As web developers working with WordPress often, we can be confronted with the question of whether or not WordPress is the right solution for all our clients. It’s a legitimate question, and one that your sales leads may even ask you about. I mean, why WordPress, right? It’s difficult to pinpoint one benefit that is the end-all, be-all reason for everyone.
In this article, we’re going to explore WordPress next to Squarespace in particular. In other series, you’ll see us comparing WordPress next to other website builders as well, such as our WordPress vs Tumblr post.
As someone who works exclusively with WordPress, I’m not afraid to tell certain inquirers that they probably shouldn’t be spending on my services. Of course, I honestly think that WordPress is simple enough that even novice users could set up their own website with it, given a little patience.
But sometimes a person needs something even simpler than WordPress. For example, if you don’t know how to set up WordPress in cPanel, then most likely you need a developer to help you out. If you can’t afford that or really just want to control everything on your own, then yeah, other do-it-yourself (DIY) website solutions abound for you, and Squarespace is just one of those.
Most articles comparing Squarespace vs. WordPress on the internet are written from the point of view of someone who wants to set up their own website, without a developer’s help. That’s not what we’re going to do here. We’re going to look at this from a developer’s perspective when speaking to clients about a website platform to start with.
When speaking to clients about the possibility of Squarespace vs. WordPress, explore these questions to help them (and you!) decide which one to go with:
Who is going to be making updates to the website after it is built?
This is important because you not only want to know who is going to do the updates, but also what their technical abilities are. Despite how easy software is to use these days compared to even just a decade ago, some people still find technology intimidating and won’t want to go near it.
Ask your client to be realistic about this. If they find Facebook or LinkedIn hard to use, then they are going to need a content management system (CMS) that is extra easy.
Here is what to explain when describing the differences in ease-of-use between Squarespace and WordPress:
Squarespace might to be easier for a non-coder to customize the look of their site. However, when it comes to editing content after a site is built by a professional web developer, I would argue that WordPress can sometimes be just as easy (depending on how a developer sets it up), if not easier.
With Squarespace, you can edit the look of your site with a ‘live’ preview. However, the live preview for editing content is not that simple – you still need to go back to your backend settings (but you can see what the front end looks like a lot easier that with WordPress, admittedly). In general, if you just want to find a page and make a wording change, the process is not terribly different from using WordPress.
What you’ll find is that WordPress contains many more options. When you add more options, yes you get greater flexibility, but you also can create more confusion. So Squarespace is fine if what you want to do on your site is very simple and you want to keep it that way. This is not to say, however, that WordPress would be harder to use. Only that you’ll have more ‘stuff’ showing on the interface of your editing pages, and more settings to be able to edit.
Finding pages to edit:
Here is what the Squarespace backend menu looks like when you want to find a page to edit:
Below is what the WordPress screen looks like when you want to find a page to edit. Honestly, I think this is much simpler, if not very similar.
Using the WYSIWYG editor to manage content:
As far as WYSIWYG editors go, they are all pretty much about the same, no matter what platform you use. With WordPress, you can add some extras with plugins like TinyMCE Advanced. Again, this would simply add more buttons to your screen, but it is optional, since it’s a plugin. WordPress out of the box doesn’t have that many ‘extras’ in its WYSIWYG editor, if what you are looking for is a simple user interface.
You can see that when comparing the Squarespace WYSIWYG editor with the WordPress one, Squarespace can be very limiting with its formatting options.
WordPress has a button called the “Kitchen Sink” that simply ads a single extra row of editing options, which makes it more useful without overcrowding.
Here is what the Squarespace WYSIWYG editor looks like:
And here is what the WordPress editor looks like, with some buttons added (like “Use Page Builder”) because we’ve got the Divi theme installed on this site, which we’ll talk about in a bit.
As you can see, not a huge difference when it comes to learnability, though WordPress seems to be a lot more flexible. Also, with WordPress, you can click to edit your page title and permalink right within an editing screen. With Squarespace, it’s not that easy. You have to learn to click on your menu, then click on settings, get a popup box, and make changes to your title and permalink that way.
