Should I host an online course on Squarespace? No! Here's why...
As online course popularity continues to grow, so do the questions related to them! And one of the most frequent questions I’ve been getting lately is “should I host my course on Squarespace or a course hosting specific platform?”
I’ve been giving my short answer (no, don’t host it on Squarespace) directly to those who have asked for a while now, but also promised to give the full explanation in a blog post. And today’s post does just that!
Okay now before we get into a little comparison of the features and functions of a course hosting platform vs. Squarespace, let me just talk about what it would take to move your course one day.
Why are we starting here? Because while 1 thing on this list will be of immediate concern for you if you were to host your course on Squarespace, the others might seem more like far-off-in-the-distance issues.
But hear me when I say this, your future self is NOT going to enjoy switching platforms later!
What does it take to switch your course host later on?
Reupload content: First you need to take all of your course content (videos, PDF’s, workbooks, etc.) and reupload it somewhere else. If you don’t have your course content organized and saved somewhere other than your course hosting platform, this will be a bit of an undertaking. If you do have this organized, still expect this to take you a solid day to complete.
Create students new logins: Next up, you’ll need to get all of your students new login info on the new platform. That’ll involve emailing your students to explain the switch and setting them up a new account. It also likely means a lot of questions and therefore a lot of time spent on customer service emails.
Rebuild sales pages & checkout pages: Depending on how you’ve created your sales page, you might well need to rebuild it. Again, even if you leave the page with the exact same content as before, expect this to take a solid day. You’ll also need to create new checkout pages and links and then maybe link up your sales page to the new correct checkout pages.
Set up new automations & integrations: Lastly, you’ll need to create new automations. Even with a course hosting platform which covers pretty much everything you need to successfully run a course business, it will still need to integrate with other softwares. If you use Squarespace to host your course, you’re also definitely going to need to integrate it with other softwares.
For example, your checkout pages need to integrate with your payment processor (Stripe or PayPal) and likely also to your email marketing system. In my case, this would mean setting up new automations to tag and organize email subscribers/students properly in my email marketing system, and making sure my sequences of emails that new students get once they enroll are also set up to send out correctly via the new integration with whatever my new checkout page would be.
Estimated time commitment to move: I think a week is a fair estimation on how long the moving process would take you. So what I’m saying here is, I really don’t want you to take moving later lightly! It’s a lot of effort, so it’s worth hosting your course on a platform now that will be able to achieve everything you’ll want to do in the future too.
Which brings me to the actual meat and potatoes of this post, comparing Squarespace to a course hosting platform!
I use Teachable so I’ll be comparing Squarespace to Teachable here.
Squarespace vs. Teachable for course hosting:
Squarespace: With Squarespace, you would hide your course content behind a password protected page. There is 1 password for every password protected page. Meaning that all of your students will have the same password or course login info.
This might not seem like a huge deal, but when a student violates your terms of service (unfortunately, this does actually happen) you’ll need to change the password for everyone to then not give access of the course for that 1 student who violated terms.
Also, and this is the big one, every time someone fails to finish their payment plan, you need to change the password for everyone in order to not continue giving course access to someone who stopped paying.
Payment plans are extremely common in the online course world, and customers really do request it if you don’t have them.
It’s also unfortunately common for payment plan payments to fail. This is not just because your customers are out to get you, often this is an issue of a credit card expiring, or even identity theft. Sometimes they get back to your emails and fix the issue, other times they don’t. (In which case you need to decide what to do from there.) But regardless, know that payment plan issues are common.
When payments fail, its usual to block course access until the student has caught back up with their payment plan.
And when you have 1 login for everyone, you’d need to change the password to your course every single time you have a payment plan issue with 1 student. In our case, we’d be changing the password to our courses literally every week or two! Talk about massively annoying for all of your students.
Changing the password weekly really isn’t an acceptable level of service for your students IMO, so I honestly don’t think this is really even an option.
This is honestly the biggest make or break for me when it comes to hosting a course on Squarespace. Once I learned of this issue, I honestly didn’t even consider using Squarespace to host my course.
Until there’s a good way around this, the case is pretty much closed for me when it comes to hosting a course on Squarespace.
Squarespace + Memberspace: Memberspace was created to turn Squarespace sites into sites where you can protect content for members only. Honestly, I was pretty stoked when I heard about this, until I read this blog post from Lauren Hooker. Lauren said;
“I created my courses right on my Squarespace site and used MemberSpace to block the content from those who weren’t taking part in the course. But I quickly learned that my content wasn’t well protected from people who knew their way around code. I received several emails from people who weren’t students, telling me that they were able to easily access my course content.”
Basically, even when using Memberspace it’s still possible for non-paying-students to get access to your course content. They even fully admit that in their sales page;
Kinda defeats the purpose TBH. So again, doesn’t really feel like an actual viable option in my books.
Teachable: Each student has their own individual login. After a few failed attempts to collect payment plan payments, Teachable automatically removes course access for the student. You can also manually do this at any time (eg. if a student violates your terms of sale).
