What does the rise of Squarespace and Wix mean for the small digital agency?

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Posted by Mike
on 27 September 2019

At the time of writing, 2.8% of the worlds’ top 10 million websites run on either Squarespace or Wix according to W3Techs.com

2.8% isn’t the sexiest percentage you’ve ever read, but 2.8% of 10 million is still 280,000 websites. That number is growing pretty rapidly and only represents a fraction of the total number of sites hosted with Squarespace and Wix.

As an agency we are responsible for adding a handful of sites to that number. Squarespace and Wix do a good job of providing fairly flexible themes and templates, many of which look really good and are easy to maintain by the client.

Is this the end of web design as we know it?

I have been asked on more than one occasion “how are you still in business?” There is a perception with Squarespace and Wix entering the mainstream (who can forget the TV ads with Keanu Reeves and Idris Elba) that this must be the future – and therefore the role of web designer has finally been deprecated and is now scheduled for deletion.

The truth is that whilst Squarespace and Wix are democratising the website building process, that percentage of the market is still relatively tiny and often low value. There are also a number of things that we do which effectively take us out of direct competition with them.

As an agency it’s of paramount importance that we provide the most appropriate website solution fitting our clients’ needs. Sometimes, a Squarespace or Wix solution is appropriate (e.g. for a start-up without an established brand, fairly basic needs and little or no budget, this approach would make sense in the short term at least).

When To Avoid Squarespace & Wix

Cracks do start to appear in the Squarespace and Wix solution in a number of circumstances:

  • Bespoke functionality: sometimes a site just needs something special that doesn’t come out of a box.
  • Bespoke design: sometimes the project demands a completely original design.
  • Security and infrastructure: sometimes a client will have more stringent and specific security or hosting requirements than Squarespace and Wix could provide.
  • (This is not an exhaustive list).

Enter WordPress

For clients with any of the above requirements we are now almost exclusively using WordPress as a starting point.

If you look at the CMS usage trends over the past 10 years (and I do – often) there are winners and losers; Drupal, Joomla, and Magento are now in decline whereas WordPress has seen consistent growth every year with Shopify, Squarespace, and Wix taking up new positions as they came online throughout the decade.

As an agency we did use Drupal 7 a lot but ever since Drupal decided to focus on Drupal 8 it was clear that Drupal’s market share would take a hit. Drupal 7 wasn’t particularly easy to work with as a developer but Drupal 8 is a monstrosity that is just too cumbersome for us to wrestle with. As a result in 2019 we effectively abandoned Drupal as a CMS solution for any new builds.

WordPress now represents some 34.6% of the world’s top websites and counting. In short, it isn’t going away any time soon.

How do we stay in business then?!

How do small agencies deal with the perceived threat of Squarespace and Wix? Firstly by realising that it’s not really a threat at all. Secondly by espousing these values:

1. Expertise

Squarespace and Wix offer a DIY service, and to extend that metaphor sometimes DIY goes horribly wrong and you have to call in somebody qualified to do the job properly.

Developing your in-house expertise is fundamental to providing a confident and valuable service to clients.

2. Service

“In the end we got sick of trying to contact [support / the developer / the agency]”. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard this story from clients and it’s not just a problem with website providers.

Developers are indeed a strange race, often reluctant to communicate and often lacking people skills when they do. I’m allowed to say that because I am one. It doesn’t have to be this way though.

Adding good service into your brand is a no-brainer.

3. Add Value

As an agency we benefit from having a diverse range of skills and experience in house. Yes a client may come to us in need of a new website – and we are very good at building new websites – but I can pull in brand and design expertise from across the room, SEO and digital marketing expertise from our own digital team, and marketing strategy from our partners and associates, and come back to the client with a wide range of ideas and solutions that they may never have even considered.

You don’t get that from Squarespace and Wix.