I came across Squarespace earlier this year, and it probably would have been version 6. But I was still under contract to with my hosting provider, so financially that didn’t make much sense for me just yet, until now. 

I was hoping for a change in my current setup, which was a WordPress theme bought off the shelf and configured, then uploaded to be hosted by an Australian provider. 

This was great setup, as there were a number of benefits at that time:

  1. I wanted to learn about WordPress
  2. Self-hosting was the cheapest method of having a website
  3. And the CONTROL. I could do whatever I wanted!

The drawback, of course, was that I had to invest a lot of time into not only getting it setup, but maintaining the site, testing and then implementing new features into the site. Couple of years back, this wasn’t difficult. Now, I found it harder and harder to do this, let alone even find time for writing. 

So back to the drawing board it was, and Squarespace was on my to-do list to check out once my hosting contract was expiring. It didn’t take long to setup a trial site, and experiment with it. 


First Impressions

What attracted me initially was the quality of the website templates. It was gorgeous, cool, and simple at the same time. And the templates were targeted at designers, artists, photographers (or could be made to suit them) – which was what I wanted, instead of a business-sy looking website. 

Front-end verdict – amazing. But read on to find out more.

Setting Up The Trial Account

This was relatively straightforward. I’m the sort that does not enjoy reading thick manuals (although small ones might be ok), and so I dived straight into the backend. 

If you primarily work from WordPress’s front end management system, then you’ll be somewhat familiar with Squarespace. There’s no back end to manage; everything is done via the front end. Any change you tweak is automatically updated on the site. From the looks of it, Squarespace is designed to be as simply and quickly as possible for users to focus on the ‘more important’ things, like posting updates frequently.

Help Site

I found Squarespace’s help site to be slightly confusing at first, until I realized that I had to search for help specifically within the Squarespace 7 Help pages (http://help7.squarespace.com/). 

What was I searching for initially? Well, I was at their Pricing page (http://www.squarespace.com/pricing/) and I was drawn to the Personal plan, as it was $8/month. But I wasn’t sure if the 20 Pages allowed meant 20 pages + blog posts. Would that mean that I could only blog up to 20 times? 

The answer is, thank goodness, no. A ‘blog‘, as how Squarespace defines it, contributes as 1 Page. So that leaves you with 19 other pages. 

By the way, their support is 24/7. Which was great, as I ran into problems importing my WordPress site, and I got a reply (in Australian time) within 20 minutes.

Importing From WordPress

The trial account only allows you to import up to 20 posts. That was fine. I had to edit my WordPress XML to only import the posts that I wanted to see – as I’ve had my WordPress blog for about 5 years, and I’ve changed my post formats over the years. 

I suspect that Squarespace does not handle WordPress shortcodes. My

did not import at all. Luckily I have only used it in a small number of posts, so I had to edit those posts in WordPress and exported it again. All I did was to

  1. go into each post, remove the shortcode, then
  2. click the Add Media button.
  3. It will now show you all the images you’ve uploaded, but there’s a select box that you can use to show only images uploaded for this post. Do that and you’re done.

Once I had paid for my Personal account (by the way, there’s a 10% coupon off your first invoice at http://www.squarespace.com/coupons/), and once I was confident that I wanted to be imported would be setup correctly the first time, I ran the import. Then,

— WORDPRESS Import Complete. Status: FAILURE
— Import Failed!
— WriteConcernException: P38RJRBDCJ4RZ4P3MXHX
— Importing Data from WORDPRESS

Dang. Ran it again. Same thing. 

So I emailed Squarespace support, and they were able to resolve it for me within a day. So kudos to their support!

Using Squarespace

Interface

I think Squarespace has put a lot of thought into this, to make it as user-friendly as possible for most beginners to get up and running quickly. The menu layout, editing and configuring page layouts was easy to navigate. You do have to familiarize yourself with it some with where things are, but it’s a gentle enough learning curve. 

Add content via Content Blocks
Add content via Content Blocks

Adding content is pretty much the same way. Every thing is revolved around Squarespace’s ‘Content Blocks’ – this ranges from normal Text and Image blocks to more advanced blocks like Social and Donation buttons.

If you want to add a block, just hover to the left where the gray insert markers turn black. Click on it and the Content Block menu appears. 

Let’s say you want to wrap the image around text. That’s just as easy. Move your mouse to the image, and when the icon changes to the hand, drag and drop it to where you want. Easy-peasy. 

Note that some blocks don’t seem to be wrappable – I couldn’t find a way to integrate the social icons and RSS together.

More reading here: http://help.squarespace.com/guides/moving-content-blocks

Live Editing

Squarespace lets you edit on the spot, and you can see your changes update immediately. Keyboard shortcuts like Ctrl+C (copy) and Ctrl+V (paste) works. I wish there was a few more features on the Text Block editor, like strike-through, or highlight text, but guess that isn’t totally necessary.

Text Block Editor. Simple. Too simple?
Text Block Editor. Simple. Too simple?

