Review: Squarespace

Squarespace is a service with which one can easily create their own personal space in the world's vastest and deepest ocean—the Internet. This is essential for any creative person trying to make it in our cold and business-oriented world. So does Squarespace deliver? Or is it a waste of time and money?

As I said, creating a website is a vital part of being an author (or musician, or whatever). It is a virtual platform for you to base all marketing on, and for interested readers to indulge their whetted appetites. To me, creating a website sounds difficult, because it is not my area of expertise. And hiring someone is not only time-consuming, but expensive. So is there an easy, cheap, and quick way? Well, you already see where I'm going, I hope. I am leading this paragraph to the conclusion that Squarespace is the (or at least one) answer; there are more, but this review is not about them.

When I first started out as an author, I didn't think of the arduous journey that lay before me. The only hard part about writing is getting the interest of a big book publisher, right? I circumvented this problem by self-publishing, a process that is much harder to succeed at than if one has managed to get a publisher. I self-publish with CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (both part of the Amazon corporation), so all the difficult stuff (getting published) has been taken care of—yay!

It's not that simple, though. Writing a book is not as simple as it sounds; however, with time, anyone can do it; anyone can write a decent—if not good—story. The real problem is all the stuff around the actual book: creating a unique, fitting, and good cover; marketing efficiently; formatting correctly; not spending too much money, while making sure one is not skimping out on anything; and creating a website (not to mention resisting the temptation of putting a bullet in my head). Not one of the aforementioned tasks is particularly easy, but they must be done, all of them. The one thing that kept coming up when reading blogs about being an author is having a website (and/or a blog)—among other things, of course.

So I turned to Squarespace to create my space, my platform. I created this website, the one you are visiting right now. For me, who knows nothing about web design, Squarespace was kind of a blessing. It is easy to use, and revolves basically around pointing and clicking. There are, of course, some functions that do require some further knowledge, but all the necessities can be used by just about anyone.

First and foremost, one can choose between quite a few templates, each with a unique and fresh look. This is both good and bad. It's good, because one can get a good-looking website that is easy to customize and add to. It's bad, because, while one can switch templates, one is still bound to the template which is used. Only its limited design can be used, which means one might not be able to do everything one wishes to do. I started out with a template called Aviator.

ADDING PAGES: This is the configuration page, where one can add pages and change a multitude of options. Simply press on the "Add Page" button to add a new page to your site. It is added to the Main Navigation, where it is instantly added to the site, but one can move it to an unlinked category (or create it there right away) so it isn't publicly accessible.

Creating and adding pages to your site is done with the configuration pages in the background of your site, where you can also see statistics, change countless options, link to other sites and services, and more. Squarespace is still young, so while it is easy, it may not be enough for everyone, though it probably is for most people. It is as simple as one click to add a page (see ADDING PAGES).

Once a page has been created, it's time to add content. This is simple, but to be honest, at times it can be clumsy. Squarespace has a block system, where one positions blocks on the page (see ADDING BLOCKS). They have a multitude of blocks, such as text, quote, image, gallery, video, audio, and many more. The problem is that, while it is easy to create a good-looking page, with rich and varied content, it can be frustrating to get the blocks positioned just the way one wants them. And I've also noticed that sometimes, at least when writing a blog post, the option to add blocks disappears. This can be fixed by clicking on another block and dragging it to the side, only to then place it in the same spot. The plus signs to add blocks reappear, easily enough, but such a problem shouldn't really exist at all. But all in all, these problems are minor and rare, and to me the simplicity far outweighs them.

ADDING BLOCKS: The newly added pages are configured by clicking on the plus sign below the initial text block. This prompts the block menu to be shown, where one can select between several blocks, each with its own style, function, and content. The blocks can then also be customized with some options.

The blocks can also be customized with options. The gallery block, for example, can be a slider where one only sees one image at a time or it can be a grid system, where all images are visible, but smaller and can be opened by clicking on them (lightboxes).

TYPES OF PAGES: When adding a new page, one can choose between a few different types. The vanilla "Page" is the most versatile, but an events page and a blog are always useful.

