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In this guide to Squarespace templates, I’m going to walk you through the process of picking the best one for your project – and help you avoid making a mistake that can negatively affect not just the look and feel of your site, but its performance too.
If you’re thinking of using Squarespace to host your website, deciding on the right template to use is extremely important.
Not only can your template decision affect how your site looks, it can affect your site’s performance in search results, and how effective it is in converting visitors to customers.
This important Squarespace decision can also be a tricky one. This is because:
- there are two entirely different formats to choose from (7.0 or 7.1 templates)
- there is a big range of templates to browse through
- you face a choice between using bundled, free templates and paid-for ones provided by third-parties.
So, in this post, I’m going to try to make things easier for you by breaking down the key things you need to consider — and hopefully help you pick the Squarespace template that’s right for you.
Let’s start with a look at the two types of Squarespace template that are available — 7.0 and 7.1 templates.
Should you use a Squarespace 7.0 or 7.1 template?
The first decision you have to make regarding Squarespace templates is which format you want to use.
This is because technically, there are two versions of Squarespace available, each with a distinct set of templates: 7.0 and 7.1.
Of these, 7.0 is the older format (it was until July 2019 the standard version of Squarespace).
Despite being effectively replaced by 7.1, it’s still in widespread use by Squarespace customers — and you can still sign up to use Squarespace 7.0.
The key things to be aware of when choosing between Squarespace 7.0 and 7.1 are as follows:
- Squarespace 7.0 templates tend to offer quite different features from each other. However, every 7.1 template works in exactly the same way (in fact, with 7.1 you’re really just dealing with one template, styled in various ways).
- Once you select a Squarespace 7.1 template, you can’t switch to another one (by contrast, you can switch templates in 7.0 — but doing so is not always straightforward).
- A couple of nice visual features that are present in 7.0 templates are not available in 7.1 ones — the most notable omissions are parallax scrolling (where background photos move at a different speed to text while a user is scrolling) and ‘cover pages’ (one-page landing pages that are useful for marketing campaigns).
- Otherwise, Squarespace 7.1 gives you a lot more control over how you style your site — there are considerably more options available to you in terms of configuring text, images, colour palettes and page layouts.
- There’s a special ‘developers’ version of Squarespace 7.0 (which allows you to access more of the code and develop your own templates / bespoke functionality); this isn’t the case with 7.1.
- Sites using 7.1 templates tend to load faster than their 7.0 counterparts.
So what to make of all this?
Well, of all the differences listed above, for me the most important is the last one — the contrasting speeds of 7.1 and 7.0 templates.
In my testing I found that sites built using 7.1 templates generally load considerably faster than those built in 7.0; this is something that can improve user experience and lead to improved search results for your website.
On top of that, it’s clear that Squarespace 7.1 is the version of the platform that’s going to be supported and developed by Squarespace moving forward; the last thing you want to do is spend ages building a site on 7.0 only to find in a couple of years that all the brilliant new features you need are only available on 7.1.
So, unless you have an extremely strong reason for using 7.0, my advice would be to build your Squarespace website using a 7.1 template.
Should you use a free Squarespace template — or a paid-for one?
Once you’ve decided to opt for a 7.0 or 7.1 template, the next decision you’re going to need to make is whether to use a bundled (free) template, or go for a paid-for one.
The advantages of using bundled templates are as follows:
- They’re free!
- They will be fully supported by Squarespace (and this support will be included in your Squarespace plan).
- They will load faster than a premium template (as no additional lines of CSS or scripts are involved).
The advantages of using paid-for or ‘premium’ Squarespace templates are:
- Sites that use premium templates make your Squarespace site look more unique. Because so many people use the bundled templates, Squarespace sites can end up looking a bit ‘samey’; a paid-for option can lead to a more personalized, bespoke look and feel.
- Depending on who you buy a premium Squarespace template from, you may end up with more comprehensive and accessible support for your site than from Squarespace (at least whilst you’re installing your template and putting your site together).
- Some paid-for templates are designed with very specific applications in mind (for example selling an online course, running an ‘influencer’ site etc.); by contrast, the bundled Squarespace templates are arguably ‘all rounders.’
However, there are a couple of significant downsides to using premium Squarespace templates:
- Squarespace’s support team won’t always be able to help you with queries relating to Squarespace sites built using paid-for themes.
- Premium themes typically make use of custom code and extra lines of CSS, which can slow them down.
