Squarespace Review

Launched in January 2004, Squarespace, one of the oldest website building platforms, currently powers over 1.8 million websites.  While other site builders may boast more websites built, since Squarespace doesn’t offer a free version, every site running on its platform is a paid subscription. Squarespace is headquartered in New York and its servers are located in the United States.

Squarespace Overview

With the release of Squarespace 7, powerful, functional and professional looking websites can be built without any coding knowledge.  Pricing ranges from $5 to $80 a month, depending upon the features that you require.  All websites using Squarespace are HTML5-compliant, fully responsive, mobile ready and SEO friendly.

While no coding is required, Squarespace now offers complete HTML and CSS access in the Developer Platform, which allows for advanced template customization – or if you want something totally unique, the ability to build your site from the ground up.

For people looking to build a blogging website, the features it offers for blogs come really close to matching WordPress – as a matter of fact, in some areas Squarespace actually excels.

Squarespace can be used to build personal websites, portfolio websites, blogs, business websites, not to mention the fact that it has powerful tools for building ecommerce sites and online stores.

Squarespace in the media

Good For

Whether you want to host a website or a blog, promote your business, set up an online portfolio to show off your talents or build an online ecommerce site to sell your products, Squarespace is powerful enough to get the job done.

The templates that Squarespace offers can be customized to meet the needs of any business and, for some industries there are themes that are built with their needs specifically in mind such as designers, photographers, boutique businesses, online shops, bloggers, restaurant owners, musicians and weddings.

Depending upon your needs, Squarespace offers built-in tools that make it possible to add all kinds of features to your website including:

  • Post image galleries
  • Share music playlists
  • Display restaurant menus
  • Sell digital and music downloads
  • Collect contact information
  • Set up events with RSVPs
  • Build a functional blog
  • Allow contributors to your website
  • Accept donation payments
  • Social media sharing
  • Set up a cash gift registry
  • Play music on an Album page

User Friendly

Although Squarespace 7 brings with it a lot of improvements in terms of ease use, the dashboard is a little more “tricky” to navigate and not as intuitive when compared to some other DIY site builders. Squarespace does offer a wealth of step-by-step instructions and video tutorials to help beginners learn how to customize their website, format content, add tools and functionality so that with a bit of time, anyone can build a fantastic site.

Squarespace provides a live demo for each site, which is helpful in deciding whether or not a template will work for your business.   Once you have selected a template, you are presented with a “Wizard” that gathers some basic information about your website that will be inserted into the appropriate places on the template.

When you want to see how your site will look with a different template, there is a preview mode that won’t change the live version of the site.  And if you do decide to switch to a different template, this can be done without losing any content.

Squarespace doesn’t have a formal “publish” button and sites are generated live as you work.  So, if you don’t want your website to be visible until it’s completed, you have to go in to the settings and uncheck “Enabled.”  It’s important to keep in mind that when you are making changes to your site over time, when you hit save, the changes will automatically go live.  In order to preview your website, simply click on the little icon in the top left corner.

When you add new page, you will be shown a “settings” type page before you start entering the actual content.  This is where you can easily add “metadata” for search engines such as SEO title, page description, url slugs, tags, thumbnails for search engines.

Squarespace User Friendliness

The basic fundamentals of building your page content start with what Squarespace refers to as “blocks.”  To add a block, simply drag it to the spot you want it. At the time of this review, there were 38 blocks available in the Content Manager including the ability to add photo galleries, video and audio players, buttons, forms, newsletter contacts, calendars, social media links, search boxes, maps, as well as inserting custom code.  There are also blocks for 3rd party applications such as Amazon, Opentable, Bandsintown, menus, 500px, Flickr and SoundCloud.

Squarespace User Friendliness

Features

While Squarespace may be lacking in terms of “simplicity” with how the site building dashboard works, what it offers in terms of advanced features makes it well worth the effort it takes to get the hang of it.  Before we cover features that are common to most site builders, let’s take a look at some of the unique features available with Squarespace.

  • Proprietary Search Engine – Squarespace provides a robust internal search engine for your website that provides visitors with accurate search results. Searches are always up-to-date literally within 15 seconds of any content updates you make.
  • Logo Designer – Squarespace offers a basic logo creator with its site builder. All you need to do to create a text plus graphic logo for your site is enter your text and search through a library of symbols
  • Cover Pages – A cover page is a simple and powerful alternative to having visitors start at your full home page. They can also be used to create a page with your important business information while your site is under construction or down for maintenance.
  • Announcement Bar – Want to promote a sale? Make a special announcement?  Share your latest news? With the announcement bar activated, you can post announcement at the top of your website.  And you can include links to specific pages within your website.

