Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image
Tim Peter

By

February 2, 2011

Sizing up Squarespace (thinks Small Business Web Hosting Review)

February 2, 2011 | By | 33 Comments

I’ve been telling small business owners and marketers for years why you must have a website to promote your business. And with the variety of great tools out there, there’s no good reason why you can’t have a solid site that meets your customers’ needs.

But, knowing you need a site and knowing how to get one are two different things. So, some time ago, we started looking at tools that let you host your site effectively and inexpensively. Next up: Squarespace. Squarespace is one of the more popular options for hosting robust sites. But is it right for you? thinks is on the case.

Squarespace Overview

Squarespace has been around since 2004 and powers sites large and small for several thousand customers. They claim to have been profitable since their first year of operation—no mean feat given the economy the last few years and the amount of competition in the space. Unlike earlier tools we’ve looked at, Squarespace is not free, with prices beginning at $12/month (the company offers a 14-day free trial for new users). But, you do get a lot for your money. The real question is whether the cost is worth it for you. Hang with me for a bit and I’ll let you know what I think.

Features

Setting up a new site on Squarespace is a breeze. The company seems to have given lots of thought to what most customers will want to do. Need a home page and blog? Piece of cake. For the $12 monthly fee, you get up to 10 pages that cover just about everything you could want to do on a small business website.

Adding pages is simple and quick, offering diverse options, including galleries, forms, search and “journals” which is Squarespace’s version of a blog. The form builder requires a “Business” level account ($36/month), but incorporating Wufoo or Google Forms is easy.

Squarespace Add a Page feature

If you opt for a “Business” account, the form editor is excellent. You can choose to save data to an Excel spreadsheet, have it e-mailed directly to an address of your choosing or both. It also sends confirmation emails and provides unique confirmation messages after form submissions.

Squarespace new form builder

I was able to set up a fairly sexy contact form quickly and easily. As mentioned above, integrating outside tools is also simple.

Squarespace form editor

I have some concerns about privacy and data storage (i.e., sending PII in unencrypted emails), but this is still a very exciting feature for small businesses that may not have the ability to add these features easily on existing sites. I also wish Squarespace offered more robust database capture features, but, the very fact I find myself wishing for more robust database capture tells you just how sophisticated it is compared to most other tools out there.

Blogging and Content Capabilities

Squarespace lets you include any HTML or images directly within any page and can include off-site navigation easily. Very nice if you’re hosting a blog or store outside of your Squarespace site. The tool offers a relatively powerful blog editor, if you choose not to host your blog somewhere else. For instance, the blog editor offers Autosave as you’re writing, which, speaking from experience, is a life-saving feature when you need it.

In all, I found Squarespace’s blogging tool somewhat of a double-edged sword. Here are two examples why:

  1. Lots of useful integration with social sites and other tools. Awesome if you want to publish your content via Facebook and Twitter.
  2. The tool has no plug-in architecture like WordPress or other blogging platforms (for instance, it could really use something like Akismet for blocking spam). Third-party apps are a big part of WordPress’s success and something I’d love to see Squarespace add in the future.

Another strike? There’s no FTP upload of images and the like. If you’re going to put product images on the site, could be a bit of a problem. You can upload a single self-extracting zip file, but handling the images after the fact could get to be a hassle. The company claimed in a blog post late last year to be working on this feature—they’ve already addressed the other items in the post—so it may just be a matter of time before this issue goes away.

Speaking of the items they announced last fall, Squarespace offers a very slick iPad app. Nice. If you’re a Squarespace user, it might just belong in your essential iPad blogging apps. A couple of known issues exist in the iPhone app/iPad app, but the support team seems responsive, courteous, and helpful. There’s also a robust community on the site, too. For instance, I was able to find answers to almost every question I had about the tool within their excellent forums.

Squarespace iPad app

SEO

Of course, getting people to your content often requires Google’s help. Fortunately, Squarespace has given obvious thought to how well on-site SEO works. For instance, you can easily configure URL shortcuts for any page on your site with your choice of 301 or 302 redirects. Unbelievably cool. And if that last sentence meant nothing to you, don’t worry. It will to Google. And that’s a Very Good Thing.

