About a year ago, when I started getting involved in my spare time with La Maison Hubert, we had no website, no e-commerce platform, no mobile site, no live retail site, no newsletter platform, no social media accounts. Nothing. I knew we needed to get online really quickly and very cheaply. For until someone could type "La Maison Hubert" into Google and have our site pop up, we simply didn't exist.
My CEO friend (and now business partner) had asked me to review a quote from some Swiss web agency for a total amount which - as is typically the case over there - could have covered my mortgage for the next 12 months. Not only that, but they were going to build it on Swiss time - meaning slow. In one language only (French, of course). And using custom code. Analytics was extra, of course. Seriously? So I said "non non non!"
I told him it was a really bad idea and that we needed to evaluate two possible paths: Wordpress or Squarespace. Now I knew enough about Wordpress to be dangerous, but also realized that to do it right, we'd need an expert. So I suggested we get a couple of quotes and some timing estimates. I had built a couple websites with Squarespace for my personal brand and copywriting business, so I had pretty decent familiarity with the platform. Same thing with Wix and GoDaddy. But these were not even under consideration for what had to look slick and sharp as a luxury brand website with e-commerce capabilities.
As it turned out, the Wordpress option was too expensive and too time-consuming. Many large luxury brands with deep pockets build amazing sites with Wordpress and custom code, no doubt. And hopefully one day we'll get there, but in the meantime, I wanted something to go up within a month that looked sufficiently professional and didn't cost an arm and a leg. And as I was going to have to build it on my own, it couldn't be rocket science. Perfection is the enemy of good enough!
So we picked a Squarespace template and signed up for a trial subscription. A zero-cost low-risk investment. The good thing with Squarespace is it doesn't take long at all to realize if your site will fly or not. In our case, we quickly concluded it would work out both aesthetically and structurally. So shortly thereafter, we paid for the full subscription with the commerce option.
We started early October and released the official site in early January earlier than planned due to an impromptu press article mentioning our company and its website (as in: holy crap, this article is going out in 2 weeks, we have to get the site up now or we're going to look like idiots!). Rather than ramble on at length on the trials and tribulations of our Squarespace coming-of-age, let me list what I consider to be the major advantages of the platform:
- It is extremely easy (and fast) to build a site skeleton while trying out any number of templates. Templates all have different look and feel as well as varying internal structures. Some are way more complex than others. The interface is very intuitive, including drag and drop, and the help system is complete, fast and well designed.
- The template designs are plentiful, thematically ordered, and just plain gorgeous. There's a lot of eye candy and whiz-bang for your money right from the start. It takes a little trial and error to hone in on the right one for a specific project. Selecting the right template is critical because, although you can theoretically change it in mid-air, doing so can trigger some nasty structural changes you then need to deal with.
- It's not rocket science to properly implement basic organic SEO with Squarespace. Just follow the instructions and don't get sloppy.
- There is an entire ecosystem of widgets and components available for Squarespace. I lucked out and happened to try Squarestudio for all our site customizations (and there were quite a few) after some brief research. I'm not sure if they're officially affiliated with Squarespace. They turned out to be one of the best coding team I've ever worked with in my time - and I spent 20+ years in technology. Talk about reliability, quality, consistency, and availability. These guys have bailed us out of more tech trouble that I can recount. And they seem to be on 24/7. They're fair, well-priced, dependable, competent, easy to work with, fast, and super nice to boot! A better bunch of tech folks I have not met in many many years. I can't recommend these people enough. Whoever is managing these teams deserves a medal and probably a big raise!
- If you need more than plug-in widgets, like custom CSS code, Squarestudio is also the place to go. You give them admin creds on your site, tell them what the problem or task is, they estimate the hours, you pay for the hours (via PayPal), and off they go to work for you. Yes, it's that simple. In a year of working with these dudes, I have never everbeen disappointed. If anything they underpromise and over-deliver.
- It's super easy to map a domain name to the Squarespace one. Initially you get a random number-generated name, which you can change to something more readable like mycompany.squarespace.com. Then once you buy and register the official domain (mycompany.com) you can just point it to the original URL. Pretty much point and click, copy the suggested DNS entries, plug them into your domain host, and wait for the magic to happen. You can also buy domains straight from Squarespace which make the whole process even simpler.
- Squarespace has pretty decent canned analytics and keeps adding capabilities on a regular basis (geography, Google search keywords, and form clicks are recent good ones). Not suggesting it's sufficient on an enterprise level, but it's certainly better than nothing (or competitors) and is included in the subscription price.
- The Squarespace e-commerce offering is quite basic and spartan but can be customized if needed. It's called the "Commerce Plan" tier (basic or advanced). If you want something more sophisticated, you'll have to invest in something like Shopify. This is one area where I feel Squarespace could invest some serious development. That being said if you need to put up a quick e-shop with the basics, it works quite nicely with either PayPal or Stripe, includes Apple Pay, and handles all the nitty gritty details of foreign VAT, shipping methods/costs, currencies, and all that good stuff.
- It's somewhat easy to support multiple languages. I say "somewhat" because it depends a lot on the internal structure of the template you initially selected (see #2 above) and on the type of page you need to translate. In our case we duplicated and translated each page (French and English) then had the magicians at Squarestudio figure out the behind-the-scenes coding and navigation customizations.
- Last but not least, I want to talk a bit about Squarespace's customer service and support because net-net I'm convinced this is the most important selection criteria for a website-building platform company. Because no matter how cool or how easy a platform is to use, when you're stuck with a problem during a weekend or late at night - or in the middle of the day for that matter - who you gonna call? For ad-hoc support, Squarespace offers email and chat-based support. There's an extensive community-driven help forumas well. 99% of the time I use their chat support because it's amazingly well-run and efficient. During operating hours I've never had to wait more than maybe 15 minutes max. It tells you in real time your position in the queue. I've never had a chat agent who wasn't polite, understanding, literate, patient, and - more importantly - 100% competent. And when these guys tell you they'll get back to you on email, they do. In all my years of using Squarespace, only once did I see a network issue. Their status center picked it up right away, and I was offered both email and SMS to get instant updates after a chat agent checked into the issue for me. All this happened within seconds. Good luck finding this kind of support with most other SaaS vendors - these guys wrote the book.
If you build enough Squarespace sites, you get invited to become a "Circle Member" as I did several months ago. With that comes a set of interesting benefits and access. I currently have ten websites in my portfolio. Everything from personal brands to consulting groups, restaurants, luxury jewelry businesses, and of course, La Maison Hubert.
I'm not suggesting Squarespace is the perfect solution for any size or category of projects. You certainly won't get the level of flexibility and pixel-level control Wordpress gives you - but you also avoid the headaches, costs, and technical hurdles involved. Less flexibility and power, more ease and speed-to-ship. It's a delicate balance every business person looking to build a website must deal with. Need help deciding? Let me know.