Squarespace Review (2018) | Pros and Cons of a Leading Website Builder
In this in-depth Squarespace review, we go through key aspects of the product that you absolutely need to consider before committing to it. Read on for a thorough examination of its design, content management and e-commerce features (and much else besides!).
Our overall rating: 4/5
The website and online store builder market seems to be getting larger by the day, with a huge number of web apps now available promising to make creating a 'beautiful' website a breeze.
The ever growing list includes Squarespace, Bigcommerce, Wix, Moonfruit, Pixpa, Jimdo, Weebly, Shopify, Wordpress...the sheer quantity of site building platforms now available makes deciding which one to use very difficult.
In this review we're going to take a really in-depth look at one of the more established tools, Squarespace (it's been around since 2004) and zoom in on the key pros and cons of the product.
By the end of this review, you should have worked out if it's the right solution for your business needs (and we'll also suggest some alternatives if you feel it isn't).
Read on to get an overview of Squarespace; a good idea of which plan might work for you; an evaluation of its templates; and the key reasons you might want to use Squarespace or plump for a competing product.
But first: what exactly is Squarespce?
1. What is Squarespace?
The concept behind Squarespace is simple: it's an website publishing platform that lets you
- build a professional site online without resorting to coding
- edit your site easily thanks to a user-friendly content management system (CMS).
In other words, rather than loading Dreamweaver or a similar package up and banging out lines of CSS and HTML to construct a site, you design it all online using Squarespace’s templates and style editor.
You pick a template, point at the bits of the design you want to tweak, and then adjust controllers to change them. For example, you can click on some text and apply a new typeface, click on a background and change its colour and so on.
But in general, Squarespace is a product that is not designed for those who want to tinker too much: it is a platform which encourages you to pick a template, add some text and images and hit the go button. This approach to website building has its pros and cons, and we'll go through them below - after a quick look at pricing.
2. Squarespace pricing
Squarespace provides four monthly pricing options, grouped into two types of packages, 'websites' and 'online stores'.
The options are as follows:
- Personal - $16 per month ('websites')
- Business - $26 per month ('websites')
- Basic - $30 per month ('online stores')
- Advanced - $46 per month ('online stores')
If you pay upfront for a year, then the costs for the five plans above work out, respectively, at $12, $18, $26 and $40 per month.
In terms of the key differences between the plans, some of the main things to look out for are:
Whether or not you can sell products
The 'Personal' Squarespace plan doesn't let you sell products - e-commerce functionality is not provided on this plan.
Whether or not you can add CSS or script to your site
The number of contributors you can have to your site
The 'Personal' plan restricts the number of contributors to your site to 2 - this would mean, for example, that you could only have 2 blog authors, 2 webmasters etc.
G Suite (formerly Google Apps)
You'll get a year's free G Suite account on the 'Business' plans and up.
Google Adwords credit
You'll get $100 Google Adwords credit on the $18 'Business' plans and up. This allows you to try out Google's PPC advertising options.
The 'Basic' and 'Advanced' Squarespace online store plans allow you to avail of integrated accounting via Xero.
As this is an industry leading accounting solution used by many small businesses worldwide, this is a good option to have (for more information on this product you might like to check out our full Xero review).
You can only avoid transaction fees on the 'Basic' and 'Advanced' plans. If you plump for the 'Business' plan, you can expect to pay 3% of transactions.
You can only make use of Squarespace's 'premium blocks and integrations' if you're on a 'Business' plan and up.
These integrations allow you to connect your site to third party apps like of Opentable, Acuity and Chownow; the most significant integration however for most users will be the Mailchimp one - unless you are on the Business plan or higher, you won't be able to use your Squarespace site to capture data onto your Mailchimp mailing list.
Promotional pop-ups / mobile information bars
On the $26 'Business' plans and higher you can use Squarespace's promotional pop-ups. These allow you to highlight particular offers etc. on your site or ask users to sign up to your mailing list (it sends the captured data to either Mailchimp or Google Sheets).
On the Business plans and higher, you can also make use of mobile information bars, which allow you to foreground useful business information and a 'call' button on the mobile version of your site.
Abandoned cart autorecovery
Abandoned cart autorecovery - a way of identifying and emailing users who put items in their carts only to not complete a purchase - is only available on the most expensive plan ('Advanced').
Squarespace's pricing compared to its competitors
With regard to how Squarespace pricing stacks up against competing products, it is generally more expensive than competing website building tools such as Wix, Jimdo and Moonfruit; and unlike Wix and Jimdo, Squarespace does not offer a totally free plan (you can try the product free for 14 days however).
That said, it's probably fair to say that Squarespace is geared more towards slightly more professional users than the aforementioned products.
When it comes to how Squarespace's pricing structure compares to more 'pro' e-commerce competitors such as Shopify, Bigcommerce or Volusion, the 'Basic' $30 per month plan is in broadly line with Shopify's 'Basic' plan ($29 per month), Bigcommerce's 'Standard' plan ($29.95) and Volusion's 'Plus' plan ($35 per month), and like all the aforementioned allows you to sell an unlimited number of products.
Squarespace's 'Advanced' plan is considerably cheaper than the top-end plans provided by Shopify, Bigcommerce and Volusion, although these products do provide important functionality, particularly where payment gateways are involved, that Squarespace doesn't, along with more comprehensive support options (more on all that anon).
Squarespace's 'Personal' plan - one to avoid?
