SquareSpace vs WordPress – Choosing the Right Platform
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So you’re looking to build your first website? Maybe you doubt that this is something you can do on your own — and you definitely don’t want to lose your shirt along the way hiring expensive help.
Well, good news: you’re in the right place to find out.
In this guide, we’re going to compare both platforms, describe the differences between them, and tell you which kind of user they’re meant for. We’re also going to present a list of pros and cons for each and examine how easy-to-use they are.
It may seem like a lot of stuff, but at the end of it, you’ll hopefully know exactly which of these two platforms is best for your individual needs.
Let’s get started…
Table of Contents
- Part 1 – What Are They?
- Part 2 – Using Them
- Part 3 – Designs
- Part 4 – Pros & Cons
- Part 5 – Ease of Use
- The Winner
Part 1: What Are They?
What is Squarespace?
In a nutshell: An all-in-one platform that allows you to build a website from start to finish by yourself — with no outside help — and then have it hosted on Squarespace’s servers.
Price: $8-$24/month depending on the plan you select, plus the cost of a domain (should you choose to buy one). There’s a free trial available.
Squarespace is an online tool. Think of it as a place where you sign up, log in, and then get taken in hand all the way through from a blank canvas to a nice-looking, fully functional website.
Squarespace’s main selling point seems to be that the platform can be used by everyone, even if you have no prior site-building experience. Moreover, this is not about building just a so-so website, but rather building a beautiful and optimized creation that’s in tune with modern standards.
With Squarespace, you can build all kinds of websites — from simple business card sites, to blogs, e-commerce stores and portfolio sites — or a combination of any of these.
What is WordPress?
In a nutshell: Software that you install on your web server and then build your website on top of. WordPress also helps you create and manage your content in an effective way.
Price: The main software is free, but you have to pay for the web host where you will install it (usually from around $5-10/month), plus the cost of a domain (which you’ll have to buy yourself).
In order to use WordPress, first you have to get a hosting account (which means buying server space) and then have the WordPress software installed on it. This might sound difficult at first, but in practice, most web hosts have a very easy-to-use, one-click install feature. Getting WordPress itself installed should be a breeze.
After that, you get to configure your site (things like its standard parameters, features, designs, expanding its default abilities through plugins, and more) inside an administration panel.
There are no limitations to what types of websites you can build with WordPress. With the right set of plugins and a good theme or design, WordPress is capable of running any — and I do mean any — type of website. But, this also means that using the platform to its full potential requires a little additional skill and experience.
What’s the biggest difference between Squarespace and WordPress?
Just to make consuming the rest of this resource a bit easier, I want to first highlight the main difference between both platforms — which is the fact that Squarespace is an online tool, whereas WordPress is a piece of software that needs to run on it’s own web server.
In practice, this means that in order to use Squarespace, all you have to do is sign up for an account and log in — you’ll then have access to a friendly online interface right away.
WordPress, on the other hand, involves a little more technical work and requires you to feel comfortable installing software, playing with things like plugins, themes, and generally understand a little more of the technicalities of how website’s work (which is something that, in the long run, will generally be of huge benefit to anyone running any kind of online business).
Getting started with Squarespace
OK. Let’s get more specific about each platform in our comparison, starting with Squarespace.
Squarespace provides a start-to-finish guided experience for building your website. Your adventure starts by selecting your design, then your site’s purpose (i.e., “business”) and title, plus some additional basic details.
From there, you can copy and edit the demo content of the design you’ve selected — or create your content entirely from scratch.
Your whole website is organized around individual subpages that are connected together through the menu. By navigating the sitebuilder’s options, you can adjust each page and set how it relates to all the other pages.
Along the way, you can also take advantage of various additional features like integrating an online store, a blog, or a reservation module for restaurants, social media blocks, and many other components.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of this environment is that it’s based on what’s called WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get) editing. This means that you get to see what your website is going to look like as you’re editing it.
Finally, you get to choose whether you want to use your own custom domain or have your site hosted on a subdomain (i.e. YOURSITE.squarespace.com).
There’s a catch, however: after you’ve built it, to have your site go live to the world, you have to upgrade from a free trial to a paid subscription.
Other Squarespace features:
- Wide range of website designs available (more on that in a minute)
- Customize your content and the way it looks
- Edit the CSS of your site by hand (for advanced users)
- Integrated image editor
- Integrated social media features
- 24/7 support
- Hosting included in the main offer
- Built-in modules for blogging, e-commerce, and portfolio galleries
- You get a subdomain by default (e.g. YOURSITE.squarespace.com)
- True WYSIWYG editing
- Built-in SEO-friendly structure
- Built-in website traffic statistics
Getting started with WordPress
The peculiar thing about using WordPress is that your adventure with it doesn’t actually start with it… as strange as that may sound.
Here’s the thing: if you want to use WordPress as the software running your site, you need to sign up for a hosting account first, and then have WordPress installed on that account.
