WordPress and Squarespace are among the most reputable platforms for building websites with million(s) of active users. But sometimes we have to make a decision and choose one of them for the next project, which makes it important to understand the key differences between them. WordPress is available as an open-source content management system (wordpress.org) as well as a hosted solution (wordpress.com), while Squarespace is a SaaS service based on monthly (or annual) fees.
Most people are happy with WordPress and don’t feel the need to switch to any other platform. However, other platforms have their own set of advantages over WordPress and work better in certain areas. Although WordPress and Squarespace help accomplish the same goal, the platforms differ in execution and each has its own benefits.
Comparing self-hosted WordPress and the standard version of Squarespace makes more sense as these two are the versions most people use. It’s not easy to establish the exact number of users of each platform, but Squarespace claims to have around one million users, while there are between 60-75 million sites built using WordPress (self-hosted, installable).
As mentioned earlier, WordPress comes in two flavors i.e. hosted WP and self-hosted WP. Hosted WordPress or wordpress.com is quite similar to Squarespace as it’s also a SaaS (Software as a Service) tool. A monthly fee provides you access to many features that help build and maintain a site. However, WordPress users need to use or purchase third-party tools and plugins if they want advanced functionality, which makes the platform a slightly less capable solution than Squarespace out-of-the-box. On the other side, hosted WordPress offers better flexibility and allows users to choose from thousands of available tools and plugins.
Self-hosted WordPress can be downloaded from wordpress.org and is an open-source software that installs on a web server. The code behind the content management system is available for free, which allows advanced users and developers to modify it according to their own requirements. Being an open-source platform also means that WordPress is backed by a strong community of developers who are constantly trying to improve the platform and release updates on a regular basis. Self-hosted WordPress is being used by around 60-75 million sites and is among the most popular platforms by market share.
Websites built with WordPress are highly customizable as the platform has the capability to adopt according to any design project and is suitable for almost any website imaginable. Free and open-source software does not mean there are no hosting and other costs involved as only the WordPress installation on a server is free. Site owners have to cover the domain registration, hosting and other costs such as plugins and maintenance.
Squarespace is a SaaS site builder and offers hosting and other tools for a monthly fee. WordPress users have to pay for most of the premium plugins, but Squarespace includes most of the tools required to build and maintain a website, including a content management system, templates, support, hosting, e-commerce and of course a domain (on annual contracts). Most Squarespace users are satisfied with the standard version, but a developer version is also available that allows manipulating the source code. Unlike the open-source WordPress, manipulating with Squarespace source code is more complicated and requires a higher level of expertise.
Users who are not familiar with web development technologies often find Squarespace easier to use and get around. Squarespace is built on the idea that anyone should be able to create their website without having to hire a web developer. But that can also be a disadvantage for advanced users who want flexibility and a platform that is flexible and adaptable according to their individual requirements. Squarespace takes more of a “walled garden” approach as most of the things are locked down to ensure a consistent and more user friendly interface and to avoid breaking things up.
Squarespace suits users who don’t have the budget or time to get into details and want to quickly setup a professional-grade website. Although WordPress is also easy to configure and use, there are times when a configuration is required, which involves at least basic understanding of web development languages.
WordPress vs. Squarespace: The Key Differences
It’s logical to compare the self-hosted or installable version of WordPress with Squarespace as most WP users rely on it to build and maintain their websites. Squarespace refers to the standard version as most of its users don’t have time and expertise to play with the source code. The comparison between the two platforms has been broken down into different aspects or sections, allowing us to have a closer look at them and see the advantages and drawbacks of each. These pros and cons would also vary from user to user as some might be interested in an easy to use platform, while others prefer flexibility and feature set.
1. Ease of Use
Compared to Squarespace, WordPress does not offer a drag-and-drop interface so the learning curve is steeper. There are times when WordPress users might need to modify the code in order to do things like reformatting page layout, which often becomes a difficult task for beginners who may need to hire services of a developer to get around such things. However, what WordPress lacks in ease of use is compensated by the flexibility and customization it offers.
For the most part, WordPress is not too difficult to use and even beginners can do most things after understanding key concepts such as difference between pages and posts, plugins and themes and so on. The visual editor works well for most users, while the plain text editor allows advanced users to configure things easily. Most beginner-level users get familiar with the platform in reasonable amount of time and adapt to it quickly, but Squarespace takes the lead when it comes to ease of use and user friendliness.
Both WordPress and Squarespace are fairly easy to use and setup, but the latest version of Squarespace makes it even easier for users to get started without any coding experience. The clean and intuitive interface allows beginners to start building a website without dealing with any code. Users also get everything they need to design, publish, customize and maintain their website and a coherent user experience. That’s why Squarespace is considered to be more a user-friendly platform as it offers a drag-and-drop builder and does not require users to deal with codes, HTML, CSS and so on.
