How to Optimize the SEO of a Squarespace Website

Published Dec 10, 2016 by John Boitnott in SEO
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Squarespace SEO Illustartion

Squarespace is one of many web hosting and site building systems available. It’s also very popular amongst certain industries, notably musicians, artists, small restaurants, and photographers, though they have a strong foundation for online storefronts and other sites as well.

There’s a bit of a persistent rumor that Squarespace is bad for SEO. This stems from years back, when any hosted solution was going to be worse than a self-hosted solution, because of limitations on site design and poor implementation of SEO functionality. If a site doesn’t allow you to set your meta title and description, of course it’s going to be worse for SEO than a site that does. However, all of these concerns stretch back years, in old versions of Squarespace that don’t have those issues anymore.

The modern version of Squarespace has a good implementation for various SEO features. Rand Fishkin, says they’re actually pretty good these days. In his words, they rank above WordPress.com hosted sites, but below self-hosted custom solutions or WordPress.org with plugins like Yoast.

Rand Fishkin on Squarespace SEO

There are two major aspects of SEO that I won’t be covering in this post. The first is inbound links, which as we all know are incredibly important for SEO. The more links you have, from high quality sites, the better off you’re going to be. No SEO strategy is complete without a link building strategy. The interesting thing is that link building doesn’t care what CMS you’re using. Links sent to a custom site, a WordPress site, or a Squarespace site all act the same. There’s nothing I can say here that’s unique to a Squarespace site.

The other aspect I won’t be covering is social media. The connection between a social presence and organic SEO is nebulous, and it’s worth studying on its own, but it’s not something I’m going to dig into here. And, again, it’s not something that’s unique to Squarespace, so there’s no value in covering it in a post about Squarespace site SEO.

So what am I going to cover? Let’s get started.

Your Site Theme

When you start setting up a site using Squarespace, you’re given the option to browse through their library of themes. In general, all of these look excellent, but some of them will be more beneficial than others when it comes to SEO.

Squarespace Theme

Remember, Google’s interpretation of SEO comes from text on the page, primarily. If your site isn’t able to have text on it, you aren’t going to be able to do well with your ranking. Take a look at this site layout, for example. It’s an image-focused site, which goes well with the ideal of being a photographer, but as well as it showcases images, it doesn’t do a good job of leaving room for text. Google can’t parse images as valuable, not without assistance, so this layout will be pretty bad for SEO.

The other thing you should look for is a fast loading template. This is going to be pretty difficult to measure using the Squarespace demo, but keep it in mind as you build your site. If you start noticing your test build loading slowly, you may want to investigate to see why that is.

Beyond that, feel free to find any theme you want that works with Squarespace. The main issue you often encounter with a site you custom make is that features won’t work, but you don’t have to worry about that with Squarespace. Everything they provide is thoroughly tested to make sure it all works the way it should, and if you encounter a bug you can get support and pretty reliably have it fixed.

Your Site Title and Description

When you go to create a Squarespace site, you can put in a title and description for your site as a whole. This generally won’t impact your SEO for most of your site, because the information only shows up in Google when your homepage shows up. Think of it like the meta title and description for your homepage. However, unlike subpage meta information, your homepage has more leeway with keywords.

In fact, when you make your website title, you should include a primary keyword. You want to have a pretty defined format for your site title. If you’re selling handmade jewelry, you might have a site titled “Handmade Jewelry and Accessories by BrandName.”

SEO Description Squarespace

As for your description, this is probably the second most important bit of meta information on your homepage. As the meta description for your homepage, this is what people will be reading when they search for your keyword, and what Google will see. It’s important to be descriptive about what your business does while subtly peppering in keywords throughout the description. If you peper in too many, it comes off as spammy and you better believe Google will catch onto you.

It should be a small entry, no more than 100 characters, that tells the internet who you are and what you do. For our jewelry example, it would include something like “BrandName: Making handmade jewelry and accessories with the finest materials since 2016.” Enough so it shows you’ve put effort into the description, but not something that’s meant to be ultra-optimized.

Your Permalinks

The best time to change your permalink structure is immediately upon making a site. If you’ve had a site growing for a while, changing your permalink structure can be detrimental to your growth for a while before you start to build back up. If you can change it just for new posts without changing old posts, do so, and perhaps gradually change over old posts as you go.

The reason for this is the way Google indexes content. When they scan a piece of content, they tie it to the URL as the unique identifier of the content. If you change the URL, Google considers the new URL to be a new piece of content. If both pages have the same blog post attached, there can be all sorts of issues. Migrating from an old URL to a new one won’t trigger duplicate content penalties, but it will cause some loss of ranking while the index is updated, particularly if you implement a redirect without canonicalization.

