Squarespace promises beautiful websites, no coding required. And they do have very nice templates. Their promise is simple: simple websites that you can customize.
But how do they stack up against PhotoBiz? How is the performance? Are the service, tools, and integration up to snuff? Is it as easy to use as they say? How does it compare when it comes to SEO?
I built a site with Squarespace to experience their builder first hand. Eventually, I was able to create a very nice looking website, but there were some bumps along the way.
The short version is: If you need a website – any website – that just looks good you can get that with Squarespace. Absolutely you can. You can make a website that looks good.
But when you start having an idea about specifically how you want your website to look, if you want to make changes to the template or add something a little extra, you start having problems. And when you do have problems, you’re pretty much on your own.
One of Squarespace’s more well-known selling points is their ecommerce platform. They advertise a system that allows you to sell products from your website without using a third party. And this is an accurate evaluation of their selling capability. You can create products, organize, and configure them. You can accept payment for them. There is inventory tracking and basic reporting. But that’s about it.
The ecommerce piece is there, but is not as robust or advanced as other systems – especially for a working photographer who needs flexibility and advanced selling options.
For one, Squarespace lacks a functional proofing mechanism. You can create password-protected galleries and products, but that's the extent of personalization you're allowed. You cannot sell custom packages, nor can your clients build customized albums, packages, keepsakes etc. without a sizable workaround. If you're selling single prints or products, the system would meet your barest needs. But if you require a fine degree of customization, you should look elsewhere.
Click to view see a PhotoBiz custom proofing gallery
Because PhotoBiz was built specifically for the working photographer, all of these features are incorporated into their ecommerce platform. Full-featured photo proofing is included at no cost, and you have fine control over the look and function of your proofing galleries. Clients can build and pay for custom print packages of event images within your online store. They can customize their own albums, cards, and gifts with their selection of images. On balance, PhotoBiz shines as an integrated proofing and package sales solution for photographers.
Another cause for concern is that Squarespace offers limited options for accepting payments. Only Stripe is accepted as a payment processor, which will leave many people used to doing business via PayPal, iTransact and others scratching their heads. PhotoBiz will allow you to choose a host of online merchants to process payments, including PayPal, PayJunction, iTransact, and Authorize.net. Being that so many sellers use other merchants, it’s absurd that Squarespace wouldn't integrate beyond Stripe to accommodate wider user preference.
Squarespace also charges transaction fees on the personal account level. So on top of your merchant fees, be prepared to shell out an additional 3% directly to Squarespace. PhotoBiz does not take a cut of any of your sales.
Furthermore, you do not have as many overall options to take customer payments as you can with PhotoBiz. Squarespace forms do not support payment. You cannot create invoices or account for customers who pay in person (or over time). PhotoBiz does all this, and integrates all these payment methods into one master ecommerce suite. It’s more flexible, comprehensive, and professional.
You need your website to rank in search. To do that, your website sends metadata – hidden information only for search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) – that says what each of your pages is about. Once Google understands your site, it can direct more visitors to your page. Needless to say, your metadata is important. And the way Squarespace provides that information is questionable at a minimum, veering toward downright crazy.
Let me explain:
When building using my template, each page had a large banner with a navigational title: STORE, NEWS, MENU, etc. I could also include a supporting line of copy, the “description” that would appear as a smaller line of text beneath it in the banner. What I didn’t realize until I attempted to fine-tune my metadata is that these areas ARE the metadata: my meta titles and meta description were fully visible to my readers. Which left me with the following conundrum:
The reason you have metadata is to tell the robots who you are and what you do. Metadata is meant to be dry, straightforward, and keyword-rich. But this isn't what your customers want to read. They want to be charmed. They are not robots. Squarespace expects you to choose one or the other, when almost all other builders don't require you to make that choice.
For example, I wanted to use “Grab A Seat” as the title for my calendar of events. But to Google, this title is basically worthless. “Schedule of live music, shows, & events in Chapel Hill, NC” is better for search, but terrible for positioning my venue as hip and approachable. Similarly, I didn't want two sentences of meta description to be visible in title banners. It looked awful.
You shouldn’t have to choose between having good SEO and good design. But unfortunately, I was forced to make this decision over and over again. Not only on pages, but on blog posts, too.
A large reason you blog is to draw in new visitors through search. The goal is to craft an easy to read, enjoyable post for your readers, paired with a robust INVISIBLE summary only for search engines. But in blog handling, the meta description is the “blog excerpt.” This means that if you decide to include metadata on your blogs, that's what your readers will see unless they click through to see the full text of the article. This causes you to choose between a blog that appears how you want, and a post that is search friendly.
