10 Step Guide to Setting Up a Squarespace Website from Scratch (Update Summer 2019)
Squarespace Tips & Hacks. Get Squarespace How to-s and Why to-s straight to your inbox. I love to share!
Creating a new Squarespace website** - or any website - is so chicken and eggy - I almost don’t know where to begin - and possibly that’s why you’re here too.
(**7.0 version of Squarespace)
You’re wondering where to begin?
Let me make a couple of assumptions.
You’ve already decided on Squarespace
You want to share something with the world and that something needs a home, aka a website.
So - is that you? Good. Keep reading.
Quick note: You’ll save time, money and energy (and likely find it profitable in the long run) if you schedule a Squarespace training or 1-hour Squarespace for Beginners call to start you off on the right track.
Or, even better, book a Squarespace Design in a Day™ with me and my colleague, Sarah Moon.
Think about it…and keep reading. :)
Alright, let’s start with a Table of Contents
So you know what’s coming up…
Step 1 - Sign up for a FREE trial with Squarespace
Step 2 - Prep for your Squarespace Website
Step 3 - Choose a Squarespace Template
Step 4 - Read All About your Squarespace Template or your Template Family
Step 6 - Make Design Choices and Source Images
Step 8 - Add your content to your Squarespace Website and Layout Your Pages
Step 9 - It’s LAUNCH TIME
Step 10 - Join Free Facebook Squarespace Groups and Visit Squarespace Answers Forum
Step 1 - Sign up for a Free trial with Squarespace
Wait - before you do Steps 1-4, your free trial lasts just 14 days. So, you may want to skip to Steps 2, 5 & 6 and do all the prep first before signing up.
The link to sign up is right here —> https://www.squarespace.com/
Squarespace changes the design of its homepage frequently, so look for a stand out call to action button that says GET STARTED or START A FREE TRIAL.
Once you've signed up, all you have to do is follow the prompts.
TIP - Don’t worry right now about the template, the site description or even the site title.
Just pick whatever template you want and type whatever text you want.
You can change all these sections - and I will show you how to do that later in this blog post - let’s stick to the steps.
Once you’re all set up - go check your inbox or spam folder and read the email that Squarespace sent you and follow the instructions.
Step 2 - Prep for your Squarespace Website
You may be surprised by what you should consider before you even go poking around the Squarespace’s dashboard.
So no, choosing (or switching) your Squarespace template is NOT step 2. That comes next.
What do you need to consider? Things like -
Do you really need a website?
What pages do you want to include on your site?
Who are your ideal readers?
What do you want your site visitors to do when they land on your website? When they click through to a blog post? When they check out your services page?
It’s THINKING TIME!
Once you’ve thought about all that - and written your thoughts down (old school, pen and paper!) so you don’t forget, then you’re ready to choose a Squarespace template. Not before.
Honestly, this was my #1 Mistake. Don’t let it be yours!
In early 2017, I wrote a 4 part series on Prepping for your Squarespace Website that walks you through what you need to plan BEFORE you choose a template. It’s still relevant today (I updated this post in August 2019).
Step 3 - Choose a Squarespace Template
Ok, this one’s a doozy but if you’ve read the 4 Part Series in Step 2, you’re good to go. It should be an easier decision.
If you followed Step 1 - you will have already picked a random template, so now it’s time to think about a template you actually want to have and that suits your website goals.
How do you decide which template you should use?
The advice my Design in a Day™ partner Sarah Moon gives is to choose your template by functionality, not by design. (Sarah's a Squarespace specialist too, just sayin'!)
When I wrote this post, Squarespace (v.7.0) had 84 templates! There are probably more now. (When I first started on Squarespace, I had a choice of about 12 or something and I remember loving the lack of choice. Choosing WordPress templates was overwhelming.)
TIP - Many of the templates are from the same family of templates which means they have same underlying structure. In other words, don’t worry so much about the design of the demos.
If you choose a template by function and features, not by the design of the demo sites, then, for example, it doesn’t matter if you choose the Rally or the Mentor or the Hatch Templates - they’re all part of the Brine family and you can pretty much design them all the same.
