Here at smithHOUSE, we build websites on one of two platforms: Wordpress and SquareSpace. Although very different, they are both excellent platforms for building websites. If you’ve heard buzz about either platform and are a little confused, this blog will help you better understand which platform is the right fit for you. So go refill your coffee mug. We’ll be here when you get back.
SquareSpace: A Good First Step
SquareSpace is a do-it-yourself website builder. You’ve probably heard of it because they advertise on the radio, YouTube commercials, TV ads, everywhere! It’s fun to use, and easy to get started. People are charmed by SquareSpace because their layouts are simple, elegant, and have tasteful typography.
The SquareSpace Story:
SquareSpace is a NYC-based company that was founded in 2003 to help people build their own websites without the need to hire expensive website designers and developers. SquareSpace was not the first DIY website builder. There are 1000s that came before, and 1000s will come after. But for this window of time, SquareSpace seems to be beating out everyone else (include Wix.)
Why do people like SquareSpace?
As promised, you can start building a website “within minutes” with SquareSpace. It’s a very powerful and exciting afternoon when you decide to bring a dream closer to reality with a website. SquareSpace gives you tools to design page layouts, buy a domain, and get a professional email address (through Google.) SquareSpace hosts your website too, so you don’t have to figure out how servers work. Plus they have friendly tech support to help DIYers if they run into problems when making their website.
Also, the biggest perk of SquareSpace is that you edit your web page in the same way that you would edit a Word Document or Google Document: you click in your curser and you start typing. You click “Save” and then your website visitors can see the updated page. This is called “WYSIWYG” (pronounced whizzy-whig.) This funny name stands for What You See Is What You Get.
The final reason why people enjoy SquareSpace is that you pay in one place one time. You swipe the card and then you are done. We like this for some of our smaller clients because there is less of a chance that they'll miss a renewal alert in their inbox. This way their website stays online.
When do we use SquareSpace for clients?
- When they want to manage the website on their own after we build it. SquareSpace has dedicated support via email.
- When our clients needs a sharp marketing website, but doesn't need advanced functionality.
- When our client already has gorgeous photography of their work because they are designers, builders, or a creative organization. who already has a beautiful photography of their work.
What nobody tells you about SquareSpace:
- Without good photography, your SquareSpace site will not impress anyone. For SquareSpace, photography is EVERYTHING.
- The most gorgeous and envied SquareSpace websites were all created by professional web design agencies. They aren’t put together on a Saturday afternoon by an ambitious small business owner.
- Have you ever tried to catch a squirrel? You will try really hard, but never will you be as agile and speedy as that squirrel. The user interface of SquareSpace is kind of squirrelly. As you move your mouse around the page builder, things flicker and move. With practice and commitment, you will learn how to “catch the squirrel” and make the changes you want on SquareSpace. But it’s always unnerving to watch the user interface squirm in my hands. Maybe using SquareSpace feels like holding a wet fish? IDK.
Hidden Costs of SquareSpace
- With SquareSpace, you will begin quickly and get the endorphins pumping, but it still takes a lot of time to launch a sophisticated, respectable website. This is an “emotional cost,” not necessarily a financial cost. But your morale will start high and then taper off as the project continues.
- You can customize the minor stuff (fonts, colors, navigation), but if you need cool, customized widgets on your site, it’s hard to do with SquareSpace. So for ambitious people, you will quickly find the limits of SquareSpace.
- When compared to Wordpress, there are significantly fewer web developers who will write advanced coding for your SquareSpace website. So you can pay a premium for these developers.
- If you are ready to spend the money, and you've found a web developer write some advanced coding to change the look of the website, SquareSpace will cut off your some of their free tech support.
If you hear someone complain about SquareSpace, it’s usually because…
- ...they got discouraged when it took 50 hours to build a website, and they thought that it would only take 5 hours.
- ...they had trouble setting up a web domain that they bought from a 3rd party registrar (you bought yourname.com at GoDaddy and now you want it to point to your SquareSpace website.)
- ...setting up email was harder than they thought.
- ...they thought that they could save money, but ended up hiring a website designer to make it look like what they want.
Bottom Line: SquareSpace is perfect for a 1-person team. Or, as I mentioned before, SquareSpace is excellent for creative professionals (photographer, musician, interior designer) who already has beautiful photography. SquareSpace has his limits, but it's affordable and easy-to-use. If you start to feel limited by SquareSpace, it's time to upgrade to Wordpress...
