What are the best alternatives to Squarespace?

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While people find SMCO because the company is known as a Squarespace expert, we are actually what I like to call “platform agnostic.”

This means that we match the platform to the clients immediate and long term business goals while balancing their capacity, budget and technical abilities into the equation. This is more an art than a science and a lot of the recommendations we make come from listening to clients’ pain points in our project blueprint/discovery process and determining the best approach to mitigating those challenges.

Squarespace can be perfect for small businesses (restaurants are a perfect example), service based professionals like florists/lawyers/even doctors, and is my go-to for portfolio websites. But, no platform will solve all problems and be the right solution for every instance.

So, as wonderful as Squarespace can be for many clients, there often comes a time when clients would need an alternative to Squarespace to move on to the next level in their business and marketing. 

There are many reasons why this may be. Perhaps there’s a specific way work should be presented or an unusual tool that’s serving them well that just isn’t compatible with Squarespace. Or maybe there’s a structural need that Squarespace can’t accommodate (such as third level navigation). Or maybe there are design elements that sync up with a rebrand that don’t make sense to implement on Squarespace, since it would necessitate a more intensive development process than is reasonable for Squarespace. These are all legit reasons to look beyond the Squarespace platform if the time is right.

What are the alternatives to Squarespace if you need an easy to to maintain, stylish, modern and responsive (mobile-friendly) website?

Squarespace Alternatives for Stores/E-Commerce

In my thinking, Squarespace is awesome for testing the waters of e-commerce. It can provide a simple way to see if your product has viability, put systems in place so you can understand all that’s involved in selling online (I’ve had clients dive into online sales and realize that they hate it, which is totally fine), or it can be a great way to simply sell a few items on a site that otherwise focused in a different place.

However, if you’re seeing substantial success with e-commerce, but still have a lean budget, Shopify is the best solution. This is a case of doing one thing very, very well. There are simply so many little pieces that fall into place for stores of size on Shopify, including auto-categorization (mind-blowing!) and easy to add SEO descriptions.

If you’re very attached to your Squarespace website, you can always build your store on a subdomain on Shopify, using a URL like shop.mysupercoolsite.com and have the best of both worlds (though I imagine you’ll find yourself wanting to downscale your web properties if your store takes off). It’s frequently possible to closely emulate the look of a Squarespace site in Shopify, though be aware that there’s not a slick drag and drop editor like Squarespace offers.

Other options: Woo Commerce (WordPress) and Magento. Both are solid options for large stores, but will require TLC from a pro in those platforms.

Squarespace Alternatives for Larger, Corporate or Nonprofit Websites

It’s up for debate how many pages Squarespace can vs. should handle, but once a site gets to a certain size (40 pages or so), it becomes pretty unwieldy if you’re doing a ton of updates regularly. This is compounded with the way Squarespace handles multi-section Index pages, which can result in a single visible “page” actually containing five or more pages. It just gets weird finding your pages and linking them together.

When you get to that point where your site has grown like crazy and you need some heavy customization, it may be worth thinking about WordPress. Yes, WordPress. I actually started out designing WordPress sites but moved to Squarespace mostly after constantly dealing with security and updates (not fun!). However, WordPress has come a long way! I strongly recommend Flywheel hosting for secure, managed hosting, and if you pair it with a quality base theme that’s well-supported (no weird stuff from Theme Forest, folks) and a good page builder, you’ll have a very Squarespace-y experience on WordPress. In fact, Elementor has more blocks and usable elements than Squarespace.

Honestly, this can be a very solid, best of both worlds, setup for growing organizations and businesses who have found that Squarespace no longer serves them or who have a high page count.

Other options: For small sites, I really think Webflow is a lot of fun. In particular, it can be an amazing learning tool for aspiring web designers! Their CMS has really improved, but if you’re planning on a lot of blogging and content marketing, it may not a good fit, but if you want to get creative and craft something really unusual, you can get really far on Webflow. If you’re on a very small budget, you may want to also take a look at Wix; if you’re a designer, check out their Wix Code platform, which may intrigue you.

Squarespace Alternatives for Bloggers/Publishers

Bloggers and publishers have the most options—and the biggest decisions to make, since moving a large amount of content can be, well, a nightmare. If you’re serious about monetizing your content, you’ll probably want to look at the same scenario as the large website owners above, using WordPress, but for smaller scale bloggers who want to get a bit more out of their blog, there are so many options!

Medium is a boss platform that makes content creation dead simple. If you just want a space to write and share, do not pass go, just head to Medium. You can set up a custom domain and make it all feel branded and it’s essentially free. (Ad embeds and such are effectively off the table, though.)

WordPress.com has come a long way. I used to be a hater, but you can do a lot with WordPress’s .com service and I have a number of blogger friends who’ve been very happy on the platform. If you’re on a budget, this could be a great option. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself, but here we are… with me sitting here suggesting the WordPress.com might work for you.

I do not recommend Blogger, which I not so affectionately call “garbage-y,” because it’s generally awful and a nightmare to migrate off of. Avoid it at all costs. I know people love it, but they haven’t seen the side effects of trying to liberate sites from it. It’s that terrible.

A Note on Squarespace Developer Mode

Many of the things that clients want to add to their Squarespace sites can be done using the platform’s Developer Mode. I used to freely recommend and use that for the right clients, but as the years go on, I have become more and more uneasy with the balance of pros and cons of the developer platform (which is a different beast than the regular consumer platform). SMCO has inherited a fair number of sites from other designers and because on that platform everything is custom, it can be difficult to reconstruct the original developer’s approach.