I even tested this out in the How to Choose a Squarespace Template blog post and video.
Another typical situation is designing a simple bilingual website. If you choose design first, it might be harder to set up the bilingual navigation unless you hire a developer to code the site. So, which template is best for a simple bilingual site? (Hint: one in the Brine family.)
Tip - Find inspiration from website styles that match what you want to achieve for your biz website. Do you want to create a lifestyle blog or a magazine style website like Apartment Therapy or Martha Stewart? Then which Squarespace template is most suitable. (Hint: one in the Brine Family. ;)
Can you guess that the Brine family of templates is my favourite?
If you know what template family you want, you can check what version and what template family you have by clicking on HELP in the Squarespace dashboard. If the template you want isn’t in the same family that you originally picked, you’ll need to switch templates.
Step 4 - Read All about Your Squarespace Template
Once you’ve picked (or switched) your Squarespace template, read up on it. Find out what it can and cannot do (and if what it can and can’t do suits your website and business goals.) Squarespace has tutorials for each parent template.
Tip - Google “Name of template + Squarespace” to find the correct template documentation and tutorials. For example, my template is Sofia, so if I google “Sofia + Squarespace,” I’ll get the Brine template documentation in search results.
That’s it. That’s all.
Here are some of the popular template families.
Step 5- Prepare your Website's Written Content
You didn’t think you’d be able to start laying out pages quite yet, did you? Oh no! Stay away from your Squarespace account right now, as tempting as it to get started.
It’s time to ‘Content Wrangle.’
In short, you need to write your page copy based on the pages you want on your website. (And that’s just to start)
Pay attention to word counts. If you’ve got a lot to say, move some of it over to your blog. Don’t bombard your reader with too much copy on your main web pages.
4 typical pages for a service based business are (and yes, I’m linking over to mine as examples):
Contact Page. A note about your contact page and related website pages. It can act like a ‘virtual assistant.’ Consider how your contact page can help your business grow by answering questions your potential clients have, so you don’t have to by email.
Tip - Think you need many more website pages than the above to launch? Think again.
There’s also a lot of not-as-obvious ‘copy’ or text you’ll need to write.
Yep, you’ve got to start thinking about it now. And writing it down. Here’s a short list of ‘text’ you’ll need:
Business Information including email, physical location if you have one, office or store hours (yep, write it allllll down).
Copyright in the Footer (and then remember to update it on Jan 1 each year.)
SEO descriptions for EACH PAGE (see above sitewide SEO description link).
Huh? SEO Descriptions.
Yes, SEO descriptions surface in Google search results. Write a keyword-rich SEO title and description for each page.
You’ll also need copy for:
In Squarespace, these can be all be different. Or the same, your choice. But write it down somewhere and then add it to the Page Configuration Section.
Wait! There’s more writing to prep.
Contact Form information (If you have a contact page, what kind of info do you want to collect from people who email you? Perhaps you’ll want to send your leads to a thank you page or just fill in the post-submit section of the form.)
Newsletter Sign up information and your thank you for subscribing message. Don’t be boring. You may even want to get all fancy and redirect your subscribers to a thank you page right on your website. (I’m not even going to go into all the moving parts you’ll need on the email service provider side….that’s a whole ‘nuther post.)
Calls to action button copy such as 'Download Now,' 'Shop the Collection,' 'Learn More,' 'Get in Touch'
Announcement Bar copy.
Image descriptions/captions with keyword rich sentences. If you don’t have images yet, find out all about Squarespace’s integration with Unsplash. You can add free (and gorgeous) Unsplash images from within the Squarespace platform.
Legal Copy, disclaimers, cookie copy and the like.
Alright. Don’t panic!
Yes, that’s crap ton of writing to think about. And it’s ok if your writing isn’t perfect at this stage or if you can’t be arsed to figure out all your page titles just yet.
Simply be aware of all the ‘text’ or ‘copy’ that you’ll need add to your Squarespace website so you’re not confused or surprised (or burned out) when you’re setting it all up in the backend.
