What's the difference between WordPress & Squarespace?
Ah yes, the Squarespace vs. WordPress debate.
It's time to ask, which is right for you?
In this post we're going to get into specifics of whats different between the two platforms so you may decide exactly which one fits you best. If you want the spark notes version, which you ultimately choose mostly boils down to 2 things:
Your tolerance level for technology problems, and how much of a stickler you are for control & customization.
Oh and budget, budget comes into play too.
In this post I'm going to walk you through where Squarespace and WordPress are different, so you can get a clear picture of what using each will be like. I know, you're currently (naively) assuming; "they both build websites, how different can they be?"
Different, my friend, different.
So we're going to start off by going through those differences here.
Then you get to self-diagnose yourself as a WordPress or Squarespace gal!
Ready? Let's start!
The differences between WordPress & Squarespace
Alright, the best analogy I have for this which makes sense to 99% of people, and isn't super confusing tech-talk is a comparison to Apple vs Android.
Apple and Squarespace are closed-source.
"... Closed what?"
Closed source means Apple and Squarespace keep the abilities to edits and create for their platform pretty locked down. With Apple you can't go in with your fancy coding skills and change the functionality of the Apple Notes app, just the same as you can't go into Squarespace and make a plugin for it. These two organizations keep the ability to make changes to their platform or iOS (Apple operating system) in house, and don't let anybody mess with something that was created by their tech experts.
WordPress and Android are open source.
"... Open what?"
That means it's open to anyone who is feeling ambitious to use and modify the platform from it's original design. This means there's more fancy accessories you can get with WordPress and Android! Many of these 'accessories' (or with WordPress they're called plugins) are built by legitimate developers with lots of experience and knowledge. The downside is, your cousin Jimmy can also go make a plugin ... and Jimmy only ever took 1 coding class in high school and doesn't really know what he's doing.
Okay, so now we've gotten the open/closed bits down, what does this mean for you?
Squarespace is easier to use, because just about everything you need is built into the system by the Squarespace pros. You won't have security problems, and nobody is going to be hacking into your website anytime soon. When updates on the interwebs are made (which, lets be real, it's technology, and technology changes faster than your hairdressers hairstyle), Squarespace takes care of the confusing back end stuff, and updates everything for you.
The prime example I can give here is the recent switch of the interwebs from http to https. Https is the more secure version of the web, and Google wants everybody to switch over.
With Squarespace, the team did all the confusing back end stuff, and all Squarespace users had to do was click an 'enable https' button.
I have some friends on WordPress sites who have no idea how to switch to https and are worried DIYing it will cause havoc with every link on their site, so they haven't made the switch yet.
WordPress is as flexible as you can imagine! Add one of the zillion plugins available to your website, and you've just got some fancy new functionality!
But remember cousin Jimmys plugin... yeah, he did it wrong. (Surprise, surprise). Cousin Jimmy didn't really know what he was doing, and developed a plugin that had some security holes to it.
Now, there's an illegal drug dealing business happening on the back of your site.
(You would think I was joking, but this happened to a site Abagail from Think Creative Collective was working on. It's hilarious to hear her tell the story, highly suggest a listen to the podcast episode linked above in which she talks about it.)
Okay, not to scare the living daylights out of you if you use WordPress, I'm sure that's not a massively frequent occurrence, but the possibility is there clearly.
So to break it down.
Squarespace is closed-source, less flexible but secure, and the Squarespace team does all the updates to the site for you. Make it, leave it, and you never have to touch it again if you don't want to.
Squarespace has control over all the aspects of their platform, so when they make updates they ensure all the moving parts play well with each other and a change here doesn't make something wild happen over there.
WordPress is open-source, hellah-flexible but not as secure. There is no making it and leaving it, you're going to have to invest the time and effort yourself to keeping it up or paying someone who knows a thing or two to do it for you. WordPress is 'free,' therefore there's no WordPress team you pay to do all the updates for you.
The average WordPress site has lots of plugins purchased or retrieved from many different developers, and so when updates happen to one area, they don't always jive with other bits of the site. So at times, when one part of the site updates, it breaks something else.
I just said WordPress is 'free,' but that definitely needs some elaboration.
With Squarespace you pay a monthly or annual plan directly to Squarespace.
What does this monthly plan get you? Think of it like an all-inclusive vacation type thing.
You'll get a template, hosting, a drag and drop editor, live chat with the Squarespace NYC, Dublin or Portland teams, and ongoing updates taken care of by the Squarespace developers. Plans range (as of writing in April 2017) from $12 - $18 monthly for a website or $26 - $40 monthly for a website and online store. If you want to change templates in the future, there is no cost for that.
While WordPress is 'free,' it's going to be more expensive in the long-run. WordPress is indeed free, but you need to buy some bits and pieces to actually bring together a live website.
First is hosting (think of it like rent on the internet, paying for your spot on the web). Hosting for WordPress sites ranges based on how much traffic you get to your site. Hosting for your average small website is between $4 - $8 a month.
