WordPress vs Squarespace: What You Need to Know in 2021
If you’re thinking about building (or rebuilding) a website for your business, there are a lot of factors to consider when comparing WordPress vs Squarespace or any other website builder. Whether you’re looking at Squarespace, Wix, Weebly or another similar service, if you’re thinking about using one of these sites to build your website yourself, it’s probably because you’ve been lured in by advertisements that promise you can use these services to build a website that is beautiful, functional and, best of all, free. It almost sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
Let’s break down a few pros and cons of two of the big players in the game, Squarespace vs WordPress.
Here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about using a website builder like Squarespace vs WordPress.
Free? Not quite.
The biggest reason people are lured in by Squarespace, or any website builder, is the cost, or lack thereof. This is especially true for businesses needing E Commerce features. Squarespace’s promise of a free website with ease of use might be enticing, but in reality, there are a lot of additional costs for services, features and other elements that you need in order to make a website that works for your business, and those a la carte costs can add up. For instance, you’ll need to pay to remove ads or other instances in which the website builder’s credits appear. These are the banners or footers that include messaging along the lines of “Created for Free on Squarespace” or “Create Your Own Free Website on Wix.” Having this messaging on your site does not endear you to customers. Customers want to know that you’re not a business that tries to cut costs or corners in order to save a few bucks. That includes your website.
So, you can pay to remove the ads. But that’s not where the costs end. With these services, a lot of the more thoroughly developed, attractive themes and templates are not free. Choosing one of the basic free template offerings runs you a similar risk of the inclusion of the ads. You don’t want your website to look like just another Squarespace site. So you’ll have to pay for a nicer template.
There are countless other little costs associated with building and dressing up your site: paying for hosting, buying a domain name, paid or “freemium” apps that add essential plugins or features to your site.
I know what you’re probably thinking: Even though these “free” services aren’t actually as free as you’d think, there’s no denying the fact that the costs associated with a website you build on Squarespace or the like will be significantly lower than the costs associated with hiring a web developer or digital agency—at least, on paper. The reality of these numbers is that they don’t reflect the time it will take you, or one of your employees, to learn how to use this service, play around with the features and actually start building a website. And that’s just the start of the ways in which one of these “free” sites could cost you money, time and potential customers, as we’ll address in the next few sections.
Not So Custom
While Squarespace and other content management systems (CMS) might promise a site that is infinitely customizable with an ease of use, as we discussed above, you might have to pay extra for a lot of that functionality. Beyond that, the truth is that Squarespace and other website builders are just limited: you’re limited to the template designs, color schemes, and image assets (if you can’t provide your own) that they have to offer. And while these templates and color schemes might seem like they can suit your needs, especially if you don’t currently have a website or if your website is out of date, they’re not an accurate representation of what’s really possible with modern website design.
Beyond these limits, another place where customization (or lack thereof) comes into play is your site’s structure, which leads us to another issue: SEO.
So you’ve managed to create a website that looks good. Great! Unfortunately, Google doesn’t care what your website looks like. Google cares about whether or not it can find your site, figure out what the site’s content relates to and show your site to users looking for content related to your site. In other words, search engine optimization (SEO). While Squarespace or another service might offer you a few pointers on basic SEO, your access to on-page and off-page elements that are necessary for SEO is often limited by the template you’ve chosen and the CMS itself. If you don’t know how and where to implement SEO or, worse, you can’t access the places you need to implement it, your website won’t show up when users search for terms related to your business. And if users can’t find you, they can’t buy from you.
Content management systems often rely on drag-and-drop mechanisms to help users build their site, and while this does make it easier for you to build a site, the translation of the drag-and-drop work you’ve done often makes your site’s code a jumbled mess with a lot of unnecessary elements. This creates quite a learning curve. Think of it this way: it’s like translating a paragraph from English into another language and then back to English. In those few translations, words are going to be added and subtracted, phrases will be jumbled, meaning might be lost and the end result will likely be something that is much more difficult to read. That’s kind of what happens when the software behind your website builder tries to write the code for adding a text box to your home page. And then moving that text box slightly to the left. And then making it slightly larger. And then moving it slightly to the right. Then back to the left again. And so on. The end result is a mess of code, only some of which actually reflects your site’s construction. All of this “code bloat” also makes your site run and load more slowly because of the extraneous data, and slower load times mean higher bounce rates: users are navigating away from your site because they’re impatient. This is especially true for users browsing on mobile devices
At the end of the day, Google is just a machine. It likes structure. It likes formatting. And if it doesn’t like your site, your SEO will be nonexistent. SEO is a huge factor in helping organic traffic and potential leads find your business. If you’re not able to set up your site in the correct way and you don’t have an SEO expert guiding you, your website won’t perform well against competitor websites that are doing it correctly.
You Don’t Own It, and It’s Your Responsibility
Let me break that down for you. With a website builder like Squarespace vs WordPress, you’re really getting the raw end of the deal. With a site built for you by an agency, all the assets are yours, to do with what you will or move wherever you’d like, and your agency partner is there to make sure everything runs smoothly. With a website builder, it’s the opposite.
