Choosing a website builder is a tough enough task, and comparing Squarespace website builder and self-hosted WordPress software (WordPress.org) adds another level of complexity to selecting your website builder, that of hosted or self-hosted respectively.
A hosted website builder is one in which the company runs your site on their computers; a self-hosted website builder provides the software to build your website, but you have to look after finding a web hosting service to run your website for you.
This complication expands the usual questions to ask yourself about your website – what you want from it and how much time and effort you’re willing to invest in realizing that dream – and introduces a whole new set.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to be honest with yourself about how complex you want your website to be, how hands-on you can be in its creation and maintenance, what your budget really is and whether you can stick to that dollar amount.
Our Squarespace versus WordPress.org review guides you through this decision-making process by highlighting the similarities and differences between hosted Squarespace and self-hosted WordPress.org, by showing you what each product is best at.
Along the way, your answers to the questions will assist you in selecting the best website builder for your dream website.
This is not a numbers game
There are two key reasons why looking at the numbers for Squarespace and WordPress.org doesn’t really help in choosing between them. Firstly, Squarespace is a web builder product, which allows you to create beautiful-looking web sites.
WordPress.org is primarily a content management system which, while you can still create extremely attractive websites, also lets you manage large amounts of data effectively and efficiently.
So Squarespace and WordPress.org can satisfy different needs. Secondly, WordPress.org’s numbers blow everyone else’s away.
Squarespace has just over 700,00 websites across the Internet (at the time of writing); this translates to 0.2% of all the websites out there, and 0.4% of the top 10,000 websites as determined by Quantcast.
Of interest here is that all these websites have paid subscriptions as Squarespace doesn’t have a free plan. In contrast, WordPress.org has around 17 million websites for around 5% of the entire Internet.
Of the top 10,000 websites, around 27% have been created with WordPress.org, and these are mainly in the fields of business and technology. By far, WordPress.org has the most sites of any content management system out there.
Our Take on Website Builders Popularity:
The numbers are interesting and show that a staggering number of people and businesses use WordPress.org, and a respectable number of people have built their websites using Squarespace. That’s it.
Creating a beautiful website
How much template choice do you need?
We’ll go straight to the point about the number of templates available:
- Squarespace: 52 (total)
- WordPress.org: thousands
On numbers alone, WordPress.org wins hands-down. WordPress.org templates, called themes, have been developed by the company’s staff, by third-party developers and by independent designers who upload their templates to the WordPress.org site.
Some basic themes are free while many have a price attached, usually between $50 – $100. The cost may cover extra features, support from the developer or upgrades. There are WordPress.org themes for every type of business, industry and personal need.
Some reviewers warn that the quality of the free templates is often lacking and the developers of these have no incentive to keep them updated or to fix bugs in them. The higher-end paid-for themes, however, are wholly professional, sophisticated and among the best-looking websites, you’ll ever see.
Squarespace’s fifty-two templates are split into two groups. Twenty-six templates are available for regular websites and twenty-six for cover pages. Cover pages are single pages which can be used for landing pages or one-page sites or blogs.
All the templates have been created by the Squarespace team and are designed for visual experience, so you need to have your own luscious photos to import into them or be prepared to buy stock images. Reviewers enthuse about the high quality and sophisticated look of Squarespace’s templates.
Bringing out the designer in you
Perhaps you can’t find a theme or template that speaks to you entirely and want to change some of it. WordPress.org is an open-source platform which means that their codes are open to everyone to use and customize. That said, it’s mainly the developers of the themes and tools who take advantage of this.
Depending on which theme you select, you can quickly change standard features, fonts, colors and other elements with advanced styling options. More advanced theme customization requires a basic knowledge, at least, of HTML coding and CSS modification.
Squarespace is much more limited in its customization options. There is a powerful styling editor that lets you change fonts, colors, image opacity, background images and some other elements without needed to know a scrap of coding. If you do know a bit about coding, Squarespace’s Developer function lets you edit the CSS to customize your website further.
