We compare two of the most popular services for building and hosting your personal or business website.
Alison DeNisco Rayome
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a managing editor at CNET, now covering smart home topics after writing about services and software. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.
So you want to — maybe to show off your portfolio while , to share information with wedding guests or to support your business (especially now that so many events have been postponed due to the pandemic). Only problem is, you don’t know where to get started. Enter website building services WordPress.com and Squarespace, two solid options for quickly getting yourself from an idea to a live site.
Both WordPress.com and Squarespace are hosted website-building platforms that give you tools and templates for creating a personalized website on your own domain without any coding experience. While the end results from each site can be similar, their user interfaces and pricing are very different.
Here’s everything you need to know to decide if WordPress.com or Squarespace is the better website-building platform for you.
If you’ve ever listened to a podcast, you’ve probably heard ads for Squarespace. It’s an all-in-one hosted platform that differentiates itself from others on the market with its design sense, founder and CEO Anthony Casalena told CNET.
“We strive to create the most seamless end-to-end experience within our platform,” Casalena said. “There is no software to upgrade or plug-ins to maintain. Everything you need — from domains to email marketing to e-commerce tools — is built right into Squarespace.”
Squarespace makes it easy to integrate functionality for portfolios, blogs and commerce sites in one package, instead of having to patch it together on your own, Casalena said. It also offers commerce sites the ability to sell products online and in-person with a point-of-sale system, and sell services, accept donations and book appointments. Online businesses can also take advantage of third-party extensions like QuickBooks Online.
Start building a Squarespace site with a 14-day free trial, no credit card required. You can skip through any of these steps, but I found them helpful. First, search through “what your site is about” options to find some starting ideas and examples, ranging from a personal resume site to education to fitness. Next, select your top goals, like to sell products, market yourself or your business or get appointments. Then, tell the site where you are in the process, like “collecting inspiration” or “growing an existing business.” From there, you’ll see several different templates available to get started with.
You’ll be given a brief tutorial on how to create, edit and style pages. The interface is straightforward and easy to use — simply click on an area of your site that you want to edit, and do so directly. You can click an icon to switch between the desktop version and a mobile preview of your site. Built-in SEO tools can help your site gain more traction in web searches.
Squarespace’s beautiful templates may be particularly appealing to photographers and visual artists. Its affinity for style and its all-in-one platform are also very appealing for small business owners and entrepreneurs, as it saves them from having to hire a designer, consultant or e-commerce expert to create and run an attractive and functional website.
“Squarespace allowed me to get started without prior development knowledge and create a professional-looking website,” said Julia Goldstein, who runs JLFG Communications. “I can quickly and easily update content, add pages and more. The templates work seamlessly to create a uniform look and feel. Features like a mobile-friendly website and analytics are built into the platform, and it integrates well with third-party apps. I don’t spend loads of time figuring out how to deal with website problems.”
If you already have your own domain name (like YourName.com), you can transfer that over to Squarespace, so the same address is then hosted on its platform.
Pay monthly, or save money with an annual subscription to Squarespace. Here’s how much a Squarespace site costs:
WordPress is the world’s most popular open-source web publishing platform, powering more than 35% of all sites on the internet, including sites for The Walt Disney Company, Quartz and Mercedes-Benz. It’s a little confusing, but WordPress.com is a hosted website building service built on WordPress. Whereas WordPress requires you to purchase a domain name through another site and do more hands-on work creating your site, WordPress.com does all of that for you — making it easier to work with, but more limited in functionality.
Create a free test site to try out WordPress.com, and select the type of site you want to create: blog, business, professional or online store. I selected the professional category. Getting a basic version of the site up was easy, and only required a username, password, my name and the name of the site. You can then go to Design > Customize to do things like add a logo or a widget (like audio, a Facebook plug-in or a follow button).
WordPress.com is a bit less intuitive than Squarespace, and it takes some trial and error to figure out what you’re doing — though each section you click on does contain mini tutorials to help. But you can play around with it for free, and upgrade to a paid account if you like the results. You can also see a desktop and mobile preview of your site.
“The biggest thing we see with other website builders is that they might work well for a person in the short term, but because they are not open ecosystems like WordPress, people quickly start to find themselves limited or locked in when it comes to how they can expand or customize based on their growing business needs,” Mark Armstrong, editor for WordPress.com’s parent company Automattic, told CNET. “WordPress has the single largest ecosystem for plug-ins, services and developer and designer expertise, working hand in hand with the software.”
To expand and customize your site, WordPress offers a number of plug-ins that attract users, including Yoast SEO (for SEO help), Jetpack by WordPress.com (for site security and performance management) and WPForms (for creating a contact form).
“Depending on your client’s needs, WordPress can be highly customized with plug-ins, and has a flexibility that just can’t be matched with other template sites,” said Basil Larios, SEO content creator for Falcon Marketing. “Whenever we run into roadblocks with design it is usually because clients first build their sites on a template base. Once they begin to see growth and want to make more concrete changes then the template site becomes more limiting than what they had initially expected.”
As with Squarespace, if you already have a domain name, you can transfer that over to WordPress.com, so the same address is then hosted on its platform.
You can create a basic site for free, if you’re OK with the domain being “YourSite.wordpress.com.” Or, you can register a domain like “sitename.com” that you pay for.
Here is how much a WordPress.com site costs:
As with almost any online platform, the best web-building and hosting service for you depends on your individual needs. If you’re a true beginner to creating a website and want an easy, intuitive platform with beautiful, premade templates, I’d recommend Squarespace. But if you’ve got a little bit of website creation experience under your belt and want a highly customizable platform, I’d go with WordPress.com.
The good news is you can try both WordPress.com and Squarespace out for free, to get a feel for what will work best for you. With WordPress.com’s free version, you can create a working website with a wordpress.com domain. With Squarespace, the free version of your site is set to private by default — while you can turn it live, it will be hidden from search engines and only accessible with the URL.
Pricing between Squarespace and WordPress.com differs: WordPress’ option for a personal site costs less ($48 annually for WordPress.com versus $144 annually for Squarespace), but its option for e-commerce costs more ($540 annually for WordPress.com versus $360 annually for Squarespace).
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