Now let’s take a closer look at some of the other features that Squarespace offers.

Templates & Designs

When we take a look at Squarespace in terms of the quantity of templates that are offered, the number is less than many other site builders.  However, if we look in terms of quality, you will notice right away that they have put a lot of time into providing extremely professional websites with a sleek, clean and modern design.  All of Squarespace’s templates are fully responsive, meaning they will look great on any browser, screen size or device.  A mobile version of your website is built automatically so there is no extra work involved.

One thing that makes the templates provided by Squarespace look professional is the focus on high quality photos used which make them stand out visually.  If you don’t have images of your own of equal quality, Squarespace has a special arrangement with Getty Images.  Through this partnership, you have access to professional stock photos for only $10 each, which is a great price.

When you are checking out which template you want to use for your website, Squarespace provides a live demo of both the PC and mobile version, giving you the ability to see the site in action.  If you start with one template but decide that you may want to use another, not only does Squarespace give you the option to preview how your site will look before making a change, but also all of the content that you have already worked on will transfer to the new template.

At the time of this review, Squarespace featured 28 different templates, broken down in to 7 categories – business, portfolios, stores, personal, musicians, restaurants and weddings.

All templates can be customized using the Design Editor which lets you adjust things such as your site logo and title, template colors and fonts, your store checkout page, the mobile information bar and even add an announcement bar to the top heading of your website.  You can also build a cover page for your website.

If you purchase one of the higher level packages the Developer Platform gives you access to the template’s CSS, giving you even more advanced options for customization.

Storage Space & Bandwidth

All of the Squarespace’s plans include unlimited storage and bandwidth.  This means that not only will you never have to worry about the size of your files and photos, but your site will be powerful enough to handle as much traffic as you can bring to it!

Mobile Capabilities

Because all of the templates provided by Squarespace are fully responsive, they will look great and function properly on any mobile device.  Most of the templates come with a separate version designed especially for mobile.

The mobile version converts your site’s interactive features into a mobile-friendly interface designed for touch gestures such as collapsible menus and fonts that are easier to read on small devices.  It also stacks the “blocks” within your site vertically so that viewers only have to scroll down, not across.

Mobile sites are built automatically from the content that you put together on the PC version but you have the ability to edit the content or even disable the mobile style completely (meaning viewers will see the full PC version instead).  Squarespace also provides you with the ability to create a “mobile information bar” which let’s you feature important contact information for easy access such as email address, phone number, location, and business hours.

Plug-Ins & Apps

Squarespace offers a decent selection of tools and applications that can add functionality to your website such as gallery widgets, tools for restaurants, form builders, tag clouds, social media links and sharing buttons, video players and more.

The applications that are built into Squarespace website builder can be found in the Content Manager once you select the option to insert a block.  In addition to the standard website applications that are part of Squarespace, you can also find a few built in third-party applications such as Amazon, Opentable, Bandsintown and SoundCloud.

Because Squarespace offers the ability to embed code into your website, it makes it possible for third-party integration of all different kinds of tools and applications.  While the extent of actual support provided is limited, Squarespace does provide information in its knowledgebase for many popular third party applications.

Social Media Capabilities

When it comes to “built in” social media capabilities, Squarespace offers the ability for you to connect and feature a wide range of social networking accounts on your website, including Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Medium, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Vimeo, Vine, YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, Foursquare and many more.

Within the settings, you can drag and drop your chosen accounts so that they appear on your website in the order that you want them to.  In addition to displaying your social media badge (or icon), in the account settings you can choose the download data option which will post newly published items from your social media account to your Squarespace website.

In addition to social media icons, you can also display share buttons, Facebook “Like” buttons and Pinterest “Pin It” buttons.

You can easily share content from your site such as blog posts, gallery pages, images, videos, events, product or album tracks, directly to your Facebook account as posts.

If there are other social media options that you want on your site that aren’t built in, this can be done using the “Insert Code” block (requires the code from the third-party application or service).

Email, Newsletters & Communications

Squarespace doesn’t host email accounts so if you want to have a professional email that matches your custom domain, you will need to use a third party service provider such as Google Apps or Zoho.  If you purchase either the Business or Commerce plan, you will receive Google Apps (with an email account) free for one year.

Squarespace doesn’t offer actual newsletter/email marketing functionality but it does have a limited “newsletter block” with two options – connect to a Mailchimp account or connect a Google Docs account.  If you use the later, what you will actually be putting together is a spreadsheet that keeps track of the contact information provided.  From there, you will need to use either direct email or a third party email marketing service such as iContact or Constant Contact.