Students are also able to automatically reset their password if they forget it through the Teachable system, instead of them needing to reach out to you for help. This is faster and more convenient for them and leads to less customer service emails for you.
Student progress reports:
Wanna know how many students are actually finishing your course? Want to know which students have gone through what content and how far they are through your content?
Squarespace: Not possible.
Teachable: With the pro plan, you can see down to the second of a video how much they’ve completed. With the Basic plan, you can see the overall course completion percentage.
Want to ramp up your course marketing efforts, without spending a ton on Facebook ads? Adding an affiliate program to your course can help you get the word out on it past the people who you have direct contact with. It’s also pretty flattering to have students say they loved your course SO much that they want to promo it for you. In order to give your affiliates the payout they deserve, you’ll need a way to track their sales.
Squarespace: There is no built-in affiliate system, though there are add-on softwares you can pay to make a traditional affiliate program happen.
If you’re planning to go with Squarespace because it’s cheaper however, do know that paying for this additional software will add to your costs.
If you want to go the more DIY affiliate program route, it is actually possible in Squarespace. Create each affiliate their own unique discount code (say for 10% off the price of the course) and at the end of every month, add up how many sales were made using that code. Then pay out your affiliates manually, for example, by PayPaling them the affiliate earnings.
Keep in mind again though, this is going to cost you a bit as you’ll be giving each student a discount of say 10%, so you’ll be loosing that much from each sale. Depending on how many sales you make in a month and how much your course costs, the 10% discount in order to track affiliate sales could become easily more expensive than paying for an affiliate software.
Teachable: There’s an affiliate program built-in.
Custom certificates of completion:
Squarespace: There is no feature for this in Squarespace. Granted, you could easily have students submit a form to say they’ve completed the course (though you can’t verify this as you won’t be able to get student progress reports), and then manually make them a custom certificate with their name on it.
Teachable: There’s a system built-in to automatically create your students custom certificates of completion.
Squarespace: Selling a bundle of products (eg. courses + add-ons or courses + courses) is possible. You’d need the Squarespace variants feature to manage this. That’s honestly pretty simple to do. From there the more complicated part, however, is the tech and automations after the sale to give your student access to the correct bundle items automatically.
Teachable: There’s a built-in bundling feature. For example, if I want to sell my 2 courses for a bundle price (which I do!) then I just need to create a new bundle which takes a few clicks and put the bundle checkout links on my sales page where I advertise the bundle. From there, Teachable has everything set up internally to load those 2 courses into the students dashboard.
If you’re unfamiliar, a 1-click-upsell is an option presented to a buyer directly after they’ve bought your course. In order to add the presented upsell, a buyer just needs to click 1 button, they don’t need to add their credit card details or any other info again. It tends to be very effective because someone who has just purchased is a very warm lead, and because you make it so easy to do, it’s a veryyy low barrier to entry. It’s also a very easy way to up the total value of your customers orders.
Squarespace: Unfortunately not possible.
Teachable: There’s an easy 1-click-upsell option built-in.
Dripping your content is by no means necessary, but often people choose to do it. So if you’re considering dripping your content, this will be important to understand.
To ‘drip’ your course content means to release it on either set dates or a set amount of time after someone enrolls. If you do open and close enrollments (ie. your course is only open for enrollment for a week or two of the year) then the releasing at set dates is probably what you’d want. If your course is open for enrollment all the time, you’ll want to release the course at set intervals after someone has enrolled (eg. you release a new module a week to them).
Squarespace: With Squarespace you can drip your content at the same time for everyone. It’s not possible to drip the content based on when each person enrolls. In order to drip the content for everyone, it depends on how your content is set up within Squarespace as to if you can manually or automatically do it. If your course content is on different pages, in order to drip the content you’d manually link to those pages or add them to your students area on the day and time you want it to drip. If you have your course content set up on a blog, you’d just schedule the blog post to go live on the day and time you want it to drip. You don’t need to be at your computer for this, it happens automatically.
Teachable: You can automatically drip your course content either at the same time for everyone, or individually for each person, based on the day they enrolled. It’s a built-in feature.
In summary . . .
The long and short of this is, a course specific hosting platform was built with the needs of course creators in mind. Squarespace was built with building websites in mind. Therefore, a course specific hosting platform tends to be a lot better for hosting courses.
There are hacks and add ons to help with some of the limitations which Squarespace has for hosting courses.
Let me just say this, I know the price tag can be scary for a course hosting platform, especially if you haven’t sold any of your courses yet. (I was righttt there with ya a few years ago, so truly, I understand.) But do know that over time in order to get the same functionality of a course platform you’re going to need to get some add-ons to achieve what you want which will cost you. (Eg. an affiliate add-on software.) Not to mention, hacking all these bits and pieces together is just generally annoying and a bit of an unnecessary time suck.
Because it’s such a pain to switch your course host later on though, I really would advise going with a course-hosting platform from the get-go. It’s what I did, and in the recap after launching my course for the first time, Teachable was one of the things I was most thankful for.
Building and launching a course is tough enough without giving yourself the additional work of hacking together softwares to do what they weren’t intended for.