Of the Squarespace plans discussed in this review, I would argue that Squarespace's 'Personal' plan is best avoided, for a few key reasons:
- it doesn't facilitate e-commerce
- it doesn't allow you to add code blocks to your site
- it doesn't let you capture email addresses onto Mailchimp
- it doesn't let you add an announcement bar (something that EU users will need to display cookie information messages)
All these omissions render the Personal Plan pretty pointless in my view, but the combination of not being able to add code blocks AND not being able to use a Mailchimp integration is particularly serious. This double whammy essentially means you can't allow your visitors to sign up to a mailing list using forms on your site (OK, so you could conceivably use a Squarespace form to email the contents of a form to yourself, but in 2018 you don't want to be manually adding email addresses to your email marketing tool!).
So if you're serious about building a functional website with Squarespace you will in all likelihood need to buy a 'Business' or higher plan. This means that your monthly costs will be $26 - way higher than your costs would be if you used competing products Wix or Jimdo.
That said, Squarespace is in many ways a lovely platform to use - particularly for those new to web design - and the more expensive Squarespace plans do come with some great features.
Let's take a look at some of them, starting with the templates.
3. What are Squarespace templates and design features like?
Quality of templates
Squarespace templates are very attractive and have a slick, contemporary look and feel - arguably outclassing the offering from most other similar hosted site building tools.
Whilst the number of templates available for Squarespace is dwarfed by the the thousands available for Wordpress, there's nonetheless a decent range available: there are around 90 Squarespace templates available, and they're all included as standard in your plan.
This compares positively with the number of free templates provided by competing hosted site builders (Shopify and Bigcommerce, by contrast, only offer a few free templates - the majority of templates available for these platforms will need to be paid for on top of your monthly plans).
One thing I'd say about the templates is that the majority of them work best if professional and arresting photography is used. If you are considering using Squarespace, it makes sense to invest some thought, time and probably cash in getting some great pictures for your site before you start building it.
A huge range of web fonts - 1000 Typekit and 600+ Google ones - are available out of the box. These further augment the look and feel of any site built in Squarespace.
(One thing you'll have to watch out for though is that although all these Google and Typekit fonts are available in Squarespace, only a curated list is displayed - if there's a Google or Typekit font you can't see, you'll need to use a search box to locate it).
How do Squarespace sites look on a mobile?
All the Squarespace templates are responsive, meaning that a mobile / tablet-optimised version of your site is automatically generated for users viewing your site on those devices. Not only does this make your site more accessible to a wider range of users, it can provide some SEO benefits too.
Additionally, you can enable AMP - Accelerated Mobile Pages - on Squarespace sites. AMP is a Google-backed project which aims to speed up the delivery of content on mobile devices through the use of stripped down code known as AMP HTML. This creates a much faster version of your site for mobile users and reduces the number of visitors who abandon your site due to lengthy loading times. AMP can also provide some SEO benefits, because Google prioritises some AMP content in carousels displayed above search results.
Enabling AMP in Squarespace is extremely easy - it's just a case of ticking a box in your site settings - but it's important to note that currently, you can only use it with blog posts. It would be nice if you could enable AMP for products too - this is something you can do with competing product Shopify (albeit with the aid of a paid-for third-party app like RocketAmp).
If you do enable AMP on your Squarespace blog posts, you'll need to be aware that only some types of content will display on the AMP version of your post. Things like videos, images, text are fine - but if your post has any embedded forms or custom code in it, a 'click here for original post' link will be displayed - a poor user experience which Google discourages.
If you switch AMP on, always review your Squarespace blog posts carefully on a mobile (to ensure that there are no holes in your content) before sharing them widely.
Editing the templates
The degree to which you can edit a template in Squarespace depends enormously on the one you've picked.
Some templates, like 'Five', are fairly flexible and allow you to tweak the size, spacing and colour of most components.
Others are very tightly locked down and styling them will require you to add your own custom CSS to your site (you won't be able to see the full stylesheet, but you can add your own CSS rules to change the appearance of certain items on your site).
This represents one of the most annoying aspects of Squarespace - it's meant to be a code-free solution, so why require users to resort to CSS for some templates and not for others? It's also worth noting that once you do add your own CSS, Squarespace's support team reserve the right to limit the kind of support they give you.
Another oddity is that some templates allow you to add sidebars; others don't. Picking a template you love, creating a lot of pages and uploading your copy to only to realise that you can't add a simple sidebar can lead to significant tearing out of hair.
And finally there's another editing niggle worth pointing out: with most templates, making changes to the layout of the tablet or mobile versions of your site isn't really terribly doable - again, unless you want to get into adding manual lines of CSS to your template, you are more or less stuck with a mobile layout that Squarespace thinks is best.
My view is that all Squarespace templates should provide as extensive a range of editing controls as possible - it makes no sense to me that one template, for example, will allow you to change the size of a blog header's font and another won't. It would also be good for users to get more say over how the site behaves responsively.
Many competing products are better than Squarespace when it comes to providing full control over the templates - Shopify and Bigcommerce, for example, provide you with complete access to your site's CSS and HTML on all plans.
Although there are ways to make additions to CSS and HTML in the standard version of Squarespace, you can only get full access to both if you're using the developers' version (which, as the name suggests, is really more appropriate for use by developers than people hoping to build a website by themselves).
One particularly nice feature of Squarespace is the video backgrounds design feature - this can turn an already nice-looking Squarespace template into a stunning one.
You can basically use any Youtube or Vimeo URL to create a looped video background for your Squarespace site; you can also apply a range of filters to this, and speed up or slow it down.
The results can be eye-poppingly good, and I expect that many potential users of Squarespace will fall in love with the product based on this feature alone.
A couple of minor improvements could be made to Squarespace video backgrounds however: first, it would be good to be able to set start and end points for your video loop, so that certain parts of the video which might not work as a background (for example, big brash logo-heavy introductions to a corporate video) can be bypassed easily.
