Go your own way
OK, I admit I was about to write this blog post and I needed a title and couldn’t think of one, and yes I am listening to Lissie who does an amazing cover of You Can Go Your Own Way, which I love. It’s also a really great title for the piece I want to write.
This started last week, well, possibly a bit earlier than that. I’ve been asked a couple of times why I don’t recommend certain products. On each occasion I’ve said it’s not that I don’t recommend them, it’s just that I’ve never used them. I have a desire to be as ethical as possible and it doesn’t feel right recommending something I’ve never used.
As I’m creating the Web Essentials toolkit I realised it would be beneficial if I had a play with each one. I’ve been thinking of resurrecting my personal website for a couple of months and this felt like the right time to do it.
The Main Contender
So the main contender that I wanted to test was SquareSpace. That’s mainly because their marketing campaign is up in my grill constantly and a lot of people are using it. So that was top of my list.
Only a couple of days before I’d said to someone that if you tried something like WordPress and didn’t like it, you could go for something like SquareSpace as they let you import. I actually checked. So I felt confident that I could just import the data from one to the other.
One of the reasons why I was looking at SquareSpace was the ease of use, what’s included and the relatively low pricing options. It looks like a genuinely good product for people who want to build a business could use. The low monthly fees for the eCommerce option, and ease of use makes it a really good option for people.
It looks like they have a good product and I was genuinely intrigued to give it a try.
So I signed up for SquareSpace.
How it Works
You start by picking a template then complete some simple registration info. They don’t even ask for credit card details. It’s very simple.
When you get into the site it took me a few minutes to get my bearings, as I’m used to WordPress. They’ve created a simple site for you based upon the template you’ve chosen.
Think of SquareSpace as a little like the MacOS of CMS. They give you everything you need up front in a simple to understand(ish) format. You can change colours, content and images on each page relatively easily.
I’m not going to go into exact details of what you can and can’t change in here, simply because I didn’t get that far, and because I’ll be including them in the Toolkit.
What I wanted to do was get my content into it so I could see how it worked. So I started following the instructions to import the data, and found I couldn’t.
The first thing I did was triple checked and realised that it really wasn’t there, the option I needed. Sometimes it’s a bug and there’s a reason why you can’t see it. So I contacted their help desk using online chat.
I’ve dealt with a fair few online help chats, and I’ll admit they were fast and very responsive to starting the conversation. They said they were in Ireland and started off rather chirpy.
Having explained my problem and the response I got back was not what I expected. I found it pretty technical in nature, which I understand easily, but I appreciate that others wouldn’t.
I was told that I’d signed up with 7.1, that it was super new and import/export wasn’t included with it. I could find out more about the release by reading the release notes. If I wanted to import I could do so by signing up with an earlier version.
There are several problems with this, the key one being that this was the first I’d heard them mention versions of platforms. It’s something they didn’t give you the option of when you sign up. I did ask if I could down grade, import and then upgrade, but was told no I would be stuck on that version. No information was given on how to upgrade.
An Important Feature
There was quite a bit of back and forth with their help team and on twitter, because I pointed out it wasn’t acceptable.
Importing and Exporting of data is a pretty standard feature on applications like this. It’s the nature of the product, it’s reasonable to assume someone will move to your platform or move from your platform. You have a need to get the data you put in, out.
The thought of having to build an entire site from scratch by either retyping (we call rekeying) or copy & pasting is painful at best. The possibility of the rekeying going wrong and errors being made is very high. Which is why you’d have included it in the specification when you’re building it.
Another thing to note is that the platform was a variation on a previous one. You get that because they say it’s 7.1, it doesn’t seem like a major release, but an update on an older version. So they’ve actively taken the decision to remove this feature from their platform.
Which, above all else makes me question why they’ve done it.
A Question of Ethics
Call me cynical, people often do, but the way it looks is that they’ve taken the feature away to lock you into their platform. To me, this is both unethical and utterly arrogant.
Can you imagine outgrowing that platform and needing something bigger and more powerful. Or finding you simply don’t get on with it or you want to move to a free platform. You can’t get your data out. You’ll have to rebuild everything in another place manually or loose the whole lot.
SquareSpace make a big deal out of pushing their platform at a certain type of demographic, the kind that doesn’t have million pound budgets and are trying to build and grow their business. To take this away from them arbitrarily is beyond unethical, it’s really bad business.
It genuinely doesn’t sit well with me, and yet I still wanted to do something with my own website. So in a fit of “fuck you” I looked at the software and platforms I’ve already got access to and thought, I wonder if I could recreate that template in my existing platform, without coding it.
Don’t tell me what I can’t do
Yeah, OK, I was feeling utterly bloody minded at this point in time, and I needed a break from writing the content from the Toolkit, so I thought I’d have a go.
The platform I use for this site, is WordPress running Elementor, which allows me to build web pages without using templates, I have complete control over how I design each page.
Which sounds complicated, but it’s actually really easy, it’s exactly like using lego to build something, you could follow a specific design and build the Hogwarts castle, or you could design your own sky scraper.
My personal domain was already hosted on WordPress on another hosting account (that was cheap, but oh-so-slow). When I set-up the hosting account I’m using for this website, I bought hosting for two domains with the intention of moving it over.
WordPress is free, so I didn’t need to pay for that and my Elementor licence covers three domains so I had all the tools I needed.
If you didn’t have those already, you can get pretty good web hosting with BlueHost for about $7 a month and Elementor Pro (there is a perfectly good free version) would cost you $49 for a year.
I Love a Challenge
It took me 2.5 hours to get the first version of the site up and running and built.
I then spent all of yesterday getting the header (the bit with the logo and navigation) and blog archive working. Getting invisible navigations to work the way I’ve got them is a little fiddly, but not impossible. I didn’t do ANY coding to get them working, I just fiddled around with settings.
What I’ve got is a site that looks about 90% similar to the one I was going to build on SquareSpace.
If you’d like to have a squiz, you can find it at www.emmachittenden.com
You SHOULD Go Your Own Way
A lot of these website platforms capitalise on the fact that you don’t know tech or how to code. They use that to their advantage and pull you in with a fucking good marketing campaign.
And do you know what? That really pisses me off. Why? Because you don’t need to know how to code to get the website you want.
You can absolutely pick SquareSpace, and I would still argue that if you’re building a business that sells products then it’s a pretty cheap platform that would be fantastic if you’re starting out.
I’ll even go so far as to say, the product I use, WordPress is not the platform you should pick if you are building a product based business. The eCommerce package is over priced, not very user friendly and hard to set-up.
The point I’m making is, when you’re deciding to build a website, you should know what it is you need out of it, what are the things that are important to you. Then you should ignore the advertising that SquareSpace does and sit down to properly evaluate what’s out there.
Oh, and you absolutely need to buy my Web Essentials Toolkit because I’ve spent 2 days and close to 8000 words explaining how to do this easily. I know, it’s a shameless plug.
Take Back Control of Your Choice
Shameless plug aside. When it comes to picking the CMS that’s right for you, go look at them all, WordPress, Wix, SquareSpace, Weebly (if you must, I really don’t rate this one), Shopify etc.
Look at what is important to you, if having a show with low or zero transaction fees, make sure that’s what you’re looking for. If it’s an eCommerce platform that allows you to sell on and offline in an integrated way, easily, make that your choice.
I will answer all of these questions and more in the Web Essentials Toolkit (shameless plug 2), but that doesn’t mean you can’t start today by creating a list of what’s important to you.