Squarespace logo - article on ways to improve your Squarespace 5 website without needing to change to 6

If you currently run a website on Squarespace 5, you might be feeling a bit tempted to switch to Squarespace 6. Four things in particular that are, on first glance, not available for version 5 users may be tempting you: version 6’s new templates, its sexy ‘layout engine’, its responsive designs and its e-commerce functionality.

Squarespace 5 vs Squarespace 6?

In many ways, Squarespace 6 is a great platform and definitely a good bet for people who want to set up a simple portfolio or blog from scratch.  But many existing Squarespace 5owners (and particularly business site owners), when they dig a little deeper, find plenty of reasons why making the switch to 6 is a bad idea – or even an impossibility. Here’s a few of them:

  • You can’t import your Squarespace 5 template design into Squarespace 6. You have to start designing your site all over again. A non-starter of an idea if you are pressed for time.
  • Squarespace 6 only supports two levels of navigation. If your Squarespace 5 site has any more levels of navigation than that, then importing content becomes a real pain in the derriere and in some cases (particularly where large sites are concerned) downright impossible. Squarespace really made life difficult for some of their existing clients with that little omission.
  • The Squarespace 6 e-commerce features are still restricted to certain countries.
  • Squarespace 6 does not support versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer earlier than 9. Yes, that affects only around 5% to 6% of users (at time of writing) but it still means that over 1 in 20 people might not be able to view your site properly. Bear in mind that (large) businesses are generally the last to switch to newer versions of IE, so if you are selling B2B, you will probably have a bigger number of users looking at your site on IE 6, 7 and 8…and will thus be dealing with a larger proportion of visitors with problems viewing your site than 1 in 20. Headache!
  • Many useful Squarespace 5 features have simply disappeared from version 6, like the ability to tweak every style element; being able to capture data from forms directly to Excel spreadsheet; the easy-to-use file storage; and the ability to switch sidebar widgets on or off depending on what page a user is on. Your business might currently have systems in place which depend on these features, making a switch to 6 very difficult.
  • Squarespace 6 comes with a completely different (and arguably less intuitive) interface, so there will be a learning curve involved for you or your team in a switchover. The new interface is also more sluggish than the version 5 one, particularly on older machines.

Given all the above, you may well be thinking that sticking with version 5 is a safer bet, and fortunately, Squarespace have said that they will support version 5 indefinitely. So what improvements can you make to beef up your existing Squarespace 5 site, and bolt on some of the nicer bits of Squarespace 6? Below you’ll find some tips on how to get some of the best of both worlds and avoid having to build a whole new site in version 6…

1. Improving your Squarespace 5 design

One of the things that Squarespace 6 definitely has going for it is its clean, contemporary templates. The Squarespace 5 templates that you get out of the box are starting to look a little outdated and sadly the company don’t seem interested in rolling out new design templates for the platform. However – layout engine aside – Squarespace 5 actually gives you MORE control over the design of your site than 6. Unlike in Squarespace 6, where the tweakability of style elements is extremely tightly controlled, Squarespace 5 allows you to modify every little bit of your site without any recourse to banging out lines of CSS – from border widths to padding above and below text; the colour of buttons on forms to background colours of sub-menus and so on. (This, to me, is the whole point of a system like Squarespace, and version 5 beats 6 hands down when it comes to making it easy to control the style of your site without coding.) Additionally, the slideshows in Squarespace 5 are actually significantly better and more customisable than the ones offered by version 6. So it’s perfectly possible to create a cool, minimal template with version 5 – just find some designs you like, study them carefully, and use the extensive Squarespace 5 style controls available to recreate them.

2. Improving your site layout

One Squarespace 6 feature that is undeniably useful is its layout engine, which allows you to drag and drop elements around your site with relative ease (it can be fiddly sometimes, but on the whole it's pretty damn useful). This means that in version 6, you end up with a layout grid of your choosing, rather than having to make do with the rather prescriptive 1, 2 or 3 column options provided by version 5. (What you lose though in version 6 is the ability to turn sidebar modules on and off depending on what page a user is visiting; I can’t tell you how annoying this is!).

But there is flexibility in version 5 too – with a little effort, you can build your own grid layout. This involves switching to HTML mode whilst in edit mode and adding a few lines of HTML code to create it (you will need to use the <DIV> element). You may also wish to add some CSS in the ‘custom CSS’ section of your site to style this grid. Admittedly this requires some swotting up on code – or getting a designer involved – and is not as straightforward to achieve as using version 6’s layout engine. But the point is that custom grids and layouts are achievable in version 5 and with a bit of perseverance you can definitely achieve a version 6-style layout in 5. Here’s some very basic information on using the <DIV> element which may help get you started.

3. Adding e-commerce functionality to your Squarespace 5 site

This is actually very straightforward: just get yourself an Ecwid account. Ecwid is an online store builder that works with any site – you use Ecwid to design your store, add products and so on and then you are given a a snippet of code that you can just add to relevant pages on your Squarespace 5 site (or indeed any site or social media presence that lets you insert HTML code). And hey presto, you have an e-commerce solution on your Squarespace 5 site that is arguably better than the Squarespace 6 offering - it allows you to sell more products; you can add your store not just to your Squarespace site but to Facebook and other social media pages; it works with a huge range of payment gateways; and crucially, it enables non-US and Canadian site owners to sell their wares on a Squarespace site. You can try Ecwid for free here.

4. Creating a mobile version of your Squarespace 5 site

A nice feature of Squarespace 6 is that it provides you with a mobile site automatically (although one you can’t edit in any way, which will render it totally useless in quite a few cases). A simple way to provide a mobile version of your Squarespace 5 site to visitors is to use a service like Dudamobile. Dudamobile automatically creates a mobile version of your site for you (you just go to the Dudamobile website and enter your site’s URL to get started) but with the added bonus that you can edit your mobile site to your heart’s content and plug in some whizzy e-commerce and maps features into it. Whilst you won't get a fully responsive site out of this arrangement, you will get a pretty decent mobile site. You can try Dudamobile for free here.

So, there you have it: a few ways to significantly beef up your Squarespace 5 site and avoid a few switchover dramas. Your site won’t look wonky on older versions of Internet Explorer; you can use several layers of navigation; you’ll still have full control over all style elements; you’ll have a mobile version of your website; and you can sell your wares using a sophisticated e-commerce solution (regardless of where you live). Nice huh? 

See also: Squarespace 6 review


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