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Squarespace Review: What You Need To Know

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Nov 6 2018 · Steve Benjamins By Steve Benjamins

You might've heard of Squarespace before— they advertise in podcasts (a lot) and they've aired memorable Super Bowl Ads in recent years (my personal favorite features Jeff Bridges).

So what is Squarespace? It's a drag and drop, visual website builder. It allows you to build a website without coding or setting up a web host— it's about as easy to use as Powerpoint or Keynote. Squarespace includes web hosting which makes it different from a CMS like Wordpress which requires you to set up a web host.

Squarespace and Weebly are the only two website builders that I've given a perfect score. I highly recommend it. This review will go in-depth to walk you through the details that make Squarespace a great choice for building your website.

  • Overall

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  • Ease of Use

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  • Templates

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  • Features

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  • Excellent Templates — The best themes of any website builder— fresh and sophisticated. Great at showcasing products and photography.
  • Best-In-Class Features — Among website builders, Squarespace has the best ecommerce, blogging, podcasting, restaurant menus, audio players, theme customization and much more.
  • Intuitive — Thoughtfully designed. Nothing feels half-baked. The Apple of website builders.
  • Occasionally Intimidating — While intuitive, Squarespace may intimidate users who aren't tech savvy.

Why You Should Trust Me

Me

Steve Benjamins

My name is Steve Benjamins and I’ve been building websites for 20 years— I sold my first website by cold-calling Yellow Pages companies when I was eleven years-old (I think they were just amused by me).

Since then, my websites have been featured in Wired, The Next Web, The Huffington Post and Forbes. Today my full-time job is running Site Builder Report— where I spend all my time reviewing website builders. I really work hard to avoid fluff and nonsense. I try to go in-depth into the details that make or break website builders. You can contact me here.

Ease of Use

Squarespace is easy to use— but among website builders it's not the easiest (Weebly is the easiest to use). In fact, Squarespace is the only website builder that does not mention "ease of use" anywhere on their homepage.

"Squarespace is the only website builder that does not mention 'ease of use' anywhere on their homepage."

Instead of easy to use, I describe Squarespace as intuitive. Everything is thoughtful. If you were to think of Wix (one of Squarespace's competitors) as Microsoft Windows, Squarespace would definitely be Apple.

Squarespace pages are built by adding content blocks. Just about everything you need can be found as a content block: photo galleries, forms, buttons, audio players and more. You drag and snap content blocks into columns to arrange them.

Adding a Content Block. Tip: Use search to quickly drill-down.

Each content block is thoughtful and intuitive— for example, the Gallery content block.

The Gallery's photos need to be cropped in order to be displayed as a perfect grid. Most website builders just crop around the centre of the photo and leave at it that. Not Squarespace. Squarespace goes a step further. They let you to set a focal point to crop around. It's clever and intuitive.

Cropping around a focal point— details like this are what set Squarespace apart.

Here's another example: restaurant owners know that it can be a pain to format a restaurant menu correctly on a website— it's why most restaurants just link to a PDF menu.

Squarespace solved this problem by creating a (simple) markup language that users can write restaurant menus in. The restaurant menu is automatically formatted and the colors, fonts and borders can be customized.

Squarespace's simple markup langauge is an intuitive solution to creating restaurant menus.

The style editor is another example of Squarespace being intuitive and clever. The left sidebar is a list of style options for your website. You scroll through the list to find style options— but there's a lot:

Scrolling through design options in the style editor.

Many website builders just leave the style editor at that. But Squarespace goes a step further— you can actually click an element in the website to reveal the specific style options for that element. It's really handy— and quick.

Instead of scrolling through the list, you can also click an element to reveal it's style options.

Part of what makes this all work is that Squarespace builds opinionated software. Their goal isn't to give you a blank canvas for you to do whatever you want— instead they aim to give you the right option.

For example, when writing text, Squarespace doesn't just let you select text and increase it's font size like you might in Microsoft Word.

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There's no option to increase the font-size when you highlight text.

Instead you have to go to the style editor and increase the font size of the heading.

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You increase font sizes in the style editor.

Why do they make this difficult? Can't they just include a way to increase the font size within the page editor?

Well, one reason is websites are made of HTML. Text is not just text in HTML— text is contained by a tag. Headings and paragraphs are examples of tags.

