The first website I ever made was built only with HTML I learned from Neopets. I called it “Animal Home,” and the homepage featured a logo I made in Microsoft Paint. I was 12. I used the site to post pictures of a pigeon with a hurt wing I was feeding outside of our apartment.
It was butt-ugly. The website, I mean.
No wait, probably the pigeon too. Poor dude.
In those days, WordPress was in its infancy, and drag and drop website building tools were the stuff of dreams. But here we are today, and you, dear reader, have a host of resources at your fingertips to build a badass site without knowing a lick of coding.
There are tons of options for building a website, from finagling something from Wix over a weekend to hiring a designer, developer, and copywriter for a custom build. However, if you’re looking to build something for yourself that actually looks halfway decent without breaking the bank, there are two industry-leading options to choose from: WordPress and Squarespace.
So here’s the BBR (the Big Bias Reveal): I’m a bit of a sucker for WordPress. It was my first blogging platform in my early days of professional content writing, and I still love the way it works.
In recent years, though, more and more WordPress users are making the switch to Squarespace. So I decided to make an account to see what all the fuss is about.
This is what I found.
WordPress vs. Squarespace: How they work
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I think it’ll be helpful to explain some of the big-picture differences between WordPress and Squarespace. They’re built very differently, and understanding them individually will help make everything else make sense.
How WordPress works
WordPress is designed to be a content management system, or CMS, above all else. This means blogging is in its blood. While you can use WordPress for your site without ever adding a blog component, the intended use influences the way the whole system is built.
Basically, WordPress provides a dashboard for managing all of the pages and blog posts on your site. To make your site look good, you add a theme, which can be free, paid, or even custom built. Finally, you can add on different features with “plugins.” Plugins are bits of pre-written code that you can install and uninstall that modify your site. There are plugins to easily add social sharing buttons, Google Analytics tracking, or even slider galleries—if you can dream it, there’s probably a plugin for it. They’re almost like apps.
Naturally, this makes WordPress extremely flexible. But it also makes it harder to set up. On top of that, you don’t actually use WordPress.com (it’s far too limiting). Instead, you buy hosting from a website like BlueHost or SiteGround, and you add the free WordPress platform to it (which you can download at WordPress.ORG).
How Squarespace works
Squarespace is created for those who want a nice-looking website right out of the box. In fact, one of their biggest selling points is their award-winning templates. You create an account, choose a theme, modify the pages and text, and you’re basically ready to roll. It’s also easy to change your template, since they’re all built by the same company and are almost interchangeable, meaning you can easily change your site’s appearance without losing all of your content.
Unlike WordPress, Squarespace sites are hosted only by Squarespace, so everything is handled in one location by one company. Naturally, though, this also means that your options are limited and controlled by what Squarespace wants to offer to its customers.
Now, let’s break it down by topic.
Both WordPress and Squarespace have the capacity for the same features you’d want in a website, such as a blog, social integrations, SEO control, portfolio, etc. But most new website creators want to know what it could actually look like. Here are the benefits and limitations of the two platforms.
WordPress is, again, extremely customizable. With an almost endless selection of professional and user-made themes, there’s bound to be one that fits what you’re looking for. And if there isn’t, you can always try a flexible theme like X Theme that’s built to be modified. I use X Theme for this site because it comes with a visual, drag-and-drop editor that makes it really easy to build the pages I need quickly.
However, to make your site look really good and to your liking, you will likely need a bit of coding knowledge. A basic understanding of HTML and CSS will go a long way in helping you create a site that you love. You can definitely use WordPress without this knowledge, but I’ve found it extremely helpful.
Squarespace’s templates are all gorgeous. They’re up to code standards, they’re professionally designed, and you know you’d have to work hard to make them look ugly.
On the other hand, you’d have to work hard to make them look like anything other than what they are, period. Squarespace’s customization options are very limited. You can move content around, add new pages and sections, change colors and photos—but without that same basic understanding of HTML and CSS, you’re basically stuck with the general template you’re given.
Now, this isn’t a bad thing for a lot of people. Having created my own website without the trained eye of a designer, I know how hard it is to make something look good when it’s not constrained by good design standards. However, this lack of customization may cause some frustration if you want things to look a specific way, or if you’re dying to add on some specific feature that Squarespace just doesn’t support.
