Building Your Professional Author Website: WordPress vs Squarespace

A young child wearing round glasses and writing in a large ledger with a quill pen

via Shutterstock

Today’s guest post is from web design expert Ron Bueker (@wingmanwebworks).


When you’re ready to build your author website, there are some key decisions staring you down. The first, and the biggest, is to choose a web platform. If you’ve been researching your options, you might have heard that WordPress is the way to go. After all, it has tens of thousands of themes, plugins, and developers ready to help you create a feature-rich website that pixel-perfectly matches the one in your mind’s eye—and it’s free! How can Squarespace possibly compete with that?

Before you decide on a web platform, consider your main objective: to build a professional author website. These days, working writers can’t simply post a one-page site that looks like their twelve-year-old neighbor designed it in his basement. To be taken seriously in the publishing industry, you need a website with higher standards—one that presents you (whether you’re published or not) as a professional, dedicated writer who’s in it for the long haul. Professional author websites are well organized, well designed, and well written; they hold and disseminate the author’s unique brand.

So, with all the author websites out there, what will make your site stand out?

Here are the top features of a professional author website:

  1. A modern, mobile-responsive design with typography, colors, and graphics that communicate your unique author brand reliably on computer screens, tablets, and phones
  2. A clean, easy-to-navigate events page or calendar
  3. An easy-to-use contact form
  4. Buttons for purchasing your books
  5. Endorsements, reviews, and/or testimonials
  6. Social media and mailing list integration
  7. Search fields, both site-wide and targeted
  8. Strong behind-the-scenes technology, including spam filters, security protection, fast page loads, a content management system (CMS) that makes it easy for you to add new pages or blog posts, search engine optimization (SEO) to get your site farther up the search ranking in Google, and a backup system
  9. A maintenance system to help you manage security updates and feature updates your site will require to remain in top working condition
  10. Metrics to help you track visits and clicks, find patterns, and make adjustments to increase reader engagement

Okay, it’s a BIG list, but all of these features are well within the reach of both WordPress and Squarespace. Which platform you choose, however, affects your experience, time, and pocketbook. It’s worth taking a look at how each of these platforms approach ease of use, functionality, support, and affordability.

Note that this article addresses self-hosted WordPress sites, not those built via WordPress.com.

Ease of Use

WordPress. Some of the world’s most recognized brands are built on WordPress—brands like eBay, CNN, the New York Times, and Best Buy. But the size and complexity of what’s possible on the WordPress platform makes for a significant learning curve, requiring time and energy. Knowledge of some coding may be necessary to achieve all your goals.

On WordPress, you start by finding a theme that fits your vision, and all the various plugins needed to make your author site a professional one. (Plugins are tiny apps you can “plug in” to your website for additional functionality.) There are, in fact, thousands and thousands of themes and plugins to consider: some great, some average, some terrible. You will need to do your research carefully before selecting which ones to use.

WordPress has both a front end (what visitors see when they go to your site) and a back end (what you see when you log in as an administrator to your site). They are quite different from each other, which can feel unintuitive. You enter all of your content in the back end and, in order to see what your content actually looks like to your visitors, you need to switch to the front end, then return to the back end to make adjustments.

Maintenance on your WordPress site is ongoing, and sometimes challenging. Because WordPress software, themes, and plugins are, in most cases, developed by separate parties, software updates for each one happens when it happens. There is no coordinated effort among developers, and, consequently, every update may cause a conflict, which can make your site misbehave or fail.

Squarespace. With Squarespace, there are no pieces of software to assemble, no comparison shopping to do, nothing to install, and no maintenance required on your part. You need only go to squarespace.com, select a template, and start building.

It’s easy to give your site a branded, unified look. Squarespace templates are designed so that once you’ve decided on typography and colors, your choices are consistently applied throughout your site. You can also easily apply built-in effects to your graphics to bring them into your brand.

Squarespace’s unified front end and back end, along with its drag-and-drop approach, makes the site-building process streamlined and intuitive.

There is a learning curve. It’s not steep (no knowledge of coding required), but it requires time and attention. You will need to read through the how-to guides, watch training videos, and ask questions.

Every Squarespace template is beautiful, professional, and mobile-responsive, but there are less than fifty available. This could either be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your level of overwhelm and on whether you feel tied to a predetermined vision of your site. You can also hire a Squarespace developer to build you a custom theme.

Functionality

WordPress. In WordPress, functionality is most often implemented via plugins. There are currently over 40,000 WordPress plugins available. While there are free plugins, paid plugins tend to be more reliable. (“Paid” also tends to get you access to customer support.) And if you need even more functionality, you can hire a WordPress developer to build it; the sky’s the limit. A word of caution, though: as the complexity of your site increases, so does the risk of software conflicts, and the amount of time you will need to sort it out.