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H2 means heading and P means paragraph.

Tags are critical to websites and SEO. For example when Google crawls the web, they don't just see big text and assume it's a heading. Instead Google needs to see a heading tag to know it's a heading. Squarespace doesn't let you change font-size because they don't want you to make headings by just increasing font-sizes— they want you to do it the right way.

One last note on ease of use: even though Squarespace is one of the most clever and intuitive website builders, I have found a few minor design niggles.

Occasionally the minimalism of the interface is at the expense of clarity. For example, the button to swap between mobile, tablet and desktop versions of your website is not very obvious:

How many users miss this tiny button?

Editing pages requires you to hover over different sections to reveal menus. Occasionally this can feel like guessing— like you’re playing minesweeper, trying to uncover the right menu:

Trying to uncover the right menu can feel like minesweeper.

Features

  • Blog

    Squarespace has some of the best blogging of any website builder (second only to Wordpress.com). There are a long list of features: post tagging, categories, drafts, comments, moderation, customizable urls and more. The post editor is beautiful (see the screenshot). It has excellent support for teams of bloggers: you can add contributors with different roles (example: comment moderation, content editor) and contributors can even have multiple authors on a single post— a minor feature but handy for a team!  Show Screenshot

  • Form Builder

    Google Docs and Mailchimp integrations, 19 different form field options, custom post-submit HTML and lightbox mode— a way to create a button that loads your form in a lightbox. Forms are submitted without a page load— which means Squarespace doesn’t provide an option to send your visitors to another URL after filling out the form. Show Screenshot

  • iOS & Android Apps

    There are a suite of beautiful apps: Commerce lets you manage your store. Blog lets you compose blog posts and manage your blog. Metrics gives you website analytics. Portfolio lets you manage photos and galleries— but it's iOS only. Having a suite of apps is great— rather than stuff everything into one app, they're able to make a beautiful interface for each use case.  

  • Retina Ready

    Squarespace generates several scaled versions of every image so that they look perfect (and load quickly) on retina and mobile devices.  

  • Newsletter

    Beautiful newsletter signup box that integrates with Mailchimp.  Show Screenshot

  • Membership System

     

  • Restaurant Menu

    The best restaurant menu builder I’ve seen in any website builder. Menus are created using a simple markup language and then styled automatically. Of course you can also customize the style yourself as well. (This feature alone makes Squarespace the best website builder for restaurants.)  Show Screenshot

  • Donations

    You can already guess what I’m going to say: Squarespace has the best donation system in any website builder. It’s not even close. Many website builders just provide a simple Paypal button widget without even understand the donation system needs of most non-profits (I used to work in a non-profit fundraising department so I’m sensitive to this). Squarespace is different. They’ve actually done the hard work to understand the fundamentals of a great donation system: You can customize email receipts— which is important, donors shouldn't receive the same email as an ecommerce customer (a detail too many website builders over look). You can also set suggested contributions and customize the donation checkout.  Show Screenshot

  • Audio Player

    Beautiful (seriously, take a look at the screenshot) audio player that's well suited for showcasing albums and single tracks.  Show Screenshot

  • Podcasts

    You can publish and syndicate a podcast using the Audio Block. (Syndicating lets you submit to iTunes.)  

Templates

Squarespace offers the best templates of any website builder. This is admittedly subjective— but there's honestly no other website builder that can compare to the clean, modern templates of Squarespace.

Example Squarespace theme

Many Squarespace templates are designed to showcase photography— so a key for making them work is good photos. (If you need photos check out Stock Up, my free stock photo search engine.)

Because Squarespace templates showcase photography and strong typography, I find they work especially well for weddings, photographers, ecommerce, bloggers, fashion and music. But they really can be used for just about any website— I recently made a website for my mom who is a therapist.

Squarespace has an opinion about what makes a good template. You can feel their opinion as you browse their templates— they all have a recognizable look and feel.

Example Squarespace theme

Squarespace doesn't just include every template style they can think of— instead it's curated. This differs from other website builders. For example Wix offers 288 themes, which is 4x the templates of Squarespace (though the quality of Wix themes varies widely).

Each template is responsive— which means it's mobile friendly. Your template shrinks down to your device size while still retaining it's style.

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Every Squarespace template is responsive.

