Update! Squarespace has rolled out version 7.1 of their builder which uses just one set of options. With 7.1, there are pre-made designs you can use but all the templates can be made to look the same so they are much more forgiving with the “choose a template” step. If you’re starting a new site today, you can still choose to build in 7.1 or 7.0 but I recommend 7.1. This blog post was last updated in March, 2021.

See below for info on 7.0 templates.

Here’s the scene:

You need a website for your small business. Being a self-starter with a lean budget, you open a Squarespace account and dive into the knowledgebase to learn the basics of the website builder. Seems easy enough! You browse through the library of sleek template mockups and you try a few of them on for size. Here’s where it starts to get a little sticky. Your content plus that layout does not equal the professional, elegant, high-production-value look that you were envisioning. Okay, so you try another one. And another.

Finally, you settle on one that looks pretty decent. Hurrah! You’ve done it. Cue the newspaper graphic with your face on the front page under the headline “Entrepreneur of the Year.” Cue the montage of your small-batch maple hot sauce flying off the shelves and a chart with an arrow that just keeps going up and up! Next thing you know you’re on the Oprah Winfrey show looking back on this very moment. This is the future I want for us all but (spoiler alert) this isn’t how it usually goes.

You have the sections arranged all as you like, but why can’t you link to them from the header? You want the navigation menu to stay on the screen while the user scrolls. You want the blog posts displayed in a grid rather than a list. Sigh. Everything is horrible again. You’ve already put so much work into arranging everything but you’re getting stuck on the final details that would pull the whole thing together. Changing templates at this point just sends you way back to the beginning and what if the same thing happens again?

As a professional web designer, I have been there. Several times, even. This is why I always tell my web design clients that choosing the template is the most important part of building a Squarespace site. Do not rush it or you will be sorry. On the other hand, you could start with a template and create content to fit the layout you’re given, but I haven’t seen that approach working much out in the wild. Write me if you’ve done it that way!

Envisioning the website that you want

Before choosing a template, I recommend you figure out what features you need. Take an inventory of the content that you have and the relevant free stock photos available online at sites like pexels.com. Ask yourself:

  1. Are my photos high quality? Do they look blurry when blown up to full screen size?
  2. Do my photos have negative space? Is there space to put text over the picture without blocking out the important bits?

If you don’t have any compelling full-screen images, you probably don’t need features like parallax scrolling, the ability to overlay text over your pictures or a banner slider. You can cross those off the list! When you’re looking at those fancy-looking template examples, try to visualize exactly which image would go where on the home page and what the text would say. Even if you don’t end up selecting that particular template, it will help you to gather content and identify what specific elements are important to you.

Squarespace templates have very pretty placeholder content

You must learn to separate that content (pictures, text, graphics) from the structure of the template itself. This is the one knowledgebase article I consult every time I start working on a new Squarespace site. If that one is overwhelming, start with the Features section of this one. It’s okay if you don’t know what all of these features are. The important thing is understanding that these features and limitations are the meat of every Squarespace template. These charts will literally tell you what the differences are between the templates. The stunning photography has nothing to do with the template and in fact, often the layout doesn’t either. Many of the layouts you’ll see in the template examples can be created on any number of templates.

The feature lists can be helpful later in the process too. Don’t tear your hair out trying to add a sidebar on the homepage if your template simply does not support it. You can use custom CSS to do things that are not built into the existing design, but just be warned that Squarespace Support will not help you if something goes wrong later. At that point, you’ll need to remove the custom stuff or hire a freelance web developer to help you with the troubleshooting. If you want to stick with DIY, you’ll benefit from going with the flow and not trying to reinvent the design.