The amazing thing about the WordPress editor to note is that as of version 3.9, it can now ‘clean up’ your HTML from Microsoft Word documents. From a coding perspective, this is absolutely awesome. It ‘reads’ your content better and turns it into proper HTML5 without a lot of manual fixing or formatting needed.
Editing parts of your site that aren’t pages:
For things like editing footer text, menus, sidebars, forms, headers, and so on, the process is a bit different. In either system, you won’t find these areas to be editable directly from a page. You’ll need to go into other settings.
In Squarespace, for example, if you want to edit your footer, depending on the template you’ve chosen, you would click on another menu item, which simply asks you to edit further pages that make up links in the footer.
In WordPress, the way you control footer content depends on the theme you are using. Many times this can be found in the “Widgets” area of WordPress, or in Theme Settings. But your pages are just your pages – if you are using your footer to list hypertext links to your pages, and want to edit the pages you are linking to, you simply go back to your “Pages” menu as shown above, and make edits as needed.
In Squarespace, your website navigation menu is going to be the list of your pages sorted into a hierarchy of “folders,” which will be a direct reflection of what you see in your backend.
In WordPress, you would go to Appearance > Menus to control what shows up in your navigation menu (in most themes nowadays). It is much more customizable because you can choose which pages to show in multiple menus across your site, regardless of their URL hierarchy.
So yes, there are differences in the way non-page content is managed. Which one is easier? I think that depends on the technical ability of the person using the site. Remember, we are not comparing Squarespace vs. WordPress here for DIY users. We are assuming that a professional has set up a site using either platform, so that a client simply needs to go in and make minor content updates (not styling updates…but we’ll get to that too).
Of course, we’ve only touched on a few examples of content editing scenarios so far. However, I personally don’t see Squarespace being that much easier than WordPress in this regard. The two fare side-by-side very comparably. So we can move on to look at other factors for choosing a platform.
What is the future of this site and the client’s organization?
This is so often overlooked at the start of a website building process. Even if you plan to make something simple now, and get something more elaborate built for a company later, there are still things you need to consider about the future of your web presence.
But let’s assume you’ll want this new site you’re making to last you into the next few years. This section will discuss what you can expect with Squarespace vs. WordPress. The question here is not about which system is better, but which one will suit your specific needs as it concerns the growth of a business.
As a business grows, its website usually follows. Case in point: will you want to sell products later on? If you sell products at the outset, will you want to be able to advance your e-commerce system to sell gift certificates, or sell in bulk quantities? Will you need a member’s-only area on your site eventually? What about calendars? Portfolios?
All of this should be considered. Not all of it is possible with Squarespace. With WordPress, however, even if it needs to be completely custom-made at exorbitant costs, it could be possible. But exorbitant costs are not usually an issue with WordPress. Just like ‘there’s an app for that,’ with your mobile phones, there will mostly always ‘be a plugin for that’ with WordPress websites. The WordPress repository alone has over 33,000 freely available plugins, and that’s not to mention premium plugins sold by many vendors out there.
When Squarespace is the solution:
But, not all websites are meant for business growth. There are other reasons for setting up a website, and those would justify using something like Squarespace to keep things simple in the long run. For example:
- Wedding websites, or one-time event sites.
- Personal resume or story sites.
- Band, musician or artist information sites.
- Memorial sites (to remember someone who has passed).
- Notice-board-only sites (e.g. for posting organization downloads like PDFs).
- Education course material sites (no e-learning involved).
- Book or single-product marketing sites (items sold through distributorship only)
In cases like the above, you won’t want to worry about having to keep a site updated for security, or worrying about the extra time needed to set up hosting. You will probably also be fine with a pre-made template. Content updates will be rare and very uncomplicated. Squarespace would be great for such simplistic cases, while WordPress might be a bit overboard.
Limitations growing businesses may face when using Squarespace:
Going back to our idea of a business in growth phase, we’ll also want to be forewarned about the limitations a website can encounter on the Squarespace platform. This is not to say that Squarespace is bad. This is only to say that Squarespace has a focus on a different type of clientele. And, probably to keep things simple, stable and scalable on their end, they chose to limit their feature set on purpose. That’s a legitimate business decision to make on their part. It keeps their existing customers happy and keeps glitches and support requests to a minimum.