Second, it would be great to be able to upload the video background directly to Squarespace itself. This would do away with having to create slightly random unlisted (but still publicly available) videos on Youtube or Vimeo.
Finally on the subject of Squarespace video backgrounds, it's important to note that these only work on some devices - a 'mobile fallback' image that you specify will be used on mobile browsers that don't support them.
Designing logos with Squarespace
A useful feature included with Squarespace is a logo designing app.
A selection of symbols and typefaces are provided in the app which you can use to create a simple logo; as the video below highlights, you drop your text and symbols onto a grid, move things about a bit and when you're happy with the results, you can download a hi-res version of your logo which can be used either on your site or on printed material.
The logo designing app will come in extremely useful for many users, but it does have its limitations. The first is that there's a pretty limited selection of typefaces available - nothing like the number that are available to you when building a Squarespace site - and the second is that you can't upload any images into the tool (i.e., if the symbols provided out of the box aren't to your liking, you're a bit stuffed).
Despite these flaws, Squarespace's logo app is definitely a good option for users who are on a tight budget and, used judiciously, it is capable of providing you with very professional looking results.
Interestingly, the logo app is available for use by non-Squarespace users too - if you go to https://logo.squarespace.com/ you can still create a logo with it and pay a $10 fee to download the results.
4. How does content management in Squarespace work?
There is a lot to like about Squarespace's approach to content management. Let's go through some of the good stuff first.
Importing and exporting content
If you're switching to Squarespace from Blogger, Tumblr or Wordpress, the good news is that there's an import tool to help you bring all your existing content across.
You can also import content from Squarespace 5. Oddly, however, you can't import data from another Squarespace 7 site - but then again I suppose it's hard to think of many situations where you'd want to do that.
In terms of exporting content, you can export to a Wordpress format XML file. This will only export text and images, not products (this is discussed in more depth in the section on Squarespace e-commerce functionality below).
Squarespace's 'layout engine' is very simple to use and lets you drag and drop 'content blocks' anywhere on your site (images, text, forms, videos, code snippets etc.). This makes for very flexible, attractive presentation of content. Content blocks that you can add to a page include:
- galleries (in slideshow, grid, carousel, or stack format)
- content summaries
...and that's just a few examples really.
There are lots of ways to lay out different types of content in Squarespace; you can use the platform to put something really attractive together - and really fast. It's also really easy to move the position of your content blocks - it's just a case of grabbing an element and moving it around.
Additionally, when you set up a page, you can choose from a range of pre-defined page layouts - for example contact pages, about pages, team pages etc. - which can further speed things up. These are a bit of a godsend to website-building novices who are not terribly familiar with the best ways to lay out content.
Working with images in Squarespace is great; its image manipulation and management tools comprise some of the platform's strongest features.
You can resize, crop or rotate any image you add to your site with ease in Squarespace (and, if you are so minded, you can apply Instagram-style filters to pictures too).
You can even pick a 'focal point' in images which helps ensure that no matter which device a user is viewing your site on, the part of the image you care the most about is always on display.
In this day and age of responsive websites, where images are resized according to device, this can be a bit of a design lifesaver, ensuring that your images always 'make sense' regardless of the device you're using.
In terms of using galleries and slideshows, there are several different presentation options (including slideshows, carousels and grids) and all look excellent. This makes Squarespace a particularly attractive option for photographers.
Finally, if you're stuck for imagery, you can browse and buy Getty images directly from your Squarespace account and insert them directly into your site. I've found this extremely useful when building sites in Squarespace for clients who don't really have any pictures to hand. In some cases, this feature has significantly contributed to the overall corporate design of my clients' websites - more by accident than design, but the feature has been very helpful regardless.
There is one thing I don't like about Squarespace and images however: depending on the template, adding introductory text to gallery pages is often a tricky thing to do. And you have to wait until all your images have loaded before you can use the previous / next controls, which can be a bit of a problem if you have galleries containing a very large number of images (particularly large images).
An unusual but potentially useful feature in Squarespace is its 'charting' functionality. This lets you drop some data into Squarespace and use it to create a pie chart, line chart or bar chart. These look good and are a handy way to include a visualisation of your data in your site content.
A related feature that's missing however is the ability to insert tables into Squarespace pages and posts. I routinely get requests from clients to add tables into Squarespace sites and it's always a faff which involves either coding or creating JPG versions of tables.
What's Squarespace like as a blogging platform?
Well, as with much else in the product, there's some really nice features bundled with some quite annoying ones.
First the good stuff:
- Unlike some competing platforms, you can have as many blogs as you like on your site. This is useful, because you can create different blogs for different types of content (news, reviews, tutorials and so on). Or, alternatively - and as you'd do in Wordpress - you can stick with one blog and use categories and tags to split out your posts.
- You can create gorgeous summary blocks of your blog and drop them into any page of your site, and filter these so that the most relevant posts for a particular context are displayed. Anyone who is interested in creating a magazine style layout for their site will love this.
- As discussed earlier, you can enable AMP on your blog posts, which means that they will load super-fast for your users (and may get a slight bump in search results).
There are however, some flaws in Squarespace's blogging setup that do need to be pointed out:
- There's no autosave. This is a pretty serious omission and it can lead to lost content.
- There's no archive of older versions of posts.
- If you want to update an existing post, you can't work on a draft version and publish it when you're ready - you have to update the live version.
- There is an SEO quirk where you are forced to use blog excerpts as meta descriptions.
(We'll discuss some of these problems in more depth in the 'CMS niggles' and 'Squarespace and SEO' sections below.)
Squarespace cover pages
On the subject of content and content layout, it's worth dwelling a moment on Squarespace Cover Pages. These are visually impressive one-page websites, which you can use to create a nice entry page for your site or as a landing page for marketing campaigns.