I’m going to use SiteGround as an example here (plus WinningWP readers get 60% off with them) since they really are one of the all-round best shared WordPress hosting providers around (note: for a comprehensive guide on how to choose the best hosting for WordPress, check out this handy guide). After you go to a hosting service, such as SiteGround, and sign up for a basic web hosting plan (around $7/month), you’ll then be able to go to your website administration panel — which will commonly be a system called the ‘cPanel’.
If WordPress wasn’t installed automatically when you signed up for your web hosting plan, have a look in the cPanel for an icon called either ‘Softacuous’ or, in SiteGround’s case for example: ‘WordPress Installer’. This is the minitool that handles your WordPress installation. It allows you to fill out a handful of input fields, set your website’s title, description, and your main admin account details. After clicking the Install button, cPanel will then automatically set up a brand new WordPress installation for you. All you have to do is sit back and wait a minute.
Note: the way things work with other hosting providers can be a little different. You can always contact support and they will be more than happy to help you out or even install WordPress for you.
Now, after all that, you finally get a chance to work with your actual WordPress site. One has to admit, it’s a bit more complicated than with Squarespace.
To get the party started, go to http://YOURSITE.com/wp-admin.
One of the main differences between WordPress’s admin panel and Squarespace’s admin panel is with WordPress, instead of a guided tour-like experience, you simply get a dashboard displaying all the different options and settings.
A good place to begin is by picking your site’s design. This can be done by going to Appearance > Themes (from the menu on the left) and, once there, clicking on Add New, which will then take you to the official WordPress-approved theme directory.
The themes you’ll find here are all free. In all honesty though, the quality in this directory tends to vary a bit so you might have to spend a while sifting through them all to find a theme that really suits your site.
After choosing a theme, the next step is to expand the functionality of your site (should you wish to) using plugins. Plugins are really where WordPress comes into its own: enabling you to add all kinds of additional features — from eCommerce listings to popup notifications and email subscription alerts (etc, etc)!
You could at this point, call it a day in terms putting the framework/layout for your website together and begin inserting content (i.e. words and images etc) in order to get things looking just as you’d like them.
Since WordPress was primarily designed as a blogging platform, posts are the main content type it offers. On the front-end of your site, they’re displayed in reverse chronological order. Pages are more static (so to speak), display no dates and give you more control over what you’d like to display. Generally speaking, it’s your site’s pages that people generally link to in their site’s navigation menus.
If all that sounds a bit complex, that’s probably because it is. To use WordPress to its full potential, you’re going to have to spend some time tweaking your site, experimenting with plugins, and possibly even modifying your theme manually (i.e. editing its HTML and CSS).
Other WordPress features
- 1000s of free and paid themes and designs (more on that in a minute)
- 1000s of free and paid plugins to extend the basic functionality of your site
- Advanced user management; great if you have more than one person contributing to the site
- Advanced content management abilities, with revisions, media embedding, and more
- Customize your content using advanced styling options and manual HTML editing
- Integrated basic image editing
- Social media integration available through plugins
- SEO features available through plugins
- Traffic statistics available through plugins or external tools
- Endless possibilities for adjusting the way your website behaves and looks
Now, let’s take a look at who wins on design…
Squarespace Design Options
Squarespace delivers 25 (or so) beautiful designs for you to choose from. They’re all optimized for mobile devices and tablets, provide good readability, and it’s pretty apparent that building them took a lot of effort.
You can also use multiple themes on a single website, which expands your options even further.
The main strength of Squarespace’s designs is their quality and modern appearance. With Squarespace, there’s a strong chance you’ll be able to find a design that’s in tune with current trends and which won’t look outdated in a month or two without too much effort (note: there are literally 10,000s of different designs available for WordPress and finding that ideal candidate can sometimes be tough going). What’s more, with Squarespace, the designs are divided into categories to make the choice easier.
WordPress Design Options
When it comes to the quantity of available designs, WordPress is king. There are thousands of themes available in the official directory alone (at WordPress.org), plus thousands of other themes — both free and premium — being released by independent developers and offered through third-party websites all the time.
That said, not everything is of high quality. Everything about WordPress is open source, which means that anyone can start developing their own WordPress theme if they wish to. As a consequence, you’ll find hundreds of awesome, incredible themes — but you’ll also find thousands that are simply mediocre or worse. Separating the wheat from the chaff might be difficult for an inexperienced user (note: we’ve tried to help a little by compiling a list of trustworthy premium-theme providers here).
Keep in mind that if you decide to get a paid theme, you’ll have to connect to your hosting account via FTP and upload it manually (although this isn’t actually at all difficult once you know how).
At the end of the day, WordPress still wins in terms of available designs. Yes, some of them are crappy, but there are still a lot more awesome designs available for WordPress than there are for Squarespace.
