I've been exclusively using Squarespace to build websites for myself and clients over the last seven years. It started with my own personal photography site, and has cascaded into countless opportunities: sites for friends and family, personal brands and projects, churches, small businesses, and non-profits.
Building websites never seemed like a real option for a non-coder like me. Squarespace changed everything with a beautiful drag-and-drop interface that anyone could figure out. I owe much of my creative career to Squarespace and I'm forever thankful for that! So why did I leave Squarespace… and eventually come back?
Performance, Speed, & SEO
Everything started in late 2020, when Google announced the coming arrival of their Core Algorithm Update.
Google releases these kinds of updates about once per quarter, and include both minor and major updates to how websites rank in the search engine. Most websites aren't affected too drastically, as the main point of them is to optimize the search experience for everyday users: Things like spam, plagiarized content, and dangerous or harmful sites are what get hit the hardest.
But, there was something interesting about this coming update that caught my attention: Google indicated that one of their new priorities in ranking websites would be performance (specifically, an optimized user experience). The tool that Google exclusively uses to measure websites' performance is called Page Speed Insights.
Note: Different tools like Pingdom or GTmetrix will provide different/better scores, but... they're obviously not what Google uses, so as far as I'm concerned, they're entirely irrelevant to your Google SEO. Anyways, I entered my website into the field, and... this is what I saw for my site's mobile performance score:
Ouch. How is this possible? I always thought Squarespace sites were clean and quick! After lots of digging through the Squarespace forums and Facebook Groups that I'm part of, I came to this grim realization...
ALL Squarespace sites perform like this.
Even with all the optimization in the world, Squarespace websites are doomed to a poorly-performing status due to it's built-in CMS. To put it simply, Squarespace uses a Content Management System (CMS) to make it easy for users to build sites. Instead of writing code, you're able to visually drag-and-drop blocks. This is great for designing, but this ease is what causes the performance to drop catastrophically. This is bad news for virtually ALL Squarespace users, no matter the version, amount of content, or efforts to optimize.
After discovering this sobering information about my favorite website builder, I had to do more research to figure out what to do next. Of course I knew there were other website builders out there that might be worth exploring: Wordpress, Wix, Shopify, Webflow, Editor X, Showit... But as much as I desperately wanted to get that performance number up, even by switching platforms, I wanted to believe Squarespace would come through and fix the problem.
Sure enough, soon after sharing my story on the Squarespace Circle Forum, Squarespace issued an official response regarding the Google Core Algorithm Update via the Engineering Manager for the Web Performance team. Their response essentially boils down to this: Squarespace has supposedly been aware of this update for quite a while, and have been working on optimizing the platform for better performance.
This seemed like a bit of a canned response, as I was surely not the first to publicly make a fuss about Squarespace’s poor performance. So, I did a deep-dive into how this algorithm actually works, just to get a better understanding for myself.
My Google Algorithm Findings
Google uses Field Data (real world user user experience) to decide if a site "passes" in Core Web Vitals (CWV), which plays a part in a site's overall health and rankings. The main score you get in the Page Speed Insights is from controlled "Lab Data" that uses Google's Lighthouse tool to help designers make more accurate tweaks, but apparently doesn't affect CWV.
As previously mentioned, Squarespace websites are notoriously poor performers in the arena of Core Web Vitals — feel free to test ANY Squarespace site and you’ll see that it’s true. However, the core resolution that I came to is this:
The search algorithm is extremely complex, and while Google does reward site speed, it doesn’t penalize slow sites nearly as much as I thought. What matters most is the consistent sharing of helpful, user-focused content that helps people find what they need online.
So, while there’s still plenty of room for performance improvement on Squarespace’s backend of the platform (which I’m still waiting to hear more about, stay tuned), not all hope is lost… Except, that’s not what I felt when I saw that “16” performance score on Page Speed Insights.
Switching My Site to Webflow
My patience with Squarespace had run out, and I knew the time to try something new had come. It was time to try a new platform.
I'd messed around with Webflow (affiliate link) in the past, just to see what all the fuss was about... but, I gave up before actually publishing a site. After weighing the options and reading many bog posts similar to this one, I decided to give Webflow another honest shot. Of course, Webflow isn't as "easy" as Squarespace since it uses an entirely different structure to design sites, but I eventually got the hang of it.
