Squarespace

Squarespare is an interesting website builder with an approach and a feature set which immediately stands out from the competition.

The Squarespace website doesn't hit you with lengthy feature lists and densely packed comparison tables, for instance. Instead, it follows a 'show, don't tell' approach, presenting a host of templates and design ideas to help you understand what's possible. And this turns out to make a lot of sense, because Squarespace has some of the most gorgeous templates around (browse them here.)

This doesn't mean Squarespace is short on power. Once we found the Features Index we realized the service had plenty to boast about: intelligent image optimizations, comprehensive social media integration, performance boosting CDN support, image and video galleries, free fonts, interactive chart controls, a powerful blogging platform, professional web store, the list goes on…

If you're on a budget then you can find cheaper products elsewhere. For example, the Wix eCommerce plan gives you plenty of features and a capable web store for £10.10 ($14.10) a month. Still, if you need its power and functionality then Squarespace could have a lot of appeal.

The Personal plan doesn't include the store, but otherwise supports all the core features, throws in a free domain, and is priced at £10 ($14) a month, paid annually.

The Business plan gives you the basic store and full customization of CSS and JavaScript for £15 ($21) a month paid annually.

Commerce plans ramp up store management features with support for customer accounts, inventory control, customer analytics, abandoned cart recovery and a whole lot more. Prices range from £20 ($28) to £30 ($42) a month, depending on what you need.

A 14-day free trial is available with no payment details required.

Squarespace

Getting started

Building your first Squarespace site begins with choosing a template. There were 91 on offer when we checked, and you can filter them by type, keyword, or just browse them all.

All templates can be previewed in full before making a decision. There's no need to spend an age agonizing over this, though – unlike some website builders, if you decide you don't like the template later, you're free to switch to something else.

Select your favorite design and Squarespace prompts you to create an account by entering your name and email address.

We filled in the form, our template opened in the Squarespace editor, and within seconds a couple of emails arrived offering useful advice and links to tutorials and other support resources. Even a total novice should be ready to start exploring the service in no time.

Squarespace

Editor

The Squarespace editor is just about as minimalist and lightweight as we've ever seen. There's no toolbar, no bulky palette of icons, just a large and active preview of your website (click links and they work as normal), and a tiny left-hand menu with six simple options: Pages, Design, Commerce, Analytics, Settings and Help.

There are many more options available, but they're only revealed when you hover your mouse over the page or its individual elements. This can be confusing for the first few minutes, as it's not immediately obvious how to carry out even the most basic of editing tasks. But as you explore and begin to master the fundamentals, the approach begins to make more sense.

Your chosen template will probably come with multiple pages, but you can add others with predefined layouts: Gallery, Project, Album, Blog, Events, Products, and a regular blank page which enables starting from scratch.

To add a widget to a page (or a 'content block', as Squarespace calls it), for example, you must hover the mouse over the page, tap Edit > Add, and browse what's on offer.

Squarespace offers all the features you'd expect, including buttons, text, images, galleries, video, audio, forms, maps, layout controls and more.

Unusual extras include interactive pie, line and bar charts, a text block with Markdown support, plus a native Calendar (not hosted elsewhere) which displays upcoming events by date. There’s also a tag cloud which can work with tags from a blog, gallery, album or products page.

Squarespace

Social media blocks allow integrating content from Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, SoundCloud and any RSS feed, while other block-based integrations include Acuity, Bandsintown, OpenTable, Zola, and Amazon.

You're also able to integrate Squarespace with Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, Snapchat, IMDB, Dropbox, Vine, Spotify, Yelp, Github and more. In some cases this just means displaying an icon or share button, but others allow for importing content, or publishing content directly from your Squarespace site (write a blog post and automatically post it on Facebook).

There's no space here to begin to cover the details, but you can find out more on your favorite services at the Squarespace support site.

The editor doesn't give you much control over layout. Content blocks can be dragged into approved areas only, and you can't precisely reposition them later. We still managed to produce some good-looking sites which displayed well in mobile, tablet and desktop views, though, and that's enough to earn a thumbs up from us.

Squarespace

Media

Squarespace provides a good level of media support with some unusual options and extras.

The image control can work as a lightbox with an optional clickthrough URL, and also enables displaying an overlaid or overlapping caption. You're able to use your own images, or search the Getty image library and licence any pictures you like for $10 (£7) each.

A Video control embeds movies from YouTube, Vimeo, Animoto or Wistia. You're able to set a custom thumbnail, an option we've rarely seen before, and again you can add a caption directly from the control.

Gallery formats include a slideshow, carousel and grid which support up to 250 videos and images per gallery. These have some functional customizations – slideshows can be automated or include Next and Previous controls, for instance – but you don't get much control over their visual style.

