Squarespace: In Depth

Written by Matthew Edwards

April 12, 2019

In a previous post where I discussed the difference between proprietary and open source platforms I listed a few of each. One of these was the proprietary platform Squarespace. It’s time to discuss Squarespace in more detail. Launching in April 2003, Squarespace has come a long way since Anthony Casalena started creating the platform for his personal blog while attending the University of Maryland.

The platform leverages pre-built templates as well as drag and drop elements, allowing users to easily and quickly develop beautiful websites. In fact it does this so well that it was only in 2007, four years after release, and when the company reached $1 million in revenue that Anthony started hiring employees. As of 2018 Squarespace ~800 employees and supports over a million websites world wide.

So what makes Squarespace good?

As alluded to above, Squarespace allows you to create some wonderful designs with very little effort. Squarespace has a reasonably good selection of beautifully designed templates that tailored to grab your audience’s attention. The premade templates cover a range of styles and industries and allows you to build onto them from there.

The second big pro for Squarespace would be the fact that all the templates are mobile responsive right out of the gate. Squarespace automatically makes adjustments to your design and elements to fit tablet and mobile, saving time and reducing the need for custom development.

The third reason to go with Squarespace is the drag and drop element builder it comes with. You don’t need to know coding to use it, meaning when it comes to managing your website and keeping it up to date, you’re going to have no issues.

A full list of Squarespace’s features can be found here: https://www.squarespace.com/feature-index

Are there any negatives to using Squarespace?

Yes, most definitely. Like all platforms, there are always pros and cons. The first one we need to touch on would be that while there are over a million users on Squarespace, that is a small drop in the ocean and that the number of developers working on Squarespace on a daily basis is quite small. Because of this the number of extensions you can get for Squarespace is extremely limited, meaning that there is a high chance that if you need anything for your site that isn’t specified on that official list of Squarespace features, it need to be built from the ground up. And as we discussed in the Proprietary vs Open Source post, this can be expensive.

The next downside comes directly from one of the pros for Squarespace. The templates and drag and drop builder. Firstly the templates as a whole are numerous but when it comes down to ones that are suitable for your industry, your target market and your branding… Well then it becomes extremely limited. Again meaning that you may need a developer to build something from scratch just so you don’t look like you’ve copied your closest competitors site. On top of this the customisation options with the templates can become overwhelming. Yes, that means there’s a lot you can do to customise your site but it also means that there’s a lot that the average person needs to get their head around if they don’t want that plain template as their website. The drag and drop builder as well, while decent, is not as intuitive as you might like. It will take some practice to get used to it.

A big con for Squarespace, at least in my opinion, is the hosting. As a proprietary system Squarespace is responsible for the support and hosting of all Squarespace websites. As a result you are forced to have your site hosted on whatever server they put it on, and that means that the majority of sites, even for New Zealand users, are going to be hosted in the United States. What this means for you and your customers is a slower connection speed. You can think about it this way: when a visitor comes to your site they need to send a signal to your server requesting the site files in order to load your website. Now if that visitor is from Auckland and your website is hosted on a server in Auckland, at most that signal needs to travel across town. The server then picks up that request and responds by sending the files back. In the same scenario where you have a visitor from Auckland but your site is hosted in New York, that same user now has to have his request travel all the way to New York and back again. All that takes time, and the further away the server is and the larger the file, the slower your site becomes.

This last negative only really affects you if you’re an ecommerce site, or want to sell online in the future. Yes, Squarespace does offer itself as an ecommerce platform and you can certainly sell physical and digital products online; but Squarespace is not an ecommerce specialist. This means that in terms of selling and marketing tools it can’t compete with the likes of Shopify, WooCommerce or Magento.

Conclusion

Squarespace is a decent platform that leans itself towards the DIY market of websites, but at the same time in a bid for market share Squarespace have implemented a lot of features that are functional and do serve a purpose, can confuse and discourage that initial DIY target audience. As a result Squarespace is in a bit of a limbo state, catering more for computer savvy business owners that have a basic understanding of web development, or beginner developers.

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