When looking at the market as a whole, what are some of the key differentiators among website builder platforms that customers should be aware of?
There are a lot of platforms out there in terms of technology platforms that exist. There’s Squarespace for simpler, less feature packed sites, which is a great environment. WordPress is a larger, more robust content management system. There are others like Drupal and Magento as well. For building an e-commerce site, there’s Shopify. All of these platforms have pros and cons. At the end of the day, the way we look at technology is that it’s a tool in our toolbox. Depending on what we’re doing and the end objective for our clients who are our partners, we want to find the right tool in our toolbox. In many cases, Squarespace can be a good fit. In other cases, it’s not the best fit. It really just depends on what we want out of it.
If our goal is to create a really stellar visual story and marketing site or brochure site, something that hones in on a brand experience overall, I think Squarespace is a great fit. For something that informs, educates, and creates an emotive layer to it through visual imagery and impact, Squarespace is perfect. If we’re launching something that’s more robust, and designing and architecting a very data rich site that needs to perform well on mobile and we’re linking a lot of APIs, there are a lot of frameworks that it needs to communicate with, so we might look to something like WordPress as a platform for technology, or Drupal or Magento because they have a lot more power behind them. So we can bake in a lot of customizations that we couldn’t do in something like Squarespace. We can generally bend Squarespace pretty far if it’s a marketing site. But if it’s a transactional site, a very large e-commerce site where we’re selling hundreds of thousands of products, Squarespace definitely isn’t the right fit. We would look at something like Shopify or maybe a more custom experience.
What types of clients go to you or others for help with this website builder?
In Squarespace or any other platform, we have seen a lot of success stories working with funded startups or startups in general, mid-size brands, lifestyle brands, e-commerce brands, and those that are even larger. We’ve seen a lot of success between us both in getting new users to sign up for sites, new members to join communities, for people purchasing products, or even just to raise brand awareness.
The reason you really want to work with a design and digital agency, or brand and digital agency, is to take something to the next level. You have a vision in your mind, and generally, you have a marketing team, a product team, or a strategy team to help you bring this vision to life. But you need to align with an extension to your team that can really help you get there. So, what we do is we generally partner with marketing teams, product teams, user experience teams, or leadership teams to bring that vision to life and to think about how design can make an impact not just on the web and through digital, but also holistically across all these marketing touchpoints that exist in the client’s industry.
What cost factors should clients keep in mind when considering this tool?
I actually just spoke at a design and technology conference in LA called Silicon Beach Fest. This specific point came up. The more informed we are, the better off we are. I think what’s difficult about this space we’re in, for brand experiences or for web and mobile experiences, is that there’s such a gray area. We don’t often know what things do cost. But generally, when we’re working with marketing teams, product teams, and CEOs, they’ve been through the exercises before. So for those who haven’t, at the end of the day, we work on billable time. So we basically allocate a certain number of resources and hours to every relationship, project engagement, or partnerships that we have.
What you can be prepared for is anytime you’re aligning with a design or digital agency is to think about the long-term vision and the projects that are in front of you, and also what you think it’s going to take to get to that vision. Cost structures can range anywhere on the low end from $10,000 to $50,000, and upwards to six, seven figures depending on how far we want to go. Generally, for small marketing sites, we’re in the $10,000 to $50,000. For very large experiences, we could be $100,000 to $1 million and upwards. A lot of clients are partners, so we typically start with a project in mind. Maybe it’s a $50,000 to $100,000 project, and then we grow the partnership and we think about ways to grow their user base, their member base, and attract people to their services or their products. Ultimately, the goal is that we want to help them to boost their brand, their business, and their bottom line. Together we aim to do that.
What are the features or tools of the platform that have most impressed you?
Squarespace has a lot of the out-of-the-box solutions that are available to clients that are looking to build a very clean, minimalistic, and connective experience. If we’re telling a visual story for a marketing site, or selling simple products, then it’s great. I think it serves its purpose well.
What’s really cool is that Squarespace is one dedicated solution. What that means is that you design, build, and manage your website all through that platform. So the website is hosted within Squarespace. There are built-in analytics tools and it has a very comprehensive optimization algorithm. But beyond that, working with us at RNO1, we take it to the next level.
