Congratulations, you’ve finally narrowed it down to two options: WordPress.org Vs Squarespace. So, which of these two website builders is the right one for you? Well, that’s a little bit like asking what kind of car you should drive. The short answer is: it depends.
We know, that’s not exactly helpful, but hopefully by the end of this article, you will have a clearer idea of whether you should invest in a sturdy family hatchback that will drive for thousands of miles, or a flashy convertible with more horsepower, albeit one that requires more than a little maintenance (we’re also going to stop here with the car analogy because it’s not exactly relevant).
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Squarespace vs WordPress: What’s the difference?
Squarespace is a hosted website builder, which already includes templates, automatic updates, ecommerce and hosting. It’s generally also easier to use, and gives you the option of switching on extras like email marketing, member areas, and appointment scheduling, which are built into the tool. WordPress is more flexible and scalable, although it almost always requires the use of extra plugins to get your website fully up and running. It’s also a better choice for larger websites that require specific features like multiple languages.
A video comparison
First things first: Why would you consider WordPress.org?
Not to be confused with WordPress.com – which is easier to set up, but only really useful for blogs – WordPress.org is currently used by 41.0% of the top 10 million websites in the world. In other words, you’re in good hands with it. We’ve covered the pros and cons of this content management system before, but what you should really know is that WordPress.org is two things: powerful and flexible. Like, super powerful and super flexible.
To put it in superlative terms, there simply isn’t a website you couldn’t build with WordPress. Unfortunately, this comes at a price. The main one is that you will have to set it up on your own domain, so that means you have the responsibility of finding a good hosting service (ideally a specialized WordPress hosting company). The other points, we will discuss in detail below. Please note that in this article we are covering the .org version. To learn more about WordPress.com, please take a look at this article.
What about Squarespace?
Launched more than 10 years ago, Squarespace is one of the increasingly popular heavyweights of the website-building scene. While their number of users isn’t publicly disclosed, it is one of the most widely-used website builders (especially in the US, Canada, UK and Australia), with an estimated 1000 new users signing up for it every day.
The reason for their success? They have managed to create a one-stop solution that makes it extremely easy for beginners to start a website in about 5 seconds. Ok, more like two minutes, but still, it is very impressive.
Squarespace takes care of all aspects of your website, so you can choose a template, a domain name, and the service will make sure everything runs smoothly for you. So does it beat WordPress in all fields? Let’s break it down in detail:
Ease of Use: how beginner-friendly are they?
If you consider yourself a complete n00b when it comes to technology, if you don’t even know what a n00b is, or if the word “plugin” sends you running for the hills, then here’s the good news: Squarespace is an extremely beginner-friendly platform using a drag and drop approach.
While it is worth noting that other website builders out there are even easier to use, all you’ll need to set up a new site is know how to click your computer mouse. Pretty good stuff for anyone suffering from source-code phobia.
The Squarespace website editor
WordPress recently improved their editor with the Gutenberg update, adding a building block system similar to Squarespace. It’s currently available for editing pages and posts (although WordPress aims to roll it out to other parts of the website soon). However, you will still require a minimum amount of technical knowledge. Even if certain hosting providers offer “one-click solutions” to install WordPress (see tutorial) you will still have to deal with software updates every now and then.
Likewise, if you want to make the most of the platform, it would help if you can manually update your plugins, have a basic knowledge of FTP to upload files to your website, and maybe even of databases such as MySQL if you want to do really advanced stuff. All in all, you’ll find a much steeper learning curve with WordPress.
Winner: No surprises here – Squarespace is the undisputed winner when it comes to ease of use.
Design and flexibility
Squarespace website templates are simply beautiful. And there is a decent selection to choose from, too – the latest Squarespace release introduced around 110 new templates to the library, in addition to the 100+ templates already available.
Squarespace’s modern-looking templates
It’s worth noting that the templates from the latest release, 7.1, work slightly differently to the pre-existing templates. You have more flexibility when it comes to layouts, thanks to the introduction of pre-built sections that let you chop and change designs. And while you can’t change templates once they’ve been selected, you’ll find that you have more control in overhauling the design if needed.
But Squarespace templates also have one big limitation. Sure, they look really stylish when you pick them, but this is because they have been professionally designed with big beautiful pictures. If you don’t have access to the same quality for logos or background images, your gorgeous website could end up looking…. a bit cheap.