The ironic part is that this Webflow attempt was different than the last. In the last year, I've had to learn HTML and CSS to be able to custom code some basic functions into my site that Squarespace didn't provide, and inadvertently, I became proficient at Webflow!
In the spirit of conducting an accurate comparison, I decided to essentially duplicate my Squarespace site's design: Same layout, structure, page formatting, copy, case studies, and images. Just a few days after first signing up, I paid the subscription fee to get my website live, linked my domain to the site, and fired up Page Speed Insights.
My Webflow site scored 100 on Google Page Speed Insights.
I almost couldn't believe it. I took this screenshot instantly, in case it was some kind of fluke! But no, it was real! The exact same site on Squarespace performed 6X better on Webflow. Sure, there are some factors worth mentioning: My personal site was pretty small, only had a few pages, and didn’t have loads of content yet, but... this felt like an absolute home run. And to think, this is essentially the baseline for all Webflow sites — a complete 180° from Squarespace!
There was a solid week where I just left that “perfect 100” tab open in Chrome, just to marvel at its perfection. But, the honeymoon phase quickly ended when I realized a few things:
My barebones website needed a lot more content and formatting to properly showcase my portfolio, services, and everything non-blog related. In fact, I really wanted to have two separate sites: One for my design work, and the other for personal blogging.
If I was serious about leaving Squarespace, I’d need to adapt my client off-boarding systems for Webflow’s client-facing editor, and even consider transferring a few client sites over.
Webflow is a vast ocean of endless design possibilities. Meaning, the long-term learning curve for more advanced techniques (animations, dynamic layouts, etc.) would be pretty steep.
Combined, these three realizations overwhelmed me to the point of procrastinating for an entire month. My “perfect” Webflow site just sat there, waiting to be blemished by imperfection (read: more content). I even spent good, billable hours browsing the user-made Webflow templates, contemplating taking the “easy route” to just get it done. Outstanding projects are my personal bane, and having my own website be perpetually unfinished was driving me crazy.
I just wanted to switch my site back to Squarespace.
And so, I did just that! I closed down my Webflow site just as quickly as I’d set it up, and restored the old Squarespace site back to its former glory, putting my trust in the Squarespace manager who claimed “better performance was on the way”.
I also abandoned the idea of separating personal and work websites, and consolidated all of my blogs, portfolio items, and bits of copywriting. All in all, the whole experiment only took about 6 weeks and gave me some great insights that we’ll cover now.
5 Main Takeaways
1. Webflow really is amazing.
Here’s some more clarity on why I decided to go with Webflow. Out of the aforementioned platforms I compared with Squarespace, Webflow and Wordpress seemed to be the only two real options with the performance I was looking for. But, with countless horror stories from friends about Wordpress sites being hacked or having plugin issues, Wordpress was out of the question for me. Here's a quick list of some things I loved about Webflow:
Webflow University — This bank of videos, articles, courses, and how-to's makes learning the platform a breeze. It also has insanely high production value, so you know they actually value users being equipped for success.
Customization — If Squarespace is a nice bike that rides pretty well, Webflow is a rocket ship. What takes dozens of lines of CSS in Squarespace can take just seconds to implement in Webflow (without a single line of code). If you can visualize it, you can make it in Webflow.
Innovation — Webflow is constantly adding new features that users have been requesting, and some they didn't even know they needed! Squarespace could really take a hint from Webflow in this department, since many user-requested features from years prior still haven’t seen the light of day.
Community — On their website, Webflow features a Showcase area to feature users' work, a Designers page to list freelancers looking for work, a Forum, a link to their Facebook Group, an Affiliate Program, and more. Again, they really seem to care.
Accessibility — The web is a place for everyone, and Webflow's commitment to including tools to help make websites more accessible is incredibly necessary. Once again, Squarespace really needs to step up their game in this arena.
2. The simplicity of Squarespace is unmatched.
Now, having swooned about Webflow… Squarespace is incredible in an entirely different way that often goes under-appreciated. A common gripe I hear is, “I don’t want my website to look like a template”, referring to Squarespace’s template-based design system. After all, everyone wants their website to be unique, interesting, and one-of-a-kind online.
