As a developer the thought of using a CMS that wasn't written by me, especially one that uses front-end templates that also weren't created by me, is completely abhorrent. No matter how detailed the CMS, or how creative the front-end design is, the thought makes me physically shudder - it's a "loss of power" thing.
Stop judging me. I know you're the same.
Previously I've had to reluctantly succumb to the likes of Wordpress to create my own blog, just to save time and for general ease. But I'd be lying if I said that I enjoyed the process or liked the final result. There's always a level of compromise with a pre-written CMS that is unavoidable. If you manage to find a CMS that works for you, it's more than likely that you'll hunt down a pre-written front-end theme that you can tear apart and make your own because it's quicker and easier. These systems almost always have a front-end development process that makes you want to peel off your skin with a cheese grater.
Too graphic? Possibly, but you know what I mean. If you've ever had to plough your way through files in the back-end of Wordpress using the crappy built-in editor, you'll have felt this pain to the nth degree.
So if I feel so strongly about CMS/Theme providers, why on earth am I recommending Squarespace? Well, simply put, it's better than the rest.
First of all, let's address the elephant in the room - yes, this website is built using Squarespace and yes I'm using a barely altered theme. I've changed a few fundamental things - the font, certain colours, the bottom bar (hover near the bottom of the screen), but the bulk of the code isn't mine. Does this bother me? Surprisingly not. Why not? Because it looks good, functions well and ticks all of my boxes.
And right there my friends is the crux of it. Squarespace is shockingly powerful, extremely easy to use and has front-end themes that I would be proud to have created myself.
When I first encountered Squarespace, I did what I've done with almost every CMS that I've come across. I signed up to the free trial, played with it for a couple of hours then put it down and forgot about it until after the trial had run out, thus rendering it useless again. However something was different this time around. I'm not sure if it was the slick looking, fully responsive front-end themes or the cleanly designed CMS, but this time something in the back of my head was whispering "you really should give that one a chance". So when it came around to freshening up my portfolio last week and I found myself staring at Wordpress with a sinking "here we go again" feeling, I signed up for another trial with Squarespace to give it one last prod.
Best decision I've made this year.
I'm sitting on a cold train platform in Kent using their extremely well written Android blogging app to write this post, and I can honestly say that I've never been happier with a CMS. Ok so perhaps it's not as expandable and customisable as its bigger aunties and uncles, this isn't a Drupal/Joomla powerhouse and it doesn't yet have the community that supports the likes of Wordpress. But just because it's great looking don't make the mistake of thinking that it's a frivolous bit of software, it's much bigger and much more powerful than you think.
Put simply, this is Buffy the CMS Slayer.
So this time around I decided to push it as hard and as quickly as possible. I wanted to not waste too much time just in case it turned out that it wasn't right for me. But in less than 10 minutes, Squarespace had sucked in my Wordpress blog (images included), inhaled my portfolio and set up my Amazon Associates and Google Analytics codes. 10 minutes after that I'd chosen and installed a theme and an hour later I'd customised the theme and was pretty much good to go. It was so quick that it left me with plenty of time to do what I should've been doing in the first place - freshening up my portfolio and re-approaching my blog.
But here's where it got really interesting. 24hours later I signed up to their "developer" account to see what it can do, and I couldn't have been more surprised.
First of all, you're given full FTP access to your account. If like me, you use development software like Coda that allows you to set up an FTP/SSH link so you can upload on save, developing for Squarespace suddenly got a whole lot simpler. Secondly, a quick glance at the Squarespace API reveals its remarkable resemblance to JS frameworks such as Angular. You add content by simply throwing a JS tag into your HTML, for example:
Hmm, I wonder what that tag does.
Finally and most importantly, I was most surprised by how little I decided to use the developer tools. I went to the trouble of upgrading my account and started to play with the CSS in my site, but I soon realised that I could do pretty much everything I wanted to do by using the "code injection" form fields in the CMS itself. Realistically, you probably only need to upgrade to use the dev tools if you want to develop a theme from scratch - which is exactly how it should be. Wonderfully refreshing.
Did I mention that Squarespace also has one of the most powerful and easiest to set up free e-commerce systems that I've ever come across? No? Create a "shop" page, add products (real, digital or service) and sell - simple as that.
It appears that the Squarespace ethos is "make it easy, make it powerful and make it sexy looking".
I could bore you to death with more specifics, but I think I've made my point. Obviously it's not perfect - there's always going to be things that you're not going to get when you compare it to building a site yourself. For example, I'm yet to find the blog "preview" button and certain styling options took me a while to hunt down. But in the end Squarespace is a pre-made CMS and it's going to always have limitations. The fact is, at the moment, I'd say that it's the best of its kind that you're going to come across.
If you've scooted over Squarespace in the past, give it another look. If you've never tried it out, sign up to a trial - it's free with no obligations attached. What have you got to lose? (except swallowing a little pride as I've had to do whilst writing this article). Find a project that suits and play, you won't regret it. You may even enjoy it.
Go on, you know you want to. Try Squarespace now.
Don't just take my word for it:
Oh and in case you're wondering. They don't have an affiliate scheme, so I'm not getting paid to write this review. As with all my reviews, this is my genuine opinion.