WordPress themes on Themeforest
With WordPress, you have a nearly unlimited amount of free and paying templates to choose from with virtually infinite customization options. While this is great news for people who know exactly what they want their website to look like, it also means two things:
1) it can be a bit overwhelming;
2) like we previously explained, it is worth having some basic HTML and CSS knowledge to implement all the style choices you require. But with the thousands of options available, chances are that you might not even have to do any tweaking at all. (You can check out numerous professional looking WordPress themes on websites such as themeforest.net)
Winner: A tricky one. With WordPress, you get virtually unlimited options and full design flexibility – although you’ll need coding knowledge to get the most out of it. Squarespace’s templates are stunning, and much easier to tweak – although you compromise on the ability to fully customize them. So let’s call this one a tie.
Ecommerce: adding a shopping cart
Here again, Squarespace offers a very practical, efficient, and simple online shopping platform for your website right out of the box. You can easily insert a Product Page into your website to create an online store and add items to it. You can control your inventory. You can add product variations. You can manage coupons and shipping options. And you can sell both physical and digital items, including subscriptions.
You can even integrate your shopping platform with other products such as Mailchimp for mailing lists and Xero for your accounting. Their integration with Zapier lets you connect it to hundreds of other email services and CRM tools. It also offers you a very decent range of payment providers: credit cards via Stripe, Paypal, ApplePay, Afterpay, and Square for Point of Sale support.
Ecommerce with Squarespace already starts with the Business plan at $18 / month. But do keep in mind that Squarespace charges a 3% commission on all sales. If you are planning to make more than $3000 per year we’d advise you to consider the Basic Commerce plan ($26 / month) at least you won’t be charged a sales commission on this plan.
The main drawbacks are that real-time shipping rates are currently only available for the US. Same goes with automatic taxes – these are available via a TaxJar integration, which is currently in beta. And abandoned cart recovery emails – something that’s standard in most ecommerce solutions – is only available on the highest-level ecommerce plan.
The standard ecommerce solution for WordPress is the plugin WooCommerce. It’s also open-source and offers even more functionality than a Squarespace online store. You have better ways to manage your tax settings and will find plenty of other add-ons to add additional shipping carriers, for example. Please note that many of these WooCommerce extensions come at an additional cost.
But, as with any WordPress website, it takes a lot more work to get a WooCommerce store up and running. Be prepared to spend time (or money, in case you’re hiring a developer) on customizing themes and enabling extensions to get your store exactly as you want it.
The WooCommerce extensions store
Winner: Squarespace’s ecommerce solution is impressive, but it’s no match for the almighty WooCommerce. That’s the equalizer for WordPress – both solutions have two points apiece.
SEO: will people find me on Google?
If you’re in a highly competitive niche market and want to stand out from the crowd, you’re going to have to implement the best SEO practices. Here again, Squarespace makes it easy for you. This service lets you easily edit title tags, meta descriptions, custom URLs, and you can even create 301 redirects. Read more about Squarespace’s SEO options here.
But you need to have some clue about what you are doing here. Wix, for example, offers a more hands-off approach with its SEO Wiz tool. But again, it’s better to learn the basics rather than blindly relying on some magic tool.
Another thing we need to mention is that Squarespace’s templates (which are often content-heavy and require high-resolution images) are generally slower to load compared to other platforms. This could negatively impact rankings, so if your site is going to rely on search traffic, it’s an important consideration to keep in mind.
WordPress is pretty powerful when it comes to SEO, thanks to numerous plugins. But here again, you’ll have to provide a bit of elbow grease to get the job done. You have a couple of options: you can either get right under the hood and tweak the HTML manually, or you can use plugins that make it effortless to simply fill fields with your Google-friendly info.
The Yoast WordPress Plugin
One such plugin is the free Yoast SEO, which gives you advanced features such as real-time page analysis, image titles, optimization options, and XML sitemaps. (There are many more you can find just by typing SEO into the WordPress plugin page.)
Winner: Although Squarespace does SEO better than most website builders, WordPress’s vast library of plugins really puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to optimizing your site.
Uptime & Pagespeed: technicalities
Continuing with the theme of search engine rankings, here is an important point to take into consideration: your website’s speed. Google favors quicker websites, and it measures their speed using a number of variables, including how responsive they are and how fast they load on a mobile device (if you want to test a website yourself, you can use websites such as Webpagetest.org or Uptime Robot.)
Real-time results for our own Squarespace site
As we mentioned earlier, Squarespace’s results are just ok. While all their templates are responsive and mobile-ready, the page speed tests aren’t looking spectacular, and they are borderline punishing when it comes to mobile devices. It is worth noting at this point that all their servers are based in the US, which could slow things down if you are mainly dealing with visitors from other geographic areas.