The way PhotoBiz handles SEO is a better option. On each page, you can enter your own meta titles, description and keywords. This information is reserved for search engines only, so you can write whatever you want on your website without impacting how your metadata appears in search. You can do this for pages and blog posts too, and your design and site copy will not be impacted. Better for your customers, and better for search engines, too.
And if you forget to enter your metadata, the system will automatically generate titles, descriptions and keywords based on your page content, then trim it to the acceptable length.
Getting started with Squarespace was very easy. Just log in to create an account, then pick your template and start editing.
But for a builder that positions itself as easy (and it looks easy at first glance, it really does), I ended up having a lot of problems.
Because most of the screen is taken up by the “live” website, (which by the way, is not always what your “live” website looks like…), navigating inside of the builder is a pain. I got lost frequently between pages, page editors, ecommerce, style editors, etc, which were many levels deep and did not show complete breadcrumbs. I would often get turned around and not know where I was or what I was doing.
I ended up with duplicate pages, and pages inside pages. At one point I messed up my pages so badly, I had to start over. After failing to find a way to do this, I signed up for a second account just to get a clean start.
It became quickly apparent that the Squarespace builder did NOT like Safari. At all. In the first hour my browser crashed three times and I lost a blog post I had written. Coming back frustrated on the second day, Safari continued crashing. It turns out that Squarespace does not support Safari.
Even working from Chrome, the recommended browser, there were many times where I had to pause in confusion – text would move, the builder would be slow. Incorrect images would appear (“I KNOW I switched out that banner!”) And you have limited control over the formatting of your text. For example, you can’t change the font, color, size of text in a text block – you can only use the preset styles.
I had a problems using the “drag & drop” functionality of the builder, in particular.
Sure, it’s nice to be able to pop in a block and move it where you like. The builder is fluid… but at the same time it’s TOO fluid.
In creating a blog post, all I wanted was a two-column text section between two other text blocks. What I got was a headache:
Squarespace Builder: 2 Column Text
All I wanted to do was put 2-columns of text... in between two other text blocks. (Hilarity ensues.) Some of my text went mysteriously missing. In the end, I had the nix the block of copy at the bottom just to get everything lined up correctly.
On another occasion I tried for a 3-column text layout, and that was another adventure...
Squarespace Builder: 3 Column Text
This was a challenge. I wanted a 3-column text layout, but it was a nightmare. My fonts changed from black to grey, with no way to change it back to black. Boxes would not cooperate. I was very sad.
Hint: To get more than 2-columns to work, you have to add text, then spacer, text, then spacer, then text... write your text and delete the spacers. Clunky and strange, unintuitive with no upfront clues.
Over several days working with the editor, I ended up with crazy layouts everywhere, even at one point turning my entire blog into a single half-width left-hand column and injecting a text box partially INSIDE another box. It was really, REALLY frustrating, and had difficulty replicating many of the layouts achieved on the corporate Squarespace templates.
Eventually I turned to support docs that gave me a workaround for the 3-column issue that was clumsy – but did work. But not after about 30 minutes of trying and failing to use what was supposed to be a simple drag and drop editor.
To compare: below is a screen shot of the PhotoBiz editor. You drag discreet boxes into place, then write your copy in those boxes. It's a straightforward approach that WORKS, very quickly. No messing about. Simple.
File Management, Pages, & Menus
There doesn't seem to be a file library that you can use to manage your files and images.
You can upload an image, but it doesn’t keep a bank or retrievable list of your images. I had to keep uploading the same image if I wanted to use it elsewhere on my site.
PhotoBiz has a file library and a clipboard function to save your images, so you can simply insert them elsewhere from within the editor.
Menu handling is also strange. Squarespace prefers a flat menu structure and at most allows one level of drop-downs menus (with non-functioning placeholders in the navigation bar). If you do decide to include a drop-down menu, the top level will not be clickable.
For example, you can place pages under your "Services" label (SEO, DESIGN, LOGO...), but the top navigation link will not work. This, to me, is oddly limiting. And it will be a definite challenge for larger websites and organizations.
This reinforces my opinion that Squarespace is for smaller websites and businesses. The menu cannot support a large number of pages. Indeed the lowest level plan will only allow you to have 20 pages. If you need a larger presence, you’ll have to upgrade. Even then, handing those additional pages and making them easy to navigate will be a challenge.
PhotoBiz allows you to have as many pages as you want and arrange them however you like. You have finer control over menu handling and navigation.
PhotoBiz has over 100 templates. Squarespace has about 60 templates, but a lot of them look pretty much the same. Beside the generic layout, much of the “gorgeousness” comes from the images they have selected to go on their templates. If you switch out the template images with your own, your site will obviously look completely different. Remove the large, beautiful images and you are often left with a rather plain website.
