Squarespace: The Final Frontier
Out of a sense of honesty, I have to tell you that I personally like Squarespace a lot. I’ve tested and reviewed it for other articles, and if I wasn’t so personally obsessed with building websites the hard way (as in, with code), I’d probably use Squarespace.
This review was fun to write because Squarespace released a whole new template system and made some significant changes to its editor in the last year or so. Now, does that mean it’s right for your portfolio, business site, or online store? It depends.
Squarespace is a premium service through and through, with not even a hint of a free plan, just a 14-day free trial. It’s designed for people who want good-looking, highly professional portfolio sites or business sites, and anyone who wants to run an online store. That said, it doesn’t give you as much creative freedom as other builders, and if you’re not planning on monetizing your website, the expense might be too high.
Read on to find out if Squarespace is worth the investment for your site.
Wait… What Templates?
Before I get all nerdy on you, let’s cover the basics: Squarespace works more or less how you’d expect. You can choose from 140+ preset designs, customize them to your liking, and go from there. These preset designs cover the needs of just about every major industry in 14 different categories, from blogs to weddings. Yeah, I wish I could say “from A to Z,” but they don’t have any categories that start with either letter.
You can just pick a template and go, and if you change your mind, you can alter the design at any time. You can’t just switch to a new preset, exactly, but you can change yours drastically if you want to. These preset designs are mobile-responsive, and they’re designed to be adapted to any needs you might have.
Let me make my opinion abundantly clear: these pre-made designs are pretty. They trend toward a sort of flat, Apple-style minimalism – but then, so does the whole platform. That minimalism is Squarespace’s “thing.”
But if you don’t find a template that matches what you’re looking for, don’t worry. You’re not limited to Squarespace’s default designs. You can customize them all, or hire people to do it for you. You can also have a highly customized version of a template built for you, if you use Squarespace’s developer platform. You’ll just have to pay for it.
Now let’s go a little deeper. Technically speaking, Squarespace only has one “template.” Well, you might call it a “template framework.”
Once upon a time, Squarespace was like every other site builder. There were a bunch of different site templates, which were supposed to cover just about every need you could think of. On the technical side of things, each template was its own separate pile of code.
For Squarespace, that meant updating every single template whenever a new feature came out on their platform. For the user, it meant that some templates were far more flexible and customizable than others, and they all had their limitations. If you wanted to build a highly specialized website, that was fine. If you wanted to expand that website, there were potential complications.
Enter Squarespace version 7.1. Now, all templates are actually just variations on the same template – the same big pile of code – which is the same “framework” I was referring to earlier. This framework is designed to be highly flexible and modular, so you can build almost any sort of layout you want, and use any colors and fonts you want – the whole works.
For the developers at Squarespace, this means their whole platform is way easier to work with. For you, as a user, this means you can actually change the entire look and feel of your site in just a few clicks. The changes can be as radical or as subtle as you like, and you won’t lose all of your content.
It’s a good system. But if you want to, you can actually choose to still use an older version of Squarespace, with all of their old templates. So that’s cool too.
All the Features a New (or Semi-Pro) Designer Might Need
Like most of the better-known site builders, Squarespace strives for a balance between giving new website owners an easy way to build what they need, and giving more experienced designers/developers a place to build whatever they want. In this case, that balance is clearly weighted toward beginners.
It’s easy to add what you need, even on the Personal plan. Want a calendar? Appointment bookings? A store? Just click a button or two, and you’ll have it. You can even create an extra set of pages and make a multilingual site with minimal effort.
If you want to use custom templates or any custom code, on the other hand, you’ll have to shell out some cash for one of the more expensive plans. This is true of almost every site builder, so it’s not out of the ordinary.
There’s also a free logo maker, which I have reviewed separately. Yeah, it’s pretty basic, but it’s not bad.
The Site Editor Is All-Inclusive
I’d categorize this editor as sort of… semi-drag-and-drop. When you edit a page, you start the process by adding “sections” or “content blocks,” which are just that: sections of page layout or site functionality, pre-configured for easy use.
These range from simple text blocks to food menus to contact forms to “About The Team” image galleries. More complex blocks include social media icons, RSS feeds, Twitter feeds, all-the-other-social-media feeds, charts, Amazon products, appointment scheduling forms, calendars, e-commerce products and… well, plenty of others.
Once you’ve chosen the content block you need, the drag-and-drop stuff begins. You can drag elements around to fit the layout you like, within given parameters. This isn’t Wix. You can’t just put anything wherever you want on any page. The flexibility of a Squarespace site’s layout has limits, which are designed to keep your site looking consistent and properly spaced.
This is a double-edged sword. On the one side, you don’t have a lot of room to fully express your creativity. On the other side of the blade, I have yet to encounter a Squarespace site that actually looks truly bad, or is super hard to use – unlike some Wix websites I’ve stumbled upon.
That said, there’s still a lot you can do, layout-wise. You can find the pre-set content blocks that give you the layout you want and tweak them. Or, you can add a blank content block and build a basic layout yourself by adding columns, spacing, and content as you see fit.
Built-In Marketing, SEO, and Scheduling Tools
Naturally, the goal isn’t just to build your site on Squarespace. The goal is to make your site/business wildly successful. To that end, there are several built-in tools designed to help you market and promote yourself with minimal effort.
There’s a whole slew of marketing tools, including social share buttons, Pinterest buttons, Instagram stories, Facebook ads, and (horror of horrors) promotional pop-ups. I previously mentioned Mailchimp integration, but Squarespace also has its own email marketing platform that, while a bit less advanced than Mailchimp, is free to use if you already paid for your site.
Squarespace also has a basic but effective set of SEO features to help make your site (and individual pieces of content) easier to find via Google and other search engines. If you’re willing to pay extra, you can even hire a “Squarespace SEO Expert.” Yeah, apparently they have those.
Squarespace also recently released Squarespace Analytics, where you can view which search terms drive the most traffic to your site, which helps you with fine-tuning your content to best fit what your visitors are looking for.
One new-ish tool is the Scheduling tool. It does scheduling (go figure). If your business depends on in-person appointments, you can use this functionality to take appointments, manage your available time, send automatic reminders to customers (so they’ll be more likely to show up), create intake forms, and more.
Choose Stock Photos Right in the Editor
Okay, this is a smaller feature, but it’s cool all the same. If you don’t have the time or budget to hire a photographer, stock photography is your friend. You can find free stock photos (provided by sites like Unsplash) and premium paid stock photos alike, right in the site editor. No need to download or resize anything, just pick the photo you need, and go.
Which is better, Squarespace or Wix?
Wix has more templates than Squarespace and an intuitive editor. It also has a free plan, while Squarespace only offers a 14-day free trial. However, Squarespace has better-looking designs, unlimited storage on all plans, and advanced e-commerce and business tools – including the option of getting personalized business support. Check out our Wix vs Squarespace comparison to see which builder is right for you. Or, if you want to review more options, take a look at our list of the best website builders