In this Squarespace VS WordPress comparison article we will be evaluating two of the most popular website builder platforms available in 2019.
I am going to dive deep and share my thoughts on Squarespace and its merit as an alternative to WordPress.
So if you are trying to decide on a blogging platform or which CMS to use for your new website then this should answer all of your questions.
Both WordPress and Squarespace have been around for a long time with WordPress launching in 2003 and Squarespace in 2004 and over the past decade or so they have both continually evolved and improved what their platforms can do.
While I am a strong proponent of WordPress and have been developing websites and blogs with the platform for over ten years there are many people who prefer to use Squarespace because it’s a little less involved, but at what cost?
Is one better than the other? Not exactly, which CMS platform is best for you will mostly depend on three things:
- Your requirements, aims, and ambitions.
- Your skillset
- Your eagerness to learn.
Let’s take a look at these two platforms and the merits of using both.
WordPress The Ultimate Blogging Platform
WordPress is probably the best-known software for blogging and rightly so. It has been around since the early days of blogging and more than 20% of the internet uses WordPress to power their sites.
WordPress is a completely open-source CMS tool and can be set up for free on the WordPress.com website (hosted) or by downloading the software installer from WordPress.org and hosting it on your own server (self-hosted).
WordPress.com’s hosted option is most like Squarespace because it is an all in one solution provided to you as a service by Automattic (the owners of WordPress).
Benefits of WordPress
The main benefit of WordPress is flexibility. There’s very little you can’t do with a WordPress website provided you install the necessary plugins to extend its core functionality.
This means despite common misconceptions WordPress isn’t only for building blogs but can be used for building informational websites, forums, wikis, social networks, membership sites, eCommerce stores, or pretty much any other type of online platform.
In the many years, I have been building sites using WordPress I have built all kinds of different websites, some simple informational websites to help market a business, some 6 figure blogs, eCommerce websites, and e-learning membership sites.
There really is no limit to what you can achieve with WordPress.
Why use anything else?
After reading the above you might be forgiven for wondering why you would ever want to consider using any other software or CMS tools when WordPress “does it all”.
Well, there are a few instances where you might decide WP isn’t for you and instead opt for an alternative like Squarespace or one of the other CMS tools like Wix, Weebly, or Shopify.
While I don’t condone the use of Wix or Weebly sites because I find their tools to be too restrictive even for beginners I do see a few situations where a customer may opt for Squarespace or Shopify over WordPress.
So what are the potential cons and pitfalls when using WordPress?
- There is a steeper learning curve when you are first starting with WordPress.
- There is more maintenance work as you need to keep your software up to date by updating plugins, themes, and WordPress Core. This is because you are self-hosting open source software and the maintenance is your responsibility. You can, of course, hire WordPress Maintenance teams to manage these issues for you which will mitigate this concern.
- Security – Much like Windows, when having the largest market share it is easy to become a target, as such WordPress websites can be easy targets for hackers if they are not kept up to date and secure. A certain amount of this falls on the server provider’s shoulders but most will be your responsibility to maintain. Again a WP maintenance company can take care of this for you.
- Setup time. If you want to have a website built in an hour or two then WordPress may not be for you, as there are more steps to set things up than with some of the point and click builders like Squarespace.
- eCommerce – While WordPress provides many ways to add eCommerce functionality, most notable with WooCommerce some online platform builders who have the main aim of building an online store and don’t need the flexibility of WordPress might prefer to use Shopify which is, in my opinion, the best standalone eCommerce CMS.
- Simple Landing Pages – If you just need to create standalone single page websites and landing pages then Clickfunnels might be an easier tool to get set up with.
While many people will say that WordPress is harder to use and design with because it isn’t a drag and drop builder like Squarespace there are many page builder plugins for WordPress that allow you to add this kind of functionality to WP too.
There are other competitors to WordPress that are more like for like in terms of the technology that include Drupal and Joomla however I haven’t used either of these tools for a number of years and they seem to have waned in popularity over the years compared with WP and other web builder tools.
