WordPress and Squarespace are two completely different platforms. While you can use either one to build a website that looks exactly the same, the functionality and flexibility of the site will be quite different. In other words, you’re right to give this decision a lot of consideration, even if someone is building the site for you.
Squarespace is a relatively small player standing at the feet of a giant in WordPress. Almost 1/4 the internet is built on the WordPress platform.
That argument doesn’t help you, though. The most widely adopted platform isn’t always the best platform. Andsh even if it happens to be the best platform, it doesn’t mean it’s the best platform for your needs.
I’m firmly in the WordPress camp, but I also have the ability to be 100% objective. I don’t always recommend WordPress and I have no hesitation when it comes to telling you who WordPress is not well-suited for.
Note: This article is written in layman’s terms and I’ve chosen to focus on the areas that I feel are most important to you as a business owner. There are many differences, pros, and cons we could discuss from a developer standpoint, but I haven’t included those. This is all about comparing these platforms for business.
WordPress vs Squarespace: What Are They?
WordPress and Squarespace are both web-based software platforms for building websites. In other words, you don’t have to download anything to your computer to use them.
WordPress is an “open source” platform, meaning the software is free and the code is accessible to anyone and everyone. This allows independent developers all over the world to develop add-ons for WordPress, which they can offer for free or as a premium add-on. For this reason, there is virtually no limit to the functionality and flexibility of WordPress.
Squarespace is a closed, proprietary system. The only features available through Squarespace are the ones Squarespace decides to give you. Some people like this and some people hate it. Where the add-ons for WordPress are virtually unlimited (and problematic in a lot of ways), the features released by Squarespace are perfectly integrated and well vetted.
Personally, I don’t like to be limited by what Squarespace decides to offer. I much prefer the freedom and flexibility of the open source WordPress ecosystem.
WordPress vs Squarespace and “Front-End” Editing.
One of the biggest attractions of Squarespace is the ability to build a website visually, from the front end. The front end of a website is the consumer-facing portion — the design and layout.
When you’re using Squarespace, what you see during editing is what you get in the final output. When you’re using WordPress, this isn’t always the case.
For a long time, WordPress was strictly a “back-end” editing platform. The design of your site was controlled by a “theme” and then you would simply edit the content of each page using a text editor. Squarespace also uses themes, but all the editing is done on the front-end.
If you wanted to change the layout of the content in WordPress, you would have had to use custom HTML code, or “shortcodes” (small snippets of text that call custom code).
Over time, WordPress themes got more advanced. Themes would provide a settings panel that allowed you to customize various aspects of the theme. You could even change how it looked without having to know how to code.
All of this was still happening on the back-end, though. When Squarespace first came out, the front-end editing capabilities of WordPress were slim to none. This made Squarespace very appealing.
All that has changed, though. WordPress now has numerous front end editors that you can quickly install as plugins (such as Divi) and the themes they work with are more flexible than ever.
In my opinion, this part of the debate is over. You can design a WordPress site from start to finish from the front-end just like you do with Squarespace.
WordPress vs Squarespace for Blogging & SEO
Blogging and SEO are a core strategy of what’s referred to as “content marketing.” You write and publish articles, get them indexed in Google, and enjoy a bunch of free traffic to your site.
In order to be successful at that, you must be able to easily publish and organize articles on your site. You need a way to display those articles, often with a lot of visuals. You may want a comment section so people can have discussions. You need to be able to categorize and tag articles. You probably want social sharing capabilities as well.
In the early days of Squarespace, WordPress was the clear winner here. After all, WordPress was originally built for blogging.
That’s all changed, though. Squarespace is a fine platform for blogging now. I don’t see any real advantages either way in this regard.
What about SEO? SEO is “search engine optimization.” It’s the process of helping Google and other search engines index your site properly so you can get found online organically.
You don’t want to write a bunch of articles that never get traction on Google, do you? Then you need to pay attention to basic SEO.
To make sure you have the basic foundations of SEO, you need to be able to add/edit:
- A sitemap
- The page title tag
- The page description
- The page URL
- Content headings
- Mobile responsiveness
- Image tags
There were reports that Squarespace wasn’t great for SEO in the early days. All that is resolved now. There isn’t an advantage one way or the other at this point.
For WordPress, use a free plugin like Yoast SEO.
WordPress vs Squarespace for Building Membership Sites & Courses
One of the most popular business models online is the sale and delivery of “infoproducts.” Think mostly e-books and online courses.
A lot goes into being able to sell and provide access to online courses. At the very least, you need a sales page, a member dashboard, course pages/modules, a checkout system, and some way to protect content with a user login.
You can certainly do this on Squarespace starting from scratch with blank pages, but this is an area where WordPress shines much brighter than Squarespace.
Remember that WordPress plugin ecosystem I mentioned earlier? Well, there’s no shortage of membership plugins and Learning Management System (LMS) plugins that take care of every step of the membership site & course building process for you. I personally use one called Membermouse.
On WordPress, you’d also enjoy the unlimited flexibility to build a membership site of any size. On Squarespace, things will get more and more hectic as you try to scale.
Of course, you could always use a third-party course platform and try to make it look the way your Squarespace site looks, but that’s not a seamless experience for your users and you’re stuck with the problematic strategy of “digital sharecropping” (building your products on a site you don’t own or control).
When it comes to membership sites and course delivery, WordPress is the hands-down winner.
WordPress vs Squarespace for E-Commerce
Another popular online income strategy is selling physical goods through an e-commerce platform. Both Squarespace and WordPress offer basic to advanced e-commerce functionality.
Out of the box, setting up an e-commerce site on Squarespace would be much easier than setting things up on WordPress.
Squarespace’s e-commerce platform is built-in and works seamlessly with all their theme designs. Adding e-commerce to WordPress requires a plugin (such as WooCommerce) and running into theme compatibility issues is common.
If you’re planning on building a major e-commerce site, you might be better off steering clear of both Squarespace and WordPress and going with a platform like Shopify.
If e-commerce is only going to be part of your online income strategy, the choice between WordPress and Squarespace is all yours.
WordPress vs Squarespace for Podcasting
Podcasting is the fastest growing content marketing channel (learn how to start a podcast here). To publish a podcast, you need:
- A place to host the audio files (not WordPress or Squarespace).
- A way to publish new episodes with show notes and an audio player.
- An RSS feed that houses a list of all episodes to submit to iTunes and other directories.
Both WordPress and Squarespace offer functionality for publishing podcast episodes and creating an RSS feed. WordPress gives you more flexibility in this regard, but both get the job done.
All in all, I don’t see much advantage either way when it comes to getting your podcast out into the world.
WordPress has a steeper learning curve than Squarespace does, but only because it offers a lot more flexibility and functionality. Here’s my basic conclusion:
- If you’re building more of a brochure website and don’t intend to expand much in the future, use Squarespace.
- If you’re building a basic podcasting website, use Squarespace.
- If you’re building a basic e-commerce website, use Squarespace.
- If you’re building a membership site, use WordPress.
- If you’re building a content-heavy site, use WordPress.
- If you’re building a platform site (combines content, podcast, membership, etc.), use WordPress without question.
If there is a use-case I didn’t cover, let me know in the comments.