Most website builders don’t allow you to host your site elsewhere, and this is bad for a few reasons. Hosting your site on their server, where possibly tens of millions of other people are hosting sites, slows down your site’s performance. And if something goes wrong, you’re one of the countless websites in the customer support and service queue, at the mercy of the platform’s developers. And if you ever decide to move your site away from Squarespace or Wix, there’s no way to export it. You’ll have to start from scratch, again.
Regardless of the fact that you have very little control or ownership over your site, it’s still your responsibility: to monitor it, to maintain it, to update it. Now, I could be wrong, but I’m guessing you’re looking to build this site to support your business. Which means you have a job to do—most likely, more than one—and it isn’t maintaining your site 24/7. That’s where an agency partner can come in handy.
With an agency partner providing excellent customer support, if something goes wrong on your site, if something needs to be updated, you’re just an email, a call or even a text away from making that happen.
Not Fleshed Out
What we’ve talked about so far barely scratches the surface of the real issue, which is that what Squarespace or Wix or another CMS will give you is just a skeleton. And, as we’ve mentioned, it’s not even a very good skeleton. While it is true that you might be able to use one of these tools to build a website that does, indeed, look great, that’s not all that having a website is for. You still need all the other moving parts that make a website a functional tool for your business and your customers.
These days, there are a lot of aspects of your marketing strategy that can distinguish you from your competitors and attract customers to your business, and having a great website is one of those aspects. But, it’s like your mother always said: looks aren’t everything. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. Your website needs to represent who you are, what you do and why you do it. In short, your website needs to be a representation of you—it is the digital representation of your company.
A good website starts with a strategy that’s been tailored to your business and your audience. Everything else flows from there: your content and copy, your visual design, your conversion points. A pre-built template doesn’t know who you are, it doesn’t know who your customers are and it doesn’t know how to connect you with those customers. And while you might find a visual design that appeals to you, while you might be able to drop in contact and email address forms, one thing Squarespace won’t provide you with is a strategy, especially content strategy. It’ll let you place a text box, but it won’t tell you where to place it, it won’t tell you what content it should contain and it certainly won’t write that content for you.
And, beyond all of that, the work on your website doesn’t stop after it’s built and live. You should be monitoring how it performs, how users are finding your site (if they’re finding it), how they use the site if they’re converting, and more importantly, you should be using that data to change or improve how your website functions.
Ultimately, your website should act as a salesperson. Regardless of what it looks like, how much it costs or where it’s hosted, the most important feature is that it generates leads for your business. A website built on Squarespace or Wix or another service is like hiring a salesperson who looks good but doesn’t have any communication skills. And if your salesperson can’t communicate, they’re not going to convert potential customers.
Now, let’s break down the WordPress website side of the Squarespace and WordPress site argument.
A WordPress site has two main categories of options for users, and which category you fall into will change the nature of the Squarespace vs WordPress website design debate.
With a WordPress site, you can either use the site as you would any other website builder, or you can download the site’s software and use it to build your own site from scratch. With the first option, it’s the same story as Squarespace or Wix or any other site. Pick a theme, populate it with your content, publish it. While you can technically do this for free, like with Squarespace, getting the most out of your site is going to cost per month, like with Squarespace. You’ll pay for a domain and hosting, you’ll pay for a nicer template, you’ll pay for additional WordPress plugins, add ons, and features, and so on.
Because WordPress has been around and popular for longer, it does have a decently large developer community, providing a better coding experience. There are also a lot of WordPress users who produce good quality WordPress plugins and apps that are available for free. These WordPress plugins can help create handy shortcuts for content management or convenient modules for greater user experience.
WordPress, as a website builder, isn’t quite as easy to use as Squarespace and other drag-and-drop website builders and may have a bit of a learning curve, but it’s still fairly simple. The main difference is that your editing will happen behind the scenes, inside the content management system, as opposed to making changes on the displayed page. At the same time, while it is limited in how you can move things around on a page, not having that drag-and-drop functionality makes for a much simpler website, code-wise, and better structure throughout, which can help boost your SEO.
The second option when building with WordPress is referred to as self-hosted WordPress. WordPress offers its content management system as a free download. With this software, you can easily modify the code of your chosen theme or template to build a site that is infinitely customizable and functions practically any way you want it to. While the download itself is free, obviously in order to get the most out of it you’ll need someone to modify the code for you, unless you’re that dedicated to learning how to develop your site yourself. In addition to that, you’ll have a few of the same costs for hosting and domain registration that you would with other website builders.
So what does all of this mean? Essentially, a cheap website might seem like an attractive solution at first, but it comes with a number of hidden cost per month factors, whether that’s the money or time spent on the site itself or actual lost business from a reduction in quantity or quality of leads. Building a website is like building a home: While you can probably put one together with pre-fab parts, having a team of experienced professionals build it from scratch is the better way to go. When it comes to comparing WordPress vs Squarespace or any other website builder, the answer is clear: a custom-designed WordPress site is going to be best for you, your customers and your business plan.
Contact us to learn more about WordPress website design from Timmermann Group.