I started my Squarespace site with the Montauk template, which is very similar to a PhotoBiz family of templates, notably Seattle.
The trouble starts when you want to change your template.
Once I had my site built out, I tried to change my template. I picked another template to install, but the live preview didn’t work. Plunging ahead, I saved it anyway and … yikes.
It kicked out everything I had done and replaced my entire site with demo pages and navigation.
After a few moments of panic passed, I saw that my content had not, in fact, been obliterated. The system had just moved all my pages to the bottom of the builder, unlinked them from the nav, and generated ANOTHER WEBSITE for me instead. To get everything back in order, I had to delete all the “new” pages and sort my pages back into place in the navigation. It was un-fun.
After all that was done, I realized I didn’t like that template anyway. (Back to square one.) If I had to do this with every template to find the look I want, I would be very unhappy. I’ll stick with Montauk.
With PhotoBiz, you can preview a live example of every template with your content inside. Once you find a look you want, you can save it and it will become your active template. It does not touch your content, pages, or menu structure. Everything just fits into the new style seamlessly.
For lead capture, you have three options with Squarespace. Have the leads emailed to you, recorded in a Google doc, or sent to Mailchimp. You can’t keep them for later on your site because Squarespace doesn't give you anything to do with that information. You can’t follow up with emails within their system. You can’t start chats or reach out to customers later. All of that would have to be done manually, outside of Squarespace. Mailchimp is your only option.
PhotoBiz, however, includes a full-featured Client Relationship Builder, a database that tracks customer info and leads automatically. Not only does it build your customer list for you, it keeps track of everyone over the history of their interaction with your site. So you can view a customer’s transaction history, form submissions, files, outstanding invoices, and a log of every conversation you’ve ever had with them.
And because you have this wealth of customer information at your fingertips, marketing and outreach is simplified. You can start chats and conversations that are branded and complete and keep a total record of all of your communication. You have a customer's full shopping history in plain sight. You can send a marketing email to your list or to targeted groups simply.
It’s a robust system that makes growth easy. An elegant solution to a common business problem of lead capture, growth, and retention – included free with every PhotoBiz site.
In terms of providing real, valuable support, PhotoBiz wins hands down.
Squarespace has email and chat only support that is slow, robotic, and on balance not very helpful if your answer is not “cut and paste.” You can email their team and you will get a message back after a few hours or a day with some basic help and articles. If your problem is complex, it is often outside their realm of expertise or willingness to support.
They will not troubleshoot any custom CSS or coding you use. They have no phone number. They claim they give better support over email and chat. We beg to differ.
PhotoBiz offers every one of our clients unlimited personal support and advice – over the phone, as well as through email, chat, and social media. Our customer care is second to none in the industry and free for everyone.
But this is the challenge: how do you explain in 4 words that PhotoBiz has an entire team that is totally focused on helping clients succeed? That we have a dedicated team of proven web experts whose only job is to talk to you. For as long as you like. About anything.
They’re not trying to meet a quota or get you off the phone. Their job is to get to the bottom of your problems and make running your business easy.
In fact, the first thing that happens when you sign up for a PhotoBiz site is you get a phone call from Marian and Jeffrey, our Welcome Team. They’ll talk with you, get to know your business, and come up with a strategy for you to build the best website possible specifically for your business. They can even set up your pages for you so all you have to do is put in your words and pictures. We make building websites as easy as we possibly can.
We’ even have designers on staff who can build you a custom site or make a professional logo for a fraction of what other designers charge.
This week John K saw on one of our clients on Facebook posting about booking sessions. John put together a landing page for her to use (totally free) and let her know that next time she could use this targeted landing page to help increase her sales, site traffic, and visibility. Because we care. (In John's case, perhaps too much :)
Customer Service doesn’t even come close to describing what we do. We are business partners. Your personal cheerleaders, thinkers, coders, designers. Your team of experts ready and willing to do whatever is necessary to take you to the top.
So think about this, the level of service you expect from a website company, and the tools you need to get your website built right. You can build a very nice looking website with Squarespace. But if you're looking for a website builder with robust ecommerce, better SEO features, great-looking templates, and infinite customer care, think about PhotoBiz.
Ready to get started with your PhotoBiz website? We’ve got a special deal going on: No set up fee on Websites and on Ecommerce sites.
Every PhotoBiz website comes with integrated tools and features, plus a team of experts to help you succeed. All for one low price – and with a 14-day money back guarantee. Get started today, and see how much better building a website can be.