Besides the newsletter block, the other alternative for email marketing is to use the “insert code” block.  With this you can enter the appropriate code from your third-party newsletter service to gather contact information.

Squarespace does not offer any built-in live chat plugins or blocks.  In order to provide this type of communication service, you will need to use a third party application and enter the code into a custom code block on your website.

E-Commerce Capabilities

If you want to sell products or build an online store, the Squarespace site builder has some powerful tools to do it — with either its own integrated ecommerce functions or by using a third party plug-in such as Etsy, Amazon or Ebay.  If you use the built-in features, the only available payment processing option is Stripe (you can however, add Pay Pal buttons to accept payments that will be processed through Paypal).

Shopify’s ecommerce platform lets you sell physical products, digital files (with the option to set the time limit that the download is available) and services on your website.  You can also accept donations and provide “markdowns” for the items you sell.

Squarespace ecommerce

Squarespace stores and checkouts are optimized for mobile shopping, are Level 1 PCI compliant and use 128 bit SSL encryption so your customers can trust that their information is kept safe and secure. When you use Stripe to process payments, Squarespace doesn’t add any additional transaction fees – you only pay Stripe’s credit card processing fees of 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction.

On the management side, tools include everything necessary to process customer orders, determine tax rates according to customer location, set shipping rules and calculate shipping rates, print shipping labels, track orders, manage inventory and to handle refunds. With Squarespace you can set up automated email responses and offer coupons, promotions and discounts for your buyers.  The level of ecommerce features that you get will depend upon your subscription plan.

Adding your products to Squarespace is easy and allows for flexible, multi-dimensional product variants, sale prices and SKU numbers.  SKU numbers can be set up by product or by individual product variant for inventory tracking. Product displays include images, title, descriptions and category tags.

Squarespace stores include social networking integration that lets you share store news and products on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more.

If you are switching to Squarespace from either Shopify or Big Cartel, you can directly upload your products from either of those platforms to your Squarespace store.

Image, Video & Photo Gallery Capabilities

Squarespace understands not only the power of great imagery on a website, but also the importance of proper formatting, sizing and image optimization.  Whenever you upload an image, the Squarespace platform creates seven versions of that image, each with a different width – 100 pixels, 300 pixels, 500 pixels, 750 pixels, 1000 pixels, 1500 pixels and 2500 pixels.  Squarespace has a 20 MB limit for image uploads, but for best results, recommends using file sizes of less than 500 KB.

If you don’t have your own images, Squarespace has a partnership with Getty Images which gives users access to professional quality stock photos for only $10 each.

Compared to many other site building platforms, Squarespace offers quite a lot of photo editing options with its built in Aviary Editor.  These include standard features such as adjusting image orientation, image cropping and resizing, image enhancement, brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness.  There are tools to fix redeye, teeth whiting and remove blemishes. You can also apply effects and filters to your images.  Plus, the editor enables you to add a text display over the top of your image, draw “doodle” overlays and add frames.

Other great image features include the ability to create hover effects, set focal points for cropping and setting up light boxes for image slide shows, and of course the ability to add image descriptors such as title, description and alternate tags.

If you want to display and promote photos as an important part of your website content, Squarespace has you covered with a wide variety of image gallery options.  Photo galleries can be displayed as a slide show, in carousel format, in a grid or in a stack.

For video sharing, Squarespace supports embedded videos from YouTube, Vimeo, Animoto, and Wistia (many other platforms only offer the first two) but does not support direct uploads. If you have a video that is hosted on a different site, you can use the “insert embed code.”

Videos can be posted on your website using a Video Block for a single video, or by using a Gallery Block if you have several that you want to share in a gallery style format. After you have enter the url for the video, you have the option to enable or disable the video caption from the video hosting site, include a custom description and add an image overlay.

Blog Capabilities

For people who want to either include a blog on their website, or build an entirely blog based website, Squarespace is one of the few DIY site builders that can almost rival WordPress.

When you’re building the blog, the Layout Engine gives you access to all of the same content blocks that are available on website pages – giving you a wide range of possibilities of what to put into your blog posts.  Social media integration lets your site visitors share your blog content on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Pinterest, and Tumblr.

Squarespace’s blogging platform includes all the standard features such as tags and categories, customized post display and excerpts, reader comments, comment moderation, post scheduling and social media sharing.  You can create tag clouds, tag lists, author lists, category lists and month lists.  Within the blog management panel you can authorize people to contribute posts to your blog and act as moderators.

