Building your website with Squarespace - A 2019 Review
I have been building websites professionally for over 15 years and find Squarespace the ideal website builder to allow me to create websites for small businesses and local organisations.
I must have used over 10-12 content management systems since the early 2000s (including Wordpress, JimDo, Wix and Joomla) and Squarespace comes out on top for my business, by quite some distance.
I also want to state that I am a Squarespace Authorised Trainer (this was after building over 100 websites on the platform), I gain no financial advantage from this affiliation other than the fact that I can obtain a 20% discount for hosting plans for the first year (which I pass on to clients).
My clients put their trust in me when I recommend Squarespace as a platform, and I have had three relatively minor complaints about Squarespace in 4 years, which isn’t too shabby a return!
Here is my Squarespace review based on four years (and 180+ websites) working with Squarespace sites:
Setup, Design & Development:
I like the professionalism and polish applied to the starter templates. Squarespace has set the trend for efficiently creating stylish websites (providing that you have a grasp of web design fundamentals, more than that later). The quality of templates is where Squarespace outshines its competitors. All Squarespace templates are fully responsive (mobile friendly) out of the box, however the same can be said for many other site builder products on the market. If you need to add stock photography to your website, Squarespace is directly linked with Getty Images (paid, royalty free) or Unsplash (free, Creative Commons Licence) to get you up and running.
Admin area (CMS):
Squarespace is a full WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) system, meaning that you can see the whole of the page layout when you are making changes. Keep in mind that although this is most efficient when on a stable internet connection, your experience can be more frustrating if you are working on a slow or laggy internet connection. I sometimes needed to update the website via a satellite internet connection, and due to the higher latency (response time sending the link to the satellite and back), it wasn’t a great experience. However, via fibre or 4g connection, the admin is mostly responsive, and I work on it in one form or other six days a week. The admin also has a design area (allowing you to select objects like headline text and change the colour/size/font on the fly) and a fully integrated analytics system for stats.
Another real benefit of Squarespace over some of its competitors is the sheer flexibility you have in each page. Want to create a 3 column page with a grid gallery (2 rows of 3 square images) and an enquiry form? Sure, no problem. If I have the content, it will take me less than 4 minutes and a client who is new to the software for less than 15 minutes. The drag and drop process of building pages is as intuitive as it can get and the limitation is your imagination and level of understanding with web design in general (more on that later).
The website is loaded with features allowing you to add multiple blogs, event calendars, galleries, document downloads and standard password protected pages. There is also a built-in e-commerce system, and for the areas where it isn’t so great (for example multiple languages), there are always 3rd party plugins like Bablic. There has only been one project in 4 years that I needed to turn down as I felt Squarespace couldn’t handle it.
Great for small businesses with up to 200 products, the shop also looks very stylish. If you are very serious about growing a larger e-commerce website, alternatives like Shopify may be more suitable. It is easy to push products to social media, you can create discount codes, gift vouchers and flash sales (everything you would expect from a modern e-commerce site builder. Squarespace also integrates with 3rd party payment gateways (Stripe and PayPal) and parcel management systems like Shipstation.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation):
Despite some of the negative feedback the company has received, I have found Squarespace very good for SEO. Of course, if you are running a multinational company in a competitive online environment, then Squarespace is unlikely to be suitable for you. However, the baked-in SEO features will allow you to do all of the basics that small businesses need to carve out their place on Google search results pages.
I have found that Squarespace performs very well for websites with up to 350 pages, the speed then starts to drop-off to a point where it is very noticeable for websites over 500 pages. This factor is worth keeping in mind when planning your website.
The free trial is 14 days as standard, plenty of time for you to try out your website building skills for your latest business website or to launch your long overdue online store. Once the trial has expired, there are a range of standard and e-commerce plans available depending on your requirements. The personal plan starts at £10+VAT per month (paid annually) and the business plans start at £15+VAT per month. Finally, ecommerce plans range from £20+VAT to £25+VAT per month and can integrate with 3rd party software including PayPal, Stripe and Shipstation. You can obtain free domain registration for the first year with each paid annual plan. You will need to pay with a debit or credit card via the Squarespace admin area.
Saving the best until last, all PixelHaze Academy members can obtain an exclusive 20% Squarespace Discount for the first 12 months, due to our status as a Squarespace Authorised Trainer. This alone could be worth up to £58 (or two thirds of your PixelHaze Academy plan).
Squarespace Customer Support:
Squarespace has a huge support team based in New York, Portland and Dublin, however if you are hoping to pick up the phone to speak to them, you may be disappointed. There are two types of support available to Squarespace customers, email and live chat. I generally opt for the live chat feature and find the response rate is generally between 1-5 minutes. I have always found the staff helpful and easy to understand. I also understand that my ability of working with this type of software is higher than average, so this may skew my judgement.
Areas to improve:
Squarespace isn't perfect, here are a few things that I believe can be developed or improved:
1. The stability of the platform has historically been excellent, however, there have been a few issues with the admin not functioning correctly lately and there have been 45 minutes of downtime that I noticed a month ago. This is still well above a reasonable expectation of 99% uptime for websites based on the monthly hosting fee.
2. (Only applicable for professional web designers/agencies) I feel the lack of an affiliate/referral program is an issue, for example there are numerous 3rd party plugins that have an affiliate programme in place, essentially allowing me to install the solutions at a discounted rate without sacrificing my daily rate (in some instances, I can make the installation without charging the client). A good referral program is often a win-win for me, my supplier and most importantly, my clients.
3. The lock-in with annual plans isn’t explained very well, hence some of the understandable negative feedback on review websites like Trustpilot. As A Squarespace Authorised Trained and Circle member, this isn’t an issue for me as I can get access to a six month trial period to get everything set up before committing to a hosting plan (at that point there is rarely a requirement to change website providers within a 12-month window). I think to help with this, a longer (ideally 2-month) trial period for all customers would really help Squarespace (and allow them to improve their customer feedback). I do think the fact that Squarespace does not require you to enter your card details to gain access to a full trial is a plus point, one that other providers can learn from.
4. This isn’t necessarily bad for my business; however Squarespace has the resources to develop their training program to be far better than it is at the moment. There are helpful step-by-step guides to achieve the ‘how to’, for example, ‘how do I add a button to this page’. However, there is very little information on the ‘why’, for example ‘why you may need to add a button at the bottom of this page’. Unless you are a trained web designer with some knowledge of UX (User Experience) design, the quality of the website often drops significantly if the content and the starter templates don’t quite match.
Overall these negatives are areas that could frustrate new customers (especially web design novices), however pound-for-pound, I see no match for Squarespace out there. For the moment at least.