How to Speed up a Squarespace Site — Seven Simple Steps
If you’ve been reading about SEO lately, you’ve probably learnt that fast-loading sites are given preference over slower ones, and are prioritised accordingly in search results.
And if you’re a Squarespace user, you might be thinking that your options are limited on this front, because of the fact that Squarespace is a hosted solution (where you get limited control over code and templates, and none regarding servers).
But there are still a LOT of things you can do to speed up your Squarespace site, and in this post, we give you a checklist of the key steps you can take to ensure that you have the fastest Squarespace website on the block.
Before you get stuck in with our tips though, you need to take a close look at the existing performance of your site as far as site speed goes.
Before starting, check your existing site loading time
To evaluate how fast your Squarespace site is currently loading, you’ll need to run it through a speed checking tool.
There are two reasons for doing this.
First, speed checking tools give you a precise loading time for your site — down to the millisecond — and highlight very specific areas where you can make improvements.
You may find out, for example, that a particular script you’re using is taking ages to load, or that your images are too big — and can tweak your site accordingly.
Second, by using a speed checking tool before making speed improvements to your site, you get a benchmark figure that you can refer to at the end of the process. This lets you evaluate how successful your efforts have been, and see if there’s any further room for improvement.
Now, you might be tempted to use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool for this job, but it doesn’t work very well with Squarespace.
In fact, Squarespace advises users not to use it, saying:
Google's PageSpeed Insights is a tool for developers who code their sites from scratch and can return false negatives for Squarespace sites which are built on a custom CMS.
Instead, we’d recommend using Pingdom Tools to do perform your speed test. Enter your Squarespace’s site’s URL into the tool and it will give you a breakdown of exactly how long each script or piece of content is taking to load.
You can use these insights to identify areas of improvement in addition to working through the recommendations below.
(It’s worth noting that Pingdom will flag up some aspects of your Squarespace site that can’t really be changed — like the wait time for SSL, for example, or how long it takes Squarespace to load images hosted on its own servers. But overall, it’s very useful for identifying slow-loading content or fonts, or spotting a slow DNS lookup time…more on all that below!)
1. Switch on SSL
Want a quick speed win? Ensure you’re using Squarespace’s SSL option — this means that your site will be delivered through the faster HTTP/2 protocol.
Switch on the accompanying HSTS option too, as this can improve site speed and SEO too.
You can enable SSL and HSTS in really easily in Squarespace by going to Settings > Advanced > SSL.
2. Reduce your image sizes
Another easy way to reduce the loading time for your Squarespace site is to keep your image file sizes as small as possible.
You’ll need to strike a balance between file size and image quality (i.e., try to keep the file small without avoid everything becoming pixelated or grainy), but if you can get this balance right, you’ll enjoy considerably faster loading times.
Here’s some key things you can do to keep image sizes low:
Keep their width low. Squarespace recommends an image width of between 1500 and 2000 pixels in width, although depending on your template and your images, you might be able to get away with a smaller width. The lower the better, so long as images still look okay.
Use a free tool such as Tiny Png to reduce the size of any images before you upload them to Squarespace.
Use JPGs rather than PNGs.
Tip: if you purchase any Getty stock photography from Squarespace, or insert any of the free Unsplash photos provided, you may find that the resulting images are a bit larger than you might like. So you could consider downloading them (from the page you’ve inserted them on) and following the above suggestions to reduce their file size.
3. Keep scripts to a minimum
It can be difficult to avoid using third party scripts on a Squarespace site.
Tools like Addthis and Sumo, tracking code for online advertising, or bespoke Squarespace plugins can add valuable functionality to your website.
But the trouble is, they can also slow your Squarespace site down considerably.
So it’s worth doing an audit of the scripts you’re currently using and getting rid of anything that’s not adding value.
The less third-party scripts on your Squarespace site, the better.
4. Be smart with web fonts
Web fonts can make a website look really slick, but they can take a while to load.
