Why I Cheated on WordPress with SquareSpace and Stayed

Sorry WordPress, our 4-year relationship has come to an end. I was really excited about you when we first met, you were the ultimate answer to my website needs. But I have changed, and so have you. Actually, you haven’t really changed, and that’s the problem. After 4 years with WordPress, I’ve decided to take my blog where the grass is greener. 

Just a couple months ago, I could not see myself using SquareSpace. The lack of control and the amateur factor have always deterred me from even considering SquareSpace. 

So why did I decide to explore SquareSpace as a replacement to my self-hosted WordPress blog?

The ultimate purpose behind having a website for me, is being able to create content to share with my friends, family, and the other people on the web. I want to have a platform where I can blog, share my current projects, and have a photography portfolio.

WordPress

While WordPress can certainly perform those functions, there are several main factors that have always bothered me about it:

  • User Interface
    • Clunky and hard to navigate.
    • A lot of unnecessary extra features.
    • Looks like it’s stuck in the 2000’s.
  • Blogging
    • Editor is primitive, to say the least.
    • Drag-and-drop functionality is non-existant, making post and page layouts painful and time consuming.
  • Themes
    • Themes are what’s awesome about WP, there are thousands out there, for all tastes and needs. Themes also such a pain because there is no well-defined framework on how they should behave.
    • Changing themes is a major undertaking because of the vast differences between themes. Changes are  more likely than not to break your pages and content. 
    • As many as there are, I have not found themes that work perfectly and are fully responsive. There are always defects. 
  • System
    • There are constant plugin updates that are very difficult to keep up with.
    • Security breach? It’s on you to update the software. And you’re SOL if your WP configuration is off. 
    • I own my data, so if I break something, it’s on me to fix it. I don’t like that. 

I could go on and on about the various issues I see with WordPress and why it’s not a good fit for me.

SquareSpace

I signed up for a SquareSpace account, and started building my site - this was all free while in Trial mode. It’s great that they let you test out their service before forcing you to pay. Here’s my take on the SquareSpace experience.

Design

The overall appearance of SquareSpace’s website editor is clean and streamlined. The split screen editing is really great because it allows you to access the website controls through a sidebar, and still view the live version of the website and make changes in real-time. Menus within the sidebar are well-organized and easy to navigate. There’s no distracting and unnecessary design elements and colors. 

SquareSpace 7 comes with 22 templates to choose from. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, from my experience, it’s more than enough to make a custom website that suits your needs. I actually had a hard time deciding between 3 different templates. Each template has a different level of customization. Some have sidebars some don’t. Others might have dedicated gallery pages with extra features.

System

I’ve heard people beg SquareSpace to release their CMS to the public for self-hosting, similar to how WordPress works. While I understand the jealousy of those wanting to stay with their host and still use SquareSpace tools, I understand the true benefits of the closed ecosystem that SS is. There’s no backend to worry about. That might sound scary because many of us like to be in full control of our data and settings. That, after all used to be one of the biggest things that stopped me from considering SS. After giving SS a try I realized how much I love not having to deal with setting up and maintaining the WordPress backend. SquareSpace takes care of all of the system maintenance, updates, security issues and backups. I’ve found that perfect for my needs, because it allows me to focus on content creation rather than maintenance. 

Developer API

While SquareSpace is meant to provide 90% of users with 90% of the functionality they might need, the platform does allow individuals and businesses seeking further customization to make changes to the themes that they offer or build a custom theme. I have yet to dabble with the API, but it looks promising.

Shortcomings

While SquareSpace is a beautiful and very powerful website builder, it does have some shortcomings that are worth noting. Shortcomings that am surprised exist and sincerely hope that the SS team addresses in the near future. 

  • You can’t move an existing domain name registered elsewhere to be registered with SS (you can still point it to your new site, however). That’s frustrating because you have to continue paying for your domain name hosting somewhere else, while SS offers theirs for free. 
  • There’s no native way to include an expandable search box in the site header similar to what help.squarespace.com does. Lack of this feature is very surprising since so many modern websites have a search icon in the header that turns into a search box when clicked. 
  • Image placement and sizing has limitations. You can arrange images side by side in various combinations, but you can’t do something as simple as “align image to the right, maintaining the size of the image”.
  • Favicon is forced. You must upload a favicon, else your website will show the default SS favicon. No option for “No Favicon”.
  • Metrics are terrible. There are a lot of numbers on the SquareSpace metrics page, none of them are actually useful. I could care less about the percentage of visitors to my site today versus normal. I want to see specifically what posts people visited today, what is trending, how much time people are spending on what pages, etc. Also, what does the “Subscribers” count actually mean? I’d like to see my subscribers and understand where they are coming from. 

Overall, switching to SquareSpace was easy. The process of setting up my site took only a few hours, probably more time than most people would need because I like to tinker. I did come across some design limitations, like the lack of the search box listed above, and a few other small design gotchas. It was a bit frustrating not being able to make my site look exactly how I wanted it to look, but most of these design limitations could be alleviated by alternative design. 

Just last week I finally cancelled my (mt) shared grid account and deleted my WordPress install forever. SquareSpace allows me to focus on content and not worry about themes and maintenance - much of what I was doing in the past, instead of posting new content. I’ve posted more in the past couple weeks on my new SquareSpace site than I have posted in the past couple of years with WordPress. The site looks and performs great on all devices and gets excellent YSlow and PageSpeed ratings. My site also now shows up as a top search result in web searches, whereas prior to that it was Twitter and Facebook profiles. 

All that said, I’m bidding farewell to WordPress.