But here’s the funny thing: If you ONLY used Squarespace’s pre-designed templates, sections, and blocks to create the layout of a site, I guarantee it will look better than about 95% of sites on "more customizable” platforms. Why? Because those templates are designed to make great websites! In contrast, starting a new site on Webflow means an entirely blank canvas… no templates, no pre-designed grid layout, and no formatting to build a design from.
Personally, after years of using the beautifully simple, drag-and-drop, template-based designer in Squarespace, the pressure of an entirely blank, white screen in Webflow felt insurmountable. Even with plenty of design inspiration, ideas of my own, and clear business positioning, I felt paralyzed by the possibilities.
Which is why so many websites turn out so badly: The desire for a “unique” design clashes with the implementation of simple design fundamentals, resulting in a site that’s neither visually interesting or effective from a user standpoint. In other words, “no limits” website builders often hurt the final result more than empower creativity.
Squarespace templates act as a firm foundation to build from. That’s the part that many designers miss: A template is the starting point, not the final deliverable. The real work of a Squarespace web designer is curating pages that flow naturally and effectively, customizing the existing platform with touches that make the experience feel bespoke.
What Squarespace lacks in flexibility, it makes up in beautiful simplicity.
3. Content > Performance
Google wants your website to perform well because it wants real people to have a great browsing experience, and find what they’re searching for.
Here’s the thing: Even if a site’s performance is at or below average, but the content is stellar, people will have a great experience and search rankings will reflect that. An ultra-fast website that lacks useful content is not a good website in Google’s (or anyone’s) eyes.
Being nitty-gritty about performance is a losing game. As long as you’re doing the fundamentals (things like optimizing images and fonts, reducing unused scripts, creating proper heading hierarchy, and designing for mobile), users will have a perfectly speedy visiting experience.
I neglected this reality in pursuit of the best-performing website builder, and essentially wasted weeks of time that could’ve been spent making more content for my existing site. But, c’est la vie.
Bottom line: Squarespace sites have just as much ranking potential as competitors, regardless of technical speed performance.
4. The platform really doesn’t matter
In my experience, clients couldn’t really care less about what platform their website is built on. Just as long as it performs well, looks the way they want it to, and isn’t a total pain to update.
Newsflash: (Almost) every website builder is capable of these simple requirements!
On Squarespace in particular, clients are able to dynamically update ANY part of their website, at any time, without hiring a developer — this flexibility and ease of updating is crucial for many budding businesses! Webflow offers a client-facing Editor, but it’s pretty lackluster since the purpose is solely for adding blog content and not changing the design.
This is probably my biggest qualm with Webflow, since I often make sites for very independent brands that want full control of their sites. Perhaps this is intentional though, since Webflow allows designers to bill clients for hosting and maintenance retainers directly from the platform, with the ability to even add profit on the top.
What I’ve found in my research of the current selection of website building platforms, is that the tool often gets more attention than it should. The only meaningful differentiator in the ever-growing list of platforms is… you, the one designing the website. Clients will receive their final website and be on their merry way — you will have to work within the tools of your choosing every single day!
There is no perfect platform for every client, every project, or every requirement. You must choose what’s most important to you, and prioritize that over what people on Reddit have to say about it. Any platform worth their salt offers a free trial — try your hand at as many as you’d like, and see which one feels the most natural. Best case, you discover a new way to level-up your design business… worst case, you end up writing an insanely long article about what you learned.
You might prefer Squarespace if:
You value simplicity more than flexibility, and are comfortable with having creative limitations in your process.
You’re comfortable with default styling, or are willing to search for plugins or CSS snippets online to make deeper customizations.
You don’t really care about design awards or being featured, but rather creating solid, beautiful sites that get the job done.
You prefer to let clients manage their own websites, adding new content and making design changes without your help.
Your clients need a fully-integrated solution, with scheduling, commerce, email marketing, and analytics in one platform.
You might prefer Webflow if:
You value flexibility more than simplicity, and aim to create experiences that push the boundaries of what’s possible.
You have a good understanding of basic HTML, CSS, and the structuring of web pages (or are willing to learn).
You want to implement more advanced design techniques, with the ability to easily add animations, transitions, and more.
You plan on managing client websites yourself, as they won’t be able to easily do it themselves.
Your clients are comfortable with using multiple external tools to achieve various business needs (Mailchimp, Calendly, etc.)