Dissecting SquareSpace

Fri, 11th December 2015, 17:49

I was really excited when I heard about SquareSpace and signed up for the free trial account. The main website definitely sells the SquareSpace hosting and design platform very well, and I was eager to see if it actually lived up to its attractive exterior. I could easily picture a lot of designers and artists taking to SquareSpace as a host if it was really as easy to use of a platform as it claimed. It could even make a good host for a small to medium sized business that would like to create a snazzier, homespun website.

SquareSpace’s pricing is pretty straightforward. A personal package limits the amount of pages and contributors at $8 a month, while the business package features unlimited everything along with a $100 Adwords credit and a Google Apps account for $18 a month. Online store owners will be interested to know that there are also commerce options available; at $26 a month for a basic package with no transaction fees and unlimited pages, and $70 a month for the additions of abandoned checkout autorecovery and real time carrier shipping. A little recognized option is the ability to also obtain a single page landing page for $5 a month. Perfect for a virtual “business card”. It is also important to note that there is a 2% to 3% processing charge on any payments made on SquareSpace to a non-commerce account.

The 14 day trial gives you access to a full featured website, with some caveats - no search engine listings, and any visits to your SquareSpace hosted URL will throw up a captcha page before the site can be viewed. Thus, the trial is only good for taking the design tools and controls for a test drive.

The SquareSpace web designing platform is undeniably unique. In fact, the entire SquareSpace experience is one that I find difficult to describe. SquareSpace seems to have done to web hosting what Google+ did to social networking… bringing minimalistic, sharp modern design and an intuitive, fluid UI to what is more often than not a very confusing and antiquated control panel.

What I personally find most appealing about the SquareSpace platform is that while it is obviously built to appeal to beginners, a lot of the more familiar advanced capabilities are present as well. Even more interesting is that there are two levels of CSS style editors - one that is a bit more guided, with a list of style elements that allow you to point and click your way through colors, sizes, and other attributes; and one that is a completely free styled text editor. Of course, there is also a variety of templates to choose from, and the entire web design editing side of SquareSpace is strangely reminiscent of Google Blogger’s features; only this one is quite more stylish.

The commerce side seemed a little simplistic for any major ecommerce website. However, I can easily see many freelancer types taking to the straightforward interface, if you can forgive the lack of being able to integrate with any accounting software like QuickBooks. A rather “cute” inclusion in the commerce side of the SquareSpace platform is the ability to add discount coupon codes to your site. Along with this are the basics: orders, inventory, and payments. Adding a product is as simple as adding a product page to the website and entering in the information for each of your products on the page. From this point you can manage the inventory, orders, and payments from the other commerce options listed in the control panel. There are also advanced settings available which allow you to adjust the sales tax, change shipping options, and customize automated thank you emails for when someone makes a donation.

While SquareSpace’s commerce side lacks a little love, their website metrics seem pretty robust. There is your standard traffic overview, along with a collection of more specific metrics such as mobile usage, RSS subscribers, referring sites, and search engine queries used to land on your site. There’s also a sales overview included in the metrics to help you keep track of your revenue trends.

One of the more interesting bragging points for SquareSpace has been that it features built in search engine optimization (SEO). This feature is neatly tucked away in the website marketing settings. To be honest, I was a little disappointed to find that instead of including a robust and flexible system for search engine optimization, SquareSpace’s offerings are exactly the same as other content management platforms like Wordpress and Blogger, allowing you to change the meta description and customize the formatting of nested URLs.

While I can easily see SquareSpace working out well for the amateur or entry level designer or artist looking for a cheap and easy way to get a portfolio up on the web, I cannot see myself recommending it as a serious solution for online store operation or designers/artists that have matured careers. The lack of robust commerce and very small selection of templates makes for a very generic and lackluster website for professionals that require something personalized and powerful. However, I do see this as possibly enabling web designers to offer their clients a low cost, entry level website with a little pizazz that they can add and subtract to themselves with little to no prior expertise being needed; much like many web designers are already doing with other content platform management systems like Wordpress and Drupal.

For my brother, the freelancer photographer/designer/producer/poet on a limited budget with little to no coding skills, SquareSpace is perfect; in fact I may be setting him up with an account for Christmas! For my law firm client that needs a competitive, unique, and robust custom site; SquareSpace is likely to get passed on for a more customizable content and design management platform. Overall though, I can say that SquareSpace does offer an ideal newbie’s platform for a reasonable price. Your experience and mileage may vary!

About the author: Jonquil McDaniel is an IT professional in Florida that has been writing and tinkering with technology both personally and professionally her entire life. She has an infectious enthusiasm for all things technical; a gift for creative problem solving and communications of all kinds; and a warm, positive disposition that infiltrates every word she writes.