Why I made the switch from WordPress to Squarespace
Squarespace has a reputation as an “amateur only” platform, while WordPress is loved by web designers and developers for its flexible, open source nature. But here’s why, as a web designer, I made the move from WordPress to Squarespace.
“Keep it simple. If your website is complicated to build, it’ll probably be difficult to maintain too.”
“Don’t rush things now – you’ll only need to redesign six months down the line.”
“Have one clear website goal.”
This is the type of advice I dish out to clients on a regular basis when we’re discussing their website. It’s so much easier giving other people advice than acting on it yourself, isn’t it?
But seriously, I wish I’d taken my own advice so much sooner.
This whole thing started back in January. January. Nine months ago at this stage.
I’d realised I needed to redesign my website. The branding wasn’t really aligned with my services, the portfolio needed an overhaul, my blog was all over the place and sorely needed reorganising… Since I know most of you reading this are running your own businesses, I’m assuming you get the picture.
However, unlike most of you, I’m obviously my own web designer. And I can say without any hesitation I’m a much better web designer on your projects than I am on mine.
Eight months later (so beginning of August for those of you keeping track), I’m still working on the rebuild of my website. It’s about 9pm, and I’m working my way through yet another one of those stumbling blocks that every developer is all too familiar with – your code is almost working, but every time you fix that one tiny issue, you somehow manage to break something else.
My new brand design is ready to launch (and in fact, has been ready to launch since May). Yet the website is so far from being done it’s beginning to fill me with dread every time I think about it.
And it suddenly hit me.
Just because I can code my website, doesn’t mean I should.
That was the problem, and I’m honestly kicking myself it took me so long to realise this: just because I am able to code custom themes and features in WordPress, does not mean that’s how I need to build my own website.
I’d been struggling with this feeling that as a web designer, my own website needed to be this paragon of code, to show off what I could really do. But coding takes a lot of time, and I do enough of it for client sites.
And in terms of showing off my code, well, a) that’s what a goddamn portfolio is for, so I can show those skills in work I’ve done for other people, and b) the only people who would care anyway about the code were not my clients – they were other web designers.
This website is a simple business portfolio and blog. Plus, although my business may look a little different from yours, I’m still essentially a small business owner; i.e. bursting at the seams with things to do and ideas to grow my business in future, but limited resources to act on them.
So what I really needed was the kind of site I build for most of my clients: a smart, well designed website that would actually be easy to manage once I was finished. Not what was essentially a €5,000 custom website.
Why I chose to build my site on Squarespace
Like I said, I had this epiphany back in August. That is when I started thinking about using Squarespace.
I took over a week making my decision, weighing up all the pros and cons, thinking about features I would need to sacrifice, or rebuild.
The site itself took less than two weeks to rebuild from scratch. And a large chunk of that time was actually rewriting website copy and adding more information for clients.
That alone would have been enough for me: instead of spending time designing mockups and then building custom page templates in WordPress, I now just drag and drop my content into whatever design I envision.
Plus, there were other advantages…
Flexibility can be a double-edged sword
For the record, in case this sounds like a pitch for Squarespace (which it’s not, I promise!) I could have built myself a “simple” website on WordPress – there are plugins that can add drag and drop functionality, others that will create custom page templates. In fact there’s plugins for just about anything you want to achieve in WordPress – and that can be part of the problem.
Because almost every issue you encounter can be solved by means of adding another plugin, it’s easy to fall into the trap of just doing that, without stopping to consider if WordPress is the right platform to begin with.
WordPress is simple blogging software, and so all these plugins are having to take that core code, and modify it to create something more complex. And for the record, there’s a tonne of amazing devs out there who’ve built some pretty incredible plugins for WordPress.
To be frank though, a lot of them can be a bit of a pain to use, particularly when you look at things like drag-and-drop functionality or ecommerce. Squarespace has drag and drop baked right into its core. WordPress does not. And it shows.
I’m now using the same platform as most of my clients
This was actually one of the biggest draws for me in terms of using Squarespace. Way back when I was learning to code, I built my first website on WordPress, and continued building WordPress websites for almost a decade, because it was a platform I understood and could show clients how to get the most from.
Plus it meant that I was constantly able to experiment and improve my coding skills, even when I didn’t have a lot of client work coming in.
These days though, it’s exactly the opposite: I’m a lot more experienced (and have a lot more work!), and the kinds of tasks I perform on my own website I do pretty much constantly on client sites. I’ve also seen a real shift over the past few years with more and more of my clients requesting Squarespace sites over WordPress, for a lot of the reasons I’ve mentioned above.
I firmly believe as a web designer, the more I can put myself in my client’s shoes, the better a job I can do for them. So when I realised I was overcomplicating things with my own website, Squarespace seemed like the perfect solution.
Now that I’m using this platform for my own site, I know exactly what my clients are dealing with on a day to day basis.
“Free” can be pretty damn expensive
This wasn’t my main concern, but there’s been another bonus to moving to Squarespace: I’ve actually cut my website costs significantly.
You can, in principle, set up a WordPress website without spending a single cent. That website will likely be godawful – since free hosting and domains do not tend to be known for their quality – but it can be done.
But you know, I’m trying to run a business here. So when my site was on WordPress, that meant things like high speed hosting and other items to speed up my website load times. It meant licensing a quality theme framework for me to code my site, along with all those plugins I mentioned to enhance the functionality of my site.
All in all, my “free” website easily cost €350+ per year to run. Which is still not expensive at all in website terms, but it’s definitely not free.
Except that €350 price tag only accounted for the actual money I spent on my site, not my time. Which brings me to my final point…
I can forget about my website, and focus on my clients
This is something I’ve long preached on the blog – keep your website simple, so it doesn’t become a time and resource sinkhole.
Like I said at the start of this post, I wish I’d taken my own advice sooner. In the month since I moved the website to Squarespace, my productivity has gone through the roof – mostly due to my website not being this constant demand on my time anymore.
The reason I decided to write this article to begin with, is because I’ve been dishing out this advice for years. I already knew what it was like working with a poorly designed platform, and had seen how it could slow down business development, to the point of crippling growth altogether.
Now I’m definitely not saying that WordPress is poorly designed. It’s just I hadn’t fully appreciated before how even an “ok” platform – you know, one with some drawbacks but that generally works fine, can still slow down your business growth.
So next time you're planning some major changes to your site, I can wholeheartedly recommend taking a look at the way you do things, and trying to see if there’s a better way. And of course if you need help figuring that out, then let’s talk – because I now truly understand what you’re going through.