With that said, know that it’s unwise to think that today you can be a Squarespace customer, and then tomorrow switch to WordPress when your needs outgrow your current site. It won’t be that simple. You should know now what platform you want to stick with for the long haul.
For example, did you know you couldn’t do any of the following with Squarespace?
- Use anything more than a couple dozen templates.
- Accept PayPal payments – only the Stripe gateway is allowed with their e-commerce module.
- Have a membership site (though you can password-protect individual pages).
- Set up complicated functionality (for example a learning management system or truly switchable multilingual sites, not just with Google Translate plugins).
- ‘Stage’ your site to test changes before they go live.
- Control which login accounts can access certain parts of the site for updating (i.e. you don’t want staff bloggers to have access to your sales pages or admin settings).
- Perform advanced SEO (though it’s not bad out of the box) or use advanced or upgraded Google Analytics.
- Use any host you want, or control your site’s speed.
The list goes on. If you look at their forums, you’ll quickly see that some things, which are quite easy to do on a WordPress site, are still awaiting implementation or notice from Squarespace.
Yes, developers can modify the code in Squarespace if they are using a higher-paid plan, but as Jake Jorgovan has pointed out in his comparison review, this is ill advised. He says:
“The support community for Developer mode is extremely limited and the framework is rapidly changing. This is creating huge problems for developers trying to keep their sites up to date.”
Jake also makes a great chart comparing the two website platforms here.
For e-commerce sites, the limitations with Squarespace will be more pronounced than usual. Yes, you can do things better than by using PayPal buttons alone, such as creating variations, but shipping carrier connections will be limited, as will payment gateway options.
If e-commerce is your primary goal, Squarespace should not be your foundation, even if you believe your e-commerce needs are simple at present. Only use the e-commerce function in Squarespace as a totally secondary need of your website, and one you could live without if it came to it.
Here are some screenshots showing a little bit of the e-commerce interface in Squarespace at the time of writing, for reference:
With WordPress, and let’s say the WooCommerce plugin, you won’t find yourself limited if you need customer accounts, special pricing for logged in users, or other store types, which we wrote about here and here.
WordPress is the answer when it’s time to scale…
When it comes to scaling your site by pages and content alone (let alone functionality), your backend management of things will also become important. If you have hundreds of pages, you are going to want to be able to filter through them to find them easily when it comes time to make changes. WordPress can do that.
Also, coding provisions in the WordPress Codex such as Custom Post Types and Post Formats (which can be built into any theme) are going to be very helpful for organizing sections of a website in a CMS.
And, if you are a business that will grow to multiple locations, you will definitely want to consider WordPress Multisite, which will make life a lot easier. This is especially important for franchise chains to consider, as there is a lot of control that will need to be maintained at a head office level, while still allowing franchisees the ability to manage their own web presence. See this article for more on this topic.
Making the switch
If you or your client has already started with Squarespace and are considering the switchover to WordPress, fear not, there is still hope. Squarespace has an export feature that you can use. It won’t be a 100% seamless transition, but you should be able to get most of your content moved over. If for any reason it doesn’t work, well, you’re bound to manual copy-and-paste my friend.
How much control does the client want to have over the design?
This is where using Squarespace might make more sense. But I would argue that at this point, your client shouldn’t really be your client anymore. If they are not coming to you for your expertise in design and web strategy, and want to be able to change whatever they want design-wise later on, then there is no point in spending on your services in the first place.
But let’s say they remain your client, and just want you to help save them time at the beginning by getting a site set up and ready to go.
In that scenario, you can see that Squarespace does make life a little easier for the non-coder. It gives coding-defined controls to users in the form of drop down options, color pickers and checkboxes. This can also happen while viewing the changes taking place immediately:
If you want to get into some serious CSS customizations, you can use the Squarespace feature to do this, but you can tell off the bat this is not a developer-centric, nor a user-centric solution. When you click to make CSS changes, you get this warning message, which is enough to scare off any true novice:
But on the other hand, if you are not a novice, and are comfortable with CSS changes or additions, the simplified CSS editor available in the CMS probably won’t be as masterful as you’d be used to when working with Ftp’d files. And if you know how to find CSS classes and IDs that you want to change on the existing template, you’re probably too advanced of a user for Squarespace anyway:
Then again, there are clearly reasons that Squarespace has implemented these styling abilities, and no doubt some of their users will find this CSS editor useful, and just the right balance of comfort and difficulty.
