From the moment your alarm goes off, you’re faced with So. Many. Choices. Do you hit snooze or jump out of bed? Pull-on your comfy sweatpants or go for something with a waistband? Steel cut oatmeal or Lucky Charms? Don’t even get me started on the milk choices – cow’s milk, nut milk, oat milk? Every day, we make a plethora of decisions before we’re even caffeinated and ready to go. For small business owners, those decisions are multiplied tenfold.
One of the benefits of being an entrepreneur is that you’re in charge of everything; you decide how to go to market, what to charge, who to serve. It’s liberating. It’s also daunting, which is why it’s easy to get overwhelmed and just go with the most popular option. Some decisions are less significant (always go with the Lucky Charms), whereas others, like your choice of website platform, have consequences that last far longer than a caffeine surge.
As a web designer, I’m often asked which platform is better, WordPress or Squarespace. The short answer is it depends. Here’s the thing, there are a number of factors that need to go into choosing the right website platform for your business. Too often, clients come to me AFTER wasting time and money on a platform that doesn’t meet their needs. So, to save you a boatload of frustration and decision fatigue, I’m breaking down these popular website platforms. Keep reading for the good, the bad, and the potentially ugly sides of WordPress and Squarespace.
Note: This article focuses on WordPress.org (the original, free website platform), NOT WordPress.com which uses some of the same technology but is different in some key ways.
This popular platform is technically not a website builder. It’s an open-source content management system that uses plugins and templates (known as themes).
Flexibility –WordPress is an open-source system, which means that anyone can develop WordPress software (via a plugin or theme) and make it available to all users. As a result, there are currently over 22k plugins and thousands of website themes from which to choose.
Integration – One of the first website platforms, WordPress dates all the way back to 2003 (i.e., before there were iPhones) and now powers around 30% of the web. Given its prevalence and the fact that WordPress is a crowd-sourced platform at its heart, most tools integrate to provide deep functionality (think scheduling apps, payment gateways, etc.).
Easy Migration – Whether you’re unhappy with your host’s performance or find a more economical option, moving a WordPress website is relatively straightforward. If needed, you’re able to move your entire website to a new host in a matter of hours (or less). With other platforms, you’re able to export some of the data but will likely require a complete rebuild if you’re switching hosts.
Backups and Staging – Have you ever heard the phrase “Cowboy Coding”? It’s best to keep changes and tweaks to your website private until they’re ready for worldwide consumption. When dealing with advanced tools, our meddling and troubleshooting can sometimes make a website look kind of funky or downright inoperational until we’ve worked out all the kinks. To avoid making these snafus public, you can choose from a variety of robust staging options for WordPress that allow you to safely test out wide-reaching changes to your site without the risk of publication. The same can be said of free tools that automatically back up your website to prevent a black hole emergency if something should go wrong.
Long-term Cost – WordPress websites have a relatively low fixed cost and allow for some shopping around on price for hosting and tools. To protect the return on your investment, I suggest users start simple and scale their website over time.
Upfront Cost – While the long-term cost of a WordPress site might be manageable, it’s important to go into any provider relationship with your eyes wide open. For WordPress, this means anticipating higher upfront costs due to the time-intensive initial buildout process. Additionally, fees for components such as themes (i.e., site templates), plugins, security, hosting, and domain registration also need to be taken into consideration.
Maintenance – With WordPress, it’s all on you. From controlling SPAM to keeping regular backups and ensuring site optimization, it’s critical that users understand WordPress is not a set it and forget it platform. For this reason, we highly recommend WordPress users get a monthly maintenance plan. We offer a plan for $100 per month that makes WordPress maintenance stress-free and includes 30 minutes of content edits every month to help you keep your site current.
THE POTENTIALLY UGLY
Security – The popularity of this widespread, open-source platform brings with it inherent security concerns. WordPress releases software updates regularly to combat unfriendly plugins, etc.; however, failure to stay on top of plugin, theme, and hosting updates, can leave your site open to hackers and result in security breaches and site crashes.
An all-in-one website platform, Squarespace is designed to help non-technical users (i.e., the majority of small business owners) create their own websites. Weebly, Wix and other DIY platforms (including WordPress.com) come with similar pros and cons, but we think Squarespace is the best choice in this category.
Low Maintenance – For those who have a hard time remembering to change the batteries in the smoke detector, Squarespace makes updates easy. Squarespace websites are hosted for you, so you don’t have to worry about getting set up with a hosting provider.
Security – Squarespace automatically creates and configures a free SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate for your website. SSL is the standard technology for keeping an internet connection secure and safeguarding any sensitive data sent between two systems. The SSL situation for WordPress varies depending on your host.
All-in-One – Unlike WordPress, which will have you shopping around for hosting, domain, theme and plugins – all at a range of price points – Squarespace packages include everything you need to get started. From custom domains and website analytics to responsive template designs that ensure your website is optimized for desktop and mobile viewing, everything is built into Squarespace. That means lower upfront configuration time and costs and fewer troubleshooting issues.
Design Flexibility – While WordPress has a lot more themes than Squarespace, they vary in quality as there isn’t a common standard. All of Squarespace’s themes are designer- and mobile-optimized to support best user experience and branding practices.
No Staging Site – Squarespace doesn’t provide a sandbox or staging site option. A good workaround is to use hidden pages or to make a duplicate of the entire site, but these methods are clunky compared to the tools that are available for WordPress. They work fine if you don’t make major edits often or if your website traffic is relatively low. Users also lack control of backups, so if you need to revert to a prior version of the site, you’ll need to contact Squarespace for assistance.
No Phone Support – While Squarespace does offer 24/7 support via email, Twitter, live chat, and video tutorials, there isn’t a tech support phone number to call. This can be frustrating if you need immediate assistance. WordPress does not offer any tech support but your hosting provider and the creators of your plugins and themes can be incredibly helpful. If they aren’t, you usually have the power to move over to a competitor without starting from scratch.
THE POTENTIALLY UGLY
There you have it, friends, the good, the bad, and the potentially ugly sides of WordPress and Squarespace. I told you there was a lot to factor in! Over the years, I’ve created numerous websites on Squarespace and WordPress. While there’s not one right platform for every small business, if you’re still unsure after considering the pros and cons, I suggest asking yourself if you would prefer having greater control and more capabilities in exchange for more overhead OR use a relatively stress-free platform that requires working around some limitations. Your answer will likely point you in the right direction. And, if it doesn’t, I’m always here to help.