Squarespace Growth in Popularity
Squarespace while once a fringe website builder has continually grown in popularity over the years, partly thanks to smart marketing campaigns and influencer endorsements from the likes of Joe Rogan, Phil DeFranco, and other noteworthy YouTubers and podcasters.
What is Squarespace?
Squarespace operates a SaaS business model which stands for Software as a Service because you pay monthly or annually for an all-in-one website builder tool.
As such Squarespace has become a popular CMS for Photographers, Bloggers, Artists, Restaurants, Musicians, Actors, Celebrities, Social Influencers, YouTubers, and Small Businesses.
The majority of Squarespace users aren’t familiar with HTML and web development and as such opt for the standard version which makes it extremely easy to set up and requires no experience with websites or coding.
Squarespace also offers a “developer” version which unlocks tools that allow a developer to edit the source code and other elements hidden away from beginners.
While this does add some flexibility to Squarespace not many developers are as proficient with Squarespace as they are with other tools.
Benefits of Squarespace
First, let’s talk about the pros of using Squarespace.
Squarespace is very easy to use and just like you will hear on the YouTube and Podcast promos, you can have a website set up and looking great in a matter of hours.
Squarespace has been able to make progress in capturing a larger market share over the years by taking the opposite approach to WordPress and has instead targeted a few key areas like ease of use and creating a limited range of polished theme designs.
Squarespace is an all-in-one tool where your website is hosted directly by Squarespace in their cloud servers thus removing the need for you to sign up for a hosting service and then installing the software of your choice.
Signing up and getting started is extremely easy with Squarespace and they have a growing list of ambassadors and service users. Heck, even Keanu Reeves is using Squarespace now, I mean NEO from the Matrix FS!
I guess he didn’t take the red pill after all.
But let’s face it he doesn’t need any help from SEO to bring in traffic and grow an audience if you are starting a new blog or online business you probably will.
At first, it might take you a little while to learn how to use the editor tools available in Squarespace but with a little practice, it is very easy to use and allows you to work very quickly.
They could put more effort into creating more intuitive tooltips and a tour of the various modules and blocks available to make this process even more seamless.
Squarespace embodies the “What You See is What You Get” approach and will always look the way you have designed it when working on the back end, including the way you have set out your content.
On WordPress, this is not always the case however the new Gutenberg editor for WordPress does look to finally change that.
One bonus with Squarespace is that every website comes with an SSL certificate included. With WordPress, you will need to check with your domain registrar or hosting provider depending on where your domain is being managed.
Squarespace’s target market are customers who want to quickly and easily set up their new website and already have an audience and little need to rely on SEO to bring in traffic.
Flexibility and Limitations
As nice as it is to quickly have an attractive design, aesthetics are only skin deep, and often the reason marketing professionals gravitate toward WordPress is because of the ability to control every last detail and the search engine friendliness.
When it comes to flexibility there is only one king and that is WordPress.
Squarespace is more like Apple and WordPress more like Android if you want to compare their ethos and approach. One offers an easy to use but locked down system and the other an open-source platform that can be customized extensively, however, more moving parts can lead to more accidents and a steeper learning curve.
Squarespace has done well over the years to make their platform work for several different types of websites but with WordPress, you are only limited by your imagination as you can use it to build any type of website.
There are a few ways to extend the capabilities and functionality of your WordPress site.
- Plugins – These are like Apps for WordPress and there are thousands available for free and thousands more for premium purchase. If you have seen something another website can do, you can likely do it with a WordPress plugin.
- Themes – Some WordPress themes contain additional capabilities, an example might be a WordPress theme built for a maps website, however conventional wisdom in the WP space these days would advise custom functionality be baked into plugins instead.
- Custom Code – You can also hire a developer to create a custom solution if one doesn’t already exist or there isn’t anything suitable for your needs.
If you want to hire a web designer or developer to take on your project and help with the build and design you won’t find as many as interested or able to work with Squarespace when compared with WordPress.
This is because WordPress can be customized from the ground up and is built with HTML, CSS, and PHP so any web developer can have complete control over every last detail. As mentioned Squarespace offers a developer version that unlocks some of these capabilities however most web developers will not be as familiar with the overall navigation and subtleties of programming a Squarespace theme.
