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:
- A modern, mobile-responsive design with typography, colors, and graphics that communicate your unique author brand reliably on computer screens, tablets, and phones
- A clean, easy-to-navigate events page or calendar
- An easy-to-use contact form
- Buttons for purchasing your books
- Endorsements, reviews, and/or testimonials
- Social media and mailing list integration
- Search fields, both site-wide and targeted
- 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
- A maintenance system to help you manage security updates and feature updates your site will require to remain in top working condition
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.