WordPress can make dummy-proof, live edits now too
For those who argue that Squarespace is by far easier that WordPress in this respect, I would challenge us to look a bit deeper. Since WordPress implemented their theme customizer in version 3.4 back in 2012, picking colors and fonts has become a cinch for non-coders (provided their chosen theme supports this feature):
Layout changes can be just as easy on WordPress as they are on Squarespace if you use the right theme
However, when we get into layout changes, we have a beast on our hands when it comes to WordPress. Yes, your client would need to know at least some coding to be able to change layouts, tables or divs in most cases (it depends on how you as the developer set up templates or template-pickers in the theme).
But fear not! Enter the Divi WordPress Theme, which is made by us at Smackwagon Design
With the Divi theme, you can use ‘regular WordPress,’ while adding in the control of layout changes on an as-needed basis. How? With that neat button we noted above labeled, “Use Page Builder.”
When you click that button, WordPress instantly turns into a drag-and-drop style website builder that is just as easy, if not easier to use, than many DIY website creators out there, including Squarespace. We won’t show too many screenshots of Divi here, since the heme description page and its tutorials do more justice to it than we can without repeat their exact words. However, here is a glimpse of what you’ll see in the WordPress backend when using the Divi theme, to get an idea of how easy it is:
Do we sound biased? Of course we do! This is our blog by the way
But don’t take our word for it. You could do your own comparisons. Probably what you’ll find is that Divi is not only incredibility dummy-proof, it also contains a lot more options than simplified systems like Squarespace, but without getting overwhelming. You also are not dependent on a single pre-made template, since Divi itself is designed to let you have full control over your entire design.
At the same time, you are able to harness the strength of WordPress with its many other benefits: extensive e-commerce solutions, SEO abilities, user-role controls, membership abilities, and pretty much anything under the sun you can dream of with those above-mentioned plugins.
What is your budget for a website?
We won’t touch on this too deeply as other blog posts on the topic of WordPress vs. Squarespace have already expounded on it. In short, when you go with a Squarespace site, you are buying the whole shebang: hosting, template, CMS software, support, and even a domain name. There will be a monthly charge for all of it. Squarespace pricing is not bad. But again, you won’t be able to pick and chose your providers (say, if you’re not happy with speed or support at Squarespace and want to use another provider for only those parts of your website services).
When you go with WordPress, your fees will be divided towards separate services. For example, your client will want to pick a good hosting provider, and they may have development or maintenance fees, which depends on what you charge as a web developer or web designer.
I can say this though – cheap is not always better! I would not make a choice of what website platform to use based on cost alone, but rather on value, and the above-mentioned factors that we’ve discussed in this article. If you try to go cheap now only for the sake of going cheap, you’ll probably end up spending more in the long run if you pick the wrong solution for your needs.
To Conclude: it’s about YOU not your website platform
I always say this. When picking a service in any scenario, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The first step is to not take a step. Sit back and really think about the project you are approaching with your client. What are the immediate and long-term needs? What is the technical ability of the person who will use the site most often? What is your client’s budget? What will this site or business look like in a few years? These are all questions to consider when deciding on Squarespace vs. WordPress.
Other articles on the web touch on things I feel are secondary when making this choice – such as the cost, the learning curve, or the stability of plugins. These are actually not huge hurdles to solve with WordPress. No one should be using too many plugins, and certainly no one should be using bad plugins – that is not a WordPress problem, that is a developer problem.
As for ease-of-use, I am doubtful WordPress has as huge of a learning curve as some make it out to be. After all, it is running over 18% of the entire Internet, and owns about 60% of all CMS market share. If it were really that hard, I don’t think it would be so popular. I’m just sayin’.
The point is, we should be asking ourselves the right questions that pertain to our long-term needs for a website, and pick a platform based on that.
Tell us in the comments what questions you ask when picking a website platform, and what you like, or don’t like, about Squarespace or WordPress when compared side-by-side.