Last Updated May 8 2019
WordPress and Squarespace can both be used to create websites— but they take different approaches: Squarespace is a highly curated website builder while WordPress is an open source Content Management System (CMS). Understanding the difference is vital to understanding which is right for you.
In general, website builders like Squarespace are user-friendly but give you less freedom than a CMS like Wordpress. For instance, Squarespace plans include website hosting. That keeps things simple as you don’t need a separate web hosting service but it also means it’s impossible to move your website off of Squarespace’s servers.
Learning to use a CMS like WordPress isn’t straightforward but, once you’ve worked out how to, you’ll find that they’re very customizable. WordPress is open source— it’s free to install and modify. There’s also a very active WordPress development community which has created thousands of WordPress themes and plugins.
To create a WordPress site, you’ll need to rent server space from a hosting service and install WordPress (fortunately, most major hosts offer 1-click WordPress installation).
The difference between these two tools manifests itself in terms of features, themes, pricing, and customer support. These are very different platforms and neither will be better for every user. As you’ll see below, each fulfills distinct needs— it’s important that you choose the best one for your unique requirements.
Note: Here, I’m discussing WordPress.org. If you’re interested in WordPress.com, check out my review of it.
Squarespace uses a visual page builder which lets you drag bits of content (called Content Blocks) around the page.
Elements (called Content Blocks) can be dragged into columns— but there's a structure that you stay within.
You can’t place Content Blocks wherever you like though. Instead, Squarespace templates restrict you to placing content in preset columns. The upside is that this limitation stops you from making poor design choices.
The WordPress page editor is called Gutenberg and it lets you drag blocks of content around to change your page’s layout. However, it’s far more abstracted than Squarespace’s. By that, I mean the WordPress editor view looks very different from the page you’re creating, forcing you to frequently swap between the “editing” and “preview” modes.
For example, the WordPress editor window lets you edit central page content, but other elements like headers and footers are modified elsewhere in the WordPress dashboard.
You may find yourself swapping between the Gutenberg editor and the published website to see how everything is looking.
The WordPress editor interface often feels cluttered. The design of the Squarespace interface, on the other hand, is intuitive. This difference is understandable though— as the more powerful toolkit, WordPress editor has to cram in more options.
A good example of this is how each service handles photo cropping. With Squarespace, in a single step, you can crop each photo around a focal point. It might not be a groundbreaking feature, but the Squarespace editor is full of similarly thoughtful touches.
Cropping around a focal point— details like this are what set Squarespace apart.
Using photos in WordPress is far more convoluted. How an image appears depends on the theme you use and, because of how WordPress stores photos, cropping an image for one page changes it across your site.
In essence, Squarespace’s editor is easier to use because its design is intuitive and it shows you how your web pages will actually look. But it’s more restrictive as it doesn’t offer much control over things like page layout.
WordPress is an open-source CMS. If you know about operating systems, you can think of it like Linux— anyone can develop for or modify it. Squarespace is more like Apple— it’s a highly curated closed development system.
Because anyone can contribute, an enormous number of themes and plugins have been created by the WordPress developer community. You can download over 11,000+ themes on Themeforest and 50,000+ plugins on WordPress.org (plugins add features to the core WordPress system).
But because anyone can contribute to WordPress there’s no filter on quality, and things can get pretty messy. Getting a plugin to work with your theme is often a frustrating task that involves complicated settings pages. Before installing a WordPress plugin, always check its review page to prepare for potential problems.
But it’s not all doom and gloom— some WordPress plugins are so good that they’re individually more impressive than complete website builders. Take WooCommerce, for example. It’s a powerful plugin that allows you to create fully-featured ecommerce stores and is a clear leader of the WordPress plugin marketplace.
By contrast, developers can’t simply choose to create a plugin for Squarespace. Instead, Squarespace offers what it calls ‘integration options’ that it creates and curates. At the time of writing, just over 60 different services can be integrated into Squarespace websites.
Just like its editor, most Squarespace integrations are intuitive to set up. The Amazon-Squarespace integration is a good example of this. In a few quick steps (basically just adding an “Amazon Block” and searching for your product), you can add a great looking Amazon product window to your Squarespace site.