Wordpress: Proof that Unicorns Do Exist
Wordpress is a Content Management System (CMS) that allows you to easily add new content and build new pages for your website. However, Wordpress has evolved into becoming more than a CMS, but a platform to build sophisticated, robust websites. Wordpress is a rare beast. It gets better every day. You have endless possibilities to make it look like you want (via Wordpress themes) and do anything you want (via Wordpress plugins.) Wordpress is extremely powerful.
The Wordpress Story:
Wordpress began in 2003 to give people an easier way to start their own blog. Wordpress caught on because it was stable, powerful, and free. (Thank you, Automattic for your gift to humanity.) If you were tech savvy, you could configure a server environment and install Wordpress in less than a day. Then you would publish your first blog post the next day and it was titled “Wow Wordpress is Amazing.”
More than any other technology in our era, Wordpress significantly reduced the cost of creating websites. In 2003, your $20,000 didn’t go very far to build a website. Today, that same $20,000 goes really far.
Why do people like Wordpress?
Because you can build almost anything. It’s the ultimate box of Legos for web designers and web developers. For a creative agency like smithHOUSE, we are able to say “yes” to almost anything a client wants because of Wordpress. Wordpress is the Swiss Army Knife of web design.
When do we use Wordpress for Clients?
- Most of the time.
- When they have big, complicated problems.
- When clients are on their 2nd or 3rd version of their website, and they know exactly what works and what doesn't work in their industry.
- When we need flexibility and options in a long-term digital strategy.
What nobody tells you about Wordpress:
- As of today, you cannot edit pages or content from the front end of the website. All updates that you make to the website are through the Wordpress Dashboard, which is basically a bunch of forms and settings that you click through. Once you’ve made the changes, you have to click “preview” to see what it will look like.
- Wordpress is powerful, but it has limitations that it cannot solve by itself. It’s critical that you hire a web design agency who knows how to configure a web host so that Wordpress can do more. For our clients, we configure our web host to do magical things:
- Run daily backups of the website. This way if you website is hacked, we can revert to yesterday’s perfect and not-hacked website.
- Run two versions of your website: production and staging. Production is the live website that everyone is visiting. Staging is where you build and test new upgrades to your website.
- Clone websites. When we need to make radical changes to a client’s website, we clone the website and go crazy on a corner of the cloud where nobody can see it.
Hidden Costs of Wordpress:
- Wordpress is free, Wordpress Plugins are (mostly) free, and Wordpress Themes are (mostly) free. But getting your own B-A website is not free. You need a professional to take all those free things and put them together to make something that will take your business to the next level. Again, think of Wordpress as a box of free Legos. Just because you have free Legos doesn’t mean that you know how to build a Lego house, a Lego city, or a Lego Universe.
- Wordpress has to be actively managed; you can’t set it and forget it. That means that you (or someone you’ve hired) updates your site with the newest version of Wordpress, updated plugins, and other security measures.
- Wordpress has no official tech support. You can’t call anyone or submit a support ticket if you run into a problem. But there are millions of places online to learn how to get what you want out of Wordpress; information overload is the norm.
If you hear someone complain about Wordpress, it’s usually because…
- They have a Wordpress-powered website today and they are not happy. Usually, the real problem is the company that they hired to manage and update their site is doing a bad job. So Wordpress gets blamed.
- They weren’t able to figure out how to update their pages on Wordpress. They felt overwhelmed after you logged in.
- They didn’t actively manage their Wordpress core or plugins, and things started to break.
- They were stoked to score a pro (?) Wordpress website for less than $1000, only to find that they were paid for a generic, awkward website.
- Compared to a SquareSpace website, Wordpress websites can look cluttered. There are so many Lego blocks that you can use when building with Wordpress, and people don’t know when to stop adding blocks.
Summary: Win with SquareSpace, Win with Wordpress
We are in a golden age for creative, amitious people who want to leave their mark on the world. Both SquareSpace and Wordpress are powerful tools that let you do something remarkable. If you are interested in either platform, spend some time visiting their websites (Wordpress, SquareSpace) and explore what they have to offer. Also, it might be interesting to Google search to find out what popular websites are built on either platform.