You'll also want to purchase a premium theme and plugins. While yes, there are free themes and plugins, real developers like to get paid for their hard work, so the ones that are paid generally are made by those who are more experienced and won't leave security holes in your site like Jimmy's will. There are 'freemium' plugins, which are made by legitimate developers and assuming the free plan covers all you need, you're good to go with a free option!
Expect to pay about $30 - $80 for a premium theme. (Think of themes like Squarespace templates). If you decide to switch themes in the future, you'll need to buy a new one. Granted, people tend to keep themes for a couple years, so this isn't a massively frequent cost.
For all the customization, you'll need those plugins; premium plugins range from $15 - $50 each.
Then there's maintenance. A few friends I recently spoke to let me know they pay about $100 a month to have a WordPress-savvy developer on call to deal with site issues as they happen.
For both WordPress & Squarespace sites, you'll need a domain. These range from $8 - $12 a year.
In the estimates below, I tried to show what getting basically the same service would cost with each option.
Squarespace Pricing, annually
$144.00 - $216.00 annually (depending on the plan you choose)
+ $10.00 domain
- = $154.00 - $226.00
WordPress pricing, annually
With WordPress the cost is more flexible, so it's hard to nail down an exact price, it's varies based on your choices. I've made a conservative estimate here, which gets you to around the same amount of service you get with Squarespace (including updates done by someone else).
- +$30.00 premium theme (one time cost, unless you want to change your theme down the road)
- +$75.00 five premium $15.00 plugins
- +$1,200.00 WordPress developer on call
- +$10.00 domain
- = $1,353.00
One last thing I'll touch on quickly is cost of having a designer create your website, and the cost on the two platforms. When you find a designer who creates on both platforms, you'll find the timeline on the Squarespace site is shorter, and the cost is less, generally by a few hundred dollars. While you get the same package (eg. 8 pages, blog, site graphics), the price is more for the WordPress design because it's more time consuming and difficult to work with.
WordPress is used by more people than Squarespace, so the forums on WordPress help are larger and more detailed. Squarespace also has an Answers forum where Squarespace users may offer each other help and advice.
Squarespace also has both live chat and email support offered. Basically you can chat-MSN style (remember that?!) with the Squarespace team to explain your difficulties, and have them walk you through the issue. They can come up with creative solutions to your problem (they know the platform back and forth after all) and can go into the back end of your site to take a poke around and see what's happening.
WordPress doesn't have live chat, if you can't DIY the solution on your own, you need to find and pay a developer to lend a hand.
This is where the WordPress lovers always give it to the Squarespace users. "Well Squarespace SEO sucks."
This is a hard one to give concrete facts on, because I, nor any person I've heard of has built two identical sites on both platforms and tested which performs better on Google. Granted, that test wouldn't really even work because Google dings sites with duplicate content.
Squarespace is already set up to be SEO-friendly out of the (online) box, there are no SEO plugins for Squarespace, because there are no plugins needed with Squarespace. Everything is built into the system already.
I think the 'Squarespace is bad for SEO' argument comes from people feeling they can't do anything concrete and simple (like add a plugin) for SEO, so they then feel the SEO must be worse.
Anthony Caselena, founder & CEO of Squarespace, however mentioned in a Quora forum;
"Squarespace is engineered to work properly without a sea of plugins, and you should not take the lack of a plugin for this to mean that we didn't actually just build it right from the start. We actually scan the top installed Wordpress plugins regularly and ensure we simply do all of that in our core."
While the structure of your site does affect SEO to a degree, there are many more important factors to SEO. The best thing you can do for SEO isn't changing link structures and installing a plugin, but creating high-quality, consistent content on a specific topic, becoming an authority and getting fab backlinks from relevant sites.
... But very few people want to put the time into that and would rather install a plugin.
If you want to rank well for a term or topic, it's not just about a plugin or the website platform you use, it's much more about the quality of your content and building authority by earning quality backlinks.
It is possible to move from both WordPress & Squarespace to another platform. Both platforms offer an export feature for your blog content. However, people often ask if they can 'transfer' a site from WordPress to Squarespace or vice versa. There is really no transferring between platforms, there is however rebuilding your website on a new platform. This goes for all website platforms.
Okay, so now you know the differences, let's break down which platform is for who. There is absolutely no wrong or right answer, there is however 'better suited' to certain needs, desires and preferences.
Choose Squarespace if ...
You value thoughtful simplicity & user-friendliness
You don't have/want to commit a lot of time to building or maintaining a website and you'd rather not bring someone on to your team to dedicate to a website around the clock
You're ballin' on a budget or you dislike unexpected costs or you like prices to be reliable, not fluctuating
Choose WordPress if ...
You value serious flexibility and customization (eg. you want an online store with over 200 products, you want you online store to have individual client logins for each user, you will have an extremely complex booking system - such as a flight booking system, etc.)
You have a fairly high level of tolerance for technology issues & are fluent in technology & coding or are willing to pay someone who is or are willing to invest time and effort to learn
Either yourself or someone at your organization will have the time to commit to updating and maintaining your website or you're willing to pay someone to do this
You've got a decent website budget (a few hundred to a few thousand a year)
Alrighty, now I hope all this info has helped you self-diagnose as a WordPress or Squarespace person. It's time to tell me, which are you?!