If Squarespace doesn’t officially support a particular 3rd party platform, you may still be able to incorporate it using a Squarespace Code Injection or Code Block. Using these features requires a decent level of technical know-how though— you might need to copy and paste, or even modify, code yourself.
In short, Squarespace doesn’t offer every integration option you can think of, but what it does offer works perfectly. Meanwhile, WordPress’s enormous catalog of plugins is hit-and-miss but offers an enormous amount of choice.
If you’re building a conventional website then Squarespace will have you covered. However, if you need to create a website with a site with an unconventional feature set, WordPress is the best option.
So, what’s the difference between a conventional and an unconventional website? Photo portfolios, blogs, and small business websites are examples of conventional websites. They need things like photo galleries, forms and maps— typical features that Squarespace supports. But what if you need a more unusual feature? For example, what if you wanted to create a social network on your website for users to join and interact? Well, Wordpress actually has BuddyPress, a plugin designed to do just that.
WordPress’s selection of 50,000+ different plugins is a great asset if you need to add a unique feature to your site. Here are some unusual plugins found in the extensive WordPress plugin library:
Put simply, there are WordPress plugins available for pretty much any purpose you can think of. Squarespace will never be able to add nearly as many features to its platform.
Still, if you’re building a conventional website, Squarespace is best.
Here’s an example to explain why— say you want to add a conventional feature like a photo gallery to your WordPress site. When you search for WordPress "photo gallery plugins", you’ll be swamped with hundreds of results. Figuring out which is the best for your site can take hours.
Squarespace, on the other hand, only offers one tool to add a gallery to your website. It’s reliable, easy to use and looks great with any theme. The point is that although Squarespace doesn’t offer a comparable number of features, the features it does offer just work.
Like other features, Squarespace templates are less numerous than WordPress themes (there are roughly 70 Squarespace templates versus 11,000+ WordPress themes on ThemeForest), but they are more consistent in quality.
Squarespace is known for its highly curated beautiful templates. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they’re the best of any website builder. By contrast, anyone can create a WordPress theme, so there are plenty of poorly designed themes. You’ll also occasionally run into WordPress theme compatibility issues which can only be fixed by messing with CSS code. That’ll never happen with one of Squarespace’s templates.
WordPress themes are modified through a customizer tool which lets you click on site elements to modify them.
Editing themes using the Customerizer tool.
Squarespace’s style customization tool is similar— though more powerful and intuitive. Like the WordPress customizer tool, you can click on any site element to reveal a list of pertinent style options. The main difference is that there are normally far more style options available with Squarespace templates— some WordPress themes come with no meaningful style options whatsoever.
Customizing a Squarespace theme.
To sum up, Squarespace’s great-looking themes are a major reason for its popularity. It’s also definitely the more consistent platform when it comes to offering meaningful theme customization.
Comparing the prices of these two services isn’t straightforward as they use entirely different pricing models.
Squarespace offers four all-inclusive packages which range from $12 / month to $40 / month. All include website hosting, integrations, templates and domain registration (when purchased annually). Some also include ecommerce features and advanced analytics.
WordPress pricing works completely differently— the WordPress core is free but you might still have to pay 3rd parties for hosting, plugins or themes.
SiteGround, a WordPress web host, currently charges $3.95 / month for hosting. And, although there are plenty of free WordPress themes, a premium theme on ThemeForest could well cost of $39 (for life).
On top of those more-or-less standard costs, some WordPress users also purchase premium plugins which vary in price. WooCommerce (an ecommerce WordPress plugin) sells extensions for up to $299. Other WordPress plugins are billed on a recurring basis like WPForms, which costs $40 / year.
Squarespace provides 24/7 email support and a live chat service during EST working hours. Unlike most website builders, it doesn’t offer phone support.
Because WordPress is an open source platform, it doesn’t come with any customer support. If you pay for a premium theme or plugin then you may receive a limited amount of customer support from its creator. Also, some specialized web hosts will help you install and set up a WordPress site.