I recently teamed up with another developer to help a client on a Squarespace Dev Mode site (that we didn’t develop) and what appeared like a simple change (making the footer editable) was a real nail-biter, resulting in a real worry that the changes could potentially destroy the entire site. While this is an extreme case, it is becoming more and more of an issue. And, coupled with Squarespace support’s hands-off approach to developer sites, I generally feel that it’s in most clients’ best interests to first see if their needs can be met outside of Developer Mode or on a different platform all together.

Your mileage may vary, and my thoughts on this issue are evolving quickly, so my opinion could change—don’t quote me! Or do, but add a bunch of caveats.

We launched a turnkey service to both migrate your website from Squarespace to WordPress and also give you a major search engine optimization overhaul at the same time. This is a fantastic value if you’re thinking about making a move! Learn more here!

If you’re considering a new website project but aren’t sure what the right platform may be for you, we offer one-hour strategy sessions in which you work with me to dig into your goals, business challenges, and technical savviness and make a recommendation about the best fit for your needs. Learn more over here.

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10 Responses

  1. Great article Sarah. I checked out Elementor and Beaver Builder both look interesting. I have had a number of clients where I’ve tried to make their content fit into a SQSP template but it just didn’t work so I went with custom WordPress sites.

  2. Like Rob, I think this is a great article. But it could be even better if it included info on what most concerns entrepreneurs and small business owners: the time and costs differences between using Squarespace and WordPress. A custom WordPress site can be unexpectedly time consuming and costly, especially for someone switching from a DIY website builder like Squarespace!

    1. Happy to share more of that in a future post, Scott. This info is aimed at people who have found Squarespace not quite right for their goals for whatever reason.

      Though I will say, quality frameworks and solid page builders take a lot of the unexpected out of WordPress these days.

      1. Sounds good. Costs are of course a huge part of choosing a website application. So it’s like an article comparing a Toyota Camry to a BMW 740i without mentioning the significant costs differences. 🙂

        BTW, are people required to have a Squarespace account to subscribe to comment threads on Squarespace blogs? When I tried to subscribe to this thread, a Squarespace sign-in page popped up.

        1. You may want to make a list of all the features you want on your site and then do a back of the envelope comparison.

          Because that’s the other factor that folks forget about: a basic brochure style site, your ongoing costs are going to be pretty much the same within a margin of error, regardless of platform. You start evaluating commerce options, membership sites (those get pricey FAST), sales funnel add-ons, etc etc, that’s when you can start to see different setups differentiate.

          Then, you also have to think about whether you’re DIYing and you have to acquire licenses for various add-ons or if you’re working with a pro with an enterprise license that you can piggyback on to, since the DIY market and the pro market are quite different. (And it gets even more complicated when DIYers get their sites almost there but need a feature that is incredibly challenging even for pros to add to their chosen system, resulting in higher costs than if they’d selected something else to begin with.)

          This is actually something I always break down in project proposals as well, because these costs can add up and with some platforms they’re built it so it looks like a higher starting cost, but it can actually end up being cheaper overall because with others, every little additional feature equals another subscription. Or, once you have your wish list in front of you, it may become clearer that the platform you thought would be perfect may not be so and you need to rethink.

          I worked with a nonprofit early this year where there basic hosting costs were quite low, but because they had many specialized needs that necessitated other SaaS subscriptions, so they actually had a fairly high monthly cost that you wouldn’t expect.

          On the other hand, I have a client who has a pretty sophisticated site from a visual perspective, but it’s quite small and their features are relatively minimal so their ongoing costs are quite low.

          (Squarespace’s commenting system is kind of wackadoodle–the sign in to subscribe is so annoying I can’t even… Unfortunately, the alternative is Disqus, which is even more annoying.)

  3. Hi Sarah – Really appreciate the honest feedback in your post. I work mostly with WordPress and agree, Theme Forest definitely has some weird stuff. It’s really a mixed bag, and it can be hard to tell exactly what you’re buying until it’s too late. Is there a "quality base theme" and/or page builder you’d personally recommend for WordPress?

    1. Page Builders: I LOVE what the team at Elementor is doing. Their pace and quality of development and reception to feedback is amazing. People adore Beaver Builder, especially when coupled with its Beaver Themer. I don’t care for the UX, but lots of people do. I would avoid Divi myself. I know people love it, but I have serious reservations. Run from Visual Composer, just run!

      Theme frameworks: GeneratePress, Ocean and Astra are all well regarded. So, I’d download those and play with what works for you. (There are free versions of each.)

  4. Hi Sarah – you’re easily one of the most open-minded and commonsense web designers out there.

    For example, while you’re devoted to Squarespace, you’re also aware it’s not for everyone. The majority of web designers seem married to whatever their chosen web apps or programs are, and take it like an attack on their religion if you dare say anything bad about their favorite web apps (i.e. well-reasoned criticisms of concrete5 can lead to being viciously attacked by both its users and its owners).

    As far as your response, here’s a quick rundown:
    1) Unfortunately, nonwebpros usually don’t even know what features they want or are available. Even full-time web designers are unable to keep up with what’s available, and/or only want to use what they already know.
    2) WordPress has become so bloated and complicated, it should only be recommended to businesses or orgs that can afford pros to build and maintain it.
    3) Squarespace’s commenting system is shockingly bad, which is very disappointing.
    4) Anyone considering buying from ThemeForest (or their parent company Envato), should first review their "unfriendly" refund policy and comments from people who’ve tried to get refunds.

    1. Theme Forest is garbage, ugh. So many bloated/messed up themes on there. Simple, clean basic themes and solid page builders like Elementor or Beaver Builder are a much better answer for DIYers wanting to explore wordpress.

      And thank you for your lovely compliments! 🙂

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