In this Squarespace vs Wordpress comparison review, we look at two leading web building platforms in depth. Read on for an overview of both tools, an exploration of their key features and the reasons why you might choose one over the other for a website design project. (And remember, if you need help with developing a Squarespace or Wordpress project, we can help - see our Squarespace and Wordpress sections for more information).
What is Squarespace?
Squarespace is a ‘software as a service’ (‘SaaS’) website builder - you pay a monthly fee to use it, but everything you need to build and maintain your site is provided as part of that: templates, a content management system, hosting, e-commerce, support and (depending on your requirements) a domain.
The vast majority of Squarespace users will use the standard version of it; however, there is also a developer’s version which allows access to and manipulation of the source code. This permits the addition of greater functionality to Squarespace sites and the creation of bespoke templates. It really is only for use by experienced developers however.
What is Wordpress?
There are two rather different versions of Wordpress available:
Hosted Wordpress - available at wordpress.com - is, like Squarespace, a software as a service tool. As with Squarespace you pay a monthly fee and you get access to a broad range of features which enable you to build and maintain a website. It’s slightly less of an ‘all in one’ solution than Squarespace however, as users need to use third party tools like Ecwid or Shopify to add e-commerce features, and using the most attractive themes involves an additional fee. On the flip side, this arguably makes it a more flexible tool than Squarespace.
Self-hosted Wordpress is a piece of software (downloadable from wordpress.org) that you install on your own web server. It’s open-source, meaning that the code behind it is freely available and may be modified easily. In practice this means that sites built with Wordpress can be customised to the nth degree - it’s an extremely flexible tool that, in the hands of the right developer, or through the installation of a suitable plugin, can be adapted to meet the requirements of nearly any website design project.
You can install Wordpress on your server for free, but there are hosting costs, domain registration charges and occasionally plugin or development costs to consider. We’ll discuss all this in more depth later on in the review.
So which versions of Squarespace and Wordpress is this review comparing?
This Squarespace vs Wordpress comparison is going to focus on the versions of the platforms that most people use: the standard version of Squarespace, and the self-hosted version of Wordpress. Squarespace are a bit vague on user numbers, but their website states that there are in excess of 1m paying Squarespace customers; and depending on who you believe on the internet, there are between 60m and 75m sites built using self-hosted Wordpress.
Who are Squarespace and Wordpress aimed at?
It’s probably fair to say that Squarespace’s core audience is comprised of users without web development skills (or the budget to hire a web developer). The key idea behind Squarespace is that anyone can use the platform to make their own website, without needing to code at all. This leads to a ‘walled garden’ approach, where everything is very tightly locked down in order to:
- create a user-friendly interface
- avoid scenarios where Squarespace users manage to ‘break’ an aspect of their site
- preserve the quality of the templates.
All this means that Squarespace is often a good choice for users who need to set up a professional-looking website quickly, but don’t have the time or resources to involve a web designer or developer in the project.
Like Squarespace, Wordpress can cater for users without web development skills - it is certainly possible to create and maintain a Wordpress site without resorting to coding. I’d argue however that more configuration of Wordpress is needed before you can publish a website; and setting up a Wordpress site involves a steeper learning curve.
Due to its open-source nature, Wordpress is also geared towards another audience: users who wish to use the platform to create an extensively-customised website with significantly more functionality that is available from Squarespace.
How much do Squarespace and Wordpress cost to use?
It’s fairly easy to understand the costs involved with Squarespace: there are four monthly plans available:
- Personal - $16 per month
- Business - $26 per month
- Basic - $30 per month
- Advanced - $46 per month
These plans work out a bit cheaper if you pay on an annual basis ($12, $18, $26 and $40 per month respectively).
The main differences between the Squarespace plans involve the number of pages you can create; transaction fees; integration with Xero; and e-commerce features. As you might expect, the more expensive Squarespace plans come with more features, particularly where e-commerce is concerned (for a full overview of the differences, please see Squarespace’s pricing info). If you pay annually for your Squarespace plan, you’ll get a free custom domain too - but you should note that not all domain extensions are catered for.
