an ocean background with the following text: wordpress vs squarespace

The WordPress vs Squarespace debate

This post first appeared in my newsletter. Sign up and join the party!

Last Tuesday, I went to my very first Rising Tide Society event here in Calgary. I’ve been meaning to go for a couple years now (ever since it started up here). It was a fantastic event and I met some very cool people. The topic was philanthropy, giving back as part of your business model.

The speaker was a very cool lady, Holly, from Milk Jar – a local candle company. It was a very good talk and her whole story was super inspiring. The room was full of photographers, designers, and coaches; as is normal, I checked out their Instagram accounts and websites and one thing stood out to me.

Almost every attendee’s website was built on Squarespace.

And they mostly looked the same. They were all styled in ways that we consider mainstream feminine design: light colours, big bright photos, script fonts mixed with tall and light sans-serifs. I had entered a different neighbourhood of the world of creative women service providers – and it’s a very different neighbourhood than the one I typically live in.

I’m primarily a WordPress developer, yet I acknowledge that Squarespace is a pretty great platform. It can feel easier to get set up with (and maintain) than WordPress.

The service providers I was checking out had fairly simple needs: fast beautiful websites, the ability to showcase their portfolio, update pages easily, integrate Instagram feeds, and make contact forms so potential clients could get in touch. Squarespace provides all that functionality out of the box. A few of them had products they sell, Squarespace provides that out of the box too.

So I get it. I know why they chose Squarespace. But it feels like a paradox. These amazing crazy talented business owners all had the same websites, just with different colours and fonts. I land on their homepage or their Link in Bio page and I instantly know it’s a Squarespace website. They provide tailored and unique services..using websites that are not unique or tailored (with the grand exception of one website which I had to check the code for; beautifully customized, impressively didn’t trigger my Squarespace radar).

The iOS and Android comparison

Are Squarespace websites just that easy to maintain and use? So easy that many of these folks are okay with their same-as-everyone-else websites? I’ve heard people compare Squarespace to iOS and WordPress to Android – Squarespace is a walled garden like iOS, it’s safer, better managed, and does everything you need, WordPress is open like Android, harder to maintain, harder to manage, and you need plugins to do everything.

I think that comparison is unfair. Although iOS is a walled garden, there are plenty of third party developers who build apps, in fact, most of the apps on your iPhone or iPad are not made by Apple. Apple controls what apps can enter the App Store, works to make sure most apps meet certain quality and safety standards, and provides the infrastructure for selling, creating, and monetizing your apps. Squarespace is a walled garden completely controlled by one company: Squarespace. You can’t create themes that can be approved by Squarespace for installation, you can only use the integrations they built (which means there’s a limit to how many integrations are available) – everything you do within Squarespace is built, controlled, and managed by Squarespace. Not like iOS at all, I’d say.

Of course, there are folks who sell Squarespace theme customizations (as does one of my favourite designers, Sian Richardson). These ‘kits’ tell you which Squarespace theme to start with and then how to customize it with the fonts, colours, and layouts to build a particular design. Sian’s design kits are some of the more unique Squarespace designs I’ve seen; unless you know what you’re looking for, your Squarespace radar won’t be triggered on a website using one of her Design Kits.

I also know some people love the Squarespace aesthetic and strive to emulate it on WordPress – so they have the feel of Squarespace but the flexibility of WordPress. Although I enjoy the Squarespace vibe, I’m personally a bit tired of seeing it everywhere. And don’t even get me started on the accessibility issues most Squarespace websites have.

The Experiment

But I’m an open minded person who is not averse to trying on different perspectives. I’m also not a “WordPress and only WordPress for everything and anything” kind of gal. I recognize that different platforms are a better fit for different needs. Heck, my own little side project, WP Audit, doesn’t use WordPress. It’s a hand-coded simple static site (for the moment).

So over the next week, I’m going to create a website and then record the process of building it out with both Squarespace and WordPress. I’ve only ever lightly explored Squarespace, so this is an opportunity for a deep dive. If behind-the-scenes things fascinate you and you want watch me figure out Squarespace (I’m basically a newbie to it), you’ll love this.

I’m trying to decide between a website for a photographer, a designer, or a greeting card seller. Hit me up on Twitter and tell me which one you’d like to see most. Next week’s post will have the results and videos. 🙂

Looking to get a new website made? I make pretty great ones. Learn more here.