Squarespace URL shortcuts with 301 Redirects

E-commerce

Like most other hosted content solutions, Squarespace doesn’t handle e-commerce directly. And that’s OK. Adding a link to an offsite store is just a matter of adding a title to your navigation bar and pasting in the URL to your store:
Squarespace adding a link to e-commerce store

You can choose whether to open that store link in a new window, or—the default (and correct) choice—continue the session within the existing browser window. Nice. Simple. Awesome.

Obviously, you can add a link to any site the same way. Very handy if you’re using third-party services for features on your site (blogs, e-commerce, forums and the like come immediately to mind).

Analytics

Squarespace comes pre-configured with its own analytics package and offers most of the basic reporting you’d want:

  • Traffic
  • Referrers (i.e., where traffic is coming from)
  • Popular Content
  • Search queries

For simple sites, this is probably enough. More sophisticated sites would likely want to add Google Analytics, Omniture or other sorts of tracking, which Squarespace allows with its Code Injection feature. Code Injection is very sophisticated, giving you loads of options for where to place your code:

Squarespace code injection throughout document

Unfortunately, as with other advanced features, this comes at a price (an “Advanced” or “Business” account, $20/month or $36/month, respectively). While I understand the decision to limit Code Injection to more sophisticated users, I’m not sure I agree with the company limiting the addition of improved analytics. In my mind, knowing what your customers are doing on your site should not be an “Advanced” option.

Updated: Reader Darren Wright informs me,

“…on the entry level i.e. Standard you get one injection point… which is all you need to add Google Analytics to your site.

So for $12 a month you can have a site with Google Analytics, no problem.”

That’s very welcome information. As I noted originally, knowing what your customers do on your site should not be an “Advanced” option. Of course, if you need more than one Code Injection point for some reason, you would need an “Advanced” or “Business” account. Of course, if you need more than one Code Injection point, it’s entirely probable your business needs can accommodate the higher cost.

Look and Feel

Out of the box, Squarespace provides 60 different themes for your website. Well… more like 5 basic themes with multiple variations each. These themes are very professional and very attractive, if a trifle basic. Compared with other tools I’ve looked at, Squarespace leans more towards the professional end of the spectrum. For most businesses, that’s a Very Good Thing.

In addition, Squarespace offers one of the most robust editing suites I’ve seen for customizing your site’s look and feel. Their Appearance Editor—including a robust CSS editor—is, to use a technical term, bad-ass.

Squarespace appearance editor

Of course, as Spiderman’s Uncle Ben liked to say, “with great power comes great responsibility.” When compared with the theme overlays of other tools, this requires lots more work. The flip-side is, if you can envision it, the Appearance Editor has just about every tool you could want to make it happen. This is more good than bad. And you don’t need to go anywhere near it if you don’t want.

One minor quibble: the “Save Changes” button—especially in the Appearance Editor—could be more prominent. I failed to save changes a couple of times and found I had to re-do some work. Not a huge deal, but more of a pain than I’d like it to be. Ideally, if you’re working with this level of customization, you’ll remember to save early and often.

Costs

OK, so the 14-day trial is nice, but how much does Squarespace cost you over the long-run?

Here’s the breakdown. Squarespace offers three account levels:

  • Standard ($12/month)
  • Advanced ($20/month)
  • Business ($36/month)

Multiple custom HTML injection points (needed for things like Google Analytics or Website Optimizer) requires an “Advanced” account ($20/month). The form builder is only available on “Business” accounts ($36 per month).

The cheapest option is $128/year for 2 years, which isn’t a ton of money for a professional-looking and robust site. I’m just not sure it’s your best choice. Yes, you get:

  • 10 pages
  • 3GB of storage
  • 1 TB of bandwidth

But other options provide similar capabilities at a lower cost. On the other hand, it will run you $432/annually for a “Business” account ($384 if you sign up for 2 years at a time). Just under $400/year for their top-tier “Business” account is a pretty good deal for what you get. Most businesses would likely need to hire a designer to deal with the heavy-duty CSS editing, but when you’re ready for a “pro-level” site, that’s probably a given no matter what solution you choose.

