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WordPress vs. Squarespace vs. Wix - Which is best for you?

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WordPress, Wix, Squarespace...there are so many options out there right now. Ask around, and you'll get a ton of different answers. Which is right for you?

Well, there are a bunch of things to consider. It's really a question of your priorities, and what you need out of your website.

We're talking:
  • Features + functionality
  • Ease of use + updating
  • Who owns your site content
  • And of course, cost (upfront and in the long run)

So first, some basics about these content management systems.

  1. WordPress is a content management system that you host on your own. You purchase your domain and hosting from whichever service you like, and install the free WordPress software onto your server in order to build your site. (To clarify, we'll be discussing WordPress.org. WordPress.com is its own platform that doesn't allow you nearly as many options. Self-hosted WordPress is the one you want.)
  2. Squarespace is an option that hosts your content for you. You purchase your domain and pay for hosting through them.
  3. Wix also hosts your content for you. You purchase your domain and pay for hosting through them.

Features + functionality

WordPress:

WordPress is incredibly robust. Developers love it because they're completely unlimited in terms of what they can do. You'll install a theme that controls the way your site looks, and if you can code a bit, you can customize it to look absolutely any way you want. If you're not code-savvy, that's okay, too! There are plenty of gorgeous themes out there. Some have drag and drop capabilities, and some are a little more bare in terms of easy customization options. It depends on the theme and its developer. (There are literally thousands!)

WordPress handles things like ecommerce, blogs, and membership sites with ease, and you can easily install (free) plugins to help with things like connecting your site to an email list or fully integrating with social media.

Squarespace:

Squarespace allows you to integrate things like blogs and ecommerce as well. Like WordPress, Squarespace utilizes themes to control the layout and appearance.

If you're not a coder, there are still easy ways you can utilize code to make adjustments to your site's appearance. Pinterest has lots of resources that provide snippets of code you can copy and paste.

It does support ecommerce, and you can use plugins to create things like membership sites as well. It can handle just about anything you may want to do; you just may not have complete control over things like appearance. (For example, although it automatically supports mobile responsive layouts, you can't fully customize the way the site displays on smaller screens. Even if that doesn't matter to you now, it might once your business starts growing.)

Because Squarespace is its own hosting platform, they control what you have access to change, and how you have access to it. Not everything is fully customizable. It's nothing major, but if you want full control over your site and content and how it all looks and works, you're going to feel a bit held back by Squarespace.

Wix:

Wix is really a starter platform. Trust me when I say that professional sites are not built on Wix. It's a quick solution for non-techy individuals and small businesses who just need to get online and have very basic needs. If you need your site to handle things like seamless integration with social media and email lists, you're going to run into a wall. (Wix handles email lists through its own site, which is going to be a problem if you ever move away from Wix. There's no way to take those subscribers with you.)

It also provides very little native support for SEO, which is major if you're trying to market yourself online. Unless you really know what you're doing with SEO, a Wix site is not going to help you get seen by new people.

It's not that it's a "bad" platform. It'll give you a site. It'll do the basic things you need it to do. But the issue I have with it is that it leaves you basically no room to grow. When your needs exceed what Wix offers, you will eventually have to move away from the platform. But guess what: Wix doesn't allow you to export content in order to move your site elsewhere. You'll be forced to either start over with a new, empty site, or copying + pasting every single page by hand.

Features + functionality: If you have specific needs or want to be able to customize completely, WordPress is going to give you the widest array of options.

Ease of use + updating

WordPress:

If you can use Microsoft Word, you can handle writing content for your pages and posts. There's also a free plugin called Elementor that allows you to put together pages, drag-and-drop style. You can insert images, contact forms, and even widgets for fancier things, right onto any page or post. You can categorize your blog posts with a click. It's super easy to create, organize, and post content once it's set up.

But there is a bit of a learning curve. Because it's such a robust platform, it's easy to feel a little lost when you're just starting out. Layout design and theme changes require coding knowledge in most cases, so if you want custom changes to your overall site design, it helps to partner with a designer for that.

Having complete control over customization means that if you mess up something on your site, it may be an easy fix, or it may require a bit of code or something else that is outside your area of knowledge. WooCommerce, my favorite ecommerce plugin for WordPress, is powerful and simple to use once set up--but it's not the most intuitive thing when you're learning for the first time.

It's nothing to worry about if you're not making major updates on your own. And even if you are, there are lots of great tutorials out there to guide you through anything you might want to do. (I provide video tutorials with all of my web design packages, so you're not left guessing!)

It's a powerful platform. But if you want something basic that you can just guess your way through, this is not it.

Squarespace:

Squarespace is easy to use. Its visual editor means that you can make changes to your own layout without ever touching code. Once you get the hang of the Style Editor, it's pretty intuitive and easy to create something pretty. The templates also make it easy to create a great looking site.

When you sign up for Squarespace, you're purchasing everything at once: domain and hosting. It's all billed through Squarespace. (Unless you want to buy your domain elsewhere and have it transferred over.)

If you want the peace of mind of knowing everything is right in front of you, Squarespace is a great option.

Wix:

Wix is all drag-and-drop. It's very easy to set up and easy to use. There are plenty of templates to get you started, but the tradeoff is customization. If you're not too set on your site looking a particular way and are okay with just following a template, then Wix will work for you.

Again, things like email lists are handled in-house with Wix. This makes it easy to manage everything, but creates problems if you need to do more with those things. And once you've started with Wix, you're locked in with nowhere to go if you change your mind or outgrow those pieces.

Ease of use and updating: If you want to be able to make major site changes on your own without design/development knowledge, Squarespace is your best bet.

