Custom Squarespace templates: a tour behind the scenes

Note: this post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you decide to purchase from the site(s) mentioned. I’m only affiliate of products and services that I personally trust and would recommend anyway!

We both know that the building process of a website takes time.

Sometimes more, sometimes less.

It depends on a couple of factors like your own design process – whether you create sketches, wireframes or mockups beforehand or jump straight into Squarespace – and your client’s brief.


A possible solution for a common problem

The thing is that a custom website requires more work, especially if you’re planning to make a lot of CSS alterations, which generally translates into a higher price tag.

And the problem is, if you’re looking to help a pool of clients that are on a tight budget (like starting entrepreneurs, hobbyists or non-profits), it can get tricky to do the math to find the right spot where you can both benefit from the project.

One way to offer a lower price without devaluing your work is to find ways to cut down time in your design process.

But, if you’ve been in the design business for a while you know that’s a lot easier said than done.

Regardless of how streamlined your process is, it can get very difficult to make things move faster, particularly during the actual design stage.

That’s where custom Squarespace templates can come in to save the day.


Part 1: General aspects of a custom template

I recently got the opportunity to test out one of Ghost Plugins’ new custom Squarespace templates called Hello Kora, to be able to give you a tour behind the scenes and show you what these templates can offer.

First, I want to walk you through the basics to cover some general aspects of the template and in Part 2 (further down this post) I want to share with you a little experiment I recorded to see how much time it would take me to build a homepage out of this template.


The setup

Since Squarespace doesn’t allow to add/upload custom templates to their platform, template creators have had to come up with different ways to offer the setup process.

Some walk you through the step-by-step building process in video form, and some set things up for you.

In the case of Ghost Plugins, their templates are “installed” for you in your account.

After you purchase, they’ll create the template on a new trial site and you’ll get a link to become the owner of that site in as little as 24h!

It’s almost as if you were selecting a Squarespace template from their own marketplace!

You get the different pages already built, demo content in place to have as a reference and Site Styles set for all the elements that are on the example pages.

Hello Kora template behind the scenes.png

The pages

Speaking of pages, these templates are built using indexes.

You have the demo pages of the example site, and under the not linked area you have a collection of all the different index sections that were used in those pages PLUS A TON of additional layout options.

All you have to do is duplicate these template sections and add them into your own Index to start building your pages.

And don’t worry, they have included a reminder to duplicate so you don’t work on the template directly by accident.

Sections available in Hello Kora template.png

The design

The Hello Kora template, in particular, has a very clean and simple design that looks completely custom.

They used the absolute minimum amount of code necessary to avoid bulking up the site but still give it a more distinctive feel, for example by adding a shadow to their buttons and card blocks, and make sure everything looks great on smaller devices.

Hello Kora page design.png
Hello Kora Ghost template mobile menu.png
Hello Kora Ghost template mobile design.png

In their setup page, they show you the exact code they’re already using in the template so you know what’s what.

If you don’t want to touch code at all, you don’t have to!

But if you like tweaking things, you’re welcome to do so as long as you keep in mind they can’t help you with customizations.

Ghost plugins site redesign.png

The support

One thing that really struck me was the fact that they offer 6 months of support, which I think is of great help when clients come back weeks (or months) after the final delivery for additional tweaks or questions, so you can reach out to them if you need to!

I personally got to experience their customer support when they switched the previous index sections included in the template for the new and updated versions, without me lifting a finger.

I didn’t even have to ask them to do it!


Part 2: The experiment

Ok, now that we’ve gone over the basic aspects of the template, let’s have some fun shall we?

In the – very impromptu – video below, I’ll walk you through how I would build a design with only content and images ready from a hypothetical client, to see how much time it would take me to get to the final result.

It was really fun working with it so I hope you enjoy the process!

Note: since it’s a fairly long video you can skip the actual building process if you like. You can see how I divided the content I would be working with before 4:44 and then take a look at the final result starting from 40:13. I do recommend watching the middle if you’re interested in seeing different layouts offered and how I selected which ones to use!


Ok, so…

Should you use a custom Squarespace template in your next project?

Well, it depends.

It’s not a right or wrong thing. It’s up to you.

If you’re thinking about purchasing one for your next client project (whether from Ghost Plugins or another template creator), here’s what I would recommend asking yourself:

  • How big is your client’s budget? Is their budget large enough that you can offer a smaller package without all the bells and whistles? In that case, will it be worth your time to strip down your larger (or only) design packages to fit this particular client?

  • Does your client want or need a super custom website? If they want something completely original, it doesn’t make sense for you to get a template you’ll be overhauling completely.

  • How tight is the deadline? If you need to cut down your building time, these custom templates could be a great solution.

  • Is website design secondary to your main service? For example, if you work with branding and offer website builds as an add-on, working with a template could help if you want to offer something custom without significantly having to extend your project.

  • Are you getting started offering Squarespace design and aren’t 100% confident yet? Perhaps working with a custom template can help you think outside the box and learn as you go, while still offering designs that are totally different from the regular templates.

I hope this brief look behind the scenes gave you a better idea of what you can expect when working with a third-party template, what to look for, and what questions you can ask yourself to decide whether your client project would benefit from it!

Note: if you have questions about the templates from Ghost Plugins, check out their FAQs page.


Until next time,