Squarespace. All of the key features required for a professional website are already built into Squarespace, including e-commerce, slide shows, galleries, graphs, maps, and more—but here’s the catch: if the feature you want is not built in, you are out of luck. You can hire a Squarespace developer to build it for you, but even then, there are limits to what can be accomplished.

Support

WordPress. If you go looking for help with your WordPress site, you will find it everywhere. There are tens of thousands of forums, comment threads, books, videos, and articles for you to discover and peruse. However, because WordPress is open source, there is no dedicated WordPress team to handle your specific case. So, you may need to hire a developer to get through a jam from time to time.

Squarespace. While unofficial help resources are widely available, Squarespace maintains its own official support system—knowledge base, videos, and community—that is comprehensive and well organized. If you desire personal attention, there is also a dedicated Squarespace team to assist you via live chat or email.

Affordability

WordPress. The WordPress software is free, but the hosting provider you choose is not. Keeping in mind your professional author site must be secure, fast, and reliable, your hosting provider must be up to the task. There are hosting providers out there for as low as $4/month, but be careful, as the old adage applies: you get what you pay for.

A top-notch WordPress hosting provider will run you $19–$47 per month. You may also decide to purchase a premium theme and plugins to add more functionality to your site. A good theme can cost anywhere from $50 to $200. Plugins can start as low as $15. (Some developers charge a subscription fee, others sell them outright.)

If you need to hire a developer to get you through an unexpected software conflict, or to build in custom features, expect to pay $50+/hour. If you hire a developer to build something, you may need to pay a monthly fee to keep it running smoothly, about $40+/month.

Squarespace. Squarespace costs $12–$26 per month. There are no themes or plugins to buy, and no developer to pay to maintain your author site once it’s built. If you decide to hire a developer, though, expect to pay $65+/hour. If you hire a developer to build you a custom theme, you will need to pay that developer from time to time to keep your theme in top condition; the rest of the Squarespace software will continue to be maintained by Squarespace.

So, which web platform is best for building professional author sites?

The truth is both WordPress and Squarespace are brilliant and both can be used to build professional author sites. On the one hand, WordPress can deliver a seemingly endless variety of custom features, but they require time and energy to implement. On the other hand, Squarespace can “bring the easy,” but requires you to stay within its built-in feature set. The real question here, though, is not “Which web platform is best for building professional author sites?” The real question is “Who are you, what exactly do you require of your professional author site, and how do you want to spend your time?”

If you intend to regularly set aside time to maintain your site (in addition to feeding your site), WordPress is the right choice for you. If you require custom features for your professional author site, WordPress is a strong choice. If you require a custom theme for your professional author site, both Squarespace and WordPress will serve you well. And finally, if web development is not your thing, and you do not require custom features, then Squarespace is the better way to go.

Regardless of which platform you choose, you’re not in this alone. There are companies, consultants, designers—all sorts of people who can help. Talk to your friends and other working writers about their experiences. Ultimately, the author site you build will reflect your unique artistry, and it will allow the world to see what you’ve been working on all these years.

"To be taken seriously in the publishing industry, you need a website with higher standards—one that presents you (whether you’re published or not) as a professional, dedicated writer who’s in it for the long haul." -web design expert Ron Bueker

Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion and tagged , , , , .
Ron Bueker

Ron Bueker

Ron Bueker is founder and senior designer of Wingman Web Works, a web design firm dedicated to building professional author sites on Squarespace and connecting those sites to social media and marketing channels. Ron has over nineteen years of experience in the marketing, graphic design, multimedia, video production, and technology industries. He has worked for academic institutions, small businesses, startups, and the Fortune 500. Ron is currently writing a historical fantasy television drama. You can connect with him at Facebook or Twitter. You can also visit him at Wingman Web Works.

Join the conversation

57 Comments on "Building Your Professional Author Website: WordPress vs Squarespace"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
trackback
Barbara Carle

Perfect timing. Just getting ready to build my author’s website. Ron’s article helped me make my decision. Thanks for all the help.

trackback

[…] Web design expert Ron Bueker discusses the pros and cons of using WordPress and Squarespace to build your author website and brand.  […]

Rory Graham

Thank you for an interesting article. My problem is that I find some of it expects knowledge which I do not have. I wonder if there is anything written which defines each term used and which does not assume prior knowledge. I shall continue to learn and one day produce my website.

Nate Hoffelder

Rory, there’s a lot to learn yes.

Google is a good way to find the meanings. You could also ask on Twitter, author sites like KBoards and Absolute Write.

Or, you could ask an expert like me.

Rory Graham

Without wishing in any way to be discourteous an alternative would be for the information to be provided in the article.

Nate Hoffelder

The article is really too long to add definitions, but links to definitions would be a good idea.

I agree.

