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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 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.
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.
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.
I was able to set up a fairly sexy contact form quickly and easily. As mentioned above, integrating outside tools is also simple.
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:
- Lots of useful integration with social sites and other tools. Awesome if you want to publish your content via Facebook and Twitter.
- 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.
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.
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:
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).
Squarespace comes pre-configured with its own analytics package and offers most of the basic reporting you’d want:
- 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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
- How to Build Your Small Business Blog
- Eight Excellent Easy Website Hosting Options (Small Business E-commerce Link Digest – January 20, 2012)
- 5 Questions About Landing Page URL’s
- Comparing Jimdo to SiteKreator, Webnode, Weebly and WordPress
- Taking a look at Weebly (The thinks Website Hosting Tools Review)
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