One thing to be aware of: features differ between Squarespace templates. For example, some templates don't support Quick View or Image Zoom features for ecommerce and other features don't let you customize the mobile style. This could surprise and frustrate if you don't know about it ahead of time.

Ecommerce

Squarespace has the best ecommerce of any website builder— but Squarespace isn't a pure ecommerce website builder— it's also for non-ecommerce websites.

There's an entire class of website builders such as Shopify that are designed purely for ecommerce. Because of this Squarespace isn't as fully-featured as a pure ecommerce website builder like Shopify— though it's certainly no slouch. In July 2018, I surveyed 944 ecommerce owners and found that Squarespace was in the top 3 ecommerce website builders for customer satisfaction.

One reason to use Squarespace for ecommerce is their templates— they showcase products beautifully. Everything just seamlessly works together:

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Squarespace templates showcase products beautifully.

Ecommerce elements are customizable in the style editor. Squarespace even lets you do basic style customization for your checkout form— something too often ignored or made difficult by other ecommerce website builders.

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Styling the checkout form.

Squarespace covers a long list of ecommerce features— no other website builder matches it. I won't cover every feature, but here are just a few of my highlights:

  • Customizable Email Receipts — This is a feature way too most website builders ignore. Squarespace lets you customize the email receipts sent to customers following a purchase. Email receipts are a great opportunity to thank or upsell customers.
  • Donations — Squarespace has the best donation system of any website builder. It’s not even close. Many website builders just provide a simple Paypal button widget. Squarespace goes way beyond that. They’ve actually done the hard work of understanding the fundamentals of a great donation system:
    1. Customizable Email Receipts — Donors shouldn't receive the same email as an ecommerce customer.
    2. Suggested Contributions — Asking for specified amounts is critical for fundraising.
    3. On-Site Checkout — Donation checkout is hosted on your domain— critical for establishing trust.
  • Excellent Product Variations — You can create multiple product variations with unique pricing.
  • Digital Products and Services — You don't have to use Squarespace for just physical products. You can also sell digital products or let customers pay you for services.
  • Apple Pay Integration — Squarespace lets you use Stripe as a payment provider— which allows customers to pay you with Apple Pay. Apple Pay has been shown to increase successful checkouts on mobile (it lets customer authorize payments with only Touch ID).

Squarespace ecommerce plans tend to be a little more expensive then competitors such as Wix. But Squarespace also has the best ecommerce— so it's a trade-off you'll have to decide for yourself.

Integrations

Earlier in this review, I suggested that Squarespace builds opinionated software. They don't aim to give you unlimited options— they aim instead to give you the right option. This is very evidenced in their integrations: Squarespace is about the quality of integrations, not the quantity.

Squarespace still has a wide amount of integrations but both Weebly and Wix (it's closest competitors) offer more integrations with 3rd parties. Integrations are also only available in Squarespace's more expensive plans— while Wix and Weebly include them in cheaper plans.

The upside is that the integrations that Squarespace does offer, tend to integrate nicely with Squarespace (while integrations with Weebly or Wix can feel hacked-together and lack design cohesion). Here are some of my highlights of the integrations Squarespace provides:

  • Amazon — Affiliate tracking.
  • Mailchimp — Newsletter software.
  • Acuity Scheduling — Online booking.
  • Typekit — Webfonts.
  • Google Fonts — Webfonts.
  • G Suite — Email for your custom domain.
  • Disqus — Blog comments.
  • Bandsintown — Tour dates listing.
  • 500px — Photo galleries.
  • Instagram — Feed or your photos.
  • Zola — Wedding registries.
  • Chow Now — Order food for pickup or delivery.
  • OpenTable — Restaurant booking.
  • Apple Pay — Pay with Touch ID.
  • Xero Accounting — Accounting software.
  • ShipStation — Print shipping labels.
  • ... And more.

If Squarespace doesn't officially support an integration with a 3rd party, you can probably still integrate with it using a Code Block or Code Injection. These solutions tend to require a little technical understanding though.

SEO

Here's some advice you won't find anywhere else: website builders are all roughly equal when it comes to SEO. There are definitely some technical SEO features that you need in a website builder— it's just that most website builders support them.