Looking good on cell phones
Most websites viewing today is performed on a mobile device, most usually a cell phone. Savvy website builders create a look of their website suitable for these devices. Squarespace does this automatically for you as all of their templates are mobile responsive.
Some WordPress.org themes offer a mobile-friendly view, while with others you have to use a plug-in to ensure your website works appropriately on a mobile device. You may be asking if you should even worry about this, so be aware Google favors mobile-friendly sites in its search results for searches launched from mobile devices.
It really comes down to control versus convenience. Both WordPress.org and Squarespace produce beautiful web sites; it’s all a matter of how much time and effort you want to put into doing so and how determined you are to have your web site look exactly how you envision it.
WordPress’ thousands of themes and open customization ensure that you can have the website of your dreams if you’re willing to work for it or pay someone else to do so.
In comparison, Squarespace’s limited number of themes and customization features drastically cut down your design options, but you can have your good-looking website up and running on your own without knowing anything about coding.
The learning curve
In both Squarespace and WordPress, access to your website to create and maintain it is from the dashboard. The main difference is in how each dashboard looks. Squarespace’s dashboard is clean and elegant, reflecting its user base of non-tech savvy people. Everything is accessible from this one place.
WordPress.org offers a less refined dashboard, but everything you can do to your website, including changing the coding, is available from there.
Drag and drop
Dragging and dropping is the easiest way to build a web site. You can position boxes for text, images, video, graphics and so on in this way. However, some templates are more restrictive than others about where you can place these elements.
All Squarespace templates have this drag and drop capability, so you can play around with the layout as far as the template lets you.
With WordPress.org it all depends on the theme that you’re using; in general, WordPress.org is not a drag and drop website builder. Some of the premium themes have drag and drop functionality, but you’re paying for this convenience.
But this is WordPress, and so you turn to plug-ins to solve your problem. There is a selection of drag and drop page builder plug-ins available, with reviews of mixed success. You do usually still have to pay for them, but they are theme-independent.
A ”what you see is what you get” visual editor” is one in which you immediately see the result of any changes you make to your text, images, graphics or any other element of your web page. In this way, you see how your published web page will be viewed and can adjust your change if need be.
Squarespace has a WYSIWYG editor, and so you can happily make changes to your content and revise them, all on the same screen.
With WordPress, it’s a little different. To see the changes you make, you need to click on the Preview button and go to a different screen to view the changed web page. You then come back to the editing screen to revise your changes, repeating this as necessary.
Both Squarespace and WordPress.org are continually updating their platforms to increase security, fix bugs and, in Squarespace’s case, to improve performance. The difference between them is how much you’re aware of this.
Squarespace does all this behind the scenes, and you don’t have to worry about anything – all the changes they make are pre-tested and put automatically into the Squarespace system.
WordPress.org is just as conscientious in making such changes, but you do have some involvement here. You receive a message on your Dashboard when the changes are ready to use and then click a button to install them.
But that’s just the start. Your theme and all your plug-ins also need to be updated for these changes, and the developers of these (especially if they were free) may not do this for you so that you could be on your own there. Not implementing these changes may expose your website to security or performance issues.
Squarespace is the easier website builder to use, with a small learning curve; drag and drop really does make a difference. While it is possible to create a basic website in WordPress.org quickly, it certainly won’t have the same wow factor.
The features of each
Looking at the feature sets of Squarespace and WordPress.org highlights their origins. Squarespace was designed from the ground up to be a feature-rich, digital publishing platform, covering much of everything that anyone might want to do on a website.
In contrast, WordPress.org evolved from a very successful blogging application and opened its source code to the public, encouraging developers to write plug-ins needed for its evolution to a whatever-you-need-we’ve-got-it website builder.
Flexibility of tools
The difference in philosophy between Squarespace and WordPress.org is seen in the flexibility of their website building tools.