On the whole, live editing works really well for the most part. The drawback, though, is plainly obvious – while you can test pages by moving it out of the navigation bar, and put blog posts into draft mode, you cannot test a design template.

Every template comes with some pre-inserted demo pages (including the homepage), which you’d have to delete, and configure your own pages. Also there are some bits which are different – I had the Momentum template, and then at the last minute decided to swap to the Wexley template. The Wexley has a sidebar on the Blog; the Momentum does not. My footer did not retain; it was set to the demo footer. Having said that, as my site wasn’t huge, I was able to reconfigure them quickly. 

I guess if there is a situation that would require you to do a lot of re-configuring, then you would have to either

  1. let your viewers see what you’re changing, which you could minimize by doing it during those weird hours, or
  2. take down the site by removing the Domain Link.

If there’s a better way, then I’ll let you know in the future. 

Mobile Editing

I tested it on my 3rd Generation Retina iPad. It was…. not great. I would suppose that while Squarespace’s interface is quite touch friendly, but it’s pretty heavy on resources. The iPad was pretty much stuck on loading whenever you touch any buttons. But, if you had a Surface Pro………. that would be a whole different story.

Revision History

There is no revision history. This, again, would be fine on most occasions, but once in awhile you would wish you had that feature like WordPress. 

Backups

The only thing you’ll be able to do in terms of backup is to export the data manually into a .xml file. That said, I suppose I’m satisfied, since a) I trust that Squarespace backs up its data more securely as a company than I could as a single business, and b) the .xml file theoretically should be the file I care about most anyway. Anything else can be discarded. 

Social 

First things first: the Squarespace Personal plan DOES NOT allow for Facebook Page. Facebook Personal Profile – yes, Page – no. In retrospect that does make sense (seeing that this is a business), but I wish I had found that out earlier. Anybody wanting to use the Personal plan to save $80/year like me, and have a Facebook Page will be seriously disappointed. 

On Facebook in particular, it seems to integrate just fine. I’m not a great Facebook user, so there isn’t really much for me to say about this topic. Probably same goes for the other social sites.

There’s an option which allows you to add the Pinterest button under Settings -> Share Buttons. And that includes styling options as well for Pinterest. Good enough for me.

Galleries

The gallery function seemed to work pretty well for me. I was able to drag and drop images in the sidebar, and it proceeded to upload immediately. For larger image galleries (I suspect above 50 images), I would suggest uploading no more than 50 at once. Squarespace seemed to freeze, but after about 5 minutes, and a screen refresh (F5), it seemed to be ok. 

There’s a hard limit of 1500px-wide per image, but I guess that’s acceptable, unless you’re on a Retina screen. But for the rest of us non-Retina and slower bandwidth users, that’s fine. 

Squarespace also makes multiple image resizes when you upload an image, so that ensures that if you’re browsing the site on your mobile, for instance, the images you download would be much more screen appropriate, and consumes less data.

The great thing also is that you can create private galleries – galleries that doesn’t sit on your main menu (and therefore has somewhat of an invisible link), and you can password protect them. Google will not index any password-protected gallery.

More info on images can be found here: http://help7.squarespace.com/guides/how-should-i-format-my-images-for-display-on-the-web. 

Compared To WordPress.com

If I want to compare Squarespace with another competitor, my first thought would be WordPress.com. Both offer relatively similar features at very attractive price points. I think Squarespace sits very well between WordPress.com’s Premium and Business plans (http://store.wordpress.com/plans/). The free WordPress.com plan is out of the question, as it does not support custom domains – as in you can’t have your own domain name. 

If you’re already familiar with how WordPress works, then it should be a cinch for you to setup. However, if you are a familiar WordPress user, it could be that it might take you a longer time to reconfigure your website if you change themes, seeing that not all WordPress themes follow the same set of rules. I could be wrong, but that’s just how I suspect it could be without doing further research. 

Also, WordPress.com does not offer unlimited space or eCommerce features, unless you use the Business plan at $299/year. It does offer a lot more theme choices than Squarespace though. 

Summary

Squarespace is for you if 

  1. You’re a photographer/artist/small online business owner, and you’re looking for a simple website
  2. You can’t be stuffed dealing with the maintenance of a normal self-hosted website
  3. You consider looks and ease of use to be more important than being able to fine-tune your website to your heart’s content

Squarespace is not for you if

  1. You have multiple people working on your website and you need version control
  2. You want to the ability to install different themes or plugins a la WordPress or Joomla
  3. If you’re a tight-arse and tell me that you can have a WordPress website for 1/3 of the price. Consider that you do not have to do any back-end maintenance for Squarespace, this is relatively affordable.

For its ease of use, and as a managed service, I think I’m pretty happy with Squarespace. 

Off topic: If you’re really interested in a content management system that revolves around permissions, multiple approval levels, I worked on Interwoven Teamsite before. It’s great as that. Everything else wasn’t just for me.