Just like with adding blocks to pages, one can add different types of pages. What I've written about thus far has only been the standard "Page", but there are a few more, including a blog and even a calendar of events. Simply click on the "Add Page" button, and choose whichever type of page you wish to add (see TYPES OF PAGES).

One of the types of pages is a blog, which is simple enough (see THE BLOG). There are a few options, like how many blog posts should be visible per page, and one can manage categories and tags. I've never really blogged before, so I can't say if Squarespace's blog is limited or not, but it is enough for my needs.

THE BLOG: Squarespace's blog is simple enough. There are a few options, and it is easy to use. I suppose that it may not be as good as a service strictly focused on blogging, but it is enough for me.

Writing the blog posts is very much like creating a vanilla page (see WRITING BLOG POSTS). One can add a title (duh!), and then the major body of text consists of the block system. It is easy and simple to use, but can be somewhat bulky and, as I've stated before, sometimes the plus signs to add blocks vanish. It isn't that big a problem, though, and as I've also stated before, Squarespace is young and bugs like this will likely be squashed (preferably) sooner or later.

WRITING BLOG POSTS: Just like designing a blank page, one writes and structures the blog posts. There are some options available, including a blurb, a URL, and so on. It may or may not be as good as other blog services, but it is enough for me.

A minor issue that annoys me is that sometimes after saving a blog post, it disappears from the list of unfinished posts. One has to reload the page to make it return, so it was never completely lost. But bugs like this are likely to be fixed; improvements are constantly made.

There is more to the site than simply adding pages and adding to said pages. One can also change the layout somewhat. To do this, one uses a toolbar as seen in THE SQUARESPACE TOOLBAR.

THE SQUARESPACE TOOLBAR: This is my website, with the toolbar in the right corner. One uses this toolbar to further customize the site.

With the toolbar, one can change the colors, fonts, font sizes, and much more, to make the site more unique and fitting to one's personality (see CHANGING COLORS AND FONTS). Apart from adding a background image to the home page and another to all others, one can change colors for the text, the text background, the links, the navigation menu, and much more. Speaking of the background images, it does annoy me that one can only have one image for the home page and one for ALL the others. This can be overridden, but only with some expertise in computers, which I lack and don't have the time, will, or energy to learn.

CHANGING COLORS AND FONTS: With the toolbar, one can open a menu, where one can customize colors, fonts, and much more.

One can also do things like alter the width of the active area of the website (see ALTERING ACTIVE AREA). This is as easy as clicking and dragging, but to be honest, this can be clumsy; it is sensitive.

ALTERING ACTIVE AREA: While in the same editing mode as when one changes colors, one might alter the width of the active area of the site.

SWITCHING TEMPLATES: Switching templates is simple, and you may find a better fit.

A few days ago, I thought I should try a different template (see SWITCHING TEMPLATES). Up until now, in the images you've seen, I used Aviator, but I now switched to one called Five. It was love at first sight, as it looked better and was more customizable. It was also easier to have different background images for every page, as you could have the banner—the image at the top of the page—be the same as a "thumbnail" image you upload in the behind-the-scenes page setup.

Everything is pretty much the same, when it comes to how you do things, but I found that this template had more customizability, with a sidebar and the ability to add text to your blog; with Aviator, as far as I noticed, one could only have the actual blog entries, but no description. See A NEW TEMPLATE to see how I can add blocks and text above the page I created in the background editor. I can also customize and add blocks to the sidebar.

A NEW TEMPLATE: Switching templates is easy and simple, at the same time as it can be clumsy. Do it when you know few would visit your site, and if you get visitors around the clock, set a temporary password for the site. Then be ready to spend a few hours getting everything ready, depending on how many pages you have.

It was a bit clumsy to switch templates. One can preview new templates while keeping the old one live, but this created a bunch of example pages instead of one's own, so it didn't feel like it was enough. I made sure to actually switch templates and fix the layout and add blocks and stuff in the small hours, so no one would visit my site and wonder what the hell was going on. It was a messy and confusing process in the beginning, but soon everything fell in place.