Conclusion

So, what do I think of Squarespace? Well, I think it is frickin’ cool. Seriously. I’m a fan. You get heavy-duty hosting capabilities, content portability and sophisticated editing control for a reasonable price.

What do I hate? It isn’t free. It’s not the most profitable option for folks interested in reseller accounts. But, if you’re interested in a high-quality, professional-caliber hosted solution, it’s a great option.

To me, it’s more a question of design philosophy. Squarespace is not just a blog-hosting tool, but a full-featured replacement for traditional hosting/web development. At the lower price points, I think you can do better. But when you’re ready for a fully-hosted, robust platform, Squarespace definitely is worth giving a look. I suggest you check it out. You just might like what you see.

Full disclosure: I am an affiliate of ProStores, Amazon, Dreamhost and (as of October, 2011, Squarespace) but received no compensation for writing this post from anyone.

 

Interested in learning more? Register to receive a free copy of my new special report, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World,” produced in conjunction with Vizergy, here. While it’s targeted to the hospitality industry specifically, most of the lessons apply across verticals. And, if that’s not enough, you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web, including:

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments

  1. One Software that is good is Omnistar Affiliate because you can setup an affiliate program in a couple hours.

  2. Squarespace is pretty cool, some nice websites have been created with this tool. I think it’s more of a competitor to WordPress than to other website builders like Weebly and Jimdo.
    There are two things that I don’t really understand in the Standard plan: there is a limit to 10 pages (blog not included) and as you’ve mentioned you can’t use Google Analytics. For a price of $12 /month with no domain included I would expect a little bit more.
    But it certainly does have some nifty features that you won’t find with other website building tools.

    • Thanks, Robert. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. And I agree with you. I don’t think Squarespace is a great value at $12 a month, but I am a fan of its “Advanced” and “Business” tiers. For someone just starting out, I think there are equally good options at a lower cost. When comparing its higher tiers with hosting and custom web design, though, I think it matches up quite favorably. Thanks again for the comment!

  3. Yes, true. Although I haven’t really worked with the user registration module I think this is probably one of the most interesting options of the Business plan. It would be nice to hear opinions of people who have built their full blown business site with it. Among hosted services Squarespace probably is the most interesting option for larger businesses.

  4. Hiya Tim,

    We are a UK based Digital Marketing company and we use squarepace extensively for ourselves and customers. It really is the best hosted tool for quality design of web sites.

    Just one point, you say in your article that to add Google Analytics to a squarespace site you need an advanced account or business account, due to ‘code injection’. This is not correct, on the entry level i.e. Standard you get one injection point, which is to inject code into the , which is all you need to add Google Analytics to your site.

    So for $12 a month you can have a site with Google Analytics, no problem.

    • Thank you, Darren and good catch! I’ve updated the analytics section to reflect your comment. I’d love to hear more about how you’re using Squarespace for your clients. For instance, can you give examples where you’re using the upgraded accounts and why you feel it’s the best solution for your clients?

      Thanks again for reading and for the terrific comment.

  5. Hi Tim,

    Just a quick update on Squarespace. They were nice enough to hand out a free Business account to me for testing purposes.

    If compared to services like Weebly or Jimdo I think Squarespace cannot really compete in terms of simplicity.
    The huge range of features lead to a steeper learning curve for beginners. However, Squarespace is the only service that can be a serious alternative to WordPress.org as it gives you the most template flexibility. It’s fairly easy to build your own template. Not having to worry about hosting and too much traffic is another benefit.
    I quite liked the business features such as the forum and membership module. Anyone interested to learn more can check out this review: http://www.websitetooltester.com/en/reviews/squarespace-review/

    Best,

    Robert

  6. Peter

    Squarespace is great for blogging – but I find the design options a bit limiting. You basically have to choose from various layout options (as oppose to creating your own). Cubender (www.cubender.com) is the opposite, not very good for blogging but awesome for laying out your site… Just my two cents.

