Steve's original website was built in 2008 - in web years, that's hundreds of years ago. When we were planning the new site we knew we wanted to build it from scratch and that it needed to be something we could have complete control over in order to make design changes and add updates as we evolved. I also needed a good blogging option as this is now a significant part of our 5-year business plan, which includes building an email list.
I researched several options by reading widely online and, over 3 months or so, narrowed my choice to 1 of 5 options:
I then spent a further 3 months researching these options extensively, using free trials where I could, seeking out examples where I couldn't, reading reviews and watching how-tos. Wordpress is, of course, the biggest and most comprehensive option out there but I found myself needing too much 'expertise' to get going with it. I didn't want to become a WP expert - I wanted to create a website. I really liked Wix but felt their (more than 500) templates were a little too...templatey, too colour-by-numbers, if you will. I loved Restored 3:16 and all of its designs which offer a structured, hand-held WP option but - for this project, at least - it's probably too feminine. (That is its USP, and not at all a criticism; I just need to find the right project to use a Restored 316 site.) Weebly was too much like Wix, but with fewer themes, and I really wanted something more...beautiful.
In the end, my choice was an easy one: Squarespace combined the ease of use, elegance of design and experienced customer service that I was after. My trial build on a Squarespace template showed just how intuitive the back-end is and just how beautiful the front-end can be. The free 14-days of playing with the software (with a no-quibble extension) gave me the confidence to sign up and convinced me that Squarespace was the right choice for The Scottish Countryman.
8 reasons why I used Squarespace to create The Scottish Countryman website
I especially liked:
- the designs they offer
- the ability to switch templates once you have created a site
- the control over a wide range of elements within each page
- the ability to start with templates but move to blank pages once you've learned the basics
- the 3rd party options (I'm using Mail Chimp and may switch to Stripe and away from PayPal)*
- the support - both in terms of helpful guides and email response
- the community - I like lots of sites that have been created using Squarespace
- the ease of it all - from sign-up, to set-up, to paying up!
*July 2018 update. We did switch to Stripe and it's been excellent; much prefer it to Paypal. More on this in another blog post.
How I used Squarespace
Choosing the template
I played around with a couple of designs but eventually went with 'Five' because I liked the clean look and large image headers or banners. But, actually, you could start with any template* and end up with the style elements found in the others, because all the style elements are available in every site, regardless of the template you start out with.
*July 2018 Update: I would advise starting out with a site in the Brine family, now, because that's the template type that offers the most features and the latest formatting for a modern, clean look.
When I first set up the site, I started with the home page on the template, filling in the header with the business name but I like the option of switching this for a logo and, when I am happy with a logo for The Scottish Countryman, I may make use of this option. I then decided on the pages we'd need and set up the navigation to give some shape to the site.
Mindful of our mobile-device audience, which needs fewer separate pages and more scroll-down information on each page, I decided not to do separate 'Contact' and 'About' pages. Instead, I combined them in one 'About' page, as I have started to see this more an more on recently-built sites. I also added a mobile information bar, which provides quick-links for those using their cell phones, so I feel confident this will work fine but, If that proves to be an issue (based on feedback and analytics), I'll separate out the 'Contact' and 'Location' details and put them on their own page*. You can create a new page in seconds but I'll probably just duplicate the page and then easily delete the section/s I don't need.
*July 2018 Update: We needed to offer more help with directions because our post code is shared by a lot of properties locally, so I ended up creating a separate Visit page (below) that details how to get here, whether you come by car or bus. It also gave us somewhere to place our Accessibility Statement, making sure we are welcoming and helpful to all of our prospective visitors. It's now our 4th most visited page, after Home, Experience and Blog, with the About page getting only half the traffic of the Visit page.
The Five template includes a side bar, which I wanted - although I am aware it's less in vogue and I must say that I do like the clean 'all-across' sites too. However, I felt our clients would appreciate the easy access to key information about our products no matter which page they were on, and it allows us to showcase the blog posts, so a sidebar was one of my reasons for picking Five. I'll definitely be asking about this when I do surveys on our site, a few months in, though, to see if it is proving useful or how we might improve the experience for our clients.
I tried a few variations for the product pages and will cover this in a separate blog post as it is key to the commercial success of the website. However, the biggest impact I have managed to make by using Squarespace has been in the use of images, as the screen grabs below demonstrate.
The service Steve offers is all about the experience. It's about encouraging people into the Scottish countryside and enabling them to connect with it through engaging, entertaining and educational experiences. It's about how it looks and feels, how it transforms. It's about being there, being part of it. In order to persuade people to give it a go, we have to try to convey this. We'll use video as we develop, but - for now - I am delighted with the impact we're getting from images. Just by looking at the before and after pictures you can see a huge difference! (Photo credits on our About page.)
What's my verdict, having used Squarespace to build this site?
Unsurprisingly, it's positive - I really like it! There is still much to learn but I look forward to that process which will underpin our development as we grow this site, rather than get in the way of it, as I believe WP would have done. My learning is partly driven through reaction to what's needed next and partly through proaction, actively seeking out the options that are available and working out what could help Steve's business. That's where my recommended Squarespace resources come in...
Resources for Squarespace
Squarespace provides excellent support. Their Help site provides guides, videos, webinars and workshops. The layout is clean and easy to use and the content is very high quality, with regular updates and lots of detailed support. I also found the contact process painless and the staffer quickly resolved my confusion (over using an index page).
Squarespace is all you'd ever need but I also really like Paige Brunton. There are many, many sites online offering support, advice and extensions for Squarespace but Paige Brunton's is my favourite - by a country mile. Paige offers fantastic, practical and beautifully presented advice on getting the most out of Squarespace. For example, I just changed my blog page from the default layout, which was starting to look cluttered and made finding a post tricky, using a 'summary block' to create a cleaner look. I am yet to implement all of Paige's tips and suggestions that I want to add to The Scottish Countryman site but they are definitely in the works and I'd highly recommend you take a look at Paige's blog and course if you are building a Squarespace site.
Who did your website and what software did you use? Have you been pleased with it? If you need any advice or support with your site, or if you'd like me to talk you through how I created our site using Squarespace, just get in touch!