With WordPress, the speed depends on which website host you go for. Make sure you check out our uptime and speed analysis before committing to a WordPress host. After that, you can also tweak your template to increase speed and responsiveness, either manually or using those ever-useful plugins to compress images and leverage browser caching.
Winner: Without a doubt, WordPress. That puts them firmly in the lead, 4:2.
Support: who will help me at 3 am?
A big plus for Squarespace here. Every option they offer comes with dedicated personal email support and even a live chat. You’ll never feel alone with these guys, so if you need a helping hand during setup or when trying to upload pictures of your cat to your blog, you know who to turn to. There’s also a detailed knowledge base, videos, webinars, and forum – plenty to guide you through every step.
With a WordPress site, it’s a bit of a mixed bag inasmuch as there is no official support. Yes, you do benefit from a huge community of users and exhaustive documentation, but finding an answer to your problem can quickly become difficult. You can try your luck in the numerous forum threads but beware – conversations can quickly become very geeky and frustrating, especially if you don’t know your CSS from your jQuery. However, if you purchase a paid WordPress theme, some developers offer free support so you can contact them to tweak the design to your heart’s content. Also, there are premium WordPress hosts such as Kinsta that provide WordPress support. But you’ll be looking at $30+ per month.
Winner: As a hosted service, it’s no surprise that Squarespace invests more in support – so it takes out this round. WordPress however is still in the lead, 4:3.
Prices: who’s got the better deal?
The million-dollar question. Which one is cheaper? Well, here again it depends (sorry). At least with Squarespace you get very clear price plans and you can quickly calculate how much it will cost you per year, all included: $12 / month for your personal website; $18 / month for your business website; $26 / month for a basic online shop or $40 / month for an advanced one. Not super cheap but easy to calculate.
Note that extras like email marketing, member areas and appointment booking come at an additional cost. These will increase your monthly costs by an additional $10-70, so if you need these solutions, make sure to factor them into your budget!
With WordPress, you have to budget in your hosting plan, the price of your website theme, and the price of additional plugins. This means you could pay as little as $4 a month if you do it on the cheap and don’t care about hosting speed, but your website could also turn into a real money pit if you want it to display every feature in the world. We generally recommend Siteground’s hosting, which starts at $3.95/month (first year) and then increases to $11.95 per month.
Winner: Squarespace’s premium prices make WordPress the more affordable option here, provided that you can find decently-priced hosting, and don’t need a huge amount of extra features. That takes the score to 5:3.
System Migration: will they let me go?
Can’t make up your mind? The good news is that you can always migrate your website content from one platform to another. But be aware that it won’t exactly be smooth sailing.
Squarespace does offer an import/export function, but it’s easier to bring things in than to send them out. For instance, when exporting to WordPress, you will have to manually manage your images, and the CSS (i.e. everything style-related) will be ignored. Moreover, you will have to disable every WordPress plugin before import, which can sometimes break your theme and quickly become a bit of a headache.
WordPress, on their side of things, doesn’t offer native Squarespace import so you’ll have to add yet another free plugin called WordPress Importer. It will let you import galleries, blog posts, and static pages.
Please note that neither service will let you migrate things such as audio, video, events pages or product pages, which can be a real problem for online shops. Moreover, you won’t be able to copy the style of a website, so you’re very likely to have to re-design it from scratch.
Winner: Neither will let you migrate your site perfectly, so we don’t think one really performs better than the other in this category. But tallying up the rounds, WordPress comes out on top with an impressive 6 points to Squarespace’s 3! Now, let’s see if it’s really right for you…
Squarespace or WordPress: Our Final Thoughts
So here’s the final word: when choosing between WordPress and Squarespace, the question should not just be “what kind of website do I want now”, but you should really ask yourself “what kind of website will I want in 1 year?”.
What we mean is that if you have minimal needs, or just want a simple, good-looking blogging + ecommerce solution that works straight out of the box, then Squarespace is probably the right solution for you. Same goes if you don’t mind paying a bit extra for the convenience of never having to touch a line of code (or deal with hosting, security and updates).
If, however, you have big plans for your website, then go for WordPress. Yes, it will require some time and effort (and maybe some cash too), but the number of options doesn’t even compare with the competition. Multilingual support, specific templates, searchable databases: these are just a few of the features you won’t be able to get with Squarespace.
And now, to throw another spanner in the works, don’t forget that Squarespace isn’t the only website builder out there. There is a range of other even more beginner-friendly providers such as Weebly or Wix! You can compare them to Squarespace here.
21 Jun 2021: General update
06 Jan 2020: A few smaller updates
20 Nov 2019: General update
26 Apr 2019: Some pricing updates