've probably already heard of WordPress; many websites these days are run using this platform and it's pretty much become an industry standard for website designers around the world. It is an 'Open Source' platform, which means anyone can create custom designs, templates and plugins (to add functionality such as ecommerce, contact forms and anything you can think of!) for it, some of which are free and some of which you need to pay for. It is also self-hosted, which means you (or your webmaster/website designer) are responsible for updates, maintenance and technical SEO stuff.
Meanwhile, Squarespace (originally created as a platform for photographers and creatives to create portfolios) is becoming more and more mainstream. Nowadays, Squarespace is used by bigger businesses all over the world, but remains an excellent choice for small businesses and freelancers wanting something simpler and easier to manage than a WordPress site.
Below I've outlined the pros and cons of each platforms to help you consider which is right for you...
Cons of wordpress
- It has a complicated back-end (which can be difficult for beginners to navigate)
- Set up can be more complicated and time consuming depending on your hosting provider
- Because it is self-hosted, you are responsible for updates, maintenance, security and technical SEO. If anything goes wrong, you have to fix it or pay a developer to fix it (unlike managed platforms like Squarespace)
- Anyone can create themes and plugins for WordPress; whilst this is good as means more variety, it's also sometimes NOT good because there is no control on quality. Themes may be buggy or poorly responsive for mobile (even when they say they are) and are hard to customise, plus badly written plugins can even 'break' your site!
- To purchase a 'managed hosting' package for WordPress which provides the equivalent support the Squarespace does is very expensive, because it is a more complex platform
pros of wordpress
- Because it is self-hosted, it means you have control over everything and have the ability to edit databases and create totally custom websites
- There are also a huge variety of free & paid themes created by designers around the world
- There are thousands of free & paid plugins that can add functionality to your site (eg. ecommerce, contact forms, SEO, membership sites etc.)
- WordPress is great for larger, more complex sites that require a lot of add-ons because the number of plugins you can find is basically unlimited
- Depending on what hosting package you purchase to install WordPress on, it can end up cheaper than Squarespace (you can purchase 'managed hosting' packages for WordPress - the equivalent of Squarespace - but they cost a LOT more)
Who is WordPress good for?
- Large businesses who need complex functionality (eg. membership websites, ecommerce with 100s of items)
- Businesses who want total control of their database and to manage all SEO aspects themselves
- Businesses who want completely custom-made websites rather than using pre-made templates (hiring a designer/developer to create a custom-made site can cost anything from £3,000 to £12,000, so this is usually a consideration for larger or more established businesses)
CONS OF SQUARESPACE
- You don't have control over databases yourself, and you can't have a custom-developed website
- There are a limited number of themes to choose from (around 60) rather than 100,000s like WordPress because anyone can create them
- Because people can't create plugins for Squarespace, you are limited to the functionality that is built-in. You can add third-party tools to embed onto your website, but you often have to pay for these as they are created by other companies for profit. (For example, you can add membership functionality with MemberSpace or embed LeadPages onto Squarespace but you have to pay a fee to these companies separately).
- The e-commerce system, whilst it has all the features a small shop could need, isn't as powerful as some WordPress e-commerce systems or Shopify when you are running are large store with 100s of items
pros of squarespace
- It is 'managed hosting', so updates, maintenance, security and technical SEO are taken care of for you
- There is 24/7 dedicated support for any issues you may have
- You pay one monthly or annual fee to Squarespace which includes everything: hosting, templates, 'plugins' etc. because everything is built-in to the platform. You just need to purchase a domain name and that's the only extra cost!
- Very quick to set up as you don't need a separate hosting provider to install on
- The drag and drop editor makes it easy for beginners to manage and edit
- There are around 60 templates to choose from, all of which can be heavily customised to suit you. Unlike some WordPress templates which aren't easily customisable.
- All templates are modern and beautifully responsive for mobile, built BY Squarespace, so you don't have to worry about any bugs
- 'Plugins' are all built in as well, so you don't have to worry about anything 'breaking' your website. You can add ecommerce, contact forms, portfolios, blogs, newsletter sign ups and more for no extra cost and it's very simple to set up.
- You can create an online shop with Stripe or PayPal payment gateways at no extra cost (the gateways just take a small % of any purchases, or you can upgrade to a Squarespace ecommerce plan which is a little more expensive each month but means you don't have to sacrifice a % per purchase - great for larger shops!)
Who is squarespace good for?
- Small businesses and freelancers who aren't technical and want a simple, easy to manage website
- Photographers and creatives who want to display a beautiful portfolio with no fuss
- Businesses who appreciate the value of clean, minimal design
- Small shops/product businesses who want to add products easily and not worry about complicated e-commerce/payment gateway set up
- Bloggers who want a beautiful, easy to maintain blogging platform with in-built SEO
Misconceptions about Squarespace:
- Squarespace SEO isn't as good as WordPress
With WordPress, yes you have more control over the technical aspects of your SEO, whereas Squarespace's is all built in. However, your WordPress SEO is only as good as you are capable of making it, and if you're not particularly technical it will be difficult to get the SEO on your WordPress site up to the same standard of Squarespace's built in SEO.
Likewise, whilst your Squarespace technical SEO is built-in, that's still only half the equation. You need to have good SEO practices yourself such as keyword strategies and link-building etc. to make it really work for you.
To give you an idea, I have a website on WordPress and a website on Squarespace (this one!) and both perform equally well in search engines because of my overall SEO strategy. The fact they are on different platforms hasn't made a difference.
- Squarespace websites all look the same
There are a limited number of templates on Squarespace (around 60 to be exact), and when people use them 'straight out of the box', then yes they can all look very similar. But there are so many customisation options available to make your site stand out, so it's just about having a specialist Squarespace website designer to help you do this.
Equally, there are some WordPress templates and theme frameworks that get used a lot, and to an experienced eye these are easy to spot and may look similar as well. So swings and roundabouts!
- Squarespace won't future-proof my business
I've had people ask about whether their website will be able to grow with their business if built on Squarespace, which is a great question. At one point, Squarespace was probably too limited for businesses who wanted to grow quickly, but nowadays the company is added more and more features and compatibilities all the time, and it's becoming a mainstream platform to use. They aren't going anyway, and they can only get better!
ANNUAL COST COMPARISON
Obviously for many small businesses, the cost comparison of each platform is very important too, so I've put together a cost overview as clearly as possible:
Plans: Between $144 to $312 per year (or between $312 and $552 for large online stores who don't want transaction fees) - fees are in dollars and are converted into your currency by your bank when you pay. Find out more.
This includes hosting, management, all templates, and 'plugins' which can add functionality such as e-commerce at no extra cost. You can even get a free (.com) domain name for your first year with Squarespace too, however if you want a (.co.uk) you'll need to buy this elsewhere, which can cost as little as £8 per year.
Hosting Plans: Depends on provider and size of your website, but between £60 and £150 per year. If you want managed hosting (the equivalent to what Squarespace's plans offer) it can cost anywhere between £340 and £1000 per year!
Themes: Good quality themes can cost anywhere from £45 to £200, which is a one-off cost
Plugins: Unless you need anything very specific like a membership site, most plugins are free.