On Sarah Moon’s and my niche legal website, I wrote a post about the 4 types of copy you need on your website. This breakdown will work for any type of service-based business. If you’re new to writing for the web, read the post to learn what to put where on your website.
Step 6 - Make Design Choices and Sources Images
Not a graphic or web designer? That’s ok.
Keep your design choices simple.
TIP - Choose 2 fonts max and a simple colour palette that will be easy to fix if / when you hire a designer.
You’ve got grand plans, right? Surely, branding and design is on your wishlist!
Here’s something important to know, Squarespace forces you to keep your design choices simple.
For example - in the Design → Site Styles section of Squarespace (v.7.0), you have a choice of 3 headings plus Body text. That’s it.
(Of course, if you know code, you can add new heading fonts but let’s save that for another post). Once you set a font and a colour for Heading 1, this will be the exact font and colour sitewide. Same goes for Heading 2 and 3.
Tip - Before you pick these design-y styles, look for inspiration based on your niche or industry.
Start a Pinterest Board like this one from Sarah Moon.
Think about why you like the websites you've picked for your Pinterest board and then think about why your ideal client or customer will like this style? How will they feel when they land on your website, based on the colours, fonts and layout you select.
Design Advice and Inspiration List
Page Layout Inspiration - I like Awwwards for page layout and design ideas. And Pinterest, of course. Squarespace also has some Starter Layouts too, if you're time pressed, though I prefer starting from scratch.
Luckily Squarespace has a whole library of Google and Adobe fonts for you to use as part of its platform, so you’ll probably find exactly what you need when you set up your design styles in the Squarespace site styles.
And, there’s more…
TIP: Keep this information and these 'assets' ALL IN ONE PLACE.
Yep! So much to think about before you even touch your site, eh. Believe me, you’ll be glad you did all this prep before you start designing because, frankly, content comes before design - not the other way around. (Side note, I do have a ‘design-first’ copywriting service. If you can follow word counts and write copy that doesn’t ruin the design of the template you’ve chosen, you can do ‘design first’ too.
Step 7 - Do All the Boring Back End Stuff First
(Quick note - from this step on, I’m basically spilling secrets on exactly how my Design in a Day™ partner Sarah and I organize our super efficient Squarespace web design process. And yes, we get it all done in one day + training!)
You’re probably thinking, finally, I can start playing around in my Squarespace website.
Well, Yes. And No.
I have no proof of this - except my own experience and that of everyone I’ve ever worked with - but the LAST thing you’re going to want to do after you’ve read this 10 Step Guide, watched every tutorial under the sun, uploaded all your copy and images and designed your whole site is do all the piddly, but necessary bits that boost your SEO and help you get found online.
That’s right. These piddly bits count.
Time to head for the Settings panel in the dashboard.
In Squarespace settings, you’ll add your SEO descriptions, connect your social accounts, enable or disable your blog comments, check your security settings, and do a whole ton of other things.
Go through each section step by step and if you’re not sure if it’s important or what the heck it is, leave it for the time being, then ask someone (see Step 8) or Squarespace Customer Care.
Tip - Here’s Who / What to have on Speed Dial while you’re building out your Squarespace Website. You’ll have questions, find answers quickly.
Squarespace also has a handy Settings Cheat Sheet to get you started.
After you’ve configured your Settings, click into the Design → Logo and Title section and add your favicon and social share icon.
Favicon? What the heck….?
Don’t worry. I have a blog post all about the wee favicon and social share icon.
Step 8 - Add Your Content to Your Squarespace Website
Before you get started, learn all about Squarespace content blocks first, so you understand how to add and layout various elements such as text, buttons, videos and more on a page.
Here’s what I do, in this order - YMMV. (Um, I think that means “Your Methods May Vary.”)
Create a visual STYLE GUIDE page in the Unlinked Section (then disable the page).
In the STYLE GUIDE page, add all the different content blocks such as headings, text, buttons, images (card, poster, etc), forms, and more so you can style the fonts and colours all in one place. Remember, most styles you set are site wide, unless you use code.
Set up all your pages you’ve listed. Some pages will go in the main navigation section meaning, these pages are linked in the website menu. Some pages will go in the unlinked section which are interior or sub pages that people can link to learn more about your biz, your services, your portfolio, etc.