Although - thanks to beautiful templates - cover pages look absolutely fantastic, they don't really work too well for as landing pages for online advertising campaigns (a potentially important use for them), chiefly because they don't currently allow you to add HTML code blocks. Code blocks are vital if the primary purpose of your landing page is to capture email addresses, get Facebook likes, process a transaction and so on.
Cover pages do permit email data capture to Mailchimp, so some users are better catered for when it comes to the email marketing applications of cover pages. However - and very frustratingly - cover pages require you to place your Mailchimp form behind a button (you click the button and then the Mailchimp form appears in a lightbox). In most instances, landing pages convert best when the form is in a user's face, not hidden behind other elements, so this 'additional click to see the form' situation is not at all ideal.
Cover pages also limit how you can lay out your content considerably - unlike normal Squarespace pages, there's no drag and drop functionality, so if a layout aspect of a cover page isn't working for you, it's not particularly tweakable.
As things stand, Squarespace's cover pages are good for showcasing content - I frequently use them for creating little EPKs (electronic press kits) for music projects, but I don't really rate Squarespace cover pages - yet - as serious marketing tools.
They do have the potential to be extremely useful however, and hopefully Squarespace will make them more flexible down the line.
So far, thing look pretty good with the CMS side of things...but let's take a look at some of the less-fantastic aspects of using Squarespace to manage content.
A key problem involves levels of navigation: as things stand Squarespace is not really a suitable tool for creating large websites.
Yes, most plans allow you to create an unlimited number of pages - but you can't use Squarespace to create a navigation system to organise them properly. In practice the platform only permits you to create very flat websites, with a maximum of two levels of navigation. In a way this is a good thing, because your site will end up being easy to navigate; but some businesses - particularly those offering a wide range of services - will inevitably require a deeper website hierarchy and a suitable navigation system to facilitate this.
And if we're honest about it, Squarespace's "two levels of navigation" really only amounts to one. This is because if you create a section on your site containing sub-pages (for example a section called 'Services' with 2 sub-pages, 'Web Design' and 'SEO'), Squarespace will not allow users to visit the parent page - i.e., your visitors will not be able to click 'Services' and view content, they'll just be able to access one of the sub pages below.
This is ridiculous - there are countless occasions where you might want to direct users to a 'landing page' in the primary navigation which gives a summary of a section's content, along with some links or thumbnails to sub-sections. It's clearly Squarespace's view that this is not a good idea, but I don't think it is fair to be this prescriptive. Let the user decide how their navigation should work.
Granted, you could create primary level navigation pages containing on-page links to sub-sections...but it's messy, and not aided by the fact that Squarespace doesn't provide any automatic breadcrumb-creation tools.
Another serious problem with using Squarespace as a content management system is that - unlike Wordpress for example - it doesn't keep a history of changes to your website. This means that if you accidentally mess up a page (or worse, delete it entirely) you can't restore an earlier version.
That's not to say that Squarespace doesn't back up your site - the company says that it keeps copies of its customers' content in multiple locations and your data is safe with the company. But the fact that its help page on troubleshooting lost content encourages you to try to retrieve it by using the Wayback Machine or a cached version of a page does not really inspire confidence.
If the lack of an archive of alternate posts wasn't bad enough, you might also be surprised to discover that there's no autosave functionality on pages or posts.
That's pretty shocking really, and users writing long pages or posts will inevitably get bitten by that at some point. Sure, there are ways you can manually save your progress - copying and pasting text from Squarespace into a text editor, or hitting the save button after every paragraph...but it feels archaic and shouldn't really need to be done in the era of cloud computing we now live in.
Users who wish to use Squarespace to create a website for a company operating in many different locations or languages may also be disappointed - Squarespace is not really designed to let you create a network of multiple sites using the same design.
In other words, you couldn't really use Squarespace to host a full UK version of your site at www.yoursite.com/uk/ and a full German version at www.yoursite.com/de/. Wordpress Multilingual or Wordpress Multisite would be a better bet for applications like that [note: you can find out more about our Wordpress development services here].
There's also an issue around content 'acceptability'. Squarespace users should be aware that if they publish content which conflicts with Squarespace's acceptable use policy, their website can be taken down by Squarespace. This in effect means that Squarespace users don't have full control over the content of their websites: they are effectively subject to an editorial policy.
To be fair this is also true for competing products like Wix and Jimdo, and also probably the case if you set up a self-hosted website using a platform such as Wordpress, Joomla or Drupal: your hosting provider could also pull the plug on your site if your content breached acceptable use policies. But in the latter scenario you'd have more options - you could move your site over to a more liberal hosting company, for example.
Finally, the approach to file management is pretty messy. It's easy enough to upload files to Squarespace, but you won't find a Wordpress-style media library which lets you access, manage, sort or edit your files easily.
My suspicion is that Squarespace does not want to make it too easy to host or manage files on their platform because of the implications it would have for the company regarding hosting costs.
If your business needs to make a lot of different files downloadable to site visitors, you may find that opting for a platform with a proper media library is a better bet.
5. What integrations with other apps are available?
Unlike similar online store / website building products, there's no 'app store' per se, and you won't be able to install plugins on your site.
That said, Squarespace integrates extremely well with some key web applications - you can incorporate apps like Mailchimp, Dropbox, Google Drive, Pinterest and Github (and quite a few others) into your site in various useful ways. You will need to be on the 'Business' plan or higher though, to get full access to integrations.
Integrating Google Analytics is also very easy - you just whack your Google Analytics account number into the settings section and Squarespace does the rest. Connecting social media accounts is straightforward too - you simply add your accounts in your site settings, and Squarespace takes care of the relevant icons and feeds (pushing content automatically to selected networks if requested).