“Hey, Wordpress is free” I hear you cry. Well no, not exactly, because to get it working properly you need to pay for other stuff. There are five things that will generally affect your costs:
- hosting (server space on which to install Wordpress and store your site)
- themes (the design for your site)
- e-commerce integration (addition of tools that will let you sell products online)
- plugins (apps that can be added to your site to add more functionality)
- whether or not a developer is involved in your site build.
The absolute must-have is hosting: without it you have nowhere to install Wordpress. There are a wide range of options available on this front but the key choice you’ll have to make is whether you’d like to use a ‘shared hosting’ company (cheap but slower) or a provider such as WP Engine that specialises exclusively in Wordpress hosting (faster, more secure - but more expensive). For a small project you’re typically looking at costs of between $4 (shared hosting) and $30 (managed WP hosting) a month.
With regard to the other factors, you can technically get away with using a free template, e-commerce integration, and plugins - but realistically, to get higher quality results it’s usually worth investing in your site. Below you’ll find some figures which demonstrate some costs you might expect if you were building your site yourself:
- Annual hosting, using managed Wordpress hosting from WP Engine as an example: $348 (recurring cost)
- Premium theme: $175
- Annual cost for e-commerce integration (using Ecwid as an example): $180 (recurring cost)
- 4 paid-for plugins: $100
If you were to use a developer to help you configure, build and maintain your site, you’d have significantly higher costs (but in all likelihood would be getting a better product).
In terms of how these sorts of costs compare to using Squarespace, depending on what sort of plan you’re on, you’re looking at an annual cost of between $144 and $480. This means that using Squarespace can be significantly cheaper than using Wordpress, despite it being a paid-for option and Wordpress being an open source one.
Pricing, however, should not be the only thing you consider in the Wordpress vs Squarespace debate. Let's take look at features...
We now offer both Squarespace web development and Wordpress web development services, providing custom coding that can significantly improve the look, feel and functionality and reliability of your website. We're based in London but provide services worldwide.
Find out more about our Squarespace developers. Or, if you're thinking Wordpress might be a better bet, we can help too - take a look at our Wordpress web design section.
Interface / ease-of-use
On balance, Squarespace is probably more user-friendly than Wordpress: it’s certainly easier to get started with it, due to its walled garden, ‘everything in one place’ approach. Its drag and drop interface, whilst occasionally a little bit buggy, is extremely intuitive; and its style editor makes it pretty straightforward to change basic template design elements - font colours, heading sizes and so on. You just point at the design elements you want to change, and click some controls to change them. (Frustratingly, the extent to which you can tweak a template's design very much depends on the template you pick, however).
Once a Wordpress is set up, it's by no means difficult to use however. Depending on what hosting provider you plump for, setup and configuration can be a bit tricky, but once you’re up and running you’ll find that the Wordpress content management system (CMS) is easy-to-use and very responsive.
The main difference between the Squarespace and Wordpress approaches to content management is, in my view, to do with on-page editing. With Squarespace, you can just go to the page you’d like to tweak and click on a bit of content to edit it: you’ll then see your edits in context on the page, as you make them. In Wordpress you have to edit the page in the back end and publish it before you see your changes. (That said, there are some ‘visual editor’ plugins you can install which allow you to make use of a more Squarespace-y approach in Wordpress).
On balance I’d say that most website editing newbies will feel more at home more quickly with Squarespace, but the Wordpress CMS is extremely usable too.
Squarespace templates are undeniably pretty, outclassing in my those available from competing hosted website builded platforms like Jimdo or Wix. There is also a reasonably large number of them to choose from: around 60. However, this number pales in comparison to the vast number of templates available for Wordpress - although it’s hard to put a precise figure on the number of Wordpress themes in existence, we can confidently talk about thousands, both free and paid-for. (You can buy templates from dedicated template stores like Template Monster or Theme Fuse).
It’s probably fair to say that Squarespace templates are a little bit easier to customise, due to a point and click interface, but tweaking a (well-constructed) Wordpress template doesn’t involve that much of a learning curve.
For me Wordpress is ultimately hands-down winner in a template shoot-out: the sheer quantity of themes available ensures most users will have plenty of high quality options to choose from.