The number of themes available for Squarespace is also quite limited despite there being some nice options to choose from this might not be suitable for some businesses.
Another restriction of Squarespace is that there are no plugins and while they do have some built-in integrations there are far fewer available for you to extend the functionality of your website.
WordPress has so many tools because of the power of being an open-source platform developed by thousands of developers.
Despite Squarespace being far more limited than WordPress they have made considerable progress over the years and I wouldn’t rule them out just yet as they continue to add new features and attractive designs but if I am going to build a business online I am still WP all the way.
If there is one aspect where Squarespace has an advantage over WordPress in the flexibility stakes it’s that “out of the box” Squarespace design templates are more easily edited and adjusted.
With WordPress, you will need to have a theme and page builder setup first to have that level of control over your page layouts or wait until WordPress Gutenberg is fully rolled out and the future of WP is in full effect.
While WordPress core software is free to use the self-hosted installer you will need to find a hosting provider and can expect to pay $100 or so toward themes and plugins at least if you plan to customize your site and add more features.
WordPress.org features a repository of plugins and themes which are all free and can be used to change the appearance and functionality of your website however you can also purchase premium themes and plugins from third-party providers.
If you do decide to buy some premium extras then there is a chance some of these will be one-off costs so you won’t need to pay for them annually, an example is the Genesis Framework by Studiopress which is a one-off payment for access to all of their WordPress Themes.
If you aren’t comfortable with working with WordPress or need assistance adding some features or tweaking the design then you will need to consider the cost of hiring a developer.
With WordPress, there is also the responsibility to maintain your website software by updating WordPress, your theme, and plugins to reduce the risk of software vulnerabilities, security issues and so you can benefit from the latest features.
While there is a completely free and hosted-for-you version of WordPress you can sign up for at WordPress.com I strongly recommend self-hosting which will set you back around $5 per month when starting out on a basic shared hosting package.
Add your domain name and the annual running costs of a basic WordPress website should not exceed $100-200 which is definitely good value for money for the tools provided.
If you were to hire a designer and invest more in plugins you can easily spend $500-2000 on your WordPress website, however, this is more for those who have the budget and a long list of design and development requirements and is by no means a requirement.
The cost of running a Squarespace website varies but the prices start at $12 per month billed annually for the basic plan and $18 per month for the business plan. That equates to $144 per year for the basic plan and $216 per year for the business package.
The various Squarespace plans offer more features depending on which plan you are using.
If you want to run an online store using Squarespace then you will need to upgrade to one of the online store packages which are priced at $26 per month for basic and $40 per month for advanced which is $312 and $480 respectively each year.
It’s worth noting that if you opt to pay annually then you will make a slight saving.
These prices are reasonable though I think for the money you can get more bang for your buck with WordPress and premium hosting from WPEngine.
With Squarespace, you can have a built-in eCommerce store from the start provided you have selected one of the online store packages they provide that is.
This eCommerce platform is simple but suitable for most basic online stores however it does lack a lot of the features you might want to add to create a more advanced or bespoke shopping experience.
Squarespace eCom platform currently only allows for two payment gateways, Paypal and Stripe which while both popular may not be suitable for larger organizations and those looking to use an alternative or existing payment gateway provider.
Squarespace eCommerce also lacks advanced sales reports that you might expect from a professional eCommerce solution like Magento, Shopify or BigCommerce.
Another limitation of Squarespace is the inability to easily export your products, they don’t make it particularly easy to export any aspect of your website, this is common amongst closed-off platforms that don’t want you to leave.
With WordPress, there is no incentive to prevent you from exporting your content because the software is open source.
Exporting content and products is common practice when migrating or merging websites and a necessary step for many site owners at some point in their online business lifecycle.
If you bought a Ford for your first car would you want that to mean you could only buy cars from Ford for the rest of your life? I think not.
While WordPress doesn’t have eCommerce features baked in, you have a wide range of options that allow you to add different types of eCommerce functionality by using free or premium plugins.