Finally, other website building products often allow you to use sync tools like Zapier to create connections apps for which there is no official integration - but this isn't yet possible with Squarespace.
This contrasts negatively with Squarespace's competitors, many of which provide an extensive range of 'zaps' to allow you hook up your site or store to third party applications.
6. How does data capture in Squarespace work?
If you want to capture data with Squarespace, this is possible in two main ways - using the 'form block' or the 'newsletter block'. The form block provides you with an easy way to construct bespoke data capture forms - creating fields and laying them out in a preferred order is very easy.
Both the form block and the news block allow you to send the data captured to
- an email address
- Google Sheets
The good news first: the forms are really easy to set up and use and they look great - if you are happy to send your data to Google Sheets and Mailchimp, you'll love them.
But now the bad news:
Although you can send the form data to Mailchimp, lots of people use alternatives - Getresponse, Campaign Monitor, Aweber and Mad Mimi to name but a few. If you use any of these email marketing products you are going to have to make do with adding a Squarespace 'code block' and putting your own HTML in there.
This is annoying for two reasons: first, it takes Squarespace away from being the 'code free' solution that it presents itself as; and second, unless you are happy with your form sticking out like a sore thumb by comparison to the rest of your lovely Squarespace template, you're probably going to have to spend quite a bit of time manually styling the form with CSS so that it matches the rest of your site design (and at this point I would forgive you for muttering - again - "But I thought this was a code-free soloution").
I would love to see Squarespace address these issues properly and allow users maximum flexibility when it comes to which e-marketing / autoresponder apps they use; at the moment it feels like the company is trying somewhat to coerce users into using Mailchimp.
A key omission with regard to Squarespace forms is file uploads - you can't use them to allow users to send you documents, images etc. This is currently causing headaches for a client of mine who wants to allow site visitors to upload CVs as part of a course registration process.
The other thing I'd love to see is conditional logic being added to Squarespace forms. For example, although you can send data from a contact to Mailchimp, in most cases you'd only want to send it there if the user completing that form has ticked a box requesting to join your mailing list. You can create the checkbox alright, but you can't ask Squarespace to check whether it's been populated before adding that user to the mailing list. So you end up having to using a workaround - you can send the data to Google Sheets and then manually upload the users who have ticked the sign up box to Mailchimp. This is just a waste of time!
So it's a bit of a frustrating situation with Squarespace forms: they look great, are easy to build and can capture loads of data nicely - but they're not always flexible enough with regards to what you can do with that data. If your needs are simple, you'll be absolutely fine and will get great results - for anything more complicated you'll end up having to invest in a third party forms app like Wufoo Forms or Jotform (both can be integrated into a Squarespace site using a code block).
7. Can you edit the HTML and CSS on your Squarespace site?
Unlike in competing platforms like Wordpress or Shopify, you can't really toggle between a WYSIWYG ('what you see is what you get') and HTML mode on pages and posts.
It is, however, possible to add HTML code blocks to a Squarespace site, so you can incorporate forms, widgets and so on into proceedings very easily. (I have found that occasionally this adds spacing issues - adding code sometimes seems to insert an unwanted gap above the block for some reason). You'll need to remember that this option is only available on the 'Business' plan and higher.
In previous versions of Squarespace, when adding text or blog posts to a site you could toggle between WYSIWYG, HTML and markdown modes...and it would be great if this approach could be reinstated.
You can add custom CSS to your Squarespace website (if you're on the 'Business' plan or higher), but it's not entirely encouraged: you are warned when doing so that 1) adding lines of CSS can break your design, and 2) you might not be able to avail of full support if you add CSS.
To be honest, with a 'no coding required' product like Squarespace, I don't think a user should ever have to resort to adding CSS to change a style element: you should just be able - as you were on previous versions of Squarespace - to click on an element and be presented with the necessary visual controllers to change it.
I understand that Squarespace want to keep things simple for users, but surely it would be possible to provide users with either a 'simple view' (where controls are kept to a minimum) or a 'full view' (where you could tweak everything)?
At the very least there should at least be consistency with regard to the controls that are available across templates: as mentioned earlier, some Squarespace templates allow you to tweak most elements and with others you can't even change certain font colours.
Yes, there is a 'developers' version of Squarespace available, which provides more advanced users (with coding skills) with all the flexibility they need - but in my view there needs to be something in between the standard and developer versions of Squarespace. I'd happily pay to use it myself.
If you'd like to add scripts to the header section of a Squarespace website, you can do this via a code injection section.
There are two options on this front - you can either add code to the header of every page of your site, or you can do it on a per-page level. This is useful for adding additional functionality to your Squarespace site, and it can also be used to significantly change the aesthetics of your template.
8. How good is Squarespace when it comes to SEO?
Search engine optimisation in Squarespace is a bit of an odd one.
Sites built with Squarespace do a lot of things that Google likes - they generate a sitemap.xml file; use clean HTML markup; and are mobile friendly (Google prioritises websites that are mobile friendly / responsive in mobile search results). They also allow you to add alt tags to images and meta descriptions to pages (albeit, as discussed in more depth below, in a rather odd manner). Finally, Squarespace allows users to enable SSL on their sites for free - this is important, because sites using SSL certificates are treated preferentially by Google in search.
However, it's not all hunky-dory in the search engine optimisation department: there are some important SEO issues to consider before committing to Squarespace.
Alt tags and meta descriptions in Squarespace
Firstly, I have an issue with how Squarespace allows users to specify alt tags and meta descriptions - Squarespace doesn't refer to either by their proper name, and as such it's very easy to miss where to put these in.