Squarespace Permalinks

The default permalink structure for Squarespace is thankfully better than most. You don’t have to worry about some .asp?=39847918749832 random mess for your URL. Instead, the default is to have brandname.com/year/month/day/title-of-your-blog-post. This is fine, but it’s a lot of extra mess you don’t necessarily need.

To make your URL a little better and a little easier to read, you can cut out elements of that structure. The easiest is to just have /title, but you might want to include /year/month as well. It’s up to you whether you want to hide the dates of publication or if you want them to be visible. I generally recommend as little as possible in the URL. You can always make your date of publication prominent in your post, after all.

Your Content

Your content is the foundation of all of the rest of your onsite SEO. There’s not much to say about it directly, at least not that can be covered in 200 words, so I’ll keep this brief. After all, entire blogs have been written about optimizing your content, so you can always just go read them.

The main thing to keep in mind is value. You need every piece of content to be lengthy and packed with value, ideally something the reader can walk away having learned or being able to put into practice. This is why case studies, tutorials, and guides are always so valuable and highly ranked. They’re packed with useful information.

Every piece of content should be focused around a fairly narrow topic. The idea is that you have only one primary keyword and a couple of longer-tail keywords in play. The more diverse your site, the more opportunities for individual pieces of content you have, so the more you can publish. The more you publish, the more times you’ll be ranked in the search engines. The more pages you have, the more possible destinations for links there are on your site.

From here, there’s not much I can tell you about content production that wouldn’t be better written in a post of its own. Just produce content according to what your keyword research suggests will get you the most exposure and the most potential for links. You are doing keyword research, aren’t you?

Your Meta Titles and Descriptions

Much like the website title and description, you can put in meta titles and descriptions for each individual blog post on your site. Unfortunately, there’s no good way to set these for a Squarespace website. You get some customization in the same form as your site meta information, but the best you can do is a template-based set of tags generated by Squarespace. It’s frankly one of the largest drawbacks to using Squarespace in the first place.

Squarespace Website Title

You can customize these a little bit by clicking the options icon for each individual page and clicking the right title or description field to put in your own information. Keep in mind that a title should be no longer than 55 characters, and a description should be no longer than 150, for optimal visibility in the search results page.

Your Image Descriptions

Remember how I mentioned that Google doesn’t parse images without assistance? You can get a lot of value out of the multimedia content on your website, Squarespace or otherwise, by giving Google that assistance. In the case of Squarespace, you can fill in image meta information when you post the image into a blog post.

Alt Tags on Squarespace

The first thing you do is upload the image. It doesn’t matter what the file name is, because you can change it immediately via the Squarespace menus. Name you rimages something that includes a keyword for your site and a keyword or two for the image. You should generally also have a caption for your images, which is added in the blog post editor itself rather than through the image meta information section. In some cases this should be the credit for the image, but in others it can be a witty caption. It’s up to you.

Make sure you do this for every image, so they’re all giving you that extra bit of value. It can be tedious to go back and do it after the fact, so keeping up with it as you create blog posts will save you a lot of work down the road.

Your Sitemap

One of the nicest SEO features of Squarespace is the fact that they automatically generate an XML sitemap for you the moment you create your site.

Squarespace Sitemap

Every time you make a page, it’s added to the sitemap automatically. This is useful for SEO, but it can take a while for Google to find it if you’re not giving it to them. To do so, simply find the sitemap, which will be at your root domain /sitemap.xml. Submit this to Google through the search console in your webmaster tools.

Your URL

I mentioned up in the permalink section that your URL is the unique identifier for your site. One thing you should do as soon as possible, then, is decide if you’re going with your own custom domain name or if you’re going with the domain Squarespace provides. The custom domain will of course cost money, but it will be scalable and can transition to a non-Squarespace site if you want down the road. It also looks better than attaching .squarespace.com to the end of all of your URLs.

Your NAP

The NAP information is your name, address, and phone number, and it’s essential for businesses that have physical locations. Make sure it’s accurate to what is publicly recorded, if you use it. If you’re just a blogger or if your local area doesn’t matter to your business, don’t worry about it.

Written by John Boitnott

John Boitnott

John Boitnott has worked at TV, newspapers, radio and internet companies in California for 20 years. He’s an advisor at StartupGrind and has written for NBC, Inc, Entrepreneur, USAToday and Venturebeat.

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