So Long, Squarespace!
If anyone stumbles across this site who was previously an Unusually Pink reader, then you might notice that the site looks a bit different after a few months of hiatus. In the short, just under 2 year lifespan of the site it has now moved to its 3rd host. Originally it was hosted on a Vultr VPS that I had been hosting a few other things on, back when I originally bought the domain because I loved the name but had no idea what to do with it. Then Brandi, my former co-host, and I decided to start a podcast; it quickly became apparent that my web development skills weren’t exactly up to par with what we wanted to accomplish. As a result, we moved the site over to Squarespace.
Our podcast lived just long enough for the Squarespace hosting to renew before Brandi and I both decided that things had run their course. It was unfortunate that I had just forked over another year’s worth of money to Squarespace for hosting before reaching that decision. With that being said, you might be wondering why on Earth I’d be re-hosting the site somewhere else if I still have time left on the Squarespace subscription; more on that will come a little later on. With this being my first time using Squarespace, though, I thought I would first share some thoughts after running a site there for a year.
When I initially decided to move the site from my VPS to Squarespace, it was mainly because I knew I needed hosting somewhere, and it seemed like a good chance to mess around with something new. I had run numerous blogs on a free WordPress.com account along with compiling many of my own blogs with Hugo as I tend to discuss frequently. With us wanting to have a presence online that made us look like we knew what we were doing, though, I figured this was a worthwhile opportunity to justify spending the money on hosting with Squarespace.
Squarespace offers, hands down, the nicest management interface I’ve ever seen. Everything is very slick and inviting, without being overly cluttered and complicated. It’s simple to add new pages to your site or even branches to your site. For example, I originally migrated the blog I had been running under the Unusually Pink domain to Squarespace, but I quickly realized that the best way to handle the show notes for each podcast episode would also be basically a blog. It was trivial to literally add another blog to the site; I just had to tell Squarespace what directory I wanted to host that under and which of the two would be the “main” page of the site. The two were then independent of one another.
Squarespace doesn’t offer nearly as many themes as you’ll find with something like WordPress, but all of the Squarespace themes are highly customizable without having to wander into the realm of HTML and CSS. For example, for any theme I can change literally every color by simply using the menus presented to me. On the flip side, the WordPress theme you see right now only offered a handful of elements for color modification. Even worse, this theme offered more options than many of the others I looked at, where changing anything beyond the text color would’ve involved modifying the CSS.
Finally, Squarespace gives you an absurd amount of information about the traffic to your site, all without the need for any type of plugins. You can simply link up Google credentials to integrate with Google Analytics, for example, and see what people are searching for to reach your site, what position you’re in for the search results, the click percentage, how many impressions you get, etc. It also offers a very slick, interactive map if you want to drill down to the specifics of where your hits stem from.
The main purpose for the previous site on Squarespace was blogging. Case in point, there were two blogs hosted on it; one for my own random posts and one for the show notes that went along with each podcast episode. Easily the single biggest nail in the Squarespace coffin is that the service is in no way designed for blogging. That might seem contradictory considering I just said that I hosted not one but two blogs on a single site there, but allow me to elaborate.
Adding a blog to Squarespace just means that when you go to edit the site, you have two different streams of posts you can choose from. You pick the blog, say you want to make a new post, and start to edit the content. This is where things immediately get murky. The editor for authoring content in Squarespace is pretty bad. It tries to break the content of each post down into blocks the way the current WordPress editor does, but it does so in an extremely clunky, unintuitive way. Simple things like handling the appearance of media you upload is often not possible, meaning that I had to resize every photo prior to uploading since I knew there would be no good options for scaling this after the fact. Likewise, trying to embed any sort of content was frequently gated behind a paywall; I couldn’t embed the player for each episode into the post with the show notes because they wanted me to pay more for that privilege. I couldn’t embed tweets but had to just link to them. That may not have been a big deal were it not for the fact that the Squarespace plan I was on was already more than double what I’m paying for hosting now.
As another blow to blogging, Squarespace doesn’t provide any real outlet for managing the posts on the site. While in the management interface, for example, going to one of the two blogs I had added would simply show me a lists of posts on the left in chronological order. If the post I needed to modify was at the very bottom of the list because it was old, then I had to just keep scrolling until I got to it, letting the clusters of posts incrementally load the further I scrolled. There weren’t any options to just search for the post I wanted. This may have been a limitation of the theme I selected, but I was equally disappointed that I couldn’t search the blog itself for specific content, either. I frequently author blog posts that I know will help me in the future; they live on a blog as opposed to just in my personal notes because they might also be beneficial to someone else. If I can’t easily get back to that content, though, without mindlessly clicking a “Next” button, that’s a problem. This WordPress blog offers both a search box and sane pagination; neither was an option for my Squarespace deployment. I’d frequently have to search the web for what I wanted to find with the URL of my own site to reach it. That’s a problem.
The last thing I’ll mention is portability. Admittedly, WordPress might be just as bad at this, but it’s extremely difficult to take content from Squarespace and move it somewhere else. This was the big reason why I didn’t want to continue creating content on Squarespace even though I’ve already paid for the hosting there; I knew that I didn’t want to stick with Squarespace once the current hosting expired, but anything new I posted there would just be more work to move to somewhere else later on. Squarespace offers you the ability to export your content, but it’s to an XML file. While this will get the written content for each post and the metadata about it, it will not include any media. I managed to throw together a bit of a workaround that’ll most likely be the topic of my next post, but it was still a large amount of work to move everything from one host to another.
An obvious question at this point would be:
But aren’t you just in the same option regarding portability after moving to WordPress?
The answer is… maybe. As long as I don’t become disenfranchised with the platform as a whole, there are many different WordPress hosting platforms out there. If I want to move from one to another, I can easily export my site or take a backup of it and move the content somewhere else. I had initially tried moving a lot of the content from Squarespace to a Hugo site I already ran, but I very quickly ran into many of the same issues I described with Squarespace regarding management and discoverability; while being lightweight is nice, sometimes having a CMS is beneficial.
Despite the vibe you may get, I don’t dislike Squarespace at all. I feel like their business is really tailored to users who want a professional, mostly static website but who don’t have the skills to create that themselves. For a hobbyist like myself with a focus on blogging, the premium you pay for Squarespace gets you essentially nothing. Any WordPress instance is going to be a better blogging platform, and one that is significantly cheaper at that. Similarly, if you need to have firm divisions in your site (e.g. a blog for the sake of shitposting and a blog for podcast show notes), you can’t easily do that within WordPress. While you can create multiple pages, such as the About page here, you can’t set up an entirely separate blog.
At least for the moment, what I did with Squarespace for both a blog and podcast repository wouldn’t be possible with WordPress. For a standalone blog, though, the experience is significantly better on WordPress. It’s important to understand what the goal of your site is and what you need out of your platform. When that goal changes, moving platforms might be the best move. Hopefully my next post on how I migrated my images between Squarespace and WordPress can help with that.