If you want to add an alt tag in Squarespace, you've got to 1) add an image 2) give it a 'caption', and then 3) select an option not to display the caption. It's all very messy - particularly because when dealing with images on websites, traditionally captions and alt tags are considered completely different things. (And there are good SEO reasons for keeping them separate too).
The way meta descriptions are handled is arguably more of a problem. Adding them to pages is easy enough - you click on a page's settings, and enter something into the 'page description' field. The problem here is that several of the templates will actually display this text as part of the design.
I find this quite bonkers really, because the point of a meta description is usually to remain hidden on a site but visible to search engines and in search results. It's there to provide a summary of the content, and Squarespace sticking this prominently on the web page itself will arguably encourage users to write sexier, snappier - but arguably less Google-friendly - meta descriptions.
If a template requires some sort of strapline to enhance its appearance, it would be far better in my view to just have a dedicated 'strapline' field that customers can use for this purpose. Making meta descriptions part of the site design is just weird! There are some workarounds available to hide these descriptions on the template, but they involve adding code to the site - and hiding them sometimes affects the quality of the template (or again, takes us away from the code-free solution).
URL redirects in Squarespace
When you change a page URL, unfortunately no Google-friendly 301 redirect is automatically created for you from the old URL to the new - rather, you have to dig around in Squarespace's advanced settings and manually remap your URLs.
Perhaps more seriously, if a user clicks on a URL that you have mapped somewhere else, then for whatever reason clicks it again within a couple of minutes of the original click, they get a 404 error. It's all a bit weird and makes creating links to external websites for affiliate marketing purposes difficult.
SEO checking tools for Squarespace
Squarespace does not come with any built-in SEO-checking tools or plugins. There's no Yoast-style functionality to be availed of, which is a pity (Yoast is a fantastic Wordpress plugin that monitors the quality of your pages from an SEO point of view and suggests improvements you could make to increase their chances of ranking better in search).
That said, you could enter your Squarespace site URLs (or copy and paste your content) into a third-party SEO checking tool, of which there are many online, to see how your pages stack up from an SEO point of view.
Rich Snippets in Squarespace
Rich snippets - data that can be added to your site to help both searchers and search engines understand what a page is about - are an increasingly important part of how your website behaves in search engines (for an in-depth explanation of why, I'd suggest checking this Search Engine Journal article about rich snippets).
Rich snippets enhance a search result by providing additional, immediately viewable contextual information. For example, when rich snippets are used, a search result about a restaurant wouldn't just contain a basic text summary of the content, it would also include things like a star rating, number of times it had been reviewed, price range, reviewer etc., as the example below highlights:
Unfortunately this is another SEO-related area where Squarespace doesn't really cut the mustard. Although it does generate the data necessary to generate rich snippets, there's no satisfactory way of editing what gets generated.
Really in this day and age there should be an option within Squarespace to create your own rich snippets: its absence undermines the 'professional website builder' credentials of the product.
Fortunately, there is a workaround - of sorts - available. You can use Google's Data Highlighter tool to add rich snippets manually to your Squarespace site. This is a cumbersome process however which involves loading up your pages within Google's tool (which relies on caching to display your page - and often hasn't indexed your page yet, or cached the correct version!), then highlighting bits of data with your mouse and assigning it to various variables like 'name', 'reviewer', 'rating' etc.
And you'll need to be aware that every time you edit a page significantly, you'll need to go back into Google's Data Highlighter and check that the data you've added hasn't been compromised by changes to your page / site layout.
Another niggle I have is URL format - it's not a major headache, but if you write a blog post, you can't change the URL so that it doesn't include the /blog/ prefix. There are SEO arguments for keeping URLs 'clean' - made by Google no less - i.e., avoiding unnecessary parameters. (To be fair, sometimes having these parameters are useful when filtering and reviewing page stats in Google Analytics - but from an SEO point of view, it would be nice to have the option to remove them).
The bottom line on Squarespace and SEO
The bottom line is that it's a bit of a 'could do better' for Squarespace in the SEO department. It is definitely possible to optimise a Squarespace site successfully for search, but it is a more fiddly process than it needs to be (and a strange one too).
Note: if you're interested in finding out more about optimising your Squarespace site for search engines, do check out our Squarespace SEO tips (or get in touch to discuss how we can help you optimise your Squarespace site more effectively).
9. What e-commerce functionality is available in Squarespace?
The e-commerce functionality in Squarespace is, on first inspection, strong. It's easy to create, edit and manage products and product catalogues, and I particularly like the way Squarespace handles product images. Unlike Shopify, Squarespace allows you to automatically apply image ratios to all your products - a huge timesaver for some projects.
However, for me Squarespace Commerce doesn't yet compete fully with the more established kids on the block, Shopify and Bigcommerce. The number of payment gateways you can use is limited to just Stripe and Paypal (by comparison, Shopify offers 100+ payment gateway options). On the specific subject of Stripe, this only allows you to sell if you operate in certain countries, so this will limit you to using Paypal (which was thankfully introduced as a payment gateway option in Squarespace recently - a really positive development).
Additionally there are no point of sale options; the range of third-party integrations is limited; and you can't export product data.
All that said, the e-commerce aspect of Squarespace is definitely easy to set up and use, and providing your aims are relatively low-key, you may well find it a good solution.
Due to a lack of product export options however, you may encounter problems with it if your business experiences growth and you need to switch to another platform (we'll discuss this in more depth below).
VAT MOSS and Squarespace
A really strong feature of Squarespace's e-commerce functionality is the way you can sell digital products really easily - it delivers them on your behalf, with a link that expires after 24 hours. But there's a catch, and this involves something rather weird-sounding called 'VAT Moss' (which is short for an even weirder sounding thing called 'VAT Mini One Stop Shop').
