SquareSpace is currently the home of millions of websites, and for good reason too. It is among the best website builders around, trademarked by an attention to detail in design, one that’s won the company multiple awards, including four Webbys back in 2014.
A University of Maryland student, Anthony Casalena, launched SquareSpace back in 2004 with a modest $30,000 investment from his father. It was one of the first all-on-one web publishing solutions, changing forever how people put sites online.
We tried out the popular web builder ourselves to see if it’s a serious tool or just a pretty face. While the closed system that SquareSpace hashes up can feel quite limiting, it’s still a serious design tool that includes the resources you need to make a beautiful and functional website.
Alternatives for SquareSpace
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Practical templates
- Easy to use
- Fantastic support
- Feature rich
- Custom editor
- G Suite integration
- Closed system
SquareSpace is a bit strange when it comes to features. The list itself is quite extensive, at least for higher tier plans, and the features are useful. However, even with that upside, the lack of third party support makes the options dry up.
Let’s start with what you get, though. Business plans and up receive full access to G Suite, a Google email hosting service that we rated as our number one pick for best email hosting services. It’s Gmail at your domain, basically, alongside a suite of business tools built to work with Google Drive (read our Google Drive review).
On your actual site, SquareSpace doesn’t have a lot of features necessarily, but a lot of tools for you to customize it to your tastes. Free Google and Typekit fonts come stock, alongside Getty Images integration and a custom CSS editor. They’re not special inherently, no, but still features that some other web builder omit.
There are a slew of other included features: so many, in fact, that SquareSpace has an index to house all of them. The list is so extensive, though, because there is no app center. Unlike many other web builders that include some sort of app store to allow you to install third party add-ons, SquareSpace is a completely closed system.
This is a theme that will impact the rest of this review significantly, as the entire SquareSpace service is built around being completely closed. As far as features go, it means the initial list is quite extensive, but completely limited. Unless SquareSpace decides to implement a new feature, you’re locked into what’s already available.
That makes evaluating the features of SquareSpace a bit interesting, as it needs to be done inside a vacuum. Comparing to other providers, the lack of options is hard to accept. However, SquareSpace still provides enough features, of a high enough quality, to make this area a win when evaluated alone.
SquareSpace Features Overview
|Forum Support||Third-party plugin|
|Vector Art Gallary|
|Drag and Drop interface|
Judging on price alone, SquareSpace would fall pretty flat when compared to other providers. A personal plan is on par with the price of Wix (read our Wix review) but more advanced plans quickly drive up the bill. Even with the high rates, though, SquareSpace feels like it’s worth every dime.
- : SSL security Free domain
- : Unlimited GB
- : Unlimited GB
- : 1
- : G Suite Promotional pop-ups Integrated ecommerce Three percent transaction fee
- : Unlimited GB
- : Unlimited GB
- : 1
- : Unlimited products Inventory management ShipStation integration Xero integration
- : Unlimited GB
- : Unlimited GB
- : 1
- : Abadoned cart recovery Real-time carrier shipping Gift card support Orders API
- : Unlimited GB
- : Unlimited GB
- : 1
The Personal plan is the basic SquareSpace experience for the same price as many mid-tier plans from other web builders. You get a free domain, unlimited resources and up to two contributors on the site. It’s not a flashy plan, no, but it’s more than enough for basic usage. For simple websites, this is the place to start.
Sure, Business plans allow you to sell products, but dedicated ecommerce outlets are far better suited with a Store subscription. The Basic variant nixes transaction fees completely and gives you powerful management tools. You’ll have full access to ShipStation for fulfillment, Xero for bookkeeping and customer support tools (read our Xero review).
Advanced stores have all the same features as Basic ones, with a few, minor inclusions. You get automatic discounts, gift card support, real-time shipping rates and abandoned cart recovery. The features are useful, sure, but lose their luster at nearly twice the price of a Basic subscription.
In a lot of ways, Advanced plans make Basic ones lose their luster too. The few extra features should be inclusions at the already high rate. Features like automatic discounts and abandoned cart recovery would normally come through an app store, like they do at Shopify, so charging extra for them seems a little greedy.
There is a trend throughout each of the plans, though. The prices are consistently high, but provide a significant amount of value. Business plans come stock with the wonderful G Suite, and ecommerce plans include practical tools for online businesses.
However, all of these features could come through an app store. As mentioned in the features section above, SquareSpace doesn’t feel lacking because there’s no app store, but nonetheless, the option isn’t there. When put into the context of pricing, the exclusion is much more harmful. You’re paying for features that would otherwise come from third-party apps.
SquareSpace is a bit like the Apple of web design. You’re paying for a closed system, and paying high dollar, at that. While the tools are there, the options are not, meaning you’re not only restricted to using SquareSpace tools, but paying for the price tag that comes along with them.
Design & Tools
One of the trademarks of SquareSpace since its inception is the line of eye-catching designer templates. The clean look of nearly all templates drove a new wave of web builders, forcing competitors such as Weebly (read our Weebly review) to play catch up. Even though the templates initially look like more style than substance, the truth couldn’t be further from that.
SquareSpace manages templates that provide the clean, modern look with sacrificing usability. The eye-catching appeal is still there, but not at the cost of a straightforward website. SquareSpace does both, providing you with a modern look while maintaining the ease of use of a premade theme.
Once you’ve chosen one of the 92 available templates, you’ll be brought to the editor. This area consists of two sections: the left-side settings menu and the drag and drop editor itself. The settings menu deals with the broad strokes of your site. You’ll find a page hierarchy, universal design options, ecommerce tools and basic analytics.
