Squarespace and WordPress: Choosing The Right Content Management System

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After spending some time working with Squarespace and both versions of WordPress (.org and .com), I decided to write an article reviewing my findings and to offer some advice to those of you who are considering using one of these systems to develop a website. All of these tools are very powerful and have the capability to generate lovely websites, but depending of your (or your client’s) needs and abilities, you may favor one over the others. In the following paragraphs, I will outline the strengths and weaknesses of each system, in relation to each other, and at the end will offer a summary.

When starting any project, in this case – work on a CMS-based website, you will first need to identify the needs of yourself, your client (if applicable), and your target audience. How much technical knowledge, coding language, design skills do you or your client possess? How much time are you or your client willing to spend on the project? After the website is built, who will be responsible for the upkeep? How much of the aforementioned skills does that person possess? All of these are important questions when you’re deciding on which CMS platform to use.

Essentially, it will boil down to a few factors: Ease of Use, Ability to Customize, Ongoing Maintenance & Support, and Pricing.


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Ease of Use

The issue of Ease of Use has a direct relation to Ability to Customize. Generally speaking, you are giving up the ability to customize or add plug-ins in favor of a more simple interface. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you or your client doesn’t have many needs for their site, or isn’t particularly concerned or picky about the look of their site. For a user like this, I would definitely recommend Squarespace. The Squarespace user-interface (UI) is quite simple, straightforward, and intuitive. I only have one gripe with the Squarespace UI: it is riddled with animations (like slide out menus) that, while they look great on fast machines, can be a bit of a burden on slower computers. The UI for WordPress.COM (called the Dashboard) is also simple, however the themes (basic appearance of your site) they provide do not really compare with the Squarespace themes.

In terms of Ease of Use, WordPress.ORG is not really in contention. The .ORG version of WordPress really shines through in its ability to create, modify, and customize themes, its massive open-source community, and its ability to search for, and install, plug-ins from a library of thousands. More on this ahead.

Rankings for Ease of Use

  1. Squarespace
  2. WordPress.COM
  3. WordPress.ORG

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Ability to Customize

As mentioned above, WordPress.ORG offers much in terms of customizing, but it comes at the cost of ease-of-use. To make your own theme and have the site looking exactly how you’d like, a working knowledge of HTML & styling language like CSS is a very powerful asset. You can also take it even further, designing (or editing other’s) plug-ins, which would require even more knowledge, specifically of scripting languages like PHP and JavaScript. WordPress.ORG essentially will allow for the creation of a CMS-based website from scratch. An experienced WordPress developer can create a completely unique site for a business, exactly to the client’s specification, and then hand that website off to whoever will be in charge of blog-posts and updates. Then, using the Dashboard, that person can make updates to the site with very little knowledge of any of the aforementioned languages or the process by which the site was built. That is the power of this system. However, WordPress is constantly sending out updates to its system, some which may break installed plug-ins which can lead to a broken website. Constant maintenance is required, especially for more dynamic websites with more plug-ins and features.

Think of WordPress.COM as a kind of light version. It doesn’t offer much in terms of customizing, but it does offer the basics for a CMS-based website and some decent looking themes. Some of the premium (paid) themes are also quite nice. In fact, this blog you are looking at right now was designed with WordPress.COM. Not bad, eh?

From a design point-of-view, the Squarespace themes really knock most WordPress themes out of the park. The themes you will find on Squarespace are, in a word, gorgeous. You will really have to do some serious hunting (or coding of your own) to come up with WordPress themes that compare. It is quite obvious from the get-go that the people they have developing the Squarespace themes have a great eye for clean, elegant, functional design. Really beautiful themes, can’t stress that enough. However, in terms of customizing, Squarespace offers very little. You are able to reposition and resize some elements on your pages, but only in pre-defined fourths. Squarespace doesn’t support the idea of open-source (user-built) themes or plug-ins. Everything is pretty much what-you-see is what-you-get.

Rankings for Ability of Customize

  1. WordPress.ORG
  2. WordPress.COM
  3. Squarespace

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On-Going Maintenance and Support

Another important factor to consider is the ease at which your website will be maintained. We’ve already discussed how wp.ORG will require regular maintenance just to keep it looking okay, but another thing to consider is the massive amount of community support you will receive using WordPress. This goes for the .COM service, as well. As of this writing, over 74 million websites depend on WordPress. [source] WordPress’ own website features countless user-submitted articles, posts, inquiries spanning all topics imaginable. Many themes will also have their own documentation, support, websites, and forums where developers can help with any question you might have. Many plug-ins also feature this same network of support. Basically, in choosing WordPress, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Whatever problem you are experiencing, someone out there has very likely experienced the same thing, and a Google search will usually yield a solution.

Squarespace also offers support from their team in the form of live chat, knowledgebase, and e-mail. However, their community pales in comparison to the enormity of WordPress. As of this writing, 1.8 million websites depend on Squarespace. [source] So, your Google searches may not yield quite as many results, but you do have some company in using this platform.

Rankings for Support

  1. WordPress
  2. Squarespace

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Pricing

Finally, we come to pricing. The most straight-forward of all the factors to consider, but for many this is really the most important. As of April 2015, the pricing for each system is as follows:

Squarespace

Squarespace is a SaaS (Software as a Service) .. meaning you are paying a monthly fee for the ability to use the platform. They offer 3 tiers:

  1. Personal – $8/mo
  2. Professional – $16/mo
  3. Business – $24/mo

The big difference here seems to be the higher the price, the more items you can sell in the E-Commerce store. The store itself is an integration feature they offer to all users.

WordPress.COM

This version is completely free to set up and get running. If you choose the free themes (of which there are many) you pay nothing. Premium themes range in price, usually offered somewhere around $50-$100.

WordPress.ORG

This version is free, however you will need to have access to server space to host your site, and this often comes at a cost. GoDaddy ($5/mo) is an example of a popular hosting service you can visit to buy a plan, which sometimes come packaged with a version of WordPress and a domain name of your choosing. As mentioned earlier, you can develop your own themes for free with this version. However, if you choose not to do that, there are thousands of free and paid themes out there for you.


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Making a website will be fun!” they said..

In Conclusion..

Squarespace and WordPress are both powerful platforms on which to build and run a beautiful and functional website. With the right skills, you can create pretty much anything you’d like with WordPress.ORG. For the user who isn’t as adept with coding, but still would love a professional-looking website, Squarespace would be the better option. WordPress.COM is a great option for those who are on a budget, and would like a simple website. So, you have no excuse now. Get out there and dazzle the world with a CMS-based website!