VAT MOSS is basically a requirement that sellers of digital products to consumers in the EU add value added tax (VAT) to each digital product on a per-country basis (i.e., there's one VAT rate to be applied for the UK, one for France and so on). Now, unlike some competing products like Shopify, Squarespace doesn't really cater for this requirement madly well.
When you sell a digital product on Shopify, it calculates all the VAT MOSS rates for you automatically; but with Squarespace you'll have to either manually create a bunch of tax rules OR charge a flat rate and work out the VAT retrospectively and pay the tax man accordingly (the latter may or may not be legally kosher; you'd be best off ringing the tax man himself/herself to find out!).
To be fair, Squarespace is not alone in presenting users with this headache - many other similar platforms don't cater for VAT MOSS. But it is something you should bear in mind if you're thinking of selling digital goods in the EU - you will need to spend time devising a workaround.
Importing products into Squarespace
If you are hoping to use Squarespace as your e-commerce solution, and are switching to it from another platform, you are probably wondering if you can import your products easily or whether you have to recreate your entire online store all over again.
Well, the good news as far as imports goes is that if you are switching from Etsy, Shopify or Big Cartel, you're in luck: an import tool is available which will cater for these platforms.
You can also import a CSV file containing product data into Squarespace - this will allow you to import data from a wide range of other platforms, so long as you are happy to lay out your CSV file according to a Squarespace-friendly template.
This method of importing products does have its limitations however, which according to Squarespace's help page on the topic are as follows:
- The importer is for adding new products. It doesn’t work for exporting or editing existing products.
- This is a one-time import. Any updates to your original store or .csv won't automatically sync to Squarespace after the import.
- The import is only for physical and service products. Digital products won’t import.
- It’s not possible to schedule products with an import, only publish or hide.
Exporting products from Squarespace
An important question to consider if you're planning to use Squarespace - or indeed any e-commerce platform is this: how future-proof is this tool?
In other words, if I want to switch to another platform down the line, or if Squarespace goes bust (admittedly not very likely), can I export all my products?
The answer at the moment no. There is no official way in Squarespace to export your product data - so you need to be aware that if you outgrow Squarespace at any point in the future, a migration to another platform is not going to be a simple affair.
You may be able to find a third-party tool to export your product data - for example, this Squarespace product exporting Chrome extension - or use a script, but nonetheless I think this lack of export functionality is one of the biggest problems with Squarespace at the moment, and I hope that the company addresses this problem soon.
Dropshipping with Squarespace (or, a workaround!)
Dropshipping is a fulfillment method where you don't keep what you're selling in stock (you take the order, send it to a supplier, and they deliver the goods to your client - your store is in effect a middle man of sorts). It's a very attractive business model for many merchants because no major investment in stock is required to start selling products.
The bad news is that you can't really dropship using Squarespace yet - although there is a workaround of sorts:
- Open a Shopify account
- Add a Dropshipping App.
- Embed a Shopify buy button on your Squarespace site to sell your dropshipped goods.
(For more information on dropshipping as a business model, I'd suggest you check out Shopify's free webinar on dropshipping.)
10. Is Squarespace easy to use?
Squarespace is undeniably a very user-friendly product. As mentioned before, the layout options are extensive and can provide you with some pretty gorgeous, 'magazine-style' presentation of content. Whenever I build a site in Squarespace and hand it over to a client for them to edit themselves, there are rarely any problems; we are not talking about a steep learning curve here at all.
I do as ever have a couple of niggles though to point out though. If, when designing your site, you choose one template, and then try to switch to another template at a later date, you will encounter a real palava - you will nearly have to build your site all over again! Although your content will be preserved, you'll have to reconstruct your navigation, delete a lot of dummy 'example' pages and slot relevant pages into place again. I feel there must be a neater way of doing things.
Additionally, Squarespace can occasionally be quite sluggish or crash unexpectedly. This is particularly bad news if you've just finished writing a blog post and you haven't copied the content anywhere (remember: there's no autosave!).
Images can also take a while to upload and it is sometimes difficult to ascertain whether they've been correctly uploaded or not, particularly where large galleries are concerned.
In essence, although Squarespace does come with an easy-to-use CMS, there are a few things that could definitely be tightened up, mainly around how the system responds to the upload of images and preservation of 'work-in-progress' content.
11. What support is available?
Support for Squarespace is email or live-chat only: no phone support is available. I would expect phone support to be available for at least the 'Online Stores Advanced' level plan: if you're paying $46 a month to use the product, my view is that you should be able to speak to a real human being when you need a bit of help with something.
In terms of the support that is available, whilst the staff on Squarespace's support desk are very friendly and provide reasonably quick answers to queries, based on my experience they will only deal with pretty simple issues.
In essence, if you want to add some functionality or design aspects to your Squarespace site that are not provided 'out of the box' you won't always get much help from Squarespace. Often you will just be told that what you are trying to achieve is not possible (even if actually, with a bit of perseverance, research or additional coding it actually is) and directed to read the Squarespace blog religiously in case the functionality you're trying to add to your site gets added as an official feature down the line.
And, as mentioned briefly above, if you add custom CSS to your site, you may not be able to get full support from Squarespace.
The other problem I have with support is that when you open a ticket with the helpdesk, you can often end up dealing with multiple team members: Joe Bloggs answers your query, you reply with a follow up question, you then get John Doe helping you and so on - this is usually okay, and I suppose it does mean that queries can be addressed faster, but occasionally it's led to some crossed wires where a particular team member hasn't really followed the thread correctly.
All that said, I have had some very positive experiences with the Squarespace support team - it's just that it has sometimes required a bit more perseverance from my side than I might like.