Who owns your site content

WordPress:

You do. WordPress is open source software. They have nothing to do with your site or its content. It's your own hosted site, so as long as you're not violating the terms of your host (which are generally broad anyway), there is no risk of you ever losing your content or having someone yank your site from the internet.

Since you're hosting WordPress and all of its content yourself, you also have access to everything--WordPress source files, all media, all content, all data--from the backend of your hosting account. With other platforms, the only way you can access your data is by signing into that platform. If there's ever an error with that platform or your account, you won't be able to access any of your data.

Potential issues arising from building on "borrowed space" online don't exist with self-hosted WordPress, because it's all yours.

You also have the freedom to choose your own host. If you ever decide to keep your WordPress site but move to another host, no problem! As long as your files are backed up, they can migrate over pretty cleanly. (I offer support with site migrations and the tech side of site configuration!)

Squarespace:

Squarespace does. You're essentially leasing internet real estate from them. If you want to move your site, you're going to have to choose another platform. If you're on Squarespace, you're hosted through Squarespace. There is no other option.

This is where, for all of the things that seem really appealing about Squarespace, I just can't get on board. They're hosting your content. They can do what they want with it. I would never want to worry that the company who manages my site could shut it down or have any control over it.

If you're creating original content online, it's worth thinking about whether or not you are comfortable with someone else managing your content and having claim to it.

Wix:

Wix does. Like with Squarespace, you're buying a domain and hosting through them. You login to your Wix account to make site changes. All of your content is contained within their site. Even things like your email list aren't really their own standalone things. They exist only within Wix.

This is a major problem if there are ever issues with your account, or if you decide to move away from Wix. There is no good way to save your content and move it elsewhere. It's all trapped on Wix forevvvvver.

Who owns your content: If you want full ownership and control of your content, self-hosted WordPress is the only option that allows that.

Cost

WordPress:

WordPress is free, open-source software. Many great plugins (the add-ons that provide additional features and functions) are also free. Many of the themes are free, and there are also premium themes available if you need something that looks nice without the custom design price tag. The cool thing about WordPress and all derived works is that it's all released under a GPL license. That means that nobody "owns" the source code. You can take any theme and alter it however you like, and you won't risk violating any copyright. It's intended to be flexible and adaptable.

You'll pay for a domain and hosting each year. You may pay for a premade or custom theme. You may pay for premium plugins. You can choose to pay a designer for extended support/maintenance (which I also offer). If you use WooCommerce, you won't be paying any fees, beyond the standard fees that PayPal and Stripe charge to process credit cards through them. But then that's it.

This is huge, and a major differentiating factor.

Once you're set up, that's it. There are no surprise costs. You're not paying for more features. You pay to host your site and you pay for anything else you may need upfront. (I pay about $150 a year for my domain and hosting with unlimited bandwidth and storage, and this includes SSL security and WHOIS privacy protection...just as a frame of reference.)

And that's it for your website expenses.

If you're looking at the bigger picture and playing the long game (and you should be!) then this is going to save you a lot of money.

Squarespace:

Basic Squarespace is fairly affordable. As of May 2019, it's $12/month for their personal plan or $18/month for their business plan if you pay a year at a time, and a domain included with the annual purchase. ($16/month and $26/month, if you're paying month-to-month.)

However, if you're planning on running a shop through your website, it's a bit steeper. It's $26/month for their basic online store plan, or $40/month for the advanced store plan, if you pay for a year. ($30/month and $46/month, if you're paying month-to-month.)

This quickly adds up if you're selling anything directly through your website. (Remember that you'll still have to pay PayPal/Stripe processing fees if you're accepting those payments through your site, too!)

Wix:

The most basic Wix plan that allows you to use a custom domain (such as yourname.com) is $13/month. This package limits things like storage, bandwidth, and customization options. No extra options like ecommerce or analytics about your audience, either. You're paying for a place to put pictures and text on a few pages, basically.

Look to the next level pricing tier and you're paying $17/month, and you're still limited with storage and bandwidth. Oh, and did you want a custom email address? (example: inspire@elizabethstrawn.com) Well, you'll have to pay for a G Suite mailbox to make that happen.

The only packages that allow you to run ecommerce start at $23/month. That is really expensive for a platform that seriously limits your customization and your options. (This is similar in cost to services like Shopify, which are solid places to build an online shop, but will start feeling reeeeally pricy to you after a year or so.)

So in order to get access to features you'll probably want on your website, you're going to have to spring for the higher-priced plans. You're going to end up paying way more for basic functionality. There are better, more sustainable options elsewhere.

Cost: In the long run, WordPress is going to save you so, so much money. Especially if you're running a shop online.

So here's the final breakdown:

Features + functionality: Only WordPress is truly 100% customizable. The other platforms do place limits on what you can do and how you're able to do it, and you will start to really feel those limitations the more you grow.

Ease of use + updating: Squarespace is designed to be a super user-friendly backend. It's more intuitive. WordPress is easy to maintain, but there is a learning curve in the beginning.

Who owns your site content: Only WordPress gives you full ownership of your site and content.

Cost: WordPress has low startup costs and allows for full functionality with no hidden costs. You're also not forced into one company's pricing. You can shop around for the best host that meets your needs and the price you want to pay.

Recommendations:

WordPress: Go with WordPress if you want a super affordable, professional option that offers full control over customization and features...and you are prepared to either invest a bit of time into learning or a bit of money into design help.

Squarespace: Go with Squarespace if you are prepared to pay a little more for the "convenience" factor of their backend and templates that look good without any effort...and if you don't mind that a third-party is managing your content and how you access and use it.

Wix: I do not recommend Wix period. You're paying MORE in most cases, and getting way fewer features than with Squarespace or WordPress. It's not a professional platform, and it will not support the growth of your business in any impactful way.

What do you think? What's been your experience with any of these platforms?

xo Elizabeth

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