    • Hi Peter,

      Thanks for the comments. I’m not familiar with Cubender yet, but I do think Squarespace provides loads of power in terms of design options. You’ve got full access to the underlying CSS, so you can make any page look just about any way you want. Admittedly, that power requires some “smarter than your average bear” HTML and CSS skills. But it shouldn’t be beyond the capabilities of a decent web designer.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting. I’ll check out Cubender first chance I get (or, if you’d like to guest post and tell us about it…)

  7. Hi Tim, I found this article really clear and helpful, thank you!

    I’m looking for an alternative to GoDaddy (where I’m currently hosted) because I have started to really hate them. Their user interface is frustrating and just stops working after a while. If you see my website now, you will see the problems I ran into that I couldn’t fix because their site told me I wasn’t authorized to make changes, all of a sudden.

    Squarespace sounds good, but definitely has more simple templates. My business is in pet fashion, so I want a website with a fun template and some style. Any suggestions?

  8. Wow! I’m about to start up my business and I’m currently looking for a site where I can have my business posted. I guess I would definitely try the service provided by Squarespace.

  9. Chance

    I agree with the above comment about the design options. I dont like the templates (they look like they were created in 1996) and you need to know css to change the looks.

    I checked out Cubender, and holy s**t. It’s amazing! But I don’t think you can blog with them! :(

  10. Russ

    Cubender appears to all be in Flash – no good for iPhones and iPads then, so unacceptable for me. I really like Squarespace, although I think the price is a little high for some.

    • Hi Russ,

      Thanks for reading and thank you for the comment. I definitely agree that Squarespace’s pricing isn’t right for everybody. But I think it’s a solid tool for those that needs its combination of power, customization and reasonable cost.

      Again, thanks for the comment and I’ll look forward to hearing from you again.

  11. Elle

    Can you do a review on cubender please?

    • Hi Elle,

      Thanks for the request. It looks like Wix will be the next site builder we take a look at (and in the meantime, you can look at our recent update about 8 easy website hosting options). But I’ll keep Cubender in mind for a future update as well.

  12. Hey guys,

    My name is Adam, and I am the sales manager with Bluefish Tech, in Toronto, Canada. Our company has been using SquareSpace for a few years now, and I have to say we love it. We offer all sorts of web development to our clients, but anyone not needing a site requiring server-side script such as php, we recommend them using SquareSpace.com. This is mostly because of the fact that once we are done with their build, they are easily able to manage the site’s content without requiring constant assistance from us. Squarespace.com is definitely an asset to a company like ours which uses it daily for our web builds!

  13. Hello, Tim!

    I just wanted to leave a comment here because I noticed a few posts mentioning that Cubender is flash-only. This is not true! In fact, Cubender websites will display on ALL devices (including the iPad and iPhone), and is SEO-friendly. You even have the option to publish exclusively to HTML if you prefer. Really, you get the best of both worlds!

    PS we’d love it if you could do a review on us! Just let me know when you’re ready, and I would be happy to set you up with an account so that you can test out everything we have to offer.

    Nancy

    • Thanks, Nancy. I’m working on a review right now. I’ll reach out to you in the next couple of weeks for comments before I publish. Thanks!

  14. sensei

    Im looking for some simple membership intergration… this platform quest is not fun been on a mission for years. Are you familiar with homestead? wordpress is nice but drives me crazy… squarespace looks good but the support situation is lame … when I have a issue would love to hear from a rep asap this is a deal breaker for me.
    Suggestions?
    thanks
    Sensei.M

  15. I’ve been trying to get my website up for awhile and running with your lovely squarespace and found it to be awful and cumbersome and without good support. Ooooo, too bad you put your eggs into that basket.

    • Hi Carla,

      Can you let me know what issues you’ve had with Squarespace? I’m surprised to hear you’ve had issues as I found the support team and the Squarespace community very helpful. And, as I’ve noted repeatedly, I use WordPress for this blog, hosted on Dreamhost. But the flexibility that my setup offers requires more knowledge than just using WordPress.com, Squarespace or one of the other sites I’ve reviewed. Unfortunately, there’s often a trade-off between power and the requirements that power places on the individual user. Anyway, please let me know what’s been going on and maybe I can point you to the right people to address your problem.