Content management and blogging
When it comes to content management, I’d argue that Wordpress beats Squarespace. There are four main reasons for this.
First, and most importantly in my view, Wordpress comes with content versioning - every single version of a page or post is stored on the system and you can roll back to any of them at any point. Squarespace, presumably in a bid to save on hosting costs / resources, does not permit you to do this.
Secondly, you can toggle between HTML and WYSIWYG when editing your content in Wordpress; although you can add ‘code blocks’ in Squarespace, you are not given direct access to the main HTML behind your pages and posts.
Thirdly, Wordpress gives you a proper media library that you can use to store, access and edit your images and documents. Squarespace’s offering is extremely basic.
Finally, Wordpress allows you to use categories and tags more flexibly than Squarespace (you can also create your own custom content types in Wordpress). This allows you to present your site content in more relevant ways to users, who can also filter it more easily to meet their requirements. An example of this in action might be this: say you run a car review website. With Wordpress, you could use parent categories, categories, tags and custom content types to offer readers the option to browse reviews by car make, model, trim and rating. With Squarespace you’d be limited to offering reviews by category and tag - meaning users could only browse by make and model.
That said, there are a couple of aspects of the Squarespace CMS which I find really strong. First, the drag and drop approach - it’s a doddle to move content and images around the page in Squarespace.
Secondly, you can do quite a lot with any content in Squarespace that you add using ‘summary blocks.’ For example, you can create a summary block containing thumbnail images and extracts from your blog, and drop them into any section of your site. Or add a slideshow of pictures which have been tagged in a certain way. That’s doable in Wordpress too, of course, but not quite as easily.
This is where Wordpress really kicks Squarespace’s ass. Although Squarespace does come with a lot of useful features out of the box, it is a very ‘locked-down’, walled-garden system. By contrast, you can use Wordpress to pretty much create any sort of site you like.
There are two ways to go about this: either by installing some plugins to your site or commissioning a developer to code something for you.
With regard to plugins, there are thousands of plugins available which can be used to add functionality to your site. Whether you’d like to add e-commerce functionality to your website, display a sophisticated photo gallery, capture data or show customer reviews, you’ll find that there is an enormous range of plugins available to help you. They are usually fairly easily installed and updated.
If you can’t find a plugin that meets your requirements, or wish to create a truly bespoke website, then you can always commission a Wordpress developer to help you (given the popularity of Wordpress as a platform, there are plenty of them about). A Wordpress developer can help you craft a truly unique site that involves your own template and functionality rather than those of a third party.
Plugins don’t exist in Squarespace per se, but there are certain built-in integrations you can use (for quite a few well-known services including Mailchimp, Dropbox and G Suite). Alternatively, you can add code blocks to extend the functionality a bit - doing so allows you to add ‘widgets’ which can make your site do more stuff, but it’s a bit more of a faff. Of course, you could always commission a Squarespace developer to extend the functionality of your site.
Suitability for large or complex sites
If you're planning to build a large or complex website, then Squarespace is usually best avoided. This is because it doesn't facilitate deep website hierarchies - the platform limits you to two levels of navigation. In fact, you could argue that Squarespace only permits one level of navigation. This is because if you create a section on your site containing sub-pages (for example a section called 'Our Services' with two sub-sections, 'Gardening' and 'Tree Surgery'), Squarespace will not allow users to visit the top level page - i.e., your visitors will not be able to access a 'Services' page...just one of the sub pages below the heading. So basically with Squarespace you can only create extremely 'flat' websites.
Now in some ways, a flat structure for your site is a good idea, because in many ways it makes the site a lot easier to use and its content considerably more discoverable. But for some businesses, particularly large organisations, or those offering a very wide variety of services, a deep hierarchy does become a key requirement for a website build. Because this is a difficult thing to achieve in Squarespace (even using the developer's version), I'd recommend using Wordpress over it for any website requiring several layers of navigation. You will however need to ensure that you select a Wordpress template that facilitates multiple levels of navigation or a Wordpress developer who can create one for you.
Squarespace comes with a pretty nifty e-commerce system built in. It’s great for a lot of applications, but it does have its limitations: the number of payment gateways you can use is limited to Stripe (not usable by merchants in certain countries) and Paypal, and it doesn’t come with the sort of advanced online retailing functionality that you’d get with the likes of Shopify or Bigcommerce.