Ease of use
Because they operate so differently, Squarespace and WordPress must be analyzed differently. Here’s how they stack up.
WordPress ease of use
Buying a hosting plan and then setting up WordPress on it can take a little while to figure out. Luckily, many web hosts today have one-click WordPress installs, and even WordPress-specific hosting plans to make it easier.
Once inside of your new WordPress site, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the basic lay of the land. A quick Youtube intro video is always helpful.
From there, WordPress is a learn-as-you-go experience. You can find themes online to download and then upload to your site, you can go nuts and learn how to build a theme from scratch (not recommended if you’re not a developer—stay focused on your business!), and find plugins that will do what you want them to do. Setting up your first WordPress site is pretty hands-on, but that means that you walk away with a good understanding of it.
Squarespace ease of use
As a WordPress user, my first experience with Squarespace was frustrating, likely because I’m used to much more control. However, this lack of control is actually what people love about Squarespace—it’s a much more guided experience, and you can build something new pretty quickly.
Squarespace operates with a preview of your site than you edit visually (with WordPress, you can only do visual editing with certain paid themes). The basic features you might want such as social icons and Pin It buttons are a simple on and off toggle. You can also integrate with outside programs such as Acuity for scheduling and Disqus for blog comments.
Because Squarespace is all-in-one, it also comes with good support. With WordPress, you’re dependent on your hosting provider, who may or may not be able to offer WordPress-specific advice.
If you offer physical or digital products for purchase, or even want to let customers purchase service packages right on your site, e-commerce options are important. I’ll pause now and say that if you want to create a website that’s really focused on products, such as a retail site, your best bet is likely going to be with an e-commerce specific platform like Shopify. But if you want to just add a few products to your otherwise basic site, here’s how WordPress and Squarespace deliver.
Like most everything with WordPress, e-commerce options are DIY’d using plugins. Luckily, there are some excellent plugins out there such as WooCommerce and the Shopify plugin (here’s a nice intro to e-commerce plugins for WordPress). These plugins expand your website so that you can handle all of the difficult things like inventory tracking, sales tax, and payment integrations through a program built specifically for those purposes. You can build a robust shop using these tools.
Squarespace operates its e-commerce features like everything else in its platform: with style. The store features are beautiful and integrate with the themes seamlessly. They offer the main things you’d expect with any e-commerce platform, such as coupons, basic inventory management, and shipping and tax calculators. However, many shop owners have noted that they have trouble implementing more complex things like pre-sales or membership websites.
As a business owner, you’ve got to keep an eye on those expenses. Don’t worry, I gotchu.
The WordPress platform itself (WordPress.org) is free to use. The main costs instead come from your hosting, and if you choose to invest in any paid themes or plugins.
This site you’re looking at right now has a price breakdown like this:
WordPress Hosting on GoDaddy: $3.99/mo*
Domain name registration: $7.99/yr
X Theme: $59 one time investment
*Your site should also include an SSL certificate for security. This is something usually purchased separately, and it’s important if you’re collecting personal information on your website. This is why I’ll soon be moving to SiteGround. While GoDaddy has SSL certificates available, SiteGround provides them built-in to your plan!
Right now, Squarespace starts at $12/month when billed annually, or $16 month to month. They let you start with a 14-day free trial to get a good feel of what you’re getting before making the investment.
Looked at over a year, the costs between a WordPress site and Squarespace even out pretty closely.
The final decision
Going into this article, I was a diehard WordPress fan. However, after testing out Squarespace, I think it definitely has its place.
It comes down to how much time you have and how much control you want.
WordPress takes more time to set up, but you get a lot more control. As someone who’s always trying out new business ideas, WordPress also gives me the peace of mind that I’ll always be able to create the systems I need using plugins. A Squarespace site’s features, on the other hand, will always be at the mercy of the Squarespace company.
All that said, if you made it this far and are still undecided, I’d tell you to go with Squarespace. You’ll get set up far faster, and you’ll notice pretty quickly if there are features you need that Squarespace doesn’t offer. Chances are, Squarespace will work great for your needs. Plus, Squarespace has a much lower up-front cost. If you try it and you hate it, WordPress will always be waiting there for you.
Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash