Watch enough YouTube videos or listen to enough podcasts and you’ll inevitably hear about Squarespace – a DIY website builder platform. While it has some merits, many businesses that start out on Squarespace will eventually need to move away from it.
That was the case for a Block 81 client last year. Their entire marketing website was on Squarespace. It served its purpose for quite a while, but over time it became clear that it started to have more problems than it solved. They had loftier goals than a simple move away from Squarespace but the migration piece of their project was a little bit challenging. That experience taught me a bit more about Squarespace.
Why would you want to migrate away from Squarespace?
There are myriad reasons to want to migrate from any platform to another one, whatever that platform may be. In the case of Squarespace and other DIY site builders like it (such as Wix and Weebly), it’s generally because a company has grown or changed course and their website needs more robust features and a brand-customized look and feel.
In that scenario, the website ultimately becomes a point of friction or frustration. You need it to do more but you’re stuck with the limitations of the platform which often will have no recourse for custom feature development. That’s just not good enough in this day and age where most business websites are more than just digital brochures. Organizations that invest in digital marketing generally understand that a website can successfully be the foundation or hub for a larger marketing strategy. That’s difficult to do when you’re limited by the platform your website is on.
The pain of migrating away from Squarespace
If and when you’re ready to move off of Squarespace, exporting your site isn’t as easy it could be. At least not in my admittedly limited experience.
Squarespace allows for exporting of your content in XML format only. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with XML. It’s a perfectly good option for exporting and importing content. That said, I do wonder why Squarespace only offers XML export of content? Only they can answer that of course.
In any case, while XML is totally fine, they make an assumption that if you’re exporting your content then you must be moving to WordPress. This is shown in the fact that they mention WordPress multiple times on their “Exporting your site” help center page and even provide a few paragraphs on importing to WordPress.com. Because of this assumption, their XML seems to be optimized for WordPress rather than being more universal.
When I exported our client’s Squarespace content I had to set up a dummy WordPress site to then export it again in a better XML format for the CMS we ultimately landed on, Craft CMS. To be fair here, I don’t actually remember if I tried importing the XML from Squarespace into Craft. If memory serves – and it doesn’t always – I think I ran into XML formatting issues which is why I had to use a local WordPress setup as an intermediary step.
If you’re going from Squarespace to WordPress then this is obviously not as big a deal. That said, even after importing into WordPress, the blog content we needed had to be cleaned up extensively. Perhaps it was the way the content was categorized or maybe it was an old theme that our client used. Whatever the reason, that added yet another extra step.
Squarespace doesn’t keep your content hostage. Sort of. While their help center provides information on how to export your site, it also states that not everything will export. While I fully understand that the layout and code won’t export (because that’s proprietary), what we’re talking about here is content that you presumably own. Content such as audio, video, products, and portfolio pages won’t export. Instead you have to grab that content manually.
All of these pain and friction points, regardless of how small or large, add up. And they lead me to believe that Squarespace doesn’t really care about your content. Obviously, and perhaps reasonably, they want you to stay on their platform, but their lack of proper exporting tools makes moving away from them more difficult than it needs to be.
Other reasons Squarespace isn’t a great choice for your business website
Most site builders tend to have various shortcomings. Squarespace is no different. For starters, you’re stuck using their pre-made themes. You can change some fonts and colors, and you can modify the layout within the realm of your chosen theme, but that’s it. While there is some minimal integration with forms and embedded content (such as videos), the moment you need something far more robust, you’re stuck.
There’s also the matter of SEO. According to some people, Squarespace is pretty terrible for SEO. There seems to be conflicting information on this though, and I haven’t dived much into it, so I’m really not certain one way or the other. It does seem that, at least with some themes, Squarespace’s codebase has not been built with proper SEO practices. That leads me to believe that accessibility is probably an issue as well. But again, I haven’t studied their code enough to know for sure. That said, I should note something pretty significant regarding SEO that applies to any site on any platform: if you publish useful and compelling content in a consistent way, you’ll likely still have decent SEO results.
Is Squarespace good at all?
While I certainly don’t love Squarespace, I don’t hate it either. It’s just another tool. But it’s a limited one.
So what is Squarespace good for then? Honestly, it’s a great option when you need to get a decent site up and running fast, especially if your brand is a work in progress or isn’t critical to what you’re doing. If you’re working on a project or business where you simply need to demonstrate a viable market or product, a Squarespace site may be a good fit. Beyond that however, for many businesses, it’s just a matter of time before Squarespace just doesn’t fit anymore.