It’s now 2017, and technology has turned the world of communication on its head in a matter of two quick decades. If you’re reading this, you probably have a functioning mind and, thus, thoughts and ideas that someone would find helpful, interesting, funny, or entertaining.
Enter stage left: the blog. Successful blogs come in all shapes and sizes, of course. But I’d like to take a look at a couple of examples before you determine your needs as a blogger. Which blogs do you frequent, and what is it about them that brings you back? Un-fancy (un-fancy.com) is a style blog managed by one person. Caroline’s photo greets you with a warm smile on the site’s home page. And there are exactly four pages, including its home. Simple. Warm. Cozy. Now let’s shift our focus to the oh-so-beloved Huffington Post (huffingtonpost.com) and its 200ish employees. The vast number of people working 40 hours a week to support this blog explains how complex and sophisticated the site is. Where does your concept fall on the “un-fancy-to-Huff-Post” spectrum?
What about content? Poke around on the internet for a half-hour before bed, and you’re likely to stumble across blogs on the more common topics (tech, beauty, business, et al) to the downright bizarre (hungover owls to awkward stock photos and, you heard me, ugly Renaissance babies). We’ve all got things to say, and, more than ever, we are seeking ways to have our voices heard.
So you’ve got content? That’s great. And a funky-fresh way with words? Awesome. Are all of the boring bits in order, like analytics and legal knowledge? This is truly a commendable accomplishment. But where do you post up on the web? There is and always has been (well, since 2003, anyway) WordPress, the OG of the blogging game. About a quarter of the world’s most successful sites use WordPress as their host. Tried and true. Simply put: Reliable, right? A year later, a cool new kid rolled into town: Squarespace. A bit more on the surreptitious side, Squarespace will not release its entire client list, but they are hosting some of the more cutting-edge brands like Refinery29, Lyft, and Rodarte.
Between WordPress and Squarespace, who do you turn to to help your voice be heard? Let’s take a look at what we like about each.
The Pros of WordPress
Arguably the most important ingredient that goes into a superstar blog is a captivating presence. Ladies and gents, I bring you… Themes! WordPress provides its users access to several themes from which to choose. These templates help to bring the desired theme (color palettes, fonts, and layouts) to the blog. Toggling between themes does nothing to compromise the integrity of the blog’s content, so feel free to switch it up a few hundred times before you decide on the theme that feels right.
Want to take that personalization a step further? WordPress has always been known for its free-to-use and open-source format. But what does open-source mean? This means code is made freely available to users to utilize and modify as they see fit. This cuts down on costs and time, especially for those bloggers who know a thing or two about HTML… or at the very least, copy and paste.
This sounds great, but we still want more personalization, right? There are countless ways to tweak your site, namely via plugins. There are tens of thousands of plugins that currently exist, working to create a blog curated to its publisher’s brand. Some of them focus on the appearance and functionality of the site (e.g. navigation bars), while others work behind the scenes (e.g. SEO or search engine optimization). The possibilities for creating a blog that is perfectly tailored to your brand are virtually endless. Looks like you’re almost set…
“But what about my on-the-go readers?” Read: All of your readers. WordPress has optimized its usability so that your blog may be viewed, not only on your Mac or PC, but on mobile devices, as well. Hallelujah.
Overall, WordPress has graced us with user-friendly tools to create professional-looking sites and blog on a budget. But what’s the hitch?
The Cons of WordPress
One prominent downside to any open-source content management system is that, since coding is made free and public, this makes it easier for hackers to infiltrate the site and compromise its security. It is possible for seasoned hackers and programmers to alter the source coding and add malignant code which could, say, reroute subscriber newsletters via one of the site’s plugins.
And speaking of plugins, possibly the biggest grievance among WordPress users is its frequent need for system updates and how this impacts plugins. The updates themselves can be a time sink, and then we need to consider how this impacts the plugins your site is using– are they still compatible with the latest system update or do we hope and pray that the plugin’s designer is at work altering the plugin code to ensure that all is right and compatible in the internet world? It seems like a balancing act, keeping the peace between plugins and updates, in order to keep readers. The internet is so fast with so much content at hand, our audiences don’t have time to wait around on wonky, ill-functioning sites.
Nor do you want to risk losing your readers to a similar, but sexier blog. This brings up the touchiest topic under the “What makes WordPress great/suck” umbrella: Appearance. Yes, we discussed themes and personalization… substantially. Still, however, it’s way too easy to publish a WordPress site that looks oddly similar to the next guy’s WordPress site. Many companies have to hire a seasoned programmer and/or marketing professional to ensure that their WordPress-hosted site is set apart from the competition. So… if you’re not a coding-and-marketing pro, it’s possible to create a standout WordPress blog. However, we’re finding that many users hire outside help to accomplish the clean and professional look that big brands achieve.
That’s a lot to keep in mind. Let’s take a look at Squarespace before we jump to conclusions.