Squarespace provides a good selection of in-house apps and widgets that they build, test and install. These are the tools that you use to customize your website, and they work well – but these are the only tools that you can use.
WordPress.org also makes some basic tools available to you but beyond these are the tens of thousands of plug-ins (free and for-a-fee) available to build your website. This may seem like unfettered freedom, but beware: not all the plug-ins play nicely together and a conflict between them, or with your theme, may take you quite a while to figure out.
Hosting and Security
This is where the hosted versus self-hosted difference is most evident.
Squarespace hosts your website which involves making sure it runs on their servers and looking after security, both physical and digital. Squarespace ensures that their templates are up to date with the latest web standards, that your website doesn’t get hacked, and manages their platform, so all the websites are spread across their entire server network.
With WordPress.org you’re responsible for finding the web hosting service for your site. You must sign up for a web hosting account before you download the WordPress.org software.
Most web hosting providers have a 1-click install button for WordPress that makes it easy to do this. For advice on selecting the best web hosting service for you, check out our reviews of such providers.
You don’t need to have a custom domain name if you select Squarespace as your website builder, as you have the option of having a sub-domain of the type Yoursitename.squarespace.com.
However, if you’ve gone to the trouble of designing an awesome website, you should consider a custom domain, which comes free with an annual Squarespace plan.
Your WordPress web hosting service will expect you to have your own domain name but may offer a discount or even a free domain name with certain plans.
Once again, WordPress provides serious functionality through the use of plug-ins, this time in the area of search engine optimization. If SEO is a priority for your business, then consider the most advanced options that remind you of what keywords you are targeting and ensure that your pages are so optimized.
Squarespace’s SEO functions are more basic. They allow you to optimize all the basics for your overall website and each page, so they’re easily indexable by the search engines. A useful addition is that Squarespace automatically creates a sitemap to submit to Google.
The distinction between the e-Commerce offerings of WordPress and Squarespace could come down to whether you see yourself at the helm of a huge megastore or a more modest corner-store enterprise.
If you dream of having your own online hypermarket, complete with untold varieties of uncountable products, all tidily organized and labeled and ready to ship to all corners of the world, then WordPress has plug-ins that can do this for you.
Start by choosing a theme that’s specifically designed for e-Commerce and go from there, picking up affiliate marketing, inventory management, invoicing and shipping plug-ins and any payment processor you wish.
To set up a store in Squarespace just drag and drop a Product Block element into your Squarespace website. Squarespace’s shopping cart is fully integrated into the website, in both look-and-feel, and functionality; customers stay on your site during the checkout process so you can control their entire shopping experience.
However, the lower cost business plans limit the number of products you can sell in your store, and you can only use Stripe as your payment services provider.
While you can set up attractive and functional blogs on both WordPress and Squarespace, WordPress did start life as a very well reviewed and extensively used blogging platform.
Squarespace does well in offering all the standard blogging content blocks (image, video, text, audio, etc. ) and has Podcast support as well as tag and category support. You can also import your existing blog into Squarespace.However, WordPress wins hands-down with its many blogging features, plus it has all kinds of plug-ins that extend these and add many more new ones.
Once again, this is where WordPress.org excels as its origin was in the management of content. If you deal with a large amount of content, revise content as part of a team or need to maintain the website along with other people, then WordPress.org is the best choice for you.
Squarespace offers the same content management functionality as any other regular website builder, but it’s not designed to handle a large amount of information.
Plug-ins and apps
Going by the numbers again, for plug-ins and apps this time:
Squarespace: 0 WordPress.org: tens of thousands
Squarespace is not an open-source solution, so only Squarespace’s own development team is responsible for their templates and tools. The downside is that you can only use what they give you; the upside is that all the tools are high quality, well tested and will work on the Squarespace platform. You don’t have to worry about conflicts or crashes.