WordPress purposefully ships without these additional tools to make sure it’s light and user-friendly because not all websites need these features.
This modular approach is what has made WordPress such an attractive option both for developers and webmasters over the years.
The best eCommerce plugin for WordPress by far is WooCommerce.
WooCommerce provides all of the basic eCommerce functionality you will need and with the addition of other plugins that act as extensions for WooCommerce you can add a wide range of extra features including:
- Membership functionality
- Point of Sale Interfaces
- Advanced Reporting
- CRM Functionality (Customer Relationship Management)
- Different Payment Gateways
- Gift Cards & Smart Coupons
- Comparison Site Tools
- Upsells & Cros sells.
- Product Bundles
and that is just scratching the surface. There are literally thousands of different extensions you can add to WooCommerce to completely customize your eCom store.
In addition to WooCommerce, there are other tools like Easy Digital Downloads if all you need is to sell virtual products and don’t need to deal with shipping then this solution may be the best route to take.
If you need a store set up really quickly, I still wouldn’t recommend Squarespace, in this situation I would advise checking out Shopify.
SEO / Search Engine Optimization
WordPress has long had a reputation amongst digital marketers and SEO professionals for being the most search engine friendly website builder out there and this remains true to this day.
None of the easy to use drag and drop website builders have ever been able to compete with WordPress on this level and Squarespace is no different.
With WordPress, you can easily add third-party plugins like Yoast SEO Plugin which add pretty much every SEO feature and control you need access to.
This includes sitemaps to help Google and other search engines easily index your content and understand the hierarchy of your pages and the page optimization basics like meta titles and descriptions.
The Yoast SEO plugin gives you access to lots of settings to help you control your website on a holistic level, this includes deciding which post types and taxonomies should be indexed and included in your XML sitemaps.
Squarespace seems to be inconsistent with its use of meta titles and the labels used go against the conventional terms most marketers have come to know, this adds unnecessary confusion for beginners and even myself.
There are lots of other SEO controls that simply aren’t possible with Squarespace due to the lack of access to plugins, thee include things like Rich Snippets, something you can easily install with WordPress.
A major factor in modern SEO is page speed. This is how fast your website pages take to load and with Squarespace, you are limited to their servers and their servers only meaning even if you wanted to upgrade or move your server closer to your audience geographically you can’t.
With WordPress, if your customers are all in Canada in a local area you can choose to host your website in that geographical area provided you can find a hosting company nearby, but these days that shouldn’t be hard.
Because you control all of the content and data with a WordPress site you can also use a CDN (content delivery network) to speed up your website even more.
With Squarespace, you don’t have any control over how your content is being loaded so that isn’t an option.
Both platforms make it fairly easy for you to add popular tools like Google Analytics and Webmaster tools to report on your traffic and the performance of your website.
Squarespace has added some of the basic SEO tools and you can create a rudimentary XML sitemap but even that doesn’t compare to the one generated by our favorite WordPress SEO plugin Yoast.
When there is something new you can do to optimize your website you can guarantee there will be tools available for WordPress within weeks if not days, with Squarespace this may never become a possibility and you may be left with just the essentials.
If SEO is important to your marketing strategy, and it should be, then you probably want to be using WordPress from day one.
One of the most important considerations when choosing a website builder is to select a tool that is user-friendly and something you can easily learn without investing months studying code.
In my opinion, both WordPress and Squarespace are user-friendly however there are some key differences between how the two platforms work and if I was pushed to choose one option that was the easiest to set up for yourself with no experience I would have to admit that Squarespace is that tool.
Using the Squarespace drag and drop editor is extremely easy however it may occasionally throw the occasional error most of the time it will work flawlessly.
It’s as easy as clicking an element and then adjusting the available parameters like colors, fonts, and sizes.
Unfortunately, you are limited to the provided options, and not all themes are born equal as some may have features that don’t exist in others, and the only way to extend the controls is to go into developer mode which means having an understanding of HTML and CSS.
Setting up a new WordPress website is also pretty easy these days since most hosting providers have built-in one-click installers to help you install a new instance of WordPress on your domain name.