TIP - If you know that a couple of pages will have the exact same layout, create one page and after laying it out, duplicate it.
Why duplicate a page? As of this writing, Squarespace form blocks cannot be duplicated, so if you know you’ll be using the same form, with the same fields and the same thank you message on different pages, then you’ll thank me for this tip.
After each page is created, rename the Page Title and Navigation Title (if required) and check the URL slug to remove articles like ‘a’ and ‘the’ and unnecessary words.
Add your SEO descriptions (and SEO Title - optional) to your regular and index pages settings.
Step F - THE FUN PART
Now, add all copy and images to each page and start designing. On the rare occasion, I use Squarespace starter layouts - which you’ll notice when you create a new page. My preference is to start with a blank slate and get creative with the layout, using design inspiration from other websites in my field or from websites that my ideal clients probably visit.
Tip - Be careful! Never copy design or text! Check out other sites for inspiration and ideas. Figure out why you like the user experience of a certain website. What are the features that make you want to click around?
Do you want pricing plan tables - and how do you do that without code?
What about some background colour around blocks of bulleted text?
Here are a few more tutorials on laying out Squarespace Pages.
Every single Squarespace tutorial video in one place (I always add this link to my clients’ Style Guide page.) Scroll down to the Images and Videos section and the Pages and Content Section.
And a few of my favourite hacks for laying out and editing a Squarespace page.
TIP - Avoid straight up copying and pasting. Instead, remove Google or Word doc formatting by using the “Paste as Text” Clipboard first.
Proofread, check your links, and test your forms. Then do it again. Or get someone else to do it for you!
TIP - Do NOT Skip the testing and proofreading step!
Test, test test and then test again.
And you know what - here's the beauty of a website - if you realize you've got a big ole typo front and centre after proudly sharing it with everyone in Internet-land, all you have to do is log in and fix it.
We have short-term memories. Seriously, no big deal. So test and proofread like crazy, but forgive yourself if you let something slip.
Check how your site looks on mobile and tablet and don't forget to set the mobile font and colour styles in Site Styles.
Step 9 - It's LAUNCH TIME
Ok! A couple more things you need to do. This section depends on what you already have - did you already buy a domain name with Squarespace?Do you need to connect your domain from another registrar? Have you paid for your Squarespace account yet?
Start here with Squarespace on Understanding Domains and go from there.
If you’re really lost, reach out to customer care (here’s that hack again on how to get to the email/chat button quickly!)
After you’ve paid for your account, you can now index your site with Google and Bing. Let those search engines crawl your site like the evil-looking spider bots they are. Now they know you exist. Yay!
TIP - If you don’t have a Gsuite account, you can still access webmaster tools with Gmail to index your site with Google and Bing.)
Step 10 - Join Free FB Squarespace Groups and Visit Squarespace Answers Forum
You are now officially a Squarespace-r! Congratulations!
Here are 2 of my favourite Squarespace Facebook Groups with newbies and experts mingling and sharing tips and tricks.
EXTRA - You’ve launched and ..huh? Where are the site visitors? Now it’s time to Blog!
Blogging is giant topic all on its lonesome - so in brief…
Read Squarespace’s documentation on Blogging with Squarespace to find out how best to use the platform for blogging for your business.
TIP - if you plan to blog on your new Squarespace website, write 3 draft posts so you can copy and paste them once you know how to set up a blog on Squarespace.
And lastly but not leastly - here are some extra posts on blogging with Squarespace (and why you should!)
What should I blog about when everything’s already been written (This post is for lawyers, but it can help any service-based pro.)
Squarespace Tips & Hacks
Get Squarespace How to-s and Why to-s straight to your inbox. I love to share!
Need to launch a website RIGHT NOW and no time to learn Squarespace?
Try out Design-in-a-Day™, my collaboration with Squarespace expert and web designer Sarah Moon. We'll snap together a polished website based on a Squarespace template that you choose or we recommend.
This is a quick and efficient process to get you online in time for that big opportunity that demands a solid online presence.