You can speed things up by using web-safe typefaces (Arial, Times, Georgia and so on).
But if you have to use web fonts (and let’s face it, most of us do):
consider using a Google Font rather than a Typekit one, as case studies indicate that the former load faster (Squarespace’s web font library consists of both Google and Typekit fonts).
only use one web font if possible — the more you use, the slower your site will load.
You can choose which fonts to use by going to Design > Site Styles in the Squarespace dashboard. Note that you’ll need to go through every style element involving text (headers, body copy, blog titles and so on) to ensure that only the relevant typeface is used on the site.
Tip: if you’re a Squarespace Circle member, there’s a potentially handy time-saving way to do this available using ‘Style Packs’. Check out this guide from Cheers Studio for more information on this.
5. Use the custom thumbnail option for any video embeds
If you’re embedding any videos on your Squarespace site, always choose the ‘use custom thumbnail’ option.
Otherwise, Squarespace has to look up and load content from video services like Youtube or Vimeo, even if a visitor to your site doesn’t play a video. This can result in quite large files having to be downloaded unnecessarily, slowing things down.
(It can also result in third-party cookies being run on your site, which not only slow things down further, but can cause headaches from a GDPR perspective. See our Squarespace GDPR guide for more information on this topic).
6. Consider using AMP on your Squarespace blog posts
Switching ‘AMP’ (Accelerated Mobile Web Pages) can bring drastic speed improvements to your Squarespace blog posts.
When enabled, this displays extremely fast-loading versions of your posts on mobile devices (so long as they are accessed via a Google search result). You can find out more about AMP here, but it basically works by stripping out non-essential code from a web page and using smart caching to load pages really quickly.
To switch AMP on in Squarespace, go to Settings > Blogging and then tick the AMP checkbox.
Note however that AMP format disables quite a few standard Squarespace blocks, including code blocks and form blocks, so this one won’t be for everyone (particularly site owners that use code blocks to embed adverts on their posts).
Accordingly, it's worth reading the Squarespace support material on AMP carefully before switching it on.
7. Reduce your DNS lookup time by using a faster provider
NOTE: this step involves some more technical work than the above suggestions, and if implemented incorrectly can cause problems for your site.
The final step you can take to speed up your Squarespace site is to reduce your DNS (Domain Name System) lookup time.
For a technical explanation of DNS lookup time, I’d suggest reading this excellent Cloudflare resource on DNS, but the layman’s explanation is this: it’s basically how long it takes your browser to find out where on the web your domain is located.
The DNS lookup has to be performed before anything from your site can be loaded, so you want it to take as short a time as possible.
Now, some domain name providers — including well-known companies like Godaddy — don’t provide particularly fast DNS lookup times, as this chart from DNSPerf.com makes clear.
So, if you’ve registered a domain with a sluggish DNS provider, you could consider either
transferring your domain to a company offering faster DNS times
switching your nameservers to those of a faster DNS provider
All this involves a bit of configuration, but if you have the know-how (or the support of somebody who does), it’s worth investing a bit of time in this. We recently moved some domains used for Squarespace sites over to Cloudflare (with the Cloudflare HTTP proxy mode off), and saw some significant reductions in DNS lookup times.
IMPORTANT: Squarespace doesn’t officially recommend using Cloudflare, but, based on our conversations with Cloudflare’s support team, you can use the two products in conjunction with each other so long as you turn the Cloudflare HTTP proxy mode off. We have not had any problems with this, but proceed cautiously.
You may be wondering whether it’s quicker to just transfer your domain to Squarespace, on the assumption that everything will all be under one roof and load more quickly as a result. Based on my conversations with the Squarespace helpdesk, it’s unclear as to whether this is the case.
This is because when you register your domain with Squarespace, your domain name provider is technically a company called Tucows. There’s no information about DNS lookup times for this organisation on the DNSPerf website, and I’m yet to find anything else about this online — but if I do, I’ll post it in this article.