- A badly-coded custom Squarespace template may compromise your site’s security.
The last point is particularly important: if you do decide to pay for a Squarespace template, it’s really important to buy it from a reputable provider who can give you assurances about the quality of their templates and the security of your site.
Choosing your design
Once you’ve decided whether to go down the 7.0 or 7.1 route, and have decided on whether to use a free or paid-for template, it’s time to actually pick one!
For me, there are three steps involved in this process. Let’s take a look at each.
1. Identify the function of your site
It’s really important when picking a Squarespace template that you are very clear in your mind about what the function of your site is. Otherwise, you risk starting off using an inappropriate template and having to redesign your site down the line.
So ask yourself this question: what is my site going to do? (Am I trying to sell products? Do I want people to read a blog? Is my site there to showcase some photography?)
The answer to this question is crucial to selecting an appropriate template for your new business project.
Whether you’re browsing the bundled Squarespace templates or looking at a third party like Ghost’s range, you’ll usually find clickable categories that can help you locate templates that match your answer — i.e., ‘Online store,’ ‘Food and Drink,’ ‘Portfolio’ etc.
Now in general, these categories will point you in the direction of a suitable template and I’d definitely recommend that you use them to help you locate the right template for your site.
But you should bear in mind that sometimes, what seems like a totally inappropriate template might actually be a super fit for your project.
For example, in the past I’ve often used a particular ‘food and drink’ template that’s aimed at restaurants…to create very corporate websites that have absolutely nothing to do with food and drink.
Strange choices can occasionally make for good websites — so experiment a bit before settling on a particular template.
Squarespace templates — don’t skip the questions!
Tip: when you’re browsing Squarespace’s bundled templates, Squarepace will ask you a variety of questions about what you’re trying to achieve with your website.
Don’t hit the ‘skip’ button here — answer the questions! You’d be surprised at how this information can help Squarespace point you in the direction of the right theme for your project.
2. Consider performance
A key thing you need to consider when selecting a Squarespace template is its performance. I’ve touched on this a bit above — in the discussion on premium templates — but basically, it’s best to use a template that’s going to load as quickly as possible; this leads to a better user experience and can also result in better search results for your site.
If you’re going to use a paid-for template, ask potential suppliers which templates in their collection will provide you with the fastest page loading times.
Another thing you can do is consider picking a template that is focussed more on use of text than images (generally speaking, the more images involved, the less ‘performant’ a Squarespace website is).
Admittedly, this isn’t always possible — particularly if you work in a particularly visual medium. But it’s something to consider.
Tip: follow best practice to improve your Squarespace site speed
Regardless of the template you end up using, there are a variety of steps you can take when building your Squarespace site to ensure that it loads as fast as possible. Our resource on how to speed up a Squarespace site gives you a checklist of the most important ones.
3. Always take a look at the demo
Squarespace templates are usually ‘demoable’ — in the Squarespace template store you’ll find a little ‘preview’ link beside each template that lets you look at an example website built using that template. Third-party template stores usually give you a similar option.
Remember to look at Squarespace template demos both on a desktop computer and a phone (depending on your industry, the latter is arguably more important these days) to make sure it will work for your business on both types of devices.
A way to save money on Squarespace
If you’re interested in using Squarespace, the company is currently offering 10% off its plans. This can amount to quite a saving, especially if you opt for one of its ‘commerce’ plans.
This discount is available for a limited time only – to avail of it,
- Go to the Squarespace website using this link.
- Enter the code PARTNER10 when purchasing a plan.
Squarespace templates — summing up
I hope you’ve found our guide to choosing a Squarespace template helpful! Do leave any queries you may have in the comments section below — we read them all and will do our best to help answer any questions you may have.
I’ll finish off with a quick summary of the key things to consider when picking your template.
- Decide whether you’re going to use a Squarespace 7.0 or Squarespace 7.1 template. My view is that in nearly all cases, it’s best to use 7.1 templates — they are faster and will be developed more / better supported by Squarespace going forward.
- Decide whether to go for a bundled Squarespace template or a paid-for one. Premium themes can look more original and suit your business better; but free ones can be faster, more secure and better supported by Squarespace.
- Be clear in your mind about your site’s function, so that you know exactly what you are looking for when browsing template galleries.
- Consider performance when choosing a Squarespace template — templates that rely on lots of big images are likely to be slower than ones which are more text-centric.
- Always demo any template you’re considering using — on both desktop and mobile devices.