      Thanks for reading.

      Tim

  16. Just thought I’d add that Squarespace has lowered their subscription prices to $8/$20 respectively as well as providing a free custom domain if you sign up for an annual plan. For me, the headaches (not to mention hosting does cost $ even with “free” WordPress (org) ) of not dealing with backend security and server issues is well worth the cost of a hosted platform.
    I also wonder if the previous commentor, Carla, was trying out the new Squarespace v6. It’s definitely got some kinks to work out, but for the most part v5 is quite smooth. I’ll admit , I’m a bit biased to Squarespace as I write “unofficial” tutorials ;)

    • Excellent points, Holly. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment.

  17. Mike S.

    Great article, but I believe you left out a few extremely important benefits of Squarespace that has me ready to pull-the-trigger. Automatic updates by Squarespace. WordPress seems to require updating regularly in addition to keeping any plugins current, and if you are someone who doesn’t watch his own site often, you WILL have a broken site eventually. The monthly cost of Squarespace should actually be the cheapest option for most businesses when you factor in down-time, ongoing maintenance costs and hosting costs. While I’m mentioning hosting costs, unless you pay for a high-end hosting service in the $20-$30/mo range for a WordPress site with at least a vpn, you are lumped into a shared environment with hundreds or even thousands of sites which limits your site’s speed and security. Please correct me if I’m wrong as I have learned just enough to be dangerous here.

    • Hi Mike,

      This is a great point and well worth including in your consideration set. And you’re not wrong. There’s more to any hosting choice than just setting it up and letting it run.

      However, your concern about updates only matters if you manually install WordPress and plug-ins. It’s worth noting that many hosts (including Dreamhost who I use, BlueHost and others) offer one-click installs and automated updates. Alternately, you can use WordPress.com for hosting, which also automatically updates the version of WordPress you’re running. Of course, if you choose a host that doesn’t offer this service, then it’s all on you to keep everything up-to-date — as you suggest, for many businesses reading this review that’s simply not a good option.

      As for shared hosting vs. non-shared, you’re also right that moving to a non-shared environment will usually be faster. But, Squarespace also is a “shared” environment (“shared” is in quotes because of the way the company configures its environment). With a reputable host (again, see Dreamhost or BlueHost as quality examples), your site’s speed should be fine in a shared environment for most small businesses. Your site’s speed will depend more on how well it’s set up and the size of dependent files (e.g., images, rich media, Javascript files, etc.) than on other sites in the shared environment. It’s typically only when your site traffic starts to get meaningful that you’ll notice a difference between a shared environment and a dedicated one (again, assuming you’re using a high-quality hosting company).

      The right way to evaluate Squarespace vs. WordPress is on an “apples-to-apples” basis: Look at what the specific host offers and what you’re required to do on your own. Review the templates and see what works for your business. Determine how much customization your template requires and what it will cost to find resources to do that customization (WordPress’s popularity keeps the cost of development down whereas developers skilled with Squarespace are a little tougher to find and a bit more expensive). The good news is there’s really no bad choice between Squarespace and either WordPress.com or WordPress set up by a really good host. Choose the one you feel most comfortable with and remember, you can always move later if you outgrow either scenario.

      Thanks again, Mike, for a great comment and for reading. I’ll try to expand on these thoughts in an upcoming post. But in the meantime, let me know if you’d like to discuss in more detail.

  18. rita

    I was happy when creating a portfolio on square space but came cross a problem that I shouldn’t have. All I wanted was each image in the portfolio to have its own unique url! But, the website does not provide that. So I opened a case for the problem to be fixed and its been 2 months and still counting and the problem has not been fixed. I only lost 2 month work because if this

    • Thanks, Rita. I’m working on an update to this piece and I’ll keep that in mind. Maybe there’s a workaround. I’ll see what I can find out.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment.

Submit a Comment