Other features of the Squarespace blog system include:

  • Podcast Support
  • Google Author Rank
  • RSS Syndication
  • Customizable URLs
  • Geo-tagging
  • Powerful Spam Blocker

If you are switching your blog to Squarespace from other sites such as WordPress, Tumblr or Blogger, you can use the import feature to move over your existing content. You can also export your Squarespace pages and blog into WordPress.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Traffic Generation

By design, Squarespace websites are optimized, following the best practices for SEO, so that they can be easily indexed by search engines without the need for any additional plugins. As you build your site, Squarespace automatically creates a sitemap which is great for search engines.

All Squarespace plans have the ability to adjust metatags.  You can add an SEO title, site and page descriptions, custom url slugs for each page, keyword tags, thumbnails for search engines, make certain pages hidden from search engines and add 301 directs.

When you include images on your website, you can provide image descriptions, the proper alternate tag (<ALT>) and a picture title which all help to improve search engine indexing.

Site Analytics

Squarespace Metrics provides a good range of site analytics, beyond what you can get through Google Analytics (which you  can integrate).  Website statistics are provided in real time, updated every few minutes, and allow you to monitor page views, site visit counts and visitor counts. Data is distinguished between total (raw) counts, unique counts and even “robot” hits.  If you are using an RSS feed, you can receive accurate statistics for your RSS subscribers.

With Squarespace you get more than just visit count information.  You will be able to see where your visitors come from, what types of operating systems and browsers they are using, as well as what keywords they are using to find your website.   You can also monitor and identify what content on your site is performing best. Metrics can be viewed by different time periods such as hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly and are presented in easy to understand graphs and charts.

Hosting

All websites built with Squarespace come with hosting included as part of the package.  There is nothing you need to do to install your site or set up the hosting account – everything is taken care of automatically.  Squarespace uses a reliable and scalable cloud infrastructure and promises “no downtime.”  They also handle all security upgrades for servers to keep your site safe from hackers. You can not use any other hosting companies for Squarespace websites.

Support

Squarespace offers email support and a Live Chat support to all users, no matter what type of plan they subscribe to.  It is Squarespace’s policy to respond to all support tickets with an hour, no matter what time the request is sent.

In addition to direct support, Squarespace provides an indirect support system that is quite comprehensive.  It includes an FAQ section, step-by-step instructions and manuals, video tutorials and a community question and answer forum.

Pros & Cons

As discussed previously, using the Squarespace dashboard is not as easy as it is with many other platforms.  However, with the help of step-by-step instructions, video tutorials and full-time customer support, both beginners and people without any coding knowledge can create a great looking and highly functional website.

Among the other features that make Squarespace stand out as a good choice to build your own website are:

  • The templates that Squarespace offers are professional, sleek and modern.
  • Squarespace offers powerful blog functionality that can match features offered by WordPress.
  • Users have access to template CSS and HTML coding, and can insert custom codes within website pages.
  • Squarespace websites are fully responsive and come with an automatically generated mobile version.

Depending upon your specific needs, there are some limits to what Squarespace offers such as:

  • Squarespace’s integrated store is not PayPal compatible and the only payment option at the time of this review is Stripe.
  • Exporting is only possible to WordPress (however, many other site builders don’t even offer export capabilities).
  • Squarespace is a little bit more expensive than other platforms (but with this, the platform does offer some features that others don’t).
  • Squarespace does not have a built-in newsletter creator or live chat functionality, nor does it come with email accounts (you need to use 3rd party tools for these).

Conclusion

Because the Squarespace templates place a strong emphasis on visual features, it is an excellent platform for businesses that want to showcase images such as designers, photographers, artists, real estate agents and portfolio driven websites.  It also has powerful ecommerce functionality for promoting and selling products online and building an online store.

For people who want to include a top quality blog in their site, or who want to create a complete blogging site, Squarespace has features that are comparable to WordPress (with many other website building features that WordPress doesn’t offer).  Through the partnership that Squarespace has with Getty Images, users have access to high quality stock photos at a fraction of the cost.  Plus, the platform has a powerful image editor built right in.

All of the plans that Squarespace offers are paid which means that there is no branding or third party advertising on websites built with the platform.  Mobile websites, hosting, full time direct support, unlimited storage and unlimited bandwidth are also included.  In addition, Squarespace offers powerful SEO and analytic tools which can help improve site ranking.

Squarespace’s is definitely a site builder worth checking out.