We use what’s called the Squarespace Developer’s Platform, which allows us to take the simple templates that are available to most Squarespace users and highly customize those so they’re on par with the brand and they’re very meaningful and memorable in terms of their overall experience. What a regular Squarespace user might be able to do on their own, we can basically take much further. It’s almost like if you’re building your own house. You may be an efficient builder and understand carpentry and masonry, but you’re working with an architect to bring your vision to life and even a construction crew to figure out how you can shape that. So we’re really that architecture group and that construction crew. We think about the strategy, the design aspect, and ultimately the build-out of the site. And through the developer’s platform in Squarespace, we can really do that well.
The one thing to also note is that we’ve been working with Squarespace as a platform since 2009. So we’re approaching eight years working as an agency with the platform and we’ve seen some phenomenal results. One of our clients had a Squarespace site that was featured on Shark Tank. Another one has had high volume e-commerce transactions, and one of our clients was a startup that saw a lot of press and mention and got a lot of great traction on the Squarespace site we built as a custom solution.
Are there any areas of the software that could be added or improved upon?
I think it’s a platform that’s growing and evolving. It’s been around since 2003. They’re 13 years old, in which for technology as a whole, is a pretty long period of time. They’ve been around since the beginning of how things have transpired in this space, especially in the world of content management systems. I think there’s always room for improvement. As a platform, I think the e-commerce component of Squarespace is growing. I think it definitely has some time left on its side to get where Shopify is, but it’s getting there. It’s definitely building. I believe Squarespace has a million paying customers right now, which is pretty decent considering they’re all paying. I think Squarespace is realizing that that paid user base is recognizing that they can only bend Squarespace so far, and once they hit those limitations they need to think about a more robust and scalable environment to bring their visions to life. At the end of the day, some things are not the right fit for Squarespace. Many of them are, but some are not. Again, if we’re focused on a marketing site or a product site that’s pretty simple and lean for telling a great visual story, it’s a perfect fit. Generally, we’re aligning with founders of startups, marketing teams, or product teams in the world of Squarespace to bring those visions to life. That’s where we see the best results.
Is there any way Squarespace makes the deployment process easier? Is there any way they could improve this process?
What happens in our process, and the way we have our workflow established is we’ll bring in a new client around a project. We’ll map out a plan and craft a structure that resembles where we want to take something in terms site experience in Squarespace. Once we’ve done that, we’ll approve a design direction. We’ll get that locked down, approved, and finalized. Then, we’ll start building out the site using essentially a staging website - a prototype of the final version. We’ll have the integrity of the site structure built like we would on any other platform and then it’s a really simple push to bring that to life. We provide admin privileges or owner privileges to our clients, and we can still stay on the site in the backend to make sure that we can easily manage and grow the experience. But in terms of deployment, I think everything is pretty streamlined. I think designing, building, and pushing the site live is a pretty streamlined process in Squarespace, much like you would find on any other platform. There isn’t really anything that I would call out that I think could be improved to be more efficient. I think it works really well and it’s pretty balanced at this point.
Can you speak to the support of Squarespace? In what ways do they excel at support offerings, and where could they improve?
They are trying to improve. I know they recently launched Squarespace Circle, which is a member’s owned community where if you’re involved in the Squarespace community and you’re one of the top agency designers or developers, you have the inside track as to what’s happening with Squarespace. And we do. Our design and development team both are a part of the Squarespace Circle community through RNO1. We try and contribute. We try and gain information as much as we can about new releases and new things happening. So we’re really in the know. We also subscribe to a Squarespace Slack channel, so by using Slack we’re able to see what’s happening in real time with Squarespace.
In terms of support, Squarespace does a really good job. There’s always room for improvement. There are always things we’re trying to figure out. If something is a notable bug, sometimes it takes a little longer to resolve, but that’s the realm of technology. Maybe there’s a problem with a focal point issue with an image, or maybe something doesn’t respond well to mobile. I think Squarespace does a good job acknowledging the problem and working with us to try and solve it, or at least flagging it knowing that it is being solved. Our design and development team has dealt with support representatives. They’ve been able to interact with them and have had pretty positive experiences. Again, I think as Squarespace Circle has introduced itself, there’s been a lot more information. We’re always checking the support pages. We’re subscribing to Slack and trying to get in on Slack channels that provide added information. So the culmination of all those things working together in harmony has been good so far.