MATTHEW NORDHAGEN :: PHOTOGRAPHY

THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT

April 30th, 2018

For the past several years this website called Squarespace home. Among online, fully contained, content management systems it is hard to go wrong with Squarespace. Offering domain registration and hosting, plus well crafted templates, Squarespace makes it easy to create a professional looking website. Squarespace has many benefits. Their choices of templates are great, they are visually appealing, and generally function for the purposes for which they were built. Want to add e-commerce to your website? Simple. Want to start blogging? Add a blogging page and the rest is done for you. Need technical support? A chatroom or phone call away. Squarespace has made available to individuals what would otherwise cost many hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to accomplish through a component web developer, all for a somewhat reasonable monthly cost. While my website doesn't see much traffic (no fault of Squarespaces), I decided to transfer my domain from Squarespace to a dedicated hosting service. Which meant I had to start over and build my website from scratch. Why would I opt to leave the carefully crafted, polished environment of Squarespace? Largely because of content management.

Before I go any further I should make a couple things clear. First, this is not a criticism of Squarespace per se. Squarespace exists for a very specific purpose. Like I mentioned, Squarespace has made available tools for anyone to develop a professional looking website; whether that is to support a business, portfolio, or project without the need for costly web development. If you are willing to put in the time to get familiar with the Squarespace environment, it will likely suite your needs well. Secondly, users of Squarespace will already know this. If they needed the extra flexibility of a self-managed website, they most likely would have went that route in the first place. In my case, I started with Squarespace under the same circumstances. I wanted a well-tailored look with modern functionality, all for very little effort. It was after several years of use, however, when the needs for a self-managed website became more apparent.

Now in terms of content management, you may own your content but you really don’t own your website. Yes, you have a domain name, which you technically own and can take elsewhere, but your content is supported by a template that is managed and owned by Squarespace. Squarespace is a business and like any business it could shut its doors tomorrow. Leaving you with very few options to recover your efforts in the event of a worst case scenario. To be fair, Squarespace does allow you to download your “site”, but not in any way that would make it easy to seamlessly transfer that content to another provider. For a portfolio, this is likely not that big of a deal, but can be especially so if you use your website for any means of income. After several years of use, it was this overall lack of ownership that made me decide to leave Squarespace and host my website elsewhere. There is something to be said for having complete control over all areas of your website from the media you upload on down to the HTML and CSS files that make up the core of a website. Under this scenario, if worst came to worst, I know that I can easily take my website to any hosting service with little downtime in between. This should be an important consideration for all photographers, or creators of any kind.

In the space that Squarespace functions, it functions well. If your goal is to create a website that follows current web design trends, offers ecommerce, and customer support, without the need to learn web development or pay a web developer, Squarespace is hard to beat. Sure, it might be a little more expensive than some of its competitors but they at least make you feel like you are getting your money's worth, as long as you understand what you are getting for that money. Understand, however, that you are in a 50/50 partnership or sorts. Squarespace owns 50 percent of your efforts by offering the website and convenience of distribution. While this may be advantageous, I would not completely rule out the traditional way of building and maintaining a website. Yes, there is more up front work and potential costs, but if long term is your game, it may prove more beneficial.

If you have been thinking about a more self-managed approach and you are not sure where to start, click here to visit the article that I wrote about how I put this website together.