13 February 2015
Recently we were asked by a prospect whether we had any views on developing the next phase of their web presence through Squarespace rather than opting to commission us for a bespoke digital solution.
As a communication agency who are agnostic to the communication channels we operate across (we are equally at home with projects that require point-of-sale, print, video or open-source platform as the appropriate medium of choice) we decided to take a look at this new kid on the block.
Squarespace 6 is Squarespace’s new 'turnkey' platform which creates portfolios, blogs, and general-purpose websites that are "drag ‘n drop customizable" yet "image-centric and willing to interface with every platform" like Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram. It’s commoditized, limited-customizable design for those in the high-end interior industry who perhaps want to forge ahead without the support of an external agency, or at least expecting only a light touch.
Squarespace, essentially, removes the need for our programmers to be very involved in the main stream production of the website (of a certain scale and complexity), meaning that:
The number one reason for a high-end interior business to use Squarespace is ease of use. While there are many cons about the Squarespace platform that will be discussed below, the Squarespace interface is incredibly easy to use. The platform is great for those who are new to the world of running a website. Even for people who would not consider themselves computer savvy, Squarespace will come naturally for those who are keen to keep marketing in-house.
The actual setup and design of the site takes a bit of time, but maintaining a site, changing content or adding new blog posts is easier than using Microsoft Word. The visual layout editor in Squarespace, while similar to many others in the market, makes changes to the site incredibly simple. You can arrange and setup your posts without needing to know a single line of HTML or CSS.
Adding text, images, embeds, or social media it is a simple as hitting a button and selecting your option.
We found that you can 'build' a website without ever writing a single line of code, though it will be an off the shelf template, potentially used by your competitors.
Squarespace’s platform is limited to a handful of templates. 32 templates as of the publishing of this article.
While there are limited templates to choose from, those that are available are extremely sharp and professional looking, and include some room for customization.
Here are some of the portfolio sites listed on Squarespace’s site and you will see that it is possible to create an incredibly clean and modern design with the platform, we've dug a little deeper and found actual sites, however they may not all be from the 'template' stable.
The limitations with design on Squarespace are in the nature of how the platform is built. Squarespace is a framework for building websites and it offers limited customization. Even with custom CSS code, there is only so much you can change. This means that during your design process you will hit a point where you cannot customize any further or achieve the result you are looking for. There's scope for changing type and background colours, changing size and type of font and other options of a similar ilk.
However what we need to remember is that with any design it is only as strong as the photography/styling and messaging that is applied through the site.
Squarespace is not an open source platform. That means you are limited to only using the plugins and tools that Squarespace provides you with. Squarespace controls the platform, not you. You can’t simply open up the code and change things like you can with another platform like WordPress.
This forces you to use tools like Mailchimp (an email marketing service provider), Stripe (a payments tool made for developers) and ShipStation (eCommerce shipping fulfillment software). While this can be limiting, if you choose to use these tools rather than ever hoping to integrate other third party platforms you may already be using, your experience will incredibly simple. Unlike the open-source platform of Wordpress the plugins that Squarespace offers will work flawlessly and will continue to be supported - its in their interest to.
Squarespace’s websites are optimized for SEO as part of the theme and the platform. Page titles and meta descriptions can be customized to help your SEO results.
For the standard blogger or business who isn’t making SEO a key component of their marketing strategy, these tools will be sufficient.
However for those who are serious about SEO and have ranking at the top of Google as a priority, they may become frustrated by the limitations that come with Squarespace’s SEO functionality. There simply isn’t much you can do outside of the basic framework that Squarespace has laid out to increase your SEO results.
There will simply be features, or functions that you may desire that are not achievable through this Squarespace platform.While those missing features may be OK at the start of your website's life, they could become problematic over time.
Fortunately Squarespace does include the functionality to export your website to a variety of formats including for WordPress. While the exporting feature still doesn’t make the changing process easy, it is a handy feature to have if you ever do need to migrate from Squarespace in the future as your website grows.
And for certain businesses, the ability to scale into a large site may not be an important feature.
While the slick marketing campagin deployed by Squarespace implies you can create your own brand there will still be a need to help you identify, articulate and present key ideas to your audience.
No technology out there can do this kind of thinking, strategizing, asking of pointed questions, gathering of insights and 'aha’s', and drawing of key conclusions. No cloud-based system can prop, style and photograph your finished project or product in a manner that captures your particular essence and style.
The choise of words, calls-to-action and titles cannot be found or created at the touch of a button. In short for all the positives surrounding using such a system as Squarespace to 'design' your next website, it will still require the strategic and creative input and approach found in a design agency to add the magic and success to your project.
We have found some companies that are sitting on the squarespace platform, its dificult to say whether they have simply purchased an off the shelf template for £16/mo or taken their web presence a stage further by using a squarespace-savvy developer to build a bespoke site on the squarespace developer platform.