A key thing to be very aware of with Squarespace’s e-commerce functionality is that it doesn’t allow you to export your products. So if you build an online store in Squarespace and, a couple of years later, have a need to migrate hundreds of your products over to a different platform, you are going to be faced with a very difficult and time-consuming task.
Wordpress doesn’t have an e-commerce tool built in but thanks to the wide range of plugins available for it, it’s really straightforward to add comprehensive online retailing functionality to a Wordpress site. Popular choices include Woocommerce, Ecwid and Shopp.
You can use code blocks in Squarespace to integrate some e-commerce services, but overall, Wordpress is much more flexible in this area and there are far more options available to help you.
Data capture and forms
On the surface, Squarespace is great at allowing you to capture data - it allows you to add very attractive forms to your site very easily. However, it restricts where you can send that data - you can email it to yourself, add it to a Google Sheet or send it to Mailchimp.
Admittedly the Google Sheet and Mailchimp integrations are very useful, given the popularity of these two tools - but I’d much prefer it if you could send the data to a wider range of e-marketing tools. Thousands of potential Squarespace users make use of the likes of Getresponse, Aweber, Campaign Monitor and so on - and although you can use Squarespace’s code blocks to integrate those services, it's just not as straightforward as the Mailchimp / Google Sheets integration. It also takes a lot of messing about with CSS to make the resulting forms look as pretty.
Wordpress by contrast allows you to integrate all of these services easily - you’ll need a plugin like the fabulous Gravity Forms to help you but once you’ve set it up, you’ll benefit from a rock solid integration with all the major e-marketing solutions and additional functionality (confirmation emails, file uploads, entry limits, hidden fields) that you won’t be able to avail of using the built-in Squarespace form builder.
SEO in Wordpress vs Squarespace
Wordpress is the hands-down winner in the search engine optimisation (SEO) department. It blows Squarespace out of the water in two ways: first, in Wordpress, alt tags and meta data are referred to by their proper names - this is not the case with Squarespace, where you’re dealing with ‘captions’, ‘descriptions’ and ‘extracts’ which, depending on the template, may actually end up visible on the page (a very strange scenario which probably encourages people to make use of alt tags and meta data with visual impact rather than SEO in mind).
Second, Wordpress allows you to make use of a wide range of sophisticated SEO plugins - for example, Yoast - which assess the quality of your on-page SEO efforts and automatically suggest improvements. There’s no equivalent functionality in Squarespace.
To be fair, Squarespace sites do quite a few things that Google definitely likes: they generate a sitemap.xml file; use clean HTML markup; and are mobile friendly. You can definitely optimise a Squarespace site for search, it’s just harder to do so than with Wordpress and you’ll have less tools available to help you.
One thing Squarespace users don’t really have to worry about is site maintenance. All the technical aspects of running a website (software updates, hosting, server configuration etc.) are taken care of by the company.
With Wordpress, it’s a different kettle of fish: you are in charge of ensuring that you’re using the most up-to-date version of Wordpress, that your server’s been configured correctly, that your plugins and themes are all up to date etc. Although some of this can be handled automatically, it’s still something you need to keep an eye on - if you end up with an out of date version of Wordpress or a plugin, your site is much more vulnerable to being hacked. Which brings us neatly on to…
Because Squarespace is a hosted solution, the bulk of the responsibility for security lies with the company who make it: it’s chiefly their responsibility to ensure that their system doesn’t get compromised, your site doesn't get hacked and that backups of your content are made.
However, because Squarespace now hosts over one million websites on its servers, it has in recent years become a high-profile target for distributed denial of service (DoS) attacks - bringing down Squarespace brings down a very large number of sites. As such there have been outages and downtime for Squarespace users for precisely this reason in the past. You might find your Wordpress site less vulnerable to this sort of thing, depending on who you host it with (some of the the larger hosting companies are also targets for DoS attacks).
