Should I choose WordPress, Squarespace, or something else?
Whether you already have a website or not, there comes a day when you’re staring at a screen that’s displaying a website that turns up the volume on your inner critic: “…I really ought to have a professional site of my own” “…why can’t my site do that?” or even “…my site could look that good if I knew where to start.”
There’s a good deal of “keeping up with the joneses” when it comes to website ownership. Maybe you’ve been making things work with just a Facebook page and really great word-of-mouth referrals. Maybe you built the site on your own, but the DIY work has become obvious. Or maybe your web developer ghosted you and you have no idea where to log in to make changes, much less what code base it’s using.
Nearly every discovery call we have starts with an evaluation of a potential client’s existing web properties. The conversation then moves on to their goals for their site – what they want it to do and how they want it to look – and their short- and long-term budgets.
Goals versus budget is always a balancing act, but that tightrope walk results in a prioritization that informs not only the development we’ll do, but also what tools we’ll use during development. The biggest “tool” decision is where, and with what code, to build.
WordPress is often the first and best choice for a website build
It’s no secret that we here at BIPi looooooove us some WordPress. We’ve been using their core product since 2007, back when it was but a wee blogging platform with one post type – the blog post, natch – and in many ways we’ve grown up alongside it.
WordPress is great because it’s so versatile; you can choose anything from a very simple, out-of-the-box template all the way to a fully custom design that still uses WordPress’s dashboard. This gives you internal consistency while you grow, even if the public-facing part of your site is changing frequently.
We choose WordPress when:
- the client expects to grow their business and needs a platform to easily support that growth (and accommodate the unknowns that will inevitably pop up)
- the site is more than just a brochure/landing page type build – the client plans to regularly add and change content, prioritizes SEO, or wants to sell products
- the client has an already-established, strong brand (or is willing to invest in branding prior to the site development)
- there are or will likely be multiple site editors/managers or even a webmaster on the client’s team
- the client has or will have a clear and consistent marketing strategy
- there’s a project budget of at least $3K (on average, though, our WordPress sites come in at $5K-$10K)
- there’s at minimum an ongoing budget of $150/month for the nearly-invisible yet mercilessly-boring ongoing maintenance work
- the client isn’t afraid to ask for (and pay for) additional services when they’re called for, or has the goal of outsourcing or hiring a content manager to whom they can delegate basic content tasks
- there’s an expectation that the business will grow in such a way that adding new pages or sections, site redesigns, and configuring additional, complex functionality is very likely.
We say it a lot, but we’ll say it again – WordPress is not free in any sense. It requires high-quality hosting, ongoing software updates, and regular assistance from a developer. Don’t get us wrong – WordPress is a dream for users and for devs. It’s easy to navigate, easy to expand, easy to redesign, and can do just about any function you ask of it… in the hands of a conscientious dev team.
Our favorite example of a WordPress site that’s poised to grow alongside the opener’s work belongs to Author Maci Welch. She ticks all the boxes for growth. What’s currently the most basic of one-page sites will, by the end of 2023, have an eCommerce component, an active blog, and be ready to promote her second novel.
WordPress isn’t always the answer.
Why Squarespace is a great solution for smaller websites
We’ve currently got 10 active support clients on our roster who’ve chosen Squarespace, and we do get a little giddy when Squarespace is the right choice. The reason for the giddiness – aside from a break from the mounds of code we wade through in WordPress – is because the Squarespace platform is such a breeze to build in.
The limitations imposed by the platform are somewhat of a relief – we choose templates from their limited library and do very basic customizations that their editor offers. It cuts down on a lot of the decision fatigue that we encounter with WordPress builds, but still looks fabulous across all devices and is relatively easy for a site owner to learn how to edit. What’s more, Squarespace does a lot of technical work on your behalf – their image uploaded automatically optimizes images, the page and post settings hold your hand through completing all the fields, and their templates are 99% out-of-the-box friendly to all sizes of screens. Squarespace intentionally cuts down on a lot of the thinking you have to do to build in it.
The downside to Squarespace is essentially the other side of that limitations-coin: there’s a point where customizing the site becomes more of a time-sink than its worth. When you want to reconfigure your portfolio to have three categories instead of one, you may find that the buildout of that section has to start from scratch. There’s no staging or sandbox area where you can play around with new ideas before publishing them live (beyond single pages and posts).
