SquareSpace: Thorns in the Garden

TLDR: SquareSpace is a great platform for building certain kinds of websites, just understand it before fully committing.

SquareSpace is a highly facilitated website-building platform similar to other platforms such as Wix, Go Daddy Builder or Weebly. It’s a viable solution for many business owners in need of a website, especially for those who have limited resources and/or consider themselves non-techy.

With SquareSpace one can quickly build an attractive and functional website, with standard features relevant to a basic online-presence. Although more advanced features are available, like blogging or e-commerce, most SquareSpace websites tend to be basic ‘brochureware’ (a static set of pages telling a story and sharing basic information) and serving the primary function of brand (trust) building.

Here a few things to keep in mind if committing to SquareSpace as your website platform of choice…

#1 – SquareSpace isn’t a special invention, it’s just a service business

As much as they’d like to be distinct, SquareSpace is not a special invention or discovery; it’s just a service business. They provide dependable, automated, standardized (and opinionated) website services. And just like other website-building platforms, their natural business model depends on keeping you locked in their world; to be your total solution provider (as much as they can).

This kind of positioning affects front-line reality in such ways as making it difficult for you to move your website to another platform, you not necessarily having full ownership of your own content or having no control over what features they implement or take away.

These are natural business dynamics — most people would do the same in their shoes — and as an end-user you need to keep stock of their motivations.

#2 “Stunning”… only if you have great photo’s

The word “stunning” has lost a lot of power in recent time, as it’s been a popular marketing buzzword spammed by many brands.

In the case of SquareSpace, yes their example websites are stunning. However do one simple thing and the aura quickly dissolves: take away the photos. In one fell swoop, “stunning” can be replaced with “sterile”.

Many stunning SquareSpace websites, real or a sample case, are likely so simply because they’re using stunning photo’s (or other imagery). Any platform can render a stunning website… as long as you use stunning photo’s.

If you want stunning, prepare to spend money on a photographer (which you should do, anyways!) or relegate to using stock photos, of which are conveniently available through 3rd-party stock photography websites in the SquareSpace editor.

On a side note: a “Stunning” feeling is subjective, and could also be achieved without images, by effective messaging via colors and typography.

#3 – SquareSpace is annoying for outside developers

From a high-level, the culture of SquareSpace is built on a tight relationship with their end-users (customers), keeping them on a short-leash and only exposing so much control over their websites.

This eventually percolates into the platform being relatively annoying for outside 3rd-party developers like myself, who are used to more advanced systems with less limitations.

  • Customizing styling (with CSS code) is available for all SS websites, however you’re stuck doing it in the SquareSpace editor, within tight, narrow areas and in one giant file with no colour coding or other helpful programming features. It’s meant for a few small one-off style customizations.
  • Template customization is available on their higher tiers, but is a controlled environment with rules and limits.
  • There are no detailed logs, accessible backups or revision system, so if anything goes wrong, there’s nothing to investigate or salvage, and you have to re-build a page.

If you ever need customization of your SquareSpace, you may first have a tough time finding help — because developers are more needed elsewhere and prefer other platforms — and if you do find help, then what would be normal web design tasks are stifled by the platform itself.

Consider all of this if you think you’ll ever need help building or customizing your SquareSpace website.

SquareSpace is a legitimate website solution…

… but just understand what you’re getting.

Walled gardens not only have flowers, but they’re also likely mazes with thorns to boot.


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