The Pros of Squarespace
The primary focus when it comes to a Squarespace-hosted site is design that is truly beautiful and professional. The Squarespace aesthetic promotes a polished look through simplicity, beautiful photography (you can upload your own), and interesting typography. This is as fussy as it gets when it comes to Squarespace’s appearance. It’s impressive how… well… impressive minimalism is when it comes to building your brand.
Like WordPress, there is a high emphasis on personalization. You choose your templates, colors, fonts, and features. The selection of templates is arguably (but not much so) more remarkable than that on WordPress, both in appearance and in sheer breadth of options. Again… what’s the hitch? Well, you pay for the parts you want. Think of Squarespace as an upscale (perhaps pricy) restaurant with a massive menu of delectable small plates. Now think of WordPress as an all-you-can-eat buffet. What’s right for you isn’t necessarily right for your neighbor.
Is your mind made up? Not so fast, Turbo– there’s more to consider.
Both hosts provide all of the blogger essentials: comments, reblogs, geotags, widgets… However, Squarespace allows its bloggers a place to host a podcast, complete with iTunes integration and an RSS feed.
Most bloggers on any server use a tool like Google Analytics to manage the health of the blog by tracking and analyzing its statistics. Use of Google Analytics is still recommended for Squarespace users, but they do have access to an app called Squarespace Metrics, where they can view their stats with ease. Data: the unsung hero. We like to think of blogging as a purely creative art, but we must consider the absolute necessity of a data and statistics management program if we want to cast our nets wide enough or into the proper ponds.
Squarespace is commonly commended on its user-friendly interface, as well its 24/7 support feature. We’re talking about live chat, people! A quick search for WordPress support yields the following: a wide selection of companies that offer WordPress support at a fee, of course; WordPress support forums; and a Contact Support form page. This doesn’t exactly bode well with the sort of instant gratification we crave in today’s society, much less the kind we need to sustain active parts of the internet. The web is an ecosystem that thrives on prompt attention and practical solutions. By the time you’ve asked us to fill out a form, our business is elsewhere. We simply cannot afford to lose time in this market.
The Cons of Squarespace
But before you break out the credit card, you should keep a few things in mind. The foremost drawback with choosing Squarespace is cost. Squarespace charges $8 for a site containing up to 20 pages. After the twentieth page, the cost hikes up to $18. (Is this some sort of joke at Squarespace headquarters about the importance of simplicity?) This makes Squarespace suboptimal for e-commerce sites, as well as sites with a large menu and complex navigation. For a blog, however, this shouldn’t pose much of an issue. Sophistication comes with a hefty price tag, but minimalistic beauty only requires a few good tools and a whole lot of finesse.
Speed can be an issue with a Squarespace blog. Sites hosted by Squarespace have scored low on Google page speed tests, which leads us back to the issue of reader experience. Your audience may find themselves frustrated with slow speeds and may move along. This is definitely something to take a hands-on approach to before deciding if speed is an issue. Perhaps it would be advisable to navigate several Squarespace-hosted sites on your own, from various devices, to gauge whether or not you feel they keep up with you. I would focus on blogs similar in content and complexity to what you are trying to build.
So Which Is it?
Now here you are, a blogger (or soon-to-be) with two viable options for a place to stake your claim, but which is the host with the most? Squarespace or WordPress?
For the budding (read: flat-broke) blogger? The winner is WordPress… if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to manage a bit of code. Don’t know how to manage code at all, nor do you have the funds to outsource the work? Make good friends with a programmer because your blog will require maintenance, and maintenance isn’t part of the cheap deal you scored.
For the budding (read: just curious for now, may take this more seriously after poking around a bit) blogger? WordPress again, but only as a test run. If a) you’re not sure you want your blog to take off yet, b) you’re not sure yet who your target audience is, or c) you just simply want a place to jot down your thoughts (and maybe toy with some aesthetic pieces), then go for the free host. Because! And here’s the kicker, folks: Squarespace allows its users to import their WordPress blogs. Oh, how we love an easy transition!
For everyone else: Squarespace takes the cake. Simply put, these sites are intensely impressive. If you have the money and are serious about taking off with your blog, there is no question that Squarespace gives your blog a modern edge that will elevate your brand’s presence. There is no price tag on the firing off of dopamine receptors, but the sheer beauty of these Squarespace sites promises to deliver.
There is a ton of merit in the use of a web host like WordPress. So many big companies and sites that have insane amounts of foot traffic use WordPress, and with good reason. Just keep in mind, however, that these sites usually have programmers to do all of the dirty work. I’d say poke around on good ‘ol WordPress. Give it a go. Customize to your heart’s content. Blog away. Have fun.
And when you’re elbows-deep in system updates and coding trouble, pulling your hair out of its follicles and causing a public disturbance (what I like to call “character-building”)… well, that’s what Squarespace is there for.