Finally, and as with a lot of similar products, it's a bit of a headache trying to actually email the company. You have to overcome quite a few dropdown menus packed full of support topics - the aim of which is to make you read a help article before contacting them - before you get anywhere near an 'email us' button.
I can to a degree understand why companies implement these self-help systems on their websites, but it probably neglects the fact that for many people, contacting support is often a last resort, and users will have usually extensively googled their problem or visited support forums before deciding that an intervention from a real human being is necessary.
12. Should I use Squarespace?
I like Squarespace a lot - so much so, and as the eagle-eyed amongst you will probably have spotted by now, that I built this very site you're looking at in Squarespace.
My main conclusion regarding the platform is that it’s essentially very good for two applications: running a simple brochure website or hosting a portfolio site – you can set yourself up with a very contemporary-looking site or image-focused website very quickly with it.
If you are an artist, photographer or a musician - or building a site for a one-off event like a wedding - and you don't need several layers of navigation on your site, it's a brilliant, cost-effective option for you.
Thanks to the e-commerce features, businesses with simple selling requirements may also find Squarespace a good solution; and because it's a hosted solution, using Squarespace doesn't require you to worry about things like server updates or, other than taking the usual precautions around passwords, security.
Many SMEs will also love Squarespace - it can provide a low-cost, time-efficient way to create a stylish brochure site to showcase your services.
Where Squarespace is not in my view quite 'up there' is when it comes to serious e-commerce applications: the lack of payment gateways and point of sale options would nudge me in the direction of a using a more dedicated e-commerce platform if I needed to build an online store (see the 'alternatives' section, below, for more details).
Similarly, I'd have concerns about using the standard version of Squarespace to build a large business website - the limited levels of navigation available and the lack of a proper file management system would make me look elsewhere.
Finally those who are particularly keen on Squarespace to host their site but require more functionality could consider using the developer's platform - but you'll need to be, as the product name suggests, familiar with developing. Or you could talk to us about your Squarespace project :)
And speaking of talking, do give us your own thoughts on Squarespace in the comments section below - we're always interested to hear them, as it helps us identify issues we can address in our review. (Note: if you've reading this on a mobile, you might be seeing the 'accelerated mobile pages' version, which doesn't display comments. You can click here to read the regular mobile version).
Pros of using Squarespace
The main 'pros' of using Squarespace are as follows:
- Its templates are gorgeous and there are a large number of them available.
- Image management options are excellent.
- It provides a good range of import tools for importing content from other platforms.
- It allows you to work with a huge range of web fonts.
- Its video backgrounds features can help you create stunning sites.
- It provides a lot of options for laying out content in an attractive manner.
- It is easy to use.
- It allows you to set up simple yet attractive websites extraordinarily quickly.
- It integrates nicely with many well-known third-party tools, including Google Apps, Xero and Mailchimp.
- You can enable SSL on any site you build with Squarespace.
- You can use its logo designing app to create a simple but professional-looking logo.
- VAT MOSS issues aside, Squarespace provides a good way to sell and deliver digital products.
- It's easy to enable AMP (accelerated mobile pages) on Squarespace blog posts.
Cons of using Squarespace
- No content versioning is available.
- There's no autosave for pages and posts.
- You won't be able to export product data easily if you decide to switch to an other e-commerce platform at a future date.
- You ultimately don't have control over the content of your website: Squarespace, via an acceptable use policy, does.
- It effectively only caters for users who can make do with one level of navigation.
- The templates are often very prescriptive in terms of what you can and can't change.
- SEO is handled in a rather odd way.
- There is no easy way to add or edit rich snippets in Squarespace.
- Only Stripe and Paypal are available as payment gateways.
- VAT MOSS rates are not calculated automatically.
- The only e-marketing product that can be used with the newsletter and form blocks is Mailchimp.
- It can be a bit sluggish occasionally.
- The 'Personal Plan' is very poor in terms of the number of professional features provided.
Alternatives to Squarespace
If content management is a key concern, then self-hosted Wordpress is an obvious alternative to Squarespace; but the two platforms are rather different beasts. Wordpress is a much more powerful tool but one which involves a more manual setup and customisation of elements - Squarespace is more of a 'click and point to change something' style solution. I'd suggest reading our new Squarespace vs Wordpress post to get an in-depth comparison of these two platforms.
You could also look at hosted Wordpress, which works in a similar way to Squarespace (i.e., it's hosted on a server and doesn't involve much in the way of manual configuration) but delivers more sophisticated options when it comes to blogging (not least an autosave feature!).
As far as e-commerce solutions go, if you are looking to build an online store, the best hosted solutions I've tried out to date are Shopify and Bigcommerce. Although the Squarespace template designs are arguably slicker than the ones you get with both of these tools, the Shopify / Bigcommerce e-commerce functionality is a lot stronger. With Shopify and Bigcommerce there is also a bit more flexibility when it comes to accessing the CSS and HTML of your website.
Another option with regard to e-commerce is to use Squarespace to host your content, but use a plug-in like Ecwid or the Shopify Buy Button to handle the selling side of things. And then of course, there's Wordpress again, which so long as you are not shy about spending time configuring things, can be used effectively with various e-commerce plugins such as Woocommerce, Ecwid or Shopp to sell goods.
Got any thoughts on Squarespace?
If you've got any thoughts or queries on Squarespace, or have experiences of using the product that you'd like to share, please do leave a comment on this post - just scroll down to post one or read feedback on Squarespace from other readers.
(Reminder: if you've reading this on a mobile, you might be seeing the 'accelerated mobile pages' version, which doesn't display comments. Click here to read the regular mobile version).
And if you enjoyed this post, I'd be hugely grateful if you could create a link to it on your website or blog, or share it on social media :)