Last Updated July 4 2019
At a high level, Squarespace is a complete package. It includes everything you need right out of the box— including hosting, themes, plugins and more. Plus it's intuitive and user friendly. Everything just works and you don't have to think about technical details like setting up a CDN for fast load times— it's all taken care of behind the scenes.
Wordpress is not a complete package. Or at least it doesn't start that way. Instead Wordpress is a flexible, open-source CMS that is more customizable than Squarespace but also has a steeper learning curve.
Hosting is not included with Wordpress. Instead you have to install it on a web host (my recommended Wordpress host). This can be intimidating to some people, but it also means that Wordpress can be installed on many different web hosts— unlike Squarespace (which can only be hosted on Squarespace servers).
So at a high level, Squarespace is intuitive and user-friendly but less flexible. WordPress has a steeper learning curve (for example it will likely require you to tweak code at some point) but it is more flexible.
This is really just scratching the surface of the differences. In the rest of this article, I'm going to explain how these differences manifest themselves in features, themes, pricing and more.
Note — By Wordpress I mean WordPress.org. If you’re interested in WordPress.com, check out my review of it.
Squarespace uses a visual page editor which lets you drag-and-drop elements (called Content Blocks) up and down the page and into columns. It's simple and intuitive.
Squarespace's page editor.
In 2018, Wordpress launched a new page editor that Gutenberg in order to compete with website builders. Prior to Gutenberg, Wordpress used a WYSIWYG page editor. Like Squarespace, Gutenberg allows you to drag-and-drop elements up and down the page. However, unlike Squarespace, Gutenberg is abstracted away from your website— so it doesn't show you how the page looks within context of your website. Instead the page will look completely different from the editor to the website.
This means you'll often find yourself flipping between the preview and the page editor to see how things are looking:
You may find yourself swapping between the Gutenberg editor and the published website to see how everything is looking.
Overall, Squarespace's editor is more intuitive and easier to use than Wordpress. The interface feels polished and thoughtful. A good example of this is photo cropping. In order to display a photo gallery as a perfect grid, most photos need to be cropped. Squarespace has a simple, easy to use system for adjusting the crop:
Cropping around a focal point— details like this are what set Squarespace apart.
Wordpress on the other hand is often more overwhelming. The editor feels cluttered and occasionally chaotic. But this isn't because Wordpress doesn't care about ease of use— instead it's actually more fundamental: Wordpress is designed to be more flexible so it's interface needs to be more abstract and flexible.
Wordpress is open-source— which means anyone can contribute to it. This is both a strength and a weakness.
The strength is that there is a huge amount of themes and plugins created by the WordPress community:
The weakness is that many themes and plugins don't work perfectly out of the box. Incompatibilities often arise between themes, plugins and certain versions of Wordpress— and getting the fix can require you to tweak code. All you have to do is browse plugin reviews to get a sense of this common frustration:
But if you can live with the occasional incompatibility error, you'll love that you you can find a Wordpress plugin for just about anything. Some plugins are even quite sophisticated— for example WooCommerce is an ecommerce plugin that's just as good as many dedicated ecommerce website builders.
Squarespace is not open source. Instead it has a more curated, closed approach. Developers can’t simply choose to create a plugin for Squarespace. Instead, Squarespace curates a selection of 60 partners like Instagram, Acuity Scheduling, Apple News, Zapier and more.
Squarespace can't match the amount of plugins and themes available on Wordpress but the upside with Squarespace is that everything just works. You don't have to troubleshoot incompatibilities or worry that your theme doesn't support a plugin. If Squarespace supports an integration, you can be confident that it was integrated thoroughly.
This difference is what leads me to my next recommendation..
Here's a good rule of thumb: use Squarespace if you’re building a conventional website and use Wordpress if you need an unconventional feature for your website.
This begs the question: what is conventional and unconventional?
Photography portfolios, blogs, and small business websites are examples of conventional websites. They need features like photo galleries, forms and maps— all of which Squarespace does an excellent job of supporting.