As an open-source platform, WordPress.org has a library with links to literally tens of thousands of apps of all kinds. In addition, you are free to write and implement your own, even to sell them (or give them away) through their site.
The upside is that there’s probably at least one, if not much more an app for whatever you can dream of doing, and that’s a downside too. It’s easy to get carried away and build a website full of bells and whistles that may degrade its performance.
Another downside is that the quality of these tools is often unknown, though reading user reviews of them will help.
Backups and Exporting
Hosted versus self-hosting comes back into play in matters of backing up and exporting your website. Squarespace regularly backups your website, both in real-time and periodically.
Squarespace also provides tools for you to export your site, and not all website builders provide this option. Not everything can be exported; for example, product pages, album pages, text, audio and video blocks won’t come across.
With WordPress, backups and exporting depend solely on your web hosting service’s policies. Many web hosting providers do offer limited backup services, but we remind you that it is safer to consider it your responsibility to backup your website on your own.
Built into Squarespace are analytics that gives your real-time statistics about your hourly, daily, weekly and monthly traffic, including the usage from people with mobile devices. You can also insert Google Analytics to round out the picture with information about website visitors.
With WordPress site, well, there’s a multitude of plug-ins for website stats of pretty much anything you may want to know.
Squarespace has a well-rounded and solid set of features that cover most everything that a regular website needs. If you’re looking for all kinds of functionality and do-dads for your website, then WordPress site, through the use of plug-ins, is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of treasures.
And the cost for all this
The cost involved in getting your website up and running is a numbers game, one in which you have to be very aware of your budget and to be diligent in sticking to it. We’ll start with the easy-to-manage option.
Squarespace site cost
Squarespace has five different plans to choose from, three for personal websites and two e-Commerce plans. There is not a free plan, but Squarespace offers a free 14-day trial so you can practice building one page, offline website. To take your website live, you need to sign up for a plan.
At the time of writing, the plans range from a one-page website for $7 a month to unlimited pages for $26 a month, for a month-to-month subscription. You get more features with the more expensive plans.
The two specific e-Commerce plans are for a basic store and a more established store, though you can sell products in all but the most basic personal plan.
If you pay in advance for an annual subscription, the monthly costs come down, and you receive a free custom domain. Don’t forget that hosting is included in these costs – your monthly fee covers it all.
WordPress site Cost
We went into detail with Squarespace to highlight the comparison to WordPress site. The cost of WordPress CMS is $0. That’s right; it’s free – but that’s just for the software.
Here’s what else you have to spend:
- Web hosting service: monthly or annual plans
- Domain name: annual cost; some web hosting services give this free with an annual plan
- WordPress Theme: free or for a cost
- Plug-ins: free or for a cost
- SEO plug-ins: important if ranking high in the search engines is key for your business
- Your time: there’s a $ value associated with this if you’re doing the work yourself, especially if
- there’s a learning curve
- WordPress site development services: fee to hire someone to get your website up and running (optional)
- Maintenance: your time or $$ to keep up with updates, fix problems, etc
It all depends on how you look at it and how technically proficient you are at building and maintaining websites. There’s paying out a known dollar amount every month with Squarespace or a low monthly hosting fee and your own time if you can DIY your WordPress website.
On the other hand, if you feel you lack all the technical skills you need and may sometimes end up hiring someone, there’s an unknown amount of WordPress site or a predictable outlay of money every month with Squarespace.
Highly attractive websites
Both Squarespace and WordPress CMS have high-profile users with professionally designed websites and many users who have designed their own.
The Dixie Chicks’ official website. http://www.dixiechicks.com/
think coffee uses their website as both an educational site and a store. http://www.thinkcoffee.com/
Metal and honey is a blog that uses beautiful photos in their posts. http://www.metalandhoney.com/
Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus uses a wide variety of different page elements. https://www.ringling.com/
TechCrunch is a technology blog. http://techcrunch.com/
Cutest Paw is a website of pet photos. http://www.cutestpaw.com/
Help when you need it
It’s inevitable that, no matter how easy it is to use a website builder, you will need help at times. There’s help for both WordPress.org and Squarespace problems when you need it but in different ways.