So with Squarespace, you should try different templates and find one that truly fits your needs and personality. Then you have to put in some work; it is simple and easy, but a bit clumsy. It works, though, and the end result is very nice. Squarespace is a slow chameleon; it takes some time, but it adapts for you. I should note that I did need to use some code, to add a Facebook stream to the sidebar, for example, but it was basically just copying and pasting the code Facebook gave me.

Squarespace is a slow chameleon; it takes some time, but it adapts for you.

There are many more colors on the Squarespace palette. If one lives in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, or Ireland, one can sell goods via the site (either physical or digital). The reason why this can only be done in those few countries for the moment is that, to sell, one has to use a payment service called Stripe, which is only available there. They are slowly adding more countries, but it may be a while before I can sell e-books and stuff through my site, as I live in Sweden. I haven't tried it out, since I can't, but Squarespace would handle delivering the digital goods, such as e-books. Physical goods would, of course, need to be shipped. So I will have to wait a while, before I can do this, but at this point in my career, and probably always, I would expect to get most of my sales through Amazon, anyway.

One thing that is very annoying and renders the gallery page (not the gallery block to normal pages, though) useless, is that images added are always shown within the same dimensions on the site and in the same size. This effectively means that images too tall are not shown in their entirety; only a portion of them is shown, and they cannot be opened in a lightbox (click to expand). There may be a way around this, but I have not found it. Therefore, for my gallery for The Long Lost Tales of the Dragonlands, I used a normal page and added gallery blocks, which do work. The only downside to this is that with the gallery page, one can have categories and tags, which is not an option for the namesake block.

So there are both positives and negatives to Squarespace, though I think the positives outweigh the negatives. Either way, to have a versatile, professional website that is created with ease and not too much time is worth its weight in gold; of course, a website doesn't weigh anything, but I still think the metaphor is valid... Okay, maybe not.

Speaking of gold, what does Squarespace cost? There are three memberships to the Squarespace family—Standard, Unlimited, and Business. They cost $96, $192, and $288, respectively and annually. The cheapest one is rather limited; the middle one is enough for most people, as it gives unlimited pages, storage, and bandwidth, but one can only sell a limited amount of products if one has a store; the most expensive one is only useful if one intends to sell many products. Included in the price is a domain one can choose (mine is www.authorpatrickhall.com, but you know that, since you are here).

So $96 a year if you only want a small website or blog, and $192 if you want a bigger website. That may not be cheap, per se, but considering all that's included, the simplicity of using it without any knowledge of how to create a website, and the alternatives, I think it is definitely worth considering for anyone with a career in creative arts, like authors and musicians. If you only want to share some advice or funny images, then a Facebook page would probably suffice, and for free. Although, a website is as much about existing in the vast ocean that is the Internet, as it is about actually providing content.

Final verdict

All in all, Squarespace is relatively cheap, has lots of great features, looks good, is easy to use, and has few and mild drawbacks. I strongly recommend it for creating a website of your own. As our world moves from the physical into the digital (something that has of course been going on for a long time, but is a trend that keeps getting worse, if you consider it a bad thing), a website is pretty much mandatory for any author, musician, or creative entertainer. I do not have a publisher to support and market me and my books; I need to do everything myself. And a website—a cloud in the sky; an island in the ocean, an anchor in the gaping, digital abyss—is a great way to inform readers, to reel them in.

As our world moves from the physical into the digital, a website is pretty much mandatory for any author, musician, or creative entertainer.

Oh, and a funny thing I noticed. I visited a certain Bill Maher's blog. I scrolled down, and what did I see at the bottom? "Powered by Squarespace." So even intelligent, rich people use Squarespace—at least for their blogs.

As a final verdict, I give Squarespace four out of five, with the note that it is enough for me, with a few minor flaws, but someone who knows how to make their own website might prefer to do so. For more information, see http://www.squarespace.com/, and if you are considering making a website, there is a tryout period available for free. If you then decide Squarespace is worthy of you, check out http://www.squarespace.com/coupons/ for a discount code.

4/5

A great service, with some annoying, but ultimately minor issues.