Okay, so it’s your first time making a website and you are not sure which CMS to use, you may not even know what “CMS” means. Don’t worry, you are not alone, because it’s my first time creating a website too! With zero previous website development, nor design experience, I found that looking up different systems and softwares can be overwhelming and confusing. I came across numerous compare-contrast charts and pro-con lists, but these responses meant virtually nothing to me since I did not know which functions and services I would need.
More specifically, after finding lists of which features were included on each CMS, I did not understand each features function nor its relative importance. So, I have constructed a little breakdown of my research, in attempts to assist those of you who are looking into making a website for the first time. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will be able to better understand how to start thinking about creating a website, which factors differentiate each CSM, and what those differences will mean for you as a website creator.
So what is a “CMS?” CMS is an abbreviation for “Content Management System,” and a CMS does exactly that, it manages the creation of digital content. The two specific CMS’s I will be discussing are: WordPress and Squarespace. I selected these softwares because a majority of the research I found published these CMS’s as two of the most “universal” website creation platforms ie. can be used to create pretty much any type of website. Also, according to five different sources, Squarespace and WordPress are listed as two of the top three most frequently used website creation platforms. (builtWith.com, W3tech.com, SimilarTech, Google Trends, and websitesetup.org.) As the most popular CMS in the world, WordPress powers almost ⅓ of the world’s websites. With over 22 million active sites, WordPress has over 12.5 times more active sites than the next most popular CSM. Ranking a close third, is Squarespace. While considered universal- in the type of websites these softwares can make- WordPress and Squarespace act as systems that service solely for website creation.
With identical purposes, many of the functions on WordPress and Squarespace are uniform. Some of the major functions that are looked for in website creation include: content import/export, drag & drop, landing pages/web forms, online booking tools, online store builder, pre-built templates, SEO Management. Both WordPress and Squarespace (as well as many other CSM’s) possess the functions previously listed. In addition, WordPress has Auto Update and Survey Builder, where Squarespace does not. However, one feature on Squarespace that WordPress does not include is real time editing. On Squarespace you also have the ability for social media sharing, where on wordpress you can upload the links to social media sites, but you cannot upload the social media channel itself. Unless you are looking for one of those four differentiating functions between these two CMS’s, the bigger distinguishing factors between WordPress and Squarespace are the ease of initial use and the customization abilities.
The difficulty of learning how to use Squarespace can be understood through the analogy of learning how to read. There is a learning curve at first, but once you start to sound out letters and can read at a moderate level, that is pretty much it. Essentially, reading can be tricky at first, but once you are proficient in the skill, there is not more to learn or develop. You have the ability, and you can use it, just like you are right now. Reading is similar to Squarespace because, like piecing together letters, learning all the aspects and tools of the Squarespace software can be a bit tricky at first. The tools are broken into sections, and it is not clear how to start building. Before using Squarespace, it is recommending to watch some tutorials on how to use the platform.
However, a majority of Squarespace’s users state that it only takes a few days fully comprehend, and learn, the full layout. On the contrary, WordPress can be understood with the analogy of learning math. WordPress has straightforward tools and it is very basic and simple to start. Any beginner can instantly start a site build, however, it is nearly impossible to master all of the features and capabilities of WordPress. Specialists in building websites on WordPress claimed that they still do not know all the functions of this CMS even after using it for years. So, whether it be reading or math, Squarespace or WordPress, the initial phases of site building, and learning how to use the CMS, each vary by platform.
Whether you are creating a website for something visually appealing, like photography, or something more textual, like a law firm, my guess is that you want your website to look good. The ascetics of website are often considered the highest importance, and can often be a major fact in drawing clients towards your business. Somewhat obviously, the first thing that happens when we look at a website is that we see it. So visuals and layout are important.
With a high emphasis on the physical appearance on the sight, Squarespace can be tough to beat. Squarespace has- what are almost unanimously considered- the most aesthetically pleasing templates. The designs on Squarespace are also uniform and great quality. What this means is that if you switch templates within Squarespace, you can use the same designs and their quality will not change. WordPress, on the contrary, doesn’t ship with the most visually appealing templates. Despite the ascetics of the templates, the customizability between the two CSM’s is very different, which is where WordPress gains a lot of it’s users.
While the Squarespace templates may look nicer, there is a lot less that you can do to individualize your template. With these templates, what you see is what you get. Apart from adjusting font size and color, another website that uses the same Squarespace template will look almost exactly the same. Squarespace also does have the ability to cross share templates, so you cannot pick and choose which designs you like the most on each template. On the other hand, WordPress has the widest range of customizability. On WordPress you can customize every single feature and design, which allows you to create an entirely unique sight.
With WordPress you can build everything from scratch, where Squarespace templates are already formatted and pre-made. One visual feature that WordPress offers that some people prefer is the ability to upload a background. Again, another feature that can make your website more unique looking. Due to the major differences between ascetics and customization, Squarespace is a good fit for people that want to take a more simplistic approach to building their website. Since Squarespace requires no backend or coding experience, it is great for non-technical people. In opposition, those that are more tech-savvy, and interested in creating a complex site, may benefit more from WordPress.
The customization abilities of these sites not only differentiates them aesthetically and functionally, but also financially. With Squarespace offering minimal customization, the price is a relatively fixed rate. The initial rate is higher than WordPress because you are paying for not only a premade template, but also for Squarespace to host your website. There are many advantages to not hosting your own website. Squarespace is acknowledged for having a very responsive and supportive customer service team. Their team can be contacted via e-mail and Twitter 24/7 and via their site chat during standard working hours. Squarespace does not provide customer support through phone calls, but with an active team they are responsive and secure, and have great reviews.
If there is a bug or flaw with your site, the host is automatically responsible to fix the error. If you host your own site, you are responsible to repair any damages or issues with your site. Typically, this becomes expensive because you often need to hire someone directly to fix this. Contrarily, if you have backend coding experience, this can be a great way to save money, since you may be able solve the problem yourself. That being said, if there are any changes made to Squarespace ie. updates, changes, pricing, etc.. that is not something that a user can prevent since they are not hosting their own site. Without a support team, individuals hosting their own site also facilitate more security issues.
With your own hosting and customization options on WordPress, you also have more control over your pricing. WordPress itself is free, but hosting the site costs a small fee. This fee is less than the monthly fee for Squarespace. However, the more features and designs you add to your WordPress site, the more you pay. Thus, with increased customization options comes an increase in payment. The maximum that you can pay on Squarespace is lower than the maximum you could pay on WordPress, but, since you have to outsource your site to use Squarespace, you have no control over the rates the software changes its pricing. Squarespace’s current fees are listed below:
On Squarespace, your domain is only free for the first year. On wordpress, a domain name typically costs $14.99 / year, and web hosting normally costs $7.99 / month. Depending on your needs, your cost to start a WordPress website can range from $100 to even as high as $30,000 or more. I hope this article was helpful trying to understand some fundamental differences between Squarespace and WordPress. Another site with helpful insight one CSM’s is Capterra.
My conclusion is that Squarespace may be more suitable for entrepreneurs, small size businesses, startups or anyone who is less experienced in website building, or wants a more simplified site creation that they can outsource. Due to the ascetics of the Squarespace templates, this CSM can be extremely beneficial for visual people (photographers, artists, etc..) and ideal for portfolios and blogging. WordPress may be more fitting for freelancer, non-profit organization, even bloggers looking to craft a detailed and customized website for little to no initial costs associated. Specifically WordPress can be a great selection for this with technical or design experience that know how to host their own website. Happy choosing, and happy website creation!
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