Jane Friedman

This article does assume a certain amount of digital literacy; whenever technology is involved, it’s difficult to speak to all levels at once. If the terminology is overwhelming, I recommend you start your efforts as simply as possible, without paying money, perhaps at WordPress.com. Learn a little bit every day until you gain a baseline of knowledge.

These posts at my site offer more introductory material:
https://janefriedman.com/author-website-components/
https://janefriedman.com/website-self-hosting/
https://janefriedman.com/build-long-lasting-traffic-to-website/
https://janefriedman.com/before-you-launch-your-author-website/

You might also consider a Dummies book, such as this one:
http://www.dummies.com/store/product/Building-a-Web-Site-For-Dummies-4th-Edition.productCd-0470560932.html

A subscription to Lynda.com would also help you quickly attain a working knowledge base.

Nate Hoffelder
Speaking as a web publisher who has run a blog for the past six years (and is now getting into paid WP support as a sideline) I have a few bones to pick with this piece. First, your checklist is missing a key item: the website domain. Authors should register their name, their book’s name, or a character’s name as a domain and use that as the address for the website. (Or, register several names and have a different site for each series, pen name, etc.) There’s also no mention of how an author can get their content out of… Read more »
Robin E. Mason

well how timely is this! i just launched mine (wordpress) on monday! and i welcome ANY and ALL guidance, suggestoins, and help i can get! saving this one for reference!

Nate Hoffelder

I’d be happy to take you on as a client, Robin, and advise you for free. You can reach me through my blog or through Twitter (@thDigitalReader).

G S Oldman
As on-point and accurate as this article is, there is one glaring (and humorous) bit of misinformation. That “…twelve-year-old neighbor…in his basement” is precisely the person a “digital dummy” needs to rely upon these days. Websites and social media is exactly the world they’ve grown up in and they can get you hooked up to internet and social media integration faster than it takes to plug in that old IBM Selectric. The trick is finding the right twelve-year old to work with. Just remember: they appreciate oldsters bearing coffeehouse gifts (and they’ll listen to your stories if you don’t go… Read more »
Bill Cokas

Interesting article, Ron! I happened to be researching this topic at the precise moment it popped up in my blog feed. However, my only web-development experience consists of working with Rapidweaver. I’m pretty comfortable with that and would like to redo my site with a responsive design, using Rapidweaver if at all possible to minimize my learning curve. Do you or any of your readers have any thoughts concerning author sites/themes built using Rapidweaver?

Rosa Glenn Reilly

Great article, Ron! I have a business website built in WordPress and because of being affected by updates in one area that then affected other areas unexpectedly and needing to hire a professional to balance out the mess, I am using Squarespace for my author website. Your article suggests I may have made the correct decision for myself. I’ll let you know but so far I am liking the choices and design elements.

trackback

[…] Building Your Professional Author Website: WordPress Vs. Squarespace (Jane Friedman) When you’re ready to build your author website, there are some key decisions staring you down. The first, and the biggest, is to choose a web platform. If you’ve been researching your options, you might have heard that WordPress is the way to go. After all, it has tens of thousands of themes, plugins, and developers ready to help you create a feature-rich website that pixel-perfectly matches the one in your mind’s eye—and it’s free! How can Squarespace possibly compete with that? […]

Lynne Connolly
I’m just an average user with two author websites to design and maintain. I’m with Nate. I’d go with WordPress. A large part of my decision was that it isn’t the purview of one company or system. Anyone can contribute templates and plugins, you can use any webspace provider, and the source code is open. When I started, I gave myself a week to learn the platform. I backed up my old site, and page by page I put it on WordPress, learning as I went, and Googling when something wouldn’t work.. I have an economy level package (and I… Read more »
Nate Hoffelder

Yes, the distributed nature of WordPress is one of its best features.

Palessa

Had never heard of Squarespace but glad to know it’s out there. I have this thing with WordPress. I’m used to it, have used it for many sites over the years, it’s like the good/evil I know so I’m going to stick with it. I’ve learned a lot about plugins by having my sites crash and the forums are pretty decent when it comes to coding help.

Martin Taylor
Hi Ron. It’s not clear why you used self-hosted WordPress rather than WordPress.com as the basis for the comparison. The latter is a much closer match to SquareSpace, Weebly, Wix, etc. WordPress.com deals with most of the technical and on-going maintenance issues, it’s fine for most author websites and can be easily moved to a self-hosted WordPress site later if you need more functionality. While it’s theoretically free, most authors are probably going to pay US$13 a year for attaching their own domain name and a lot will pay their $99 premium package. Or you leave it up there free… Read more »
Roxie Munro

I use Weebly, the Pro version. Very easy – drop-and-drag w/templates that you can easily modify in many ways. Lots of bells and whistles available. Slide shows, SM integration, contact form, interactive maps, PayPal usability, more (stats, SEO, analytics)… all the things you need for a much-greater-than-basic site. I understand that WordPress isn’t so user-friendly for non-coders, and that SquareSpace is great for visuals (for architects, photographers, interior designers, etc), but not as easy to use as Weebly, and phone support not available (phone support is excellent for Weebly if you get Pro, which is about $9/month for two years).