Online stores have a lot to do here. You can add new products with the usual array of criteria including tags and categories, and use the drag and drop editor to organize each. Individual product pages support media, sporting the same excellent design as the rest of SquareSpace’s themes. It creates a rich product experience, backed up by 2048-bit SSL encryption and automatic sales recovery.
While it’s easy to gloss over the settings area in most web builders, SquareSpace has a lot going on here. In particular, the design options are surprisingly plentiful. Basic options like logo and font adjustment are there, but also more advanced tools like custom CSS, style editor and Typekit integration.
The center of editing your website is in the drag and drop interface, though. It’s a bit different from some other editors we’ve seen in that there are no icons to drag onto the page from the main editing screen. SquareSpace segments each element of your site into section sand you have to choose to edit the section before any options are pulled up.
This is where you actually edit your site. A toolbar appears showing which section you’re editing with a button titled “add block” on the right side. Blocks build out your site, allowing you to add simple design elements like spacers and lines or complex social integrations like a SoundCloud embed.
These tools are really the only ones at your disposal, which is a bit of a disappointment. SquareSpace doesn’t support third party apps, meaning you’re limited simply to what’s provided. You can purchase premium blocks, such as a donation module, with a more expensive plan, but even then the list feels limited.
The theme of a closed system is strong here especially. You’re giving up on any third party additions to your site at the benefit of the system working fluidly. Sure, there’s a limited selection to choose from, but each of the blocks works so well with each other that it’s a bit difficult to complain.
Really, that’s a strong suit of SquareSpace. The designer feels much more like a design tool and less like a toy. You don’t have cutesie apps, but instead serious tools to achieve the look you want. Often, that means taking the limited options you have and creating something with those tools instead of taking an app that’s already been created.
Ease of Use
Despite feeling like a more advanced design tool, SquareSpace is still very easy to use. The bulk of your work comes from the interacting with the web page you’re editing. Not directly, however. You select the section you want to work on and the UI will then pull up the editing tools for that section.
This goes a long way in not overwhelming the screen while you’re trying to edit. Instead of half a dozen different boxes popping up as you mouse over the screen, you pick and choose where you want to edit.
Once you’ve found the section, the editor strips away everything else and enlarges it to fit your screen. Mousing over, you can find areas to add new elements, and a window will appear with your different options. One thing that SquareSpace has over its competitors is a search bar in this window. Scrolling through the list to find the element you want is generally half the battle with these web builders, so this inclusion is a small, but important upside.
The left-side menu makes managing the rest of your site a breeze. It has all the tools you need from analytics to SEO, with little muddling in other areas. What’s special about this area, however, is that it’s separate from the design space. The segregation of management and design helps the ease of use immensely.
While we’ve complained about the closed system up to this point, it does make sense when ease of use is brought into the picture. Sure, the options are severely limited, but it also means you don’t have to scour to find every last plugin you want. With SquareSpace, everything is there from the get go.
This includes imaging editing, SEO management, blog integration and far more. During our testing, we constantly uncovered new tools that we assumed only came from an additional app. Having everything at your fingertips is a worthy trade off, and makes the blow of a closed system hurt far less.
Even though the rest of the designer is of such high quality, support is perhaps the best area of SquareSpace. The sure amount of options for not only maintaining, but growing your site is staggering when compared to other providers. Clearly, SquareSpace has a dedication to its customers that shows through in the support.
All support is found in the knowledgebase, which can conveniently be accessed from the left-side toolbar in the designer. Here, you’ll find the basic articles that would be expected from such an area, as well as contact information, guides, videos, webinars and the forums.
The knowledge base itself is comprised of guides and FAQs. SquareSpace lays out these pieces in a sort of educational format. It’s like a web building curriculum, where there’s a stream of articles on a single topic that each connect to one another. Typically, it’s a list of guides followed by an FAQ for any additional topics not covered in the guides.
Nearly all the guides have an accompanying video as well. Some cover basic topics such as inviting a contributor or adding products, but there are far more complex topics as well. In particular, SquareSpace includes a bundle of “Getting Started” videos that cover major archetypes for websites and how to build each.
For a more hands-on approach, SquareSpace also holds workshops and webinars. If you’re in New York City, you’re fortunate enough to have access to in-person workshops where SquareSpace designers run over how to use the builder on a deeper level. Don’t worry if you’re not in the area, though, as the in-person event is broadcasted live for SquareSpace members to see.
To spearhead the passive support is a quite lively forum. It works a bit like Reddit, where posts and comments are voted on, bringing the most important information to the top. Sure enough, SquareSpace even has an article on how to use the forum.
All of that, and we haven’t even shared our thoughts on SquareSpace’s support. The fact that we haven’t, though, should be a testament to how through the support is. SquareSpace has every base covered, with a support hub that few competitors can stand up against. Put simply, this is the best support we’ve seen from a web builder, ever.
SquareSpace is quite a polarizing brand, partly because of the high prices and partly because of the closed system. Even so, both make sense when put in practice. While the tool can feel a bit limiting initially, the tradeoff of options for consistency ends up being favorable in the long run.
With that said, though, it isn’t a tradeoff that suits everyone. If you fit in that category, make sure to check out some of our other web builder reviews to find one that’s right for you. We’ve extensively tested each to make sure you know what you’re getting into when you sign up. We also recommend you check out our picks on the best web hosting providers to see whether the two will mesh.
If you’d rather go with web hosting, we recommend using WordPress. Check out our WordPress guides to learn more.
- Beginners guide to using WordPress
- Intermediate guide to using WordPress
- Advanced guide to using WordPress
What do you think of SquareSpace? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.