When developing a new website, two of the most popular choices for a CMS platform are SquareSpace and WordPress. So let’s take a look at them both to compare some of their main features.

Initial Cost and Barrier for Entry

SquareSpace has fewer upfront costs than WordPress, but in my opinion, that is about where the advantage of using SquareSpace over WordPress ends. SquareSpace offers an easy to use interface and requires zero web coding experience, which is great for beginners or those who just want a website up and running as quickly as possible. But, because of this SquareSpace is super limited in what you can do with it. It is designed to be an out-of-the-box solution for a basic website with a fairly decent design.

As a SquareSpace customer you will have access to a very limited amount of templates to choose from, and while usually well designed, they give you almost zero options for customizability within those templates. Extending the functionality of a SquareSpace site is near impossible, and what little additional functionality you can add will require you to pay for premium add-ons to acquire said functionality. And don’t forget about SquareSpace’s annual or monthly billing.

WordPress, on the other hand, also offers an easy to use interface with zero web coding experience required, but the boundaries are limitless in terms of customizations and functionality. There is a gigantic community of users and developers that extend the functionality of WordPress with themes and plugins, many of which are absolutely free to use and are really well made.

The upfront costs are a bit more when compared to SquareSpace, but after those upfront costs you will rarely have to keep paying for services (with the exception of web hosting which you will need to continue to pay for on a yearly basis). Some premium plugins require a yearly subscription, but those are not required for the continued functionality of the software you purchase. You will only be required to keep paying for a subscription for continued updates.

Custom Post Types

Another big advantage WordPress has over other CMS platforms is Custom Post Types (CPTs). CPTs allow you to create a post type for any sort of content you will be adding to your website. For example, WordPress has out-of-the-box post types for Posts and Pages, but you can also create CPTs for Staff, Events, Minutes & Agendas, Products, Reviews, Sponsors/Partners, and so much more. This is really great for keeping your content more organized on the backend so that future content updates can be even easier. You no longer have to sift through all of your content to find the staff member you need to update, or the event you need to change.

Content Creation and Revisions

WordPress also comes with content versioning, or revisions, for ever post and page you create and edit. Every single version of a page or post can be stored on the system and you can roll back to any of them at any point. SquareSpace, presumably in a bid to save on hosting costs/server resources, does not permit you to do this. SquareSpace doesn’t even facilitate an autosave feature, which is another serious omission.

Also, you can toggle between HTML and WYSIWYG when editing your content in WordPress. SquareSpace does allow for the addition of “code blocks” while writing your content, but you are not given direct access to the main HTML behind your pages and posts.

WordPress also allows you to use categories and tags more flexibly than SquareSpace. This allows you to present your site content in more relevant ways to users, who can also filter it more easily to meet their requirements. An example of this in action might be this: say you run a car review website. With WordPress, you could use parent categories, sub-categories, tags and Custom Post Types to offer readers the option to browse reviews by car make, model, trim and rating. With SquareSpace you’d be limited to offering reviews by category and tag — meaning users could only browse by make and model.

Media Uploads

Out of the box, WordPress has a dedicated “Media Library” and allows you to upload your images and other media directly into this area. Every piece of media uploaded, either directly into the Media Library or via a page or post, can be accessed from any other part of the WordPress admin area. SquareSpace’s offering in this regard is extremely basic – for example, if you want to insert an image that you’ve already uploaded to another page somewhere else on your site, you have to re-upload it. Yikes!

Flexibility

Flexibility is where WordPress really kicks SquareSpace’s butt. Although SquareSpace does come with a lot of useful features out of the box, it is very “locked-down”, a walled-garden if you will. WordPress, by comparison, allows you to pretty much create any sort of site you like. By installing some useful plugins or by hiring competent developer to create something custom for you. By leveraging the power of WordPress plugins you can easily add functionality to your site, such as e-commerce, a sophisticated photo gallery, signup forms to capture customer leads, or display movie/product reviews. They are usually fairly easily installed and updated. If you can’t find a plugin to meet your specific needs, hire a developer to create one!