A built-in audio player supports playing a single MP3 file which you can either upload, or host elsewhere and point to its URL. Welcome extra touches include an option to display a download link, and the ability to create podcasts by generating Apple Podcast-compatible tags for your site's RSS feed.

Squarespace's various web service integrations give you more possibilities. A SoundCloud block enables users to navigate a complete playlist, for instance, while you can have Squarespace always display your latest content from Flickr, Instagram and other sites. Alternatively, you can set up the control to search for public images using a specific hashtag, perhaps finding all pictures relating to your company, wedding or any major event.

Put it all together and we suspect there's more than enough media handling power for most users. And even if you need something more, an Embed Code block may allow integrations with other services, and the Squarespace Business plan provides Code Blocks to insert custom HTML and scripts.

Squarespace

Blogging

Squarespace comes with an excellent blogging platform which is absolutely stuffed with features, yet also has such a straightforward interface that you'll be using it right away.

The process starts when you add a blog page to your site. Squarespace opens a blank page, and tapping Add Post allows you to start writing.

Unlike some of the competition, the blog editor doesn't limit the controls you can use in a post. You're able to add images, videos, maps, galleries, anything you can use within a regular web page.

The main writing area keeps options to a minimum. Once you've finished you can add tags or categories, enable or disable comments for the post, save it as a draft, publish it immediately or schedule publication for later.

Need more? Just explore the tabs. You can define an author for your article, add a thumbnail image, choose an excerpt to be shown on the List page, or give the article a custom URL. A Location tab allows for setting and displaying a location for the article on a Google map, and the Social tab tells Squarespace to automatically post your content to your chosen social network.

Squarespace comes with its own well-designed comments system. Users can by default enter comments, adjust how they're displayed, and report, like or reply to anything that attracts their attention. It's a far more capable setup than you'll get with the typical website builder blog, although if you're unhappy you can opt to integrate Disqus comments instead.

Squarespace

Ecommerce

Creating a web store is usually the most complicated area of any website builder, but once again Squarespace's simple interface saves the day. Add a page, choose the Products page type, and you can be building your product catalogue in seconds.

You're able to add physical products, digital downloads (the customer receives a secure link to the file which expires 24 hours after the first download) and services. That's a big improvement on many competitors, who often reserve digital product support for high-end plans.

All products can be assigned a name, text description and multiple images, as well as given tags and categories to help keep them organized. An Additional Info section supports all the same blocks as the main page editor, allowing you to use videos, maps, galleries and any other content you like.

There's extensive support for adding options (size, color) and related variants (small, medium, large). This is a little more complex to set up than other systems we've seen, but it's also far more powerful. The service doesn't blindly assume that all combinations of variants are available, for instance – if a medium-sized product is available in red and blue, but the large version is only red and green, you can set that up in a few seconds.

Other product catalogue highlights include the ability to specify weight and dimensions (useful for calculating shipping costs), and the possibility to create a custom form which people will fill in when they purchase. You can also push the product description to your social media accounts when you put it online.

Squarespace only supports a few payment providers – PayPal, Stripe, Apple Pay on compatible devices – but they're easy to set up. Once you're taking orders, Squarespace charges a 3% transaction fee for users on the Website Basic plan, and no fee at all if you're on one of the Commerce plans.

We don't have space here to begin to cover Squarespace' ecommerce abilities in the way they deserve, but there's plenty to explore. A single example: the Squarespace Commerce plans allow customers to create accounts where they can securely save shipping addresses, payment methods, order information and more, speeding up the checkout process and perhaps encouraging repeat visits. Check out the support site for more.

Support

Squarespace support is easily accessible by clicking Help on the main editor menu. Well, it’s easy if you're at that screen, rather than the blog, the web store or anywhere else the menu isn't visible. That makes it more of a hassle, although as the support site is publicly accessible (you don't have to log in to view it) you can bookmark it in your browser and call it up from anywhere.

The support pages are nicely designed and crammed with useful tools: FAQs, guides, video tutorials, and a host of articles neatly organized into key topics. You can check out individual sections – just the videos, say – to find out what they have to offer, browse all the documents in a tree, or run keyword searches to find the document you need.

The articles go well beyond the feeble 'How to insert an image' texts we've seen elsewhere. Well written articles such as 'Formatting your images for display on the web' cover a far wider range of topics, and provide genuinely useful help and advice.

Not good enough? No problem. Squarespace has live chat available Monday to Friday, 4am to 8pm EST, and email support is available 24/7 with a claimed response time of 'well under an hour'. In our experience it can take a little longer, but the support team are knowledgeable and can help you solve most issues.

Final verdict

Squarespace's quirky editor and restrictive layouts mean it takes time to master, but the gorgeous templates, powerful features and excellent support won us over. A must-see for anyone who needs more than the basics for website building.

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Thursday, April 5, 2018 - 07:00