With Wordpress, if you’re not commissioning a developer or agency to maintain your site, then the ultimate responsibility for security belongs to the end user: you. It’s your responsibility to ensure that your version of Wordpress is up to date, along with any plugins or themes you might be using. Failure to keep on top of this aspect of site maintenance can make a Wordpress site very vulnerable to being hacked. You’ve also got to be aware that some Wordpress themes and plugins can contain malicious code which can compromise the security of the site, so you need to be very careful about which ones you install. And finally, you've got to ensure that you're regularly backing up your site (various plugins are available to help automate this process for you).
In short, I think it’s fair to say that Squarespace sites are probably less vulnerable than Wordpress ones, simply because there’s much less scope for users to neglect security on their site or add dodgy code to it.
Finally, a quick note about SSL: a free SSL certificate is provided with all Squarespace sites - meaning that your visitors are browsing your site on a secure connection. You can install SSL certificates on Wordpress sites - but again, it's your responsibility to sort that out.
Control of your content
Something which is often overlooked in Wordpress vs Squarespace comparisons is control of content. If you use Wordpress, what you put on your site is, generally speaking, entirely up to you. If you use Squarespace, you’ll need to be aware that Squarespace can remove it if it conflicts with their acceptable use policies. Admittedly, a company that you've paid to host your Wordpress site could similarly disrupt your content-creation efforts if it didn’t like what you were publishing - but in that scenario, you would have more options: you could move to a more liberal hosting provider, for example.
Crucially, it’s much easier to get content out of Wordpress than it is using Squarespace. There are a lot of tools available to Wordpress users to help them export and back up every single piece of content. In Squarespace, you are limited to exporting your site to an XML file, and only certain types of content can be exported.
Wordpress ultimately gives users far more control over their content than Squarespace, and depending on the nature and size of your site, this factor should not be overlooked.
Many businesses require multiple versions of their website - in different languages, or for different territories (or both). Wordpress is a much better solution than Squarespace for this sort of thing - you can use either the Wordpress Multilingual plugin or the Wordpress Multisite option to create multiple versions of a website in multiple languages.
There are a couple of workarounds you can use to get Squarespace sites to display in multiple languages, but they are clunky and don’t come close to providing the multilingual / multisite functionality you can achieve with Wordpress.
Support is an area where Squarespace trumps Wordpress. When you buy a Squarespace account, you get support included with it. This is limited to live chat or email - not phone, unfortunately - and in my experience the quality of it is occasionally variable. But the point is that if something serious goes wrong with your site, you have somebody to turn to - you’re not on your own.
It’s a different scenario with Wordpress: if you’re building your website yourself with the platform and run into difficulties, it's not obvious where to turn to. You may find yourself sourcing help from a variety of locations: for example, the Wordpress forums, a hosting company, a plugin provider, a mate who knows a thing or two about Wordpress…
To get around this problem, you might consider working with a developer or agency specialising in Wordpress development and take out a support contract with them; this can, however, be costly.
Ultimately if ongoing support with your site is a big issue for you, then there is an undeniable advantage in using Squarespace.
Squarespace vs Wordpress: the conclusions
Most developers and webmasters would be comfortable in saying that Wordpress is a vastly more powerful and flexible tool than Squarespace, and I’d agree with them. However, that’s not to say that Wordpress is the right choice for all users.
I would argue that in many ways Squarespace meets the needs of individuals and small businesses better than Wordpress, because (1) it’s easier to set up a Squarespace site than a Wordpress one and (2) once your site is set up you don’t have to worry about maintenance or security issues - other than remembering to update your site with interesting content periodically, using Squarespace is a sort of ‘set and forget’ scenario. It is a great solution for the likes of photographers, bands and small business owners, who just want a simple website quickly and with a minimum of fuss; and down the line, if your needs do become more sophisticated, you could consider hiring a Squarespace developer to enhance your site through custom coding.
However, if you have advanced e-commerce or blogging requirements, or ambitious plans to grow your business, I’d be inclined to go with Wordpress - for the simple reason that you can build anything with it and make use of a vast number of plugins and themes. Wordpress is also a much more scalable solution, thanks to the multilingual and multisite options that are available. A Squarespace site is fine for a business that knows it's only ever going to operate in one location and in one language - but if the plan is to grow that business and open premises in a variety of locations, then Wordpress is an option that is much better suited for the long-term.
