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Cheaper Squarespace alternative? Novice-friendly static site generator for wikis & general sites?

Discussion in 'Web Development & Web Performance' started by MaximilianKohler, Jan 4, 2024.

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  1. MaximilianKohler

    MaximilianKohler Member

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    I'm a novice with no expertise in website building or design. I went with Squarespace for a business site because they were the cheapest noob-friendly option I could find at the time. But I've had various problems, they regularly raise their prices, their cheapest plan is currently $16/mo ($170/yr), and they lock features like javascript code behind even higher prices.

    When I was looking into wiki/documentation site options, I found Static Site Generators (SSG), which create static websites that are free to host with netlify, github pages, cloudflare pages, etc. They have templates and features built-in so you can often just create some markdown files and they're quickly transformed into a beautiful, fast, secure, free website. You often don't need technical knowledge/expertise, but you can customize them further if you have that.


    https://jamstack.org/generators/ has a list of them. MKDocs Material theme is pretty elaborate and popular for hosting documentation/wikis. If you compare it to bookstackapp.com for example, bookstack requires paid hosting since it's not static, and requires much more technical expertise to get running and to customize. I find MKdocs Material to be pretty user/noob-friendly, with good documentation and easy customization. Other SSGs can require a lot more technical knowledge or be less easily-customizable.

    But MKDocs Material doesn't seem great for a general business website. After learning about SSGs I realized that my Squarespace site is all static content and should be replaceable with an SSG. I've been trying to find an SSG that's as good for general sites as MKDocs Material is for wikis.

    Comparisons:
    Hugo, Gatsby, Eleventy (11ty), and Astro are the main ones I see recommended for noobies. They all have themes or "starter projects" you can use as templates. The difficulty is finding a theme/template that's as good for a regular website as MKDocs Material is for documentation/wikis.

    And looking into them more, Astro requires javascript, CSS, and html knowledge. Eleventy (11ty) also requires JS and HTML coding. And Gatsby doesn't look that simple either - sitepoint.com/gatsby-guide.

    Publii (static site CMS) was recommended as noob-friendly but it's extremely limited. I didn't like it at all.

    TeleportHQ is MUCH better than Publii, but it's not intuitive or easy enough to use to be a good replacement for Squarespace IMO.

    Plasmic, Webflow, and Couch CMS seem to be similar options.


    One feature SSGs are missing is email contact forms. Some of them use Netlify forms which is pretty limited/expensive - 100 submissions per site /month ($19+ when exceeded).

    Hugo's Piko theme uses FormSubmit.io (free) or Fabform.io ($5/mo). But I haven't tested that to understand how well it works and why/how it's free.

    Hugo's Tella theme uses getform.io (50/mo).

    I haven't seen any of them mention using an SMTP.


    I saw these HTML templates html5up.net recommended on another forum, but I would think they’d require more technical knowledge to use/customize than an SSG. They’re all pretty elaborate too. None are basic business or personal type websites.


    Wordpress:
    When I looked into Wordpress I was comparing the ".com" options (wordpress.com/pricing) with Squarespace, and they were more expensive. Now that I'm more familiar with hosting my own linux web server, I could probably use the ".org" and host on a $5-10/mo server but I get a lot of traffic on my business site (can reach 1m+ views in a month) and I'm not sure how good/costly a server I'd need to keep it running.

    I saw Oxygen Builder recommended as a "Squarespace-type UI" for Wordpress, and I watched some of the tutorials (oxygenbuilder.com/tutorials) and it seems like a decent option for a one-time $130 fee. But still not static.

    I just saw that eva is using the generatepress.com WordPress theme for his website https://servermanager.guide/about. It looks like the premium $44/yr option may be similar enough to Squarespace.


    Flat CMS options:
    I found this - 10 Best Flat CMS for Lightweight Websites - which lists Grav at #1. I checked out Grav and it's purely markdown and has nice templates (Open Publishing Space, Agency, Deliver Site). So that might be the best option. The Agency template has a contact form, but looking at the code I don't see how it's being submitted/sent/emailed.

    I found this page - learn.getgrav.org/17/forms/forms/example-form - which looks like it can utilize any SMTP. But that, the installation instructions, and the webhosting section all indicate that it's not a static site that you can upload to Netlify. But it still seems like a cheaper, user-friendly alternative to Squarespace.

    It looks like the other "Best Flat CMS" options are also not static sites.
     
  2. eva2000

    eva2000 Administrator Staff Member

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    I'd also check out Cloudflare Pages which is essentially free https://pages.cloudflare.com/ and docs Cloudflare Pages documentation · Cloudflare Pages docs. There are limits though Platform · Cloudflare Pages docs i.e. max individual file size is 25MB. Higher files need to use Cloudflare R2 S3 object storage instead and max files on Cloudflare Pages is 20,000 files Limits · Cloudflare Pages docs.

    Various frameworks Cloudflare Pages supports Framework guides · Cloudflare Pages docs. Easiest framework is just plain static HTML pages hosted on Cloudflare Pages by pointing it to a Github repo (can be private or public) Deploy your site · Cloudflare Pages docs

    Tutorials for other advance configured Cloudflare Pages Tutorials · Cloudflare Pages docs and How to · Cloudflare Pages docs - including Deploy a static WordPress site

    Since last year, I've been offloading parts of Centminmod.com domain to Cloudflare Pages and Cloudflare Workers to better handle scalability and security i.e. actual Centmin Mod installers have been offloaded :)
     
  3. MaximilianKohler

    MaximilianKohler Member

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    Oh nice! I thought cloudflare pages was static-only, but it looks like the Pages Functions enables dynamic content. I'll watch some video tutorials to see if it seems doable. The cloudflare docs don't seem too helpful. Off-hand it still seems unlikely to work with Grav since Grav requires php?

