I love Squarespace (it’s SaaS that kicks aaS)

Charles Seybold | February 16, 2010

SQ Settings
left Image

SQ LogoWhen you have developers that can do anything, it’s hard not to do everything. It can be a mental leap to consider a service for something you think you can build yourself.

But one day you grow up and realize running a successful business means making the most out of your team’s precious work hours.

This is the true story of such an awakening for our team and our big switch to Squarespace, a “Software as a Service” provider that enables you to design, build, and host a website.

The briefest of history

SQ Tools 1While we were building the first release of LiquidPlanner’s online project management service, we were completely focused on the application, not the corporate website.

So we outsourced the design and build. Why not? It was only our future corporate internet presence.

We agreed to use three unrelated open source platforms for content, blog, and forums. Respectively, we used, Joomla, WordPress, and Beast. See the seeds of trouble here? The software was open source and free but the direct cost of the project was $40K in labor – ouch.

I’ll spare the details; in short we got a site that was effectively concrete. It was difficult to modify and adapt, there was no integration across the platforms, and of course there was no support because it was “free code”.

Our developers didn’t want to touch it because the slightest tweak pulled them in for hours of head scratching. New pages quickly started getting estimated at two to three days which by our standards, was ridiculous. In Squarespace, we get basic pages up and running in 2-3 minutes.

It’s Leo’s fault

SQ Tools 2We ran this way for over a year and I was tearing my hair out. Even our Marketing VP, Liz, didn’t want to touch the site (trust me, that is a really bad sign).

I’d estimate this decision cost us 2-4 times the $40K we spent on the original site in terms of lost opportunity. I felt guilty for letting the hairball land in our development team’s laps. So I decided I needed to hold myself accountable for the mistake.

The solution was staring me in the face, or more precisely, hitting me in the ear.  I’m an avid listener of the podcast This Week in Tech with Leo Laporte.  Squarespace is a sponsor of the show and Leo only picks what he endorses. He seemed to love it almost as much as he loves Audible which is a lot. After listening to multiple guests talk about Squarespace I could not resist.

I used to be a programmer

These days I really only have enough engineering skills to be dangerous, but on a Friday night around 9:00 pm I started my free Squarespace trial. I worked through the weekend and on Monday morning pulled the development team into a meeting and said, “Look at this”. I had created a working facsimile of our current corporate website that was already significantly better designed and capable than our old site.

Their look of confusion was a priceless moment. You get this when a team has surrendered itself to a hopeless software solution and then a door opens up to a better world. I then got to have one of those CEO moments where you say “we are starting a migration to Squarespace in one week unless someone finds a reason not to.”

The project

SQ Tools 3

The decision was far from a light one. We had 80 blog posts at the time, around 800 forum pages, and other content that had been spidered by search engines and contributed to our SEO standings. We also have very high operational standards.

Week 1 was an earnest attempt to find a reason not to make the switch. The harder we worked, the more reasons we found to make the switch. For instance, there is a big advantage in not running your corporate support site on the same servers you deliver your application on. We used to have to take down the customer support site when doing system upgrades; that was not ideal.

Once we were committed, it was full steam ahead. The Squarespace blog importer was a huge help, the only real work with that was making sure we addressed some URL redirect exceptions (they provide a tool for this).

Because it’s so easy to edit content in Squarespace, we also decided to implement all the backlogged “marketing makeover” work. Liz became the editor, I became the content developer, and our customer support manager took on the forums sub-project which was the most daunting, volume wise.

We ambitiously decided to harvest the best forum content and build a real online Help Guide. We re-started the forums with the best of the remaining articles migrated by hand. Much of the forum content had aged so badly that purging it was a smart move.

SQ LiquidPlanner

From start to finish it took us 1 month working part-time and we used very little time from our real engineers.

They’ve got a feature for that

Most everything in Squarespace has a pre-made solution; you can get a good sense by looking at their pages and widgets guide.

  • We use the Journal feature for our Blog and Press releases.
  • We use the FAQ feature for our structured knowledge base.
  • We host Training Videos on Squarespace; they play well with Akami content delivery and acceleration services.
  • We are using the file storage widget, the gallery widget, and built in forms for things like sales requests.
  • We even use the reading list widget.
  • The best feature is integrated search. The search box in our header finds all content pages. A big bonus is that we can see what people are searching for so we can discover holes in our content and keywords.

We push the Squarespace site architecture a bit because we use both horizontal and sidebar navigation to make a fairly complex site with many sections. It’s not as easy to manage as I’d like, but it’s serviceable and they are aware of it. Support by the way has been excellent starting with a ticketing system built into the Squarespace editing tools with real people on the other end who respond quickly.

First, do no harm

SQ TrendTo our relief, there appeared to be only positive effects from the transition. In part, this is because we paid attention to it and spent the next month watching for any broken links using Google Webmaster tools and fixing them up with 301 redirects.

Squarespace follows SEO best practices so we were able to focus on content.

While by no means the same as Google Analytics, they provide some useful monitoring tools and reports including a detailed activity log that can be filtered.

Since we launched the new site, our business metrics have all improved giving us plenty of confidence to declare victory on the transition. Sales leads are up, conversion is up, and support costs are down.

We’ve made many incremental design improvements and quick content changes. Prospective customers get a better understanding of what LP is all about before starting a free trial or calling us. Everybody wins.

Yes, you can customize…

You can go beyond the basics.  Squarespace supports custom style sheets and I used them extensively including overriding their template styles.

SQ Settings

I started from one of their stock templates and “modified the heck” out of it. This requires more skill and effort and creates more engineering overhead. The overhead is mostly because their UI is not great for managing multiple stylesheets.  If you don’t have good web skills, stick close to the templates.

We also use jquery and custom code injection to pull off a few tricks. The best trick is floating the LiquidPlanner application login button and search box in the header. This is so common a need that Squarespace would be smart to add support for it.

Here is the script; inject it into the Pre-Body HTML section and adjust the position for your design:

<div style=”position: relative; left: 805px; top: -97px; width: 0px; height: 0px;”>

<a href=”https://www.YourCoolAppNameGoesHere.com/login”>

<img src=”/storage/imagex/signin.png” alt=”Sign-in”” /></a></div>

<div style=”position: relative; left: 650px; top: -57px; width: 300px; height: 0px;”>

<form method=”get” action=”/display/Search”>

<input style=”width:200px” type=”text” name=”searchQuery” value=””/>

<input style=”width:70px” type=”submit” class=”” value=”search »”/>



That’s a wrap

We have several months under our belts with the new system and we are still loving it. We’ve needed help a few times and I’ve gotten to know a couple of the Squarespace people on a first name basis, but I say that’s a good thing. You ought to be able to call somebody by their first name when you trust your business to them.