Unlike other website builders, Squarespace doesn't try to upsell customers on crappy, nonsense SEO upgrades. (Don't use any SEO tool that's bundled with your website builder— instead just go straight to the industry standard tools: SEMRush, Authority Labs or Whitespark.)

Squarespace provides tools to execute most of what's necessary for SEO:

  • AMP Support — AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is a Google initiative that creates lightweight versions of websites that load quickly on mobile devices. Using AMP doesn't directly influence your rankings— but it certainly can indirectly help. Squarespace is one of the only website builders to support AMP pages— you just have to enable it.
  • Meta Titles And Descriptions — Squarespace let's you customize meta titles and descriptions for pages and blog posts. These are what are displayed in the search engine results. Having your target keyword in the title tag is important for ranking while meta descriptions don't effect your ranking (so you don't need to customize it). Unfortunately Squarespace doesn't let you set a meta title and description for blog posts and product pages. This is unfortunate— hopefully it's addressed soon!
  • Custom URLs — Squarespace let's you customize URLs. This is important— simple urls with target keywords are good for SEO (notice the URL for this page? It's simply /squarespace-review).
  • Mobile Friendly — In 2018 Google announced that their index was going 'Mobile First'— making a mobile friendly website critical for SEO. All of Squarespace's themes are responsive— which means they are mobile-friendly.
  • SSL — All Squarespace domains have SSL— which Google has said is a ranking signal.
  • Sitemap — All Squarespace websites have a /sitemap.xml that can be submitted to Google Webmaster Tools.
  • Alt Tags — Squarespace lets you set alt tags on images.

More advanced SEO techniques such as hiding pages from Google is possible with Squarespace— though they require you to add code snippets.

Pricing

Squarespace offers four plans— two for general websites and two for ecommerce:

Each plan includes unlimited pages, unlimited bandwidth and unlimited storage. There are no hidden limits and they offer a 14 day free trial. The more expensive plans unlock features and integrations with 3rd parties.

One of the things I really appreciate is how transparent Squarespace is with their pricing. Unlike other website builders Squarespace is totally transparent— there are no hidden fees and they make it clear that the monthly price they are advertising is for annual plans:

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Other website builders such as Wix don't explicitly state that the monthly rates they advertise are the price of an annual plan divided by twelve.

So is Squarespace expensive? Not necessarily.

I recently did an in-depth comparison of Wix and Squarespace. One of the things I found was that Wix offered cheaper plans— but those plans also had big limits on them. For example, Wix's Connect Domain plan still includes ads on your website and the Combo Plan limits you to 2 GB per month.

The first plan Wix offers with unlimited bandwidth and no ads is actually more expensive on a monthly term than Squarespace's Personal plan— it's cheapest (it also has unlimited bandwidth and no ads).

So Squarespace does have more expensive plans— but that's also because they're unwilling to compromise. They won't offer a cheaper plan if it means ads on websites or bandwidth limitations.

Ecommerce with Squarespace is definitely more expensive when compared to other website builders (but Squarespace also has the best ecommerce of any website builder).

I've written a more in-depth overview of Squarespace's pricing here.

Domains & Emails

Like most website builders, Squarespace provides a free custom domain name on annual plans for one year. Following that, it costs $20 / year.

At $20 / year, Squarespace domains are on the expensive side— you could always find a cheaper domain name at Namecheap ($14.27) and set it to point to your Squarespace website.

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Buying a Squarespace domain.

Squarespace does include free whois privacy with your domain name. This basically anonymizes the personal information of whoever is registering the domain name. I appreciate this, as website builders such as Weebly charge you for whois privacy.

You can setup email addresses for your domain names (example: yourname@yourwebsite.com) using Google's G Suite integration. I highly recommend G Suite, it basically provides the Gmail interface for your custom domain name email address.

Squarespace offers the standard G Suite pricing, which is based on the number of email addresses:

Term Price Per Email Address
Annual Billing $50 / €40 / £40 / A$66
Monthly Billing $5 / €4 / £4 / A$7

The first year of G Suite is also free for 3 of the 4 plans (the Personal plan is the exception).

Customer Support

Squarespace provides 24/7 email support and live chat support 4am to 8pm Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. All of their customer support workers work out of their New York, Portland or Dublin headquarters.

Unfortunately Squarespace does not offer phone support. They do offer community support platforms— including a forum and knowledge base.

You can find Squarespace alternatives here.

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