Squarespace, one year on
It has been just over a year that I moved my website over to Squarespace. I had few reasons to make this move. In early days I used to code my own website. It was static html, very simple It served the purpose for that time but I wanted to step up the game. I moved onto full Flash website (again designed and coded by me) and this one was pain in the neck. I am rather creative than technical person and it was certainly an effort to make that website work. It was rigid, hard to update and I was required to have Flash publishing application at hand. As a next step I moved to Wordpress. This finally gave me what I needed. Easy, open platform with tons of options, customization with hundreds of plugins available. This is a fair choice for everybody wanting to have solid website platform. There is a learning curve but unless you are coding your own theme it is not so steep. I started with my own themes, then I purchased some as well and for some reason I found myself continuously tweak or code something that I "wanted" but I didn't really need. I spent more time over code that actually creating some content for website. This incredible freedom that comes with Wordpress, was actually limiting me in some way. And I wanted to spend more time over content creation and photography than actually implementing more often than not useless features. Maintenance was another issue. Constant plugin updates, spam...it all takes time to take care of. Also latest trends in Wordpress theme design is not what I really fancy. There is lots of flashy, animated and almost Flash-like themes these days. I prefer good content over flashy design any time. As long as the site is nice and clean, content can be easily found I am happy.
First time I heard about Squarespace was through This Week in Photo (TWIP) podcast. I had a look at it but it didn't really caught my attention. It was still in the days of Squarespace 5. Responsive technology was a new thing those days and I wanted to have my website responsive. Then Sqarespace 6 came along, a completely redesigned product which I fell in love with quickly.
First of all, I love the fact that you can try out the Squarespace solution without committing yourself to anything. For 14 days you can enjoy almost every feature that Squarespace has to offer. If you are not happy, you account will be closed after two weeks, no questions asked. If you decide to go with it, you pay for the plan of your choice and all work you have done to this point will become a fully fledged website. All you have to do is pick the template, enter user name, password and you are good to go. No credit card needed. Want to give it a try?
Ease of use
Squarespace is unbelievably easy to use. At least it was for me. User interface has nice and clean design, you will not find the Wordpress clutter here. 24h help is available. I used it few times and response was pretty fast. There is tons of tutorials, some webminars that take you through various stages of your site setup. If your contend is well prepared I am confident to say that whole website setup might take just under an hour (of course depends on complexity). Content can be imported from Wordpress or various other platforms. Interface is drag&drop style and you get away without knowing how to code things. I don't need to mention social media integration. That is pretty standard these days.
Site metrics is the place where you can see how your site "performs". If you want more detailed analysis, hooking up Google Analytics is a matter of pasting your Google Analytics Account Number.
If editing on the go is your thing, Squarespace has few iPad/iPhone apps for you. Android versions are in Beta as of now. My favorite is portfolio app with nice and clean design, synced with your portfolio from website.
Squarespace offers number of templates for different purposes. They have portfolios, blogging templates, personal or ecomerrce templates. Choice is not as wide as in Wordpress world but these are well coded, all responsive, nice and clean. It is easy to make basic customization and if you fancy a little coding, you have that option too. I use few custom lines of code and fair bit on CSS side but nothing too complicated. Some templates offer features that other don't but you are free to change it at any point. On the back-end side, choice of template is irrelevant. You get same features whatever template you choose.
Squarespace is well suited for photography portfolios. Image workflow is pretty straightforward. Publishing a portfolio is question of minutes. I bet the upload time will be longer than whole setup. On upload, different sizes of the images are created for different devices. It saves download time and speeds up the site loading. All this is happening in the background and you never have to worry about this. In Wordpress it used to be way more complicated. If theme didn't support different image sizes for different devices there had to be either a plugin or some custom code implementation to support this feature. And this was never straightforward, especially to users without any coding experience. There are several ways how to display the images. There is standard lightbox or different gallery styles available. Some themes use full breed image display if that is what you are after.
Here I have a little complain about image management. (squarespace, do you listen?) All images live locally relative to the page/gallery they were uploaded to. At least that is how user sees it in back-end. Meaning, it is not easy to link already uploaded image to different blog post for example. A bit more centralized image management solution would be nice. This would save space and bandwidth as there would be no need to upload same image several times. I am pretty sure this is possible somehow but I didn't find and easy and user friendly way. same goes for custom files. Uploading custom files is weirdly located in CSS editor. It would be nice to have that option in dashboard.
Blogging is pretty easy on Squarespace. There is video available that shows everything you need to know about it but if you done any blogging before it takes only a minute to find your way around. Different templates display blogs differently but all templates have blog available. I use Momentum template and by default the blog doesn't display thumbnail (or featured image in Wordpress world). Squarespace is known for always adding new features or improving existing ones. So sooner or later they will offer something that might help you out. In this case there is "Summary Block" which helps me to display latest blog entries with thumbnail images. Exactly what I wanted. Casual visitor to the site will never notice that "Blog" page is just a regular page with Summary Block and real blog lives hidden in the background. There are no post formats available as you see in some Wordpress themes. All blog entries in Sqarespace blog are standard blog posts. Again, I think simplicity wins here. I always wanted to have post formats but after a year with Squarespace I never really needed them. Inserting images, galleries or embedding video to blog or pages is of course supported.
This is an interesting one. I was not really interested in this feature but recently I started to think about online shop for fine art prints. All of the 3 Suarespace plans offer fully integrated e-commerce solution. It is natively built in into back-end with tons of options but one significant drawback. Squarespace uses Stripe as their payment gateway. Problem is that it is available only in few countries and that list is not very long. I happened to have bank account in one of supported countries but I do not have permanent address there. So I guess I am out of luck here. There is a possibility to hook up some 3rd party e-comerce solutions but it is not native support and at one point or another you have to leave Squarespace dashboard to track orders etc. There is an outcry for PayPal support from many users but guys at Squarespace manage to resist. I am not sure why but I would welcome PayPal integration, and I believe most of the users do too.
Despite few limitations I mentioned earlier I am very happy. My site is up more than year, it was easy to design, I don't spend too much time with maintenance. When I log into my account, more often than not I am going to create some content or edit one I published already. More importantly I saved money. Yes, Squarespace is very affordable solution. Even a business plan comes cheaper than running a Wordpress site where you need to pay for domain, hosting, theme design in case you want a good one. And I don't count all the time you spend maintaining the site. That costs money too. Free domain name is included with every Squarespace plan. If you already own a domain, it is easy to hook it up. So if you starting out and want to put together simple portfolio site, $8 a month is a bargain. Design your site, create your content and leave the rest to the Squarespace team. It doesn't get much better than that.
Many say it doesn't allow to do this or that. Template based website solutions tend to look fairly similar. Fair enough. But I don't care. I want my content to be out there in clean and reasonable way without too much pomp and fancy stuff around. I do not want to waste time with anything else. I want to be seen as artist, not as web designer. And that is what Squarespace allows me to do. It is not perfect by any means but it meets most of my requirements, and it is getting better. So if you are on similar boat, do give it a try. I did, and I know it was a good move.