Squarespace has a centralized customer support team situated in the United States. You can reach them via 24/7 email or live chat from 3 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST – there’s no phone support. Squarespace is committed to answering email questions within one hour of receiving them.
The Squarespace support team has also put together an extensive knowledgebase of step-by-step video tutorials, articles, and screenshots to help you. You can also ask other Squarespace users for help in the community forum.
With WordPress site, your customer support is the huge community of other WordPress.org users, as WordPress.org itself doesn’t provide support of any kind.
That said, there is an enormous pool of articles, videos, FAQs, forums, guidelines and so on to rummage through for assistance. It’s a (time-consuming) matter of finding the right place to look for the useful answer to your question.
There’s also your hosting provider for the web hosting issues, perhaps your developers for problems with your plug-ins or theme, or maybe your WordPress site support if you’ve hired someone to look after your website. The support is out there; it’s just a matter of finding the right person at the right time.
Are you confident enough to go it alone or would you prefer to have customer support at the end of a phone/email/live chat box?
By now, you’ve grasped the differences between hosted and self-hosted web site builders. Both website builders state that anyone can easily use their products.
But beyond the technical ability question, there are some other significant issues to consider in choosing between Squarespace and WordPress CMS.
The Squarespace templates are heavy on photos and graphics. The categories of templates Squarespace presents include musicians, restaurants and weddings, all visually intensive.
If you plan on creating a textually-based website, Squarespace’s limited selection of templates make not be the best match for you and, remember, there is limited customization. WordPress.org has a much wider variety of template layouts and designs.
Your choice may boil down to how much control you want over your website. Control over the design; control over who hosts it; control over how big it gets and what you can put into it. In this case, WordPress.org is the way to go.
If convenience is more of an issue with you – build the website quickly and easily and don’t worry about it again – then Squarespace is your choice.
If you doubt your design ability or, conversely, know that you have way too many ideas and need to be reined in, Squarespace’s structure will suit you.
Alternatively, if you delight in freedom and know you can stick to your budget and not go overboard with the plug-ins, WordPress.org is your playground.
If you’re still torn between Squarespace and WordPress.org, here is a summary of the fundamental differences, both pros, and cons, between the two website builders.
- All-inclusive price
- All-in-one; everything is looked after
- Coherent and controlled
- Drag and drop
- Limited functionality
- Limited customizability
- Limited selection of templates, slanted towards visual design
- No coding involved
- 24/7 support
- Predictable costs
- Software is free; hosting costs money and everything beyond that free or for a fee
- Mix-and-match plug-ins; building blocks
- Learning curve
- Coding knowledge is a serious asset
- Costs not necessarily predictable
- Extensive functionality through plug-ins
- Totally customizable through open source code
- Drag and drop depend on theme or plug-in
- Support from peers; may be difficult to find the answers you need
Making your selection
By now you may be beaming and all aglow with excitement at the freedom and control that WordPress.org gives you in building your website, and you’re prepared to take on all the responsibilities that come with using WordPress.org. Or maybe you’re more than certain that convenience and predictability are for you, and you love all the features of Squarespace.
Or perhaps you’re somewhere in the middle. You know you’re not a WordPress.org person, but you’re still not sure about Squarespace we can help you further with that too. Read our comparison review on Wix vs. Squarespace, or Wix vs. Weebly, two other very popular hosted web builders that offer you most of the same features and functionality as Squarespace, but are slightly different, each in their own ways.
If you’re a Squarespace or a WordPress CMS user, we’d love to hear from you about your experiences. Or maybe you have questions or thoughts about hosted versus self-hosted web builders in general that you’d like to run by us. Send them in.