Jane Friedman
My only hesitation with Weebly (as well as Wix) is that if and when you decide to leave the service and build elsewhere, it can be a real headache—sometimes impossible—to successfully export your content and reimport it elsewhere. It’s the “future-proofing” issue that Nate mentions earlier. For example, users of Apple’s iWeb site building service know the pain of having to start their site from scratch when their platform goes the way of the dodo. As a longtime WordPress user myself, I’ve always felt uncomfortable relying on a particular service to stay in business for me to continue running my… Read more »
Debbie Burke
Ron, Great timely article for me, currently struggling with WP.org. Like Rory, I’m unfamiliar with the jargon, so the process is like learning how to engineer a suspension bridge with the instructions in a foreign language. Jane, your point about exporting if you change providers is the main reason I went with WP. Also, if I read the terms of Weebly and Wix correctly, apparently they “own” your content, so if you decide to switch, you must start from scratch without the ability to use previous content on your new site. Is that true with Squarespace? Thank you, Ron and… Read more »
Jane Friedman

Hi Debbie: The content—as far as the text your write and post on your website—remains yours, no problem there. But if you want to take the design or backend code with you to another platform, that is not possible (as far as I know) on Weebly and Wix.

Debbie Burke

Thanks for the clarification, Jane.

trackback

[…] Read the full article at: janefriedman.com […]

trackback

[…] sell short stories, while Liz Craig has a fascinating piece on genre hopping (here). Ron Bueker has this on Jane Friedman’s blog on how to choose a platform for your writer’s website. And […]

Mike C Smith

I’ve not come across Squarespace before so know little about it. One thing I have noticed with WordPress themes is the number of sites falling in ranking on Alexa.com I would like to see some Squarespace sites to see if the same is happening with them.

Valerie Brewster

I just want to add that the photo you chose for this post is great! I use WordPress.com myself. Glad to read about the alternatives. I keep thinking I should be planning ahead for more features as my promotional platform is starting to grow.

trackback

[…] Did you start building your author site? Ah, but the most difficult choice is the start: How do you chose the right platform for you? Here is the answer from web design expert, Ron Bueker WordPress vs Squarespace. […]

trackback

[…] Building Your Professional Author Website: WordPress vs Squarespace | Jane Friedman […]

trackback

[…] Last week, I featured an insightful post from Ron Bueker that compared the pros and cons of WordPress and Squarespace. […]

trackback

[…] Jo Piazza explores how Instagram is changing the way we buy and sell books, Ron Bueker compares building an author website on WordPress vs. SquareSpace, and Kirsten Oliphant explains how to get started with an email […]

trackback

[…] Last week, I featured an insightful post from Ron Bueker that compared the pros and cons of WordPress and Squarespace. […]

Rebecca Grabill
I have to say Squarespace offered every option I wanted right off, and was easily “hackable” for the one or two things that weren’t out of the box perfect. Unlike my old blogger blog that I’d hacked-to-hell-and-back to use as a website, I don’t have to look at html at all, ever. I can’t compare Squarespace to WordPress, since I’ve not used WP beyond a free blog (which I found limiting because I couldn’t get to the html without $$$), but I can say that Squarespace is ideal for authors who don’t have the time/desire/funds to fix their site when… Read more »
trackback

[…] Web design expert Ron Bueker discusses the pros and cons of using WordPress and Squarespace to build your author website and brand.  […]

Shawn Radcliffe
One of the biggest drawbacks of SquareSpace is that there is no way (that I know of) for non-developers to back up the website. You can export some content in an .xml format, so you could recreate content if you lost it. But that doesn’t include the layout, etc. Whether backing up matters for you depends on how complex your website is. If you have lots of posts or a large, well-crafted online portfolio that took you many hours to create, backing up is essential. If you have a simple website with just your bio and contact info, backing up… Read more »
Marlena Maduro Baraf
Ron, though this article first appeared two months ago, I saw it today just at the moment that I need it. Long ago I determined that WordPress would be too complicated for me (the back-end and maintenance). Even Weebly was too difficult (for me to design on my own). This held me back from creating a sorely needed author website and blog. I think Squarespace is the answer for me. Here are a few of my questions: Is the SEO on Squarespace as good as SEO possibilities at WordPress? Is SqSp constantly improving this capability? Are there a variety of… Read more »
Christine Mapondera-Talley

Great post Ron! I have a WordPress.org site and so far pretty happy with it. Squarespace looks great and easy to use although I’m not yet sold on it. I’m still brainwashed, lol. I’ll reach out to you if I decide to crossover.

G McClendon

Thank you for this discussion.

wpDiscuz