User friendliness and ease of use does not mean the platform lacks advanced features as experienced users and large enterprises also use Squarespace to build and maintain their websites. However, the platform is more popular among beginners and non tech-savvy users who also get access to a comprehensive learning library comprising of videos, user guides and more. Squarespace suits more to users who either don’t have time or money to code a website or don’t have experience in coding and are not interested in learning new languages.
2. Flexibility and Feature Set
WordPress is considered to be a far more scalable and flexible platform and these are also the primary reasons the platform became so popular. Being an open-source and flexible platform WordPress allows building almost any type of website whether it is a webstore, a personal blog or a corporate website. The platform is also very extensible through plugins, which are easy to install and configure in most cases. Capable coders or beginners who have services of such coders can customize their website however they want to, which makes WordPress a great choice for users looking for flexibility and more features.
However, use of too many plugins can result in overlapping and overloading or the website and they may start to affect site performance. That’s why experts recommend thoroughly testing plugins before using them or they may do more harm than good. Plugin support is another area which raises questions as most free plugins don’t come with any support, while premium or paid plugins offer limited support.
Unlike the open-source WordPress, Squarespace takes the “walled garden’ approach to ensure consistency. Although the platform is not as flexible as WordPress, the available tools don’t conflict with each other as they come from the same house. The site building tools on offer are also closely monitored and controlled to ensure that everything works as intended and no conflicts occur. Users can still use non-Squarespace tools if they want to, but it’s not as easy as doing the same thing using WordPress. Squarespace also offers dedicated round the clock support in case anything breaks.
3. User support
Users are limited to forum support where people ask for questions and a massive community of users and experienced developers try to answer them. Although most of the questions get answered, a lot of queries remain unanswered due to the huge volume of questions being asked. Your question would probably be ignored if it has already been answered before, which means you’d have to dig deep into forum postings to find an answer (sort of). No one is there to take responsibility of providing support so you are more or less on own your own and have to research yourself if any issue arises.
All Squarespace plans come with support via email, live chat, user guides and forum. Email queries are usually responded within an hour, while live chat is available during the working hours Monday to Friday. Squarespace takes ownership of all its tools as they are built and tested in the same operating environment. It does not matter if the question you are asking has been asked before as the support team will try to answer your query even if it’s a common question or already mentioned in the FAQs.
4. Pricing and Plans
Although WordPress (the actual product) is available for free, users have to pay for other stuff such as hosting services, premium themes, plugins, development and troubleshooting. Assuming a standard hosting plan costs around $7/month and you buy a theme and a few other premium plugins, the initial investment would probably be around $150-200. The cost can rise substantially if you want to hire services of a developer to maintain or troubleshoot your website. Beginners also need to consider investing their own time in learning WordPress if they are starting from scratch. The real-world total cost of building and maintaining a WordPress site begins to rise as you start adding more plugins and features.
The personal (standard) plan costs $12/month and includes most of the tools beginners need to get started. The Business package costs $18/month, while the Basic Store and Advanced Store packages cost $26 and $40 respectively. These monthly plans include hosting services, dedicated support, drag-and-drop builder and designer templates. Squarespace offers a full serviced package at a monthly fee and does not require users to tie bits and pieces together.
5. Maintenance and Upgrades
The platform is regularly updated and users are notified via the dashboard if an update is available. However, in most cases, users also need to update the installed themes and plugins, which can prove to be an issue for non-technical users. Although many plugin and theme creators update their offerings along with WordPress, there is no guarantee that everything would work with the newer version. This may expose your site to performance, security or UI issues and may require services of a professional to fix such issues.
The “walled garden” approach works well when it comes to updates and maintenance as Squarespace manages all the security and performance updates and users don’t have to worry about managing it manually. All the updates are automatically applied after proper testing and save users a lot of time, which otherwise could have been spent on troubleshooting and fixing broken plugins.
6. Data Portability
Being an open-source platform, WordPress allows users to export all the data, including content, the entire database, images, themes and plugins. The content can then be moved to another CMS or stored elsewhere. Data portability is certainly not the strong point of Squarespace as it only allows exporting certain parts of content such as pages and galleries.
WordPress is arguably superior to Squarespace when it comes to flexibility, customization and adaptability. Squarespace makes it easier for beginners to start building their website and works well for small websites and nontechnical users who are OK with limited functionality. Squarespace offers limited eCommerce capabilities, while WordPress opens up a world of possibilities and allows integrating any payment processor or other eCommerce tools.
WordPress is able to meet complex requirements of almost any website, offers a much wider range of templates and plugins and supports content versioning. Despite its flexibility and ‘openness’, WordPress might not be the right choice for all users, especially beginners and users who want an install-and-forget package.
Why Choose WordPress?
- Very flexible and extensible
- Themes, plugins and templates
- Content versioning
- Deep navigation levels
- Powerful, advanced eCommerce tools
- Data export
- More optimizable for search engines
- Richer snippets
- More control over content
- Better multi-site and multilingual capabilities
Why Choose Squarespace?
- Easy to setup and use
- Most features available right out-of-the-box
- Hosting and domain included
- Lesser maintenance, automatic updates, security
- Dedicated support
- Quicker delivery