If you are going down the Wordpress route, I would suggest that rather than try to use it on the cheap - by doing everything yourself - it makes more sense to work with an experienced developer or agency, and to keep them involved in maintaining your site on an ongoing basis. Not only will you get a more polished, bespoke website, you’ll also get more peace of mind, as you won’t have to worry about security or maintenance. You will need to budget properly for this, but if you work with the right individual or team you’ll get a good product.
One way of deciding on Squarespace vs Wordpress for a website build is by asking yourself 3 questions: (1) "do I have a large budget?"; (2) "do I have time?" and (3) "do I have complex requirements for my site?" If you are not particularly limited by budget, I'd be inclined to go with Wordpress, but hiring a developer to build and support your site. If you are short on time and technical skills, and building your website yourself, I'd be inclined to plump for Squarespace over Wordpress. And finally if you have complex requirements for your site you will probably need to use Wordpress, as it's a significantly more flexible platform.
Below you'll find a summary of some of the key reasons why you might use either Squarespace or Wordpress over the other:
Reasons to use Squarespace over Wordpress
- Squarespace is easier to set up and use than Wordpress - you shouldn’t face much of a learning curve.
- A lot of features which you have to source separately in Wordpress are available ‘out of the box’ if you’re using Squarespace - e-commerce, data capture forms, themes etc.
- Hosting and domain names are included with the product (note that domain names are available on annual plans only); with Wordpress, you have to sort these out separately.
- With Squarespace you don’t have to worry about the technical aspects of maintaining your site; whereas if you use Wordpress, you need to keep on top of this or your site will become vulnerable to being hacked.
- Squarespace is largely responsible for the security of your website - if you use Wordpress, security depends on how diligent you are in updating your software and theme.
- 24/7 support is available for Squarespace (email and live chat). By contrast, whether or not you can avail of support for a Wordpress site depends largely on whether you have commissioned a developer.
You can sign up for a free Squarespace trial here, or for more information about the product check out our detailed Squarespace review. If you need help with a Squarespace project, you can check out what we do here.
Reasons to use Wordpress over Squarespace
- You can build any type of site with Wordpress; it’s a much more flexible platform than Squarespace.
- A significantly wider range of templates is available in Wordpress than in Squarespace.
- Wordpress comes with a more sophisticated content management system which, unlike Squarespace, facilitates content versioning.
- You can use Wordpress to create sites with deep levels of navigation - this is not really the case with Squarespace.
- A vast range of plugins - paid-for and free - is available to help you add functionality to your Wordpress website. Although you can add functionality to Squarespace sites via widgets and code blocks, you can’t use plugins.
- You have a greater range of options when it comes to e-commerce in Squarespace than in Wordpress.
- Data capture options are more extensive in Wordpress than in Squarespace (so long as the correct forms plugin is used).
- Wordpress sites can be optimised for search engines much more easily and comprehensively than Squarespace ones.
- On a Wordpress site, you have more control over your content - with Squarespace, you’ll have to adhere to an ‘acceptable use’ policy and you may have trouble exporting some of your site content (especially where e-commerce-related content is concerned).
- Wordpress is a much better option than Squarespace for creating multilingual or ‘multisite’ projects.
Alternatives to Squarespace and Wordpress
Of course, Squarespace and Wordpress are not the only options when it comes to building a website: there are a large number of alternative solutions available.
With regard to self-hosted web builders, you might want to check out Wix, Jimdo or Weebly (or indeed hosted Wordpress). These are probably more geared towards ‘general use' websites rather than e-commerce sites; so if you’re interested in building an online store then it’s worth investigating Bigcommerce or Shopify - two very-well known hosted solutions that don’t have a terribly steep learning curve.
Have you any thoughts on Wordpress vs Squarespace? Do let us know in the comments section below. And if you liked this article, do feel free to share it!
We now offer both Squarespace web development and Wordpress web development services, providing custom coding that can significantly improve the look, feel and functionality and reliability of your website.
Find out more about our Squarespace developers. Or, if you're thinking Wordpress might be a better bet, we can help too - take a look at our Wordpress web design section.