    It looks like Grav has a static generator plugin too (and another one called blackhole). If you can install php on your PC you can probably use Grav locally to output a static site. I'm guessing that would disable the email/contact function (and other dynamic features) though.

    It looks like you can also install wordpress on your PC and use plugins to output static sites. A limiting factor may be finding free/cheap plugins that make it as easy to edit as Squarespace. And I don't see a way to get contact/email forms working.

    So you're using Wordpress for centminmod.com and exporting static sites with the Simply Static plugin to cloudflare pages?

    I saw Decap CMS mentioned as another possibility but the editor seems too limited.
     
  4. eva2000

    eva2000 Administrator Staff Member

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    Centmin Mod site has always been pure static HTML pages to begin with. No generators involved.
     
  5. MaximilianKohler

    MaximilianKohler Member

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    How are you creating the HTML pages? You're just writing pure HTML in a text editor?

    I looked through lots more SSGs and I came to the conclusion that they're not a valid Squarespace alternative unless you need a simple blog or you can code.

    For example, this seems to be one of the most popular Jekyll themes About but it seems to be mainly for blogs and documentation, and doesn't seem to have all the design options that Squarespace does.

    I read that healthcare.gov used Jekyll https://medium.com/devseed/new-healt...e-41c25249cf38 in conjunction with https://prose.io. So I looked it up and found this GitHub - CMSgov/HealthCare.gov-Styleguide: CMS Developer Site which actually seems pretty decent; but also not complete enough. Their newer version seems more complete/extensive, but also quite technical. It looks like it requires too much coding for me.

    Weebly seems to be a slightly cheaper alternative to Squarespace but it's missing some features and Square might end it in a few years.

    I looked into Oxygen builder for Wordpress more, and it looks like a more advanced version of Squarespace with a 1-time payment equal to 1 year of Squarespace. Then you just have the monthly costs of hosting the server, which might be $5-10, depending on your traffic. There is a plugin/addon to export a static site, but it might not be worth the trouble.

    According to https://servebolt.com/articles/calcu...site-visitors/ a 2-core server ($5) with a webpage that takes 300ms to load can serve:
    400/minute
    24,000/hr
    288,000/12 hrs

    A lot of people use Wordpress, but also seem unsatisfied with it https://jamstack.org/survey/2022/#co...gement-systems.

    The Gutenberg editor may be new since the last time I tried Wordpress, and it looks pretty similar to Squarespace. So maybe I don't even need Oxygen. I looked up "Gutenberg vs Oxygen" and people were saying to go with Gutenberg.

    I looked into Grav more, and similar to the SSGs, it doesn't seem to have all the design capabilities without coding them yourself.

    I found out about Hostinger Website Builder which uses AI and looks very similar to Squarespace's builder. But there's no demo so I can't see exactly what it can do. But Hostinger is much cheaper than Squarespace, and you can choose to use Wordpress with it instead of the Hostinger builder.

    I checked GreenGeeks and they say "We offer drag and drop website builders like Weebly and SitePad". Sitepad is $12/yr and makes static sites, but it looks like you need one of the popular GUI web panels to use it https://sitepad.com/docs/admin/suppo...ontrol-panels/. Similar to Weebly, it's also a bit more limited -- IE: you can't open a contact form in a lightbox from a button https://sitepad.com/docs/enduser/contact-form.

    I found this video that seems quite good and covers more options I didn't know about:
    Ultimate Website Builder Comparison 2024 | Find the BEST One for You + Why I Hated Squarespace

    Anyone know of better places/forums to discuss this type of thing? There seems to be hundreds of thousands of people using the jamstack SSGs but I haven't found a place where people discuss them.
     
  6. eva2000

    eva2000 Administrator Staff Member

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    Yup pure HTML in text editor :D I sux at web development HTML though, so that's why centminmod.com looks the way it does right now. There are plans to improve it eventually :)

    Try searching for the appropriate Reddit groups
     
  7. MaximilianKohler

    MaximilianKohler Member

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  8. buik

    buik “The best traveler is one without a camera.”

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    What do you understand by "a business site"? A relatively simple site, with digital vcard, contact page and company information?

    The big problem with big players like Squarespace is the vender lock. A nice website is created in only a few clicks but afterwards you pay the grand price. Every year the price goes up and since Squarespace knows most users have no to litle experience. They won't leave anytime soon either.

    Since it seems like you are referring to HTML templates and static pages and only need a single website? I would say don't start it yourself and put the job on upwork or like. For a few hundred you will have a fine site. (Ask for the source files).

    It simply takes far too much time to read up on. And by the time you are mastering it, the single website is already done and you hardly use the knowledge in the future.
     
  9. MaximilianKohler

    MaximilianKohler Member

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    Here's an example. Something fairly basic.

    Yeah. I found out that hosts like GreenGeeks and Hostinger will import your Squarespace site to Wordpress for free. But they don't move everything or make it identical.

    True, I could pay someone to make a static site or a Grav site. But then it would be more difficult for me to make changes, new pages, etc. since I haven't obtained the technical knowledge.
     
  10. buik

    buik “The best traveler is one without a camera.”

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    You can add new pages, change etc with Grav. Another option could be to let someone create a Wordpress theme (for example clone of squarespace theme). With the uncompiled source files, you could make changes yourself or hire the same/someone else. In the near future.