Squarespace website vs. custom build

Web Platform

So you're ready to build your new website, you've shopped around, and you're wondering if that $25,000 quote for a custom site is worth it when there are so many DIY site builder options around. Just what is the difference between a custom-built website and using a drag-and-drop builder like Squarespace? 

Whether you're building your website from scratch or using Squarespace, it's always best to start with the planning stages. Your designer should help you figure out what pages you'll need, and how you want them to look and work on different platforms. From there, Squarespace is excellent for creating simple websites quickly, at a low cost, and with little-to-no coding knowledge required. This is ideal for many business requirements, but for larger builds, its features fall short and a custom website becomes the more efficient and reliable option. A custom site gives more control and can be better future-proofed.

Ownership

Unlike a custom build where the code is fully accessible, with Squarespace you can’t access or own the full website code. You can add individual blocks of HTML and customise some CSS, but the website will always remain in Squarespace and will rely on your continued paying of a subscription. This means you're reliant on what Squarespace says is possible, and some features that are very simple in a custom build could require more research, third party plugins (i.e. additional subscriptions), or may not be possible at all. It’s also entirely possible that Squarespace turns off a simple feature or integration you were relying on. 

Squarespace also hosts the website. If the site were to go down or a feature be removed, you may not be able to do much about it. In saying that, Squarespace is very widely used and therefore offer very good support. With a custom build, your developer may host the site on their own servers, and would be able to offer much more support and allowance for future upgrades.

Version control: no undo!

A big limitation in Squarespace is the lack of version control, i.e. reverting to a previous version if something accidentally breaks. You can duplicate your entire website or individual page sections as a safeguard, and you can restore deleted pages within 30 days, but if you otherwise find you've accidentally deleted something, you might find there's no going back.

Blogging

Squarespace offers a built-in blogging module which is easy to use. Customisation is limited but you can add images & fonts to match your brand. This limited customisation can be a disadvantage if you are wanting to implement data capture points and ensure user retention through UI & UX. In a custom website, you would add a blogging module to the website CMS to ensure blog posts are easy to add by an administrator, and you can have full control over the design of the blog.

Ecommerce

Squarespace also has built-in ecommerce functionality, so if you've got a stall at the local markets and want to start selling your stuff online, customising an off-the-shelf Squarespace shop is a great way to start. It's easy to handle payments and inventory, and you don't need to know any code to get a great looking shop together. Once you start selling to bigger audiences and/or growing your product range, you might need to start looking into more custom inventory-management solutions.

Design control and consistency

Once you're happy, a good developer will build your website to look exactly like your approved design. Squarespace has their own rules and limitations which can prevent an accurate replication, so you might find you're forced to compromise on some aspects of the design, or that they'll still need to be custom-coded.

In a custom build, your designer can create a set number of page types that follow the same structure, ensuring design consistency and efficiency. When you're editing or adding content, you'll just need to add a page of the required template, and only edit the content that your developers have made available to edit. This also means if you need to make any overall design change to a page type, your developer only needs to do it in one place, and all relevant pages will be updated. In Squarespace, you can duplicate a page section, but it isn’t linked to any master pages. This means if you want to add or change something to (e.g.) all of the ‘About’ pages, you have to do it individually. It’s very easy to accidentally change the layout of a page from what was designed, and the website can quickly become cluttered and inconsistent, which in turn impacts the user experience. If you've only got a few pages or limited editing requirements, this disadvantage may not be an issue, and could be offset by the advantage of the lower cost to build and lack of coding needed.

Loading speed

If you could export the code from a Squarespace website, you'd likely find it to be very inefficiently built (with plenty of redundant code) due to the nature of drag-and-drop and template websites. As a result, Squarespace websites can become relatively slow to load, especially as you add more add-ons and coding alterations. Again, this really only becomes a problem if you're working with a large website.

Conclusion

If you want to start showcasing your business with a few simple pages that you can edit yourself (without contacting your agency every time you need to make a change), or you're still in start-up mode and just need to get off the ground before you go all the way with a custom build, Squarespace is a great solution. You might hire a designer to help you put the website together, or you might use an off-the-shelf template to get started. Key things to remember are the site will always be in Squarespace (you can't export the code), you may not be able to get some features & elements looking or working exactly as you'd like, and you won't be able to undo any mistakes you make.

If your website has a lot of content & a high page count, loads of features, you want full control of your site and you really want your brand to shine, investing in a custom build is the way to go.

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