Squarespace Pros & Cons
- It’s a hosted solution, which means that Squarespace takes care of hosting your site. You don’t have to worry about any technical matters and can just focus on creating content and catering to your audience.
- It offers an impressive set of designs that are optimized for mobile and grouped in a number of categories according to their purpose (i.e. business, personal, etc.). Every design looks modern and is in tune with current trends.
- It has a good sitebuilder that takes you through the whole process of making your new site a reality.
- It’s got a nice set of built-in features that pretty much cover the whole spectrum of website building (you get a blog, an e-commerce module, a portfolio, etc.).
- You don’t actually retain full control over your site. If for any reason Squarespace questions your site’s content and decides that it’s not in tune with their guidelines, they can take it down.
- Most of the designs available with Squarespace assume that you will use attractive, high-quality images as part of the design — for example, there are large image backgrounds and huge image headers. This only works if you already have such images at your disposal. If you don’t, high-quality royalty-free images have their price tags. You also need to be fairly design-conscious to take advantage of such images and be able to build your site’s final appearance based upon them.
- The possibilities in terms of customizing your content are limited. You have to make do with what the platform provides and can’t make many modifications of your own.
WordPress Pros & Cons
- The platform is free and open-source.
- There are thousands of designs/themes and thousands of plugins available.
- WordPress is the most popular content management system on the web. It’s estimated that nearly 19% of all websites run on WordPress.
- It’s a generally safe and secure platform with frequent updates.
- You have full control over your website and its content. Even in an extreme scenario, if your hosting provider decides to cancel your account you can still take your site and simply copy it to another provider. In short, you are the only person in control.
- WordPress has great content management possibilities when it comes to taking care of your posts, pages and other content. You can also manage media and everything else that you want to publish on your website.
- You have to take care of hosting your site through a third-party.
- It’s harder to find quality designs/themes that are equal parts optimized, modern, functional, mobile-friendly, and overall good-looking.
- It’s a relative effort to get a grasp on what’s going on in the admin dashboard and where to start with working on your website.
- You get no support, per se. You can always go on the official support forums, but there’s no guarantee anyone will respond.
- There’s no true WYSIWYG editing. You get to edit your posts and pages in the admin panel, but this doesn’t show you what they’re actually going to look like on the site.
So, Which one is easier to use? Squarespace or WordPress?
Squarespace Ease of Use
As I’ve already mentioned, Squarespace is a platform that’s really easy to use and truly beginner-friendly. The site builder provides a nicely guided experience, so you’re taken step by step through the whole process of creating your website. There’s no previous site-building or coding experience required in order to use Squarespace effectively.
On top of that, you also get access to 24/7 support — so no matter what difficulties you might hit, you can always contact someone who will have answers for you.
Ease of Use Score: 10/10
WordPress Ease of Use
Let’s split this into two points: the ease of building a website, and the ease of running a website.
Let’s begin with running your site. Performing the everyday tasks related to running a website is more than easy. WordPress is exceptionally friendly when it comes to creating new pieces of content (posts or pages) and managing or editing the ones you built in the past.
When it comes to the first point, though, it’s not as straightforward. Making your website look and perform exactly the way you want it will require some time, dedication, and skill. There are a lot of things that go into building a quality WordPress site, and some of them just can’t be skipped — like getting the right set of plugins. Overall, if you’re a beginner, configuring your WordPress installation can be challenging.
Ease of Use Score: 8/10
So finally: the winner?
As much as I hate saying this … it depends.
For some situations, WordPress is significantly better than Squarespace, and for others it’s Squarespace that comes out on top.
To give you the most accurate answer I can, let’s talk about which kind of user would be perfect for Squarespace vs. which would be perfect for WordPress.
Who should use Squarespace?
Beginners who want to create a website on their own, but don’t have much technical knowledge on site-building.
Squarespace is very user-friendly, intuitive, and it delivers a range of beautiful designs that are optimized for their intended purposes. The platform can be used no matter if you need a personal or a business website.
Who should use WordPress?
Users who want to have more freedom in building their website, who have some technical knowledge and aren’t afraid of learning at least a little HTML (and possible even CSS).
In the end, it’s the solution that gives you more control and more possibilities when it comes to the appearance and functionality of your site. At the same time, however, you have to be willing to invest your time in learning the platform and the way it works.
Note: In case you’re interested: for a list of big name brands using WordPress you’ll likely recognize, take a quick look at this other post of ours.
In terms of freedom, potential, control and community: WordPress is the clear winner! And of course, when it comes to blogging, there’s really no comparison: WordPress wins hands down (this is, after all, the very thing WordPress was originally created to do)! WordPress does, however, require a certain degree of commitment to learn to use, technical know-how to set up, and can occasionally be a little time consuming to update and maintain. Squarespace, on the other hand, also has a lot going for it, and if you’re really just wanting a relatively simple website that’s quick and easy to set up, it could well be the better option — at least initially.
Squarespace or WordPress? Thoughts?