A feature is unconventional if it's not something you would imagine a typical small business website to need. For example, what if you wanted to have a social network on your website? Well, Wordpress actually has BuddyPress, a plugin designed to do just that.
It's actually difficult to demonstrate just how many unconventional and unique Wordpress plugins can be added to your site— but to give a sense, here are some of the more unusual ones :
Squarespace is a closed and curated platform. Because of this, Squarespace will never match the amount of Wordpress plugins. But here's the thing: most websites don't need unconventional plugins. Squarespace covers everything that most websites will need instead of trying to support features that most websites will never need. And that's why I recommend Squarespace for conventional websites.
Let me explain further.
Let's say you want to add a photo gallery to your WordPress site. Photo galleries are a conventional feature— most websites will need one.
Unfortunately searching "photo gallery plugins" on Wordpress will swamp you with hundreds (yes, hundreds) of results. Figuring out which is the best for your site can take hours— one plugin might be incompatible with you theme while another won't have the exact features you need.
On the other hand, Squarespace has one very excellent photo gallery Content Block. It's reliable, easy to use and it looks great with any theme. It's also flexible and covers what 99% of photo galleries will need.
There are roughly 70 Squarespace themes and over 11,000+ WordPress themes. But as with features, Wordpress wins in sheer selection while Squarespace is best if you just want a beautiful theme that works out of the box.
Themes have always been a strength for Squarespace. As someone who has poured over hundreds (and hundreds) of websites for my inspiration collections, I can assure you that Squarespace has the best themes of any website builder. They have a definite look and feel: they're clean and sophisticated with bold typography and plenty of space for photography.
The 70 themes that Squarespace offers are all excellent. By contrast, Wordpress has 11,000+ themes available— and some are great and some are outdated. You’ll also occasionally run into WordPress theme compatibility issues which can only be fixed by messing with CSS code.
Wordpress themes can be totally customized— so long as you're willing to code or hire a developer. Otherwise Squarespace actually has better theme customization.
Squarespace has an excellent style editor that's both powerful and intuitive. I really mean that— I'm always amazed at Squarespace's style editor. It let's you browse and customize hundreds of style options— and since the list can be quite long, you can drill down to specific style options by clicking the elements in the website preview pane. It's that magical balance of intuitive and powerful.
Customizing a Squarespace theme.
The WordPress style editor is called Customizer and mostly feels like a watered-down version of Squarespace's Style Editor. I've found Customizer to be inconsistent from theme to theme— and some themes come with no meaningful style options. I also find the language to be often abstract and confusing.
Editing themes using the Customerizer tool.
You are going to have to pay for both Squarespace and Wordpress— but you pay in different ways. (If you're looking for something free, check out my free website builders roundup.)
Squarespace offers four all-inclusive plans which range from $12 - $40 per month. Each plan includes hosting, templates and domain registration (when purchased annually). The more expensive plans also include ecommerce.
Wordpress is free to use but you have to host it somewhere— and a decent host will cost around the same as a Squarespace website plan.
There are free Wordpress themes available but the best themes are for sale. You can expect to pay around $39 - $120 for a premium Wordpress theme— but you get the rights to that theme for life.
There are also many free Wordpress plugins, but the best plugins are often for sale. For example 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 per year.
In the end, it's hard to say whether Wordpress or Squarespace is more expensive— it's really unique to the individual configuration of a website.
A quick note about the differences in customer support:
Squarespace provides 24/7 email support and a live chat service during EST working hours.
Because WordPress is an open source platform, it doesn’t come with any customer support— though some paid themes and plugins include some customer support from the creator. Also, some specialized web hosts will help you install and set up a WordPress site.
Squarespace is a complete package that is intuitive and thoughtful. Everything just works. But Squarespace will never be able to match the amount of features and flexibility of Wordpress. For that reason, I recommend Squarespace for conventional websites and Wordpress for websites that need unconventional features.