Squarespace is also very much pay-to-play in a “walled garden”. The upside here is that the ongoing fees can be very low, and there won’t be any surprises like software updates breaking site functionality. But when you need the site to do more for you, the ongoing cost starts to increase both in the fees paid to Squarespace and for additional dev help. Wanna embed custom code? You’ll need to upgrade to a different tier. Wanna start selling products? That’s another tier up, and you’re subject to both Squarespace and payment processor fees. Want to build out a new section of your site? You’re looking at possible site downtime during development, as well as more development hours because changes have to be made on a page-by-page basis. or whole sections rebuilt from scratch.
We choose Squarespace when:
- the client is on a shoestring budget, unsure about the growth trajectory of their business, or wants to market-test an idea before diving in whole-hog
- the site is small and informational in nature – the client doesn’t have plans for updating content or growing the site beyond new posts or products
- the client does not yet have a strong brand identity and plans to focus on branding at a later date
- there are one or two people, tops, who will update site content
- the client needs a web presence for direct traffic but doesn’t yet have a marketing plan (or doesn’t plan on needing one)
- there’s a project budget of at least $1500 (on average, our Squarespace sites come in at $2500)
- the ongoing budget is minimal and can’t accommodate ongoing, invisible maintenance work
- the client needs to be able to DIY whenever possible
- there’s no expectation of needing complex custom functionality
Squarespace really is a fantastic solution for a big chunk of site owners. Our favorite example is Quantum Laser Displays – the goal for that site was for it to last, as it was upon launch, for as long as possible, only adding additional pages to the already-established portfolio categories. We built it in 2018, and it’s still as pretty as the day we launched.
Why we turn up our noses at Wix, Weebly, and GoDaddy’s site builder
The real answer here is that Wix, Weebly, and GoDaddy’s site builders aren’t meant for us. As developers that build complex tools and designers that have capital-O Opinions on layout, colors, and overall UX, we’re not the target audience for their product.
But we also warn folks away from using them for DIY because of the experiences we’ve had using the product when clients approach us for help. They’re clunky to build and edit, the sites become quickly bogged down with code (making them slow – a huge problem both for SEO and for the person editing), and they inevitably look like they’ve been DIY’d.
We never choose Wix, Weebly, or GoDaddy’s site builder.
Site builders like these are fantastic solutions for kids, DIY projects that aren’t meant to last, and personal sites. They do not convey professionalism or trustworthiness, and they’re not for anyone who plans to grow the site. It will ultimately cost you an arm and a leg to have a professional work on or fix these sites.
What about a completely custom solution?
Totally custom sites are awesome! You can get exactly what you want, no matter how niche your needs and no matter how complex your design desires are… but you’re gonna pay, and there’s always the potential of a “hostage” or “abandonment” scenario. We’ve worked on sites built on a variety of codebases and frameworks (with names like ASP.NET, drupal, joomla, bootstrap, and even good old fashioned hand-coded HTML+CSS), as well as custom content management systems that control the administrative interface. For someone who pokes around in code and digital systems on a daily basis, the learning curves aren’t that steep, and when you’ve got a team of developers dedicated to keeping your site running smoothly, it can make sense to choose a custom solution.
At BIPi, although we can help you manage them, we don’t build custom solutions in house. We’ve chosen to use tools like WordPress and Squarespace as a matter of corporate values. Not only do we value open source projects (like it says on the WordPress.org site, we’re fierce believers in the values of the open web), but we also are vocal advocates for website owners to be as independent as possible. We never want our clients to find themselves with no other choice but to use our services, and we feel compelled to advise anyone in our orbit – clients, fans, friends, and family – to make choices that keep them nimble and independent when it comes to their business decisions.
When someone builds something that’s unique for you, it’s generally the case that that person has a unique set of skills and knowledge. We’ve seen too many folks come our way who’ve had a relationship with an employee or developer go bad, leaving them in some cases with no access or ownership of their own website, and it’s a devastating and costly situation. Sometimes, it can be worth it to put all your eggs in one basket, but the projects and clients we really love aren’t the type we advise to take that risk.
The final verdict on choosing a website platform
- With WordPress, you can get a site that looks and functions exactly how you want and will grow with you … but you have to be prepared to pay for it in an ongoing way
- With Squarespace, you can get a really affordable site that, left alone, will look great and function well in perpetuity… but you’ll find yourself compromising on a lot of fronts.
- With Wix or Weebly? Please do not use these platforms unless “free” and “DIY” are your only options.
- How about a fully custom solution? Be prepared to pay someone else to do whatever you need, up to and including choosing a new developer to completely rebuild from scratch.
If you’re curious about how Berry Interesting Productions can help you build an outstanding website, we’re always happy to help! Drop us a line or book a consultation directly with our fearless leader, D’nelle. You can also sign up to get emails from Berry Interesting, and we’ll keep you in the loop.