With SquareSpace, if you can’t find what you need for your site within their limited ecosystem of add-ons, then you’re out of luck. Plugins don’t exist in SquareSpace per se, but there are certain built-in integrations you can use (for quite a few well-known services including Xero, Mailchimp, Dropbox and G Suite). You can use these so long as you are not on the cheapest SquareSpace plan. If you need anything beyond that, you will need to seek out a third-party. But get ready to open you wallet wide, as these add-ons will add up quick.

Large or Complex Websites

If you need to build a large or complex website, then SquareSpace is not the CMS platform for you. SquareSpace is best suited to small, simple websites. This is because it doesn’t facilitate deep website hierarchies, meaning you can only have up to two (2) levels of navigation, which really is only one level of page hierarchy if your parent page has any subpages assigned to it. Parent pages within SquareSpace (“About Us > Our Team” for example) are not accessible and serve only to maintain the permalink structure of your URLs. Your visitors will not be able to access parent pages if they have subpages. Large or complex websites all but require deep page hierarchies to present all of the content available to the visitor.

E-Commerce

SquareSpace does come with a built in e-commerce solution which is a clear win over WordPress, but only if you sign up for the Business or Advanced plans, which is more expensive than the Personal plan. However, it has its limitations. In terms of payment gateways, you are limited to using either Stripe or PayPal. This will be sufficient for most, but for those users who are deeply entrenched in something like Authorize.net, Square, 2Checkout, or WorldPay, you are SOL when it comes to connecting your SquareSpace site to those online payment processors.

WordPress, by comparison, doesn’t have an e-commerce solution out-of-the-box, but it easily integrated using officially supported e-commerce plugins. The most popular e-commerce platform for WordPress is WooCommerce, which is owned and maintained by the creators of WordPress, Automatic. Once installed, it is incredibly well integrated, and can be fully customized using child-themes, template files, and custom PHP functions (hire a developer for these). WooCommerce comes with its own suite of functions that are really well made and tightly integrated. The functionality of WooCommerce can be extended even further by utilizing first-party and third-party add-ons. Most add-ons come at a cost, but the value you receive is well worth the price.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

WordPress absolutely obliterates SquareSpace when it comes to SEO integrations. First, in WordPress, ALT tags and meta data are referred to by their proper names – ALT tags and meta data. This is not the case with SquareSpace, where you’re dealing with “captions”, “descriptions” and “extracts” which, depending on the template, may actually end up visible on the page (a very strange scenario which probably encourages people to make use of ALT tags and meta data with visual impact rather than with SEO in mind).

Second, WordPress allows you to make use of a wide range of sophisticated SEO plugins — for example, Yoast — which assess the quality of your on-page SEO efforts and automatically suggest improvements. There’s no equivalent functionality in SquareSpace.

Third, you can’t add rich snippets easily in SquareSpace. Rich snippets are bits of data which enhance your search results by (1) displaying contextual information such as ratings, pricing and reviewer to search results (see example below) and (2) by letting search engines get a more detailed idea of what your page or post is about.

Finally, there’s page speed to consider. Google looks at how quickly your page loads when deciding how to rank you in search results. Using WordPress gives you greater control over this, because you can choose your hosting (the faster the better!) and tweak your code so that it meets the recommendations laid out by Google via their ‘PageSpeed’ tools.

In Conclusion

WordPress is hands-down the winner here. While SquareSpace does have its uses in the digital landscape, if you want to do anything other than what they allow you to, you will likely run into issues. Conversely, if you need a bespoke website with a super powerful CMS, dead simple user interface, with room to expand and grow, then WordPress is the right choice for you and your organization. Give Uptown Studios a call or get an online quote. We can’t wait to collaborate with you on your next project.

Brent Stromberg
By Brent
Brent is the Web Manager at Uptown Studios. He joined the team in July of 2012 rearing to go and has become a front-end web development guru. His posts usually consist of snarky quips about 'user experience' or regales the reader about the coolest/latest web-nerd trends.