Review by Steve Benjamins. Last Updated on October 29 2014.
In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, Jobs explains how he learned craftsmanship from his father, a carpenter. It was important, his father had said, to craft the backs of cabinets properly, even though they were hidden.
This story reminds me of Squarespace. Every interaction is polished. Features are thoughtful. Nothing ever feels half-backed. Simply put, Squarespace crafts the back of cabinets.
I’ve reviewed over 30 website builders and Squarespace is only one of two that’s ever received a perfect score (the other is Weebly). Squarespace earns it’s perfect score by being powerful and extremely flexible.
It’s an excellent website builder and I highly recommend it.
Recently Squarespace released Squarespace 7, a complete re-design. One of my frustrations with the previous version, Squarespace 6, was that content and style editors were separated:
Content and style editors in Squarespace 6.
It worked- but I often missed seeing the website context in the content editor.
Squarespace 7 fixes that by bringing everything together under one unified interface:
Squarespace 7 unifies the content and style editor.
Because the interface is unified, you always have a sense of place. The sidebar is always present and expands and contracts as needed. A website preview is always a click away. Overall, Squarespace 7 feels more coherent than Squarespace 6.
Every Squarespace website is divided into regions (footer, header, body etc.). Each region can hold content blocks such as paragraphs, images, galleries, forms and more.
All the content blocks.
Let’s take a close look at a few content blocks.
When I first try a website builder, I like to look at the form builder. Why? Because one of the first places a website builder cuts corners is with the form builder. But not Squarespace. Theform content block is great. It lets you connect your form to Mailchimp, set post-submit HTML(for analytics events), create custom success messages and has lots of field options:
Plenty of field options.
The gallery content block is also great. It lets you build any type of photo gallery. Want a slideshow? No problem. Want a grid of thumbnails that opens in a lightbox? No problem.
You can even make specific customizations. Want to set exact thumbnail sizes? No problem. Want to crop images? No problem. Want to set the focal point that an image will be cropped around? No problem. Squarespace makes it easy.
I love how easy it is to set the focal point of your image.
Another content block I want to highlight is the menu content block. It creates restaurant style menus. You create menus through a simple formatting language (which is less intimidating than it sounds) and Squarespace generates sophisticated, well designed menus:
Overall, Squarespace’s website editor is quite simple- which is remarkable considering how much you can build with it. It takes discipline to create software this refined. Almost everything in the editor is clearly labeled.
… And yet, I did notice two elements in the editor that weren’t so obvious.
For example, I had trouble finding the mobile preview in the website editor. It turns out, if you shrink your browser window horizontally, a mobile view automatically pops in. This is clever, but definitely not obvious. More of an easter egg that I had to stumble into than a feature.
Deleting content blocks also felt slow. At times it took four steps: 1) Click the region. 2) Click the content block. 3) Click remove. 4) Confirm the removal. This becomes a pain when you need to delete several content blocks at once.
But both of these faults are minor. Mostly the editor is thoughtful and simple to navigate.
Style Editor, Templates and Mobile
Squarespace comes with 32 templates. Each template has a unique structure.
For example, the Shift template places the logo top left, navigation top right and includes an option for a large splash image on the homepage:
The Shift template.
The Native template is great for bloggers. It’s simple and designed for showcasing content:
The Native template.
As you can see, each template is responsive and mobile friendly. Each template is also sleek and minimal. They are designed for big photos and strong typography. There are no cheesy small business templates.
You can customize templates with the style editor:
The style editor.
The style editor is great. It lets you control almost every aspect of your template’s style. For example, you can:
Customize the exact spacing of the header.
Set typography settings for the entire website.
Change the logo height, font and letter spacing.
Customize the navigations background, type and hover
… And more.
Like the rest of Squarespace, the style editor is thoughtfully designed. The sidebar lists all customizable elements, and you can click any element in the website preview window to customize it. You can also drag region borders in the website preview to customize spacing. It works really well. (And for you front-end designers: you can choose between em, rem or px.)
Squarespace supports both Typekit and Google Fonts, which gives you a wide range of typography options.
The review will now explore a few specific use cases for Squarespace such as ecommerce, blogging, non-profits and podcasts.
Last year, Squarespace launched an ecommerce feature called commerce.
You can use commerce to sell physical products, digital products and even services. There are lots of helpful customization options. You can customize email receipts, add additional fields to the checkout form, manage inventory and everything else that you would expect to need.
Customizing the checkout page.
Ecommerce can be tricky because it often requires specific features. And so, any ecommerce website builder needs to support a wide variety of features. An example of this is taxes. Taxes are a tedious feature that could be easy to overlook- but of course, crucial for ecommerce.
Luckily, commerce has a robust tax system. I was able to add individual provincial sales taxes for every province in Canada- which no other general website builder supports. Nice.
Setting a provincial tax rate.
Unfortunately, commerce only works with one payment processor: Stripe. Luckily, Stripe happens to be (in my opinion) the best payment processor. But Stripe also hasn’t launched in every country yet.
Now if you’re building a pure ecommerce website with no additional features, I’m not sure I would recommend Squarespace. Instead, I would probably recommend Shopify. Shopify has an app store that can support a wide variety of ecommerce use cases and like Squarespace, it is thoughtfully designed. But if you need anything beyond ecommerce, Shopify will lack the website building features of Squarespace (such as: excellent blogging, photo galleries and template control). In that case, you’ll want to try Squarespace.
Squarespace is the best website builder for blogs. Hands down.
It supports a ton of features: You can write using markdown or rich text. You can add Disqus for comments (or use Squarespace’s comments and moderation system). You can publish posts by sending an email to a Squarespace email address.
Plus the blog editor looks and feels great:
The blog editor.
I started this review by discussing craftsmanship. A great example of Squarespace’s craftsmanship is how they handles images. They just do it right.
Every image you upload to Squarespace is saved into several scaled versions. Then, when images are served, Squarespace serves a different version depending on whether the visitor is on a desktop, mobile or retina display.
I can’t think of another general website builder that supports retina images. But as anyone who owns a retina device knows, photos look stunning on retina displays when they are optimized for them.
Two Quick Notes: Non Profits and Podcasts
Squarespace includes a good donation system. It allows for an alternative checkout workflow for donations and lets you create custom donation receipts (you wouldn’t want to send a purchase receipt for a donation).
Squarespace also includes full support for podcasting and syndicating your shows to iTunes.
It’s remarkable that Squarespace is able to bring so many features into one, coherent package. Nothing every feels out of place. Everything is straightforward and easy to find.
Squarespace is clearly a disciplined company that takes pride in their craft. And because they take pride in their craft, you can feel confident they’ll be there for your business in the years to come.
I highly recommend Squarespace.