We recommend Siteground, Bluehost, and WPEngine for WordPress users and all three have easy to use installation processes available that are a cinch to use.
Once WordPress is installed maintaining it is generally not too difficult however the more complex the site is the more complicated it can be. An example is a website with 40 plugins which is definitely not recommended, will take a lot longer to keep up to date and maintain everything remains compatible and working.
If you have 5-10 plugins which is the norm then WordPress maintenance shouldn’t be too difficult or time-consuming.
The main differentiator over the years between Squarespace and WordPress is how you create and edit pages and posts.
WordPress has always used a more traditional back-end WYSIWYG Editor like Tiny MCE where you can type your content as raw HTML and text or using a visual mode that looks like a Word processor.
This is not 100% representative of how your page will actually look and the final formatting because you are editing in the backend and the CSS styles aren’t being applied.
Squarespace, on the other hand, has championed the front-end editor approach which is a mirror image of what your site will look like when you hit save or publish.
While this makes the Squarespace approach more intuitive to many there are writers that prefer a distraction-free writing environment and actually prefer to write without having to consider their entire design while in the process.
It’s worth noting that WordPress has become easier to use with front-end page builders thanks to plugins like Beaver Builder, Elementor, and Thrive Architect and now WordPress core is looking to upgrade the writing experience with their new Gutenberg editor which could take away Squarespace’s unique selling point soon.
Using YouTube it is pretty easy to learn how to use both platforms by watching video tutorials. Simply search YouTube for Squarespace Tutorials or WordPress Tutorials and filter the results to only show videos from the past 12 months to make sure they are up to date.
Support & Maintenance
With Squarespace, you have access to their customer support because you are paying for their service.
Using WordPress, you may get basic support from your hosting company but the level of support on offer differs a lot between different providers.
WordPress.com completely hosted-for-you solution, however, will offer a certain amount of support with the WordPress platform but we don’t recommend this option because it’s more restrictive than the self-hosted option.
WordPress dedicated hosting companies like WPEngine are more qualified to answer WP specific questions while shared hosting companies may only offer support for critical problems.
In this case with WordPress if you do need a fair amount of support you might want to try a WordPress maintenance company that can help you on a monthly basis with any problems you need help with.
Squarespace vs WordPress – Which Should You Use?
As discussed which platform is best for you will largely be based on your requirements but in my book, if you are building for the longterm from the ground up WordPress is still the best content management system for building a website.
If you are a blogger then hands down WordPress is the winner of the best blogging platform award and I see no sign of that changing.
I do advise skipping the free version of WordPress you can use without a domain as this is a waste of time when you want to be building authority for your own domain name and have full control over your website.
This means opting for a self-hosted install of WordPress with a custom domain which should set you back no more than $50 per year to get started.
If you are in a rush and need to turn your new website around in a matter of an hour or two and SEO is not a big concern then sure maybe Squarespace might be a good solution for you.
You can certainly create attractive-looking websites however the lack of flexibility and the fact it’s not as easy to optimize for search engines make it a close second for me.
If the sole purpose of your new platform is to sell products then it might be worth opting for an eCommerce first CMS like Shopify which is an affordable yet powerful solution for selling literally anything online.
If like me your main aim is to use content marketing to drive traffic and sales then WordPress is the only CMS for you, my dear friend!
I am a big proponent of open-source software and how powerful it is and have supported WordPress since the early days so maybe I am biased but I promise I will always give an honest opinion if I think an alternative tool would be a better fit for your needs.
Open source equals freedom, and with WordPress, that means you can choose where in the world your website is hosted, who it is hosted by, and have 100% control over every last detail.
While it sounds like a great idea to have your domain, hosting, and a proprietary website builder all in one package it comes with some negatives and you are giving up a lot of control.
So Squarespace vs WordPress which do I recommend? 90% of the time I will advise using WordPress.
If you want to get started check out our guide on how to start a blog using WordPress.
There are a number of other alternative content management systems you can consider including Webflow, Wix, Weebly, Joomla, or Drupal to name just a handful. To see a full list of options go to our guide on WordPress Alternatives.
If you have any questions, you know where I am.
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