Squarespace SEO (2019) — 12 Tips to Make a Squarespace Site Rank in Google
In this post we look at Squarespace SEO and provide 12 key tips on how to use the platform in a way that increases your site’s chances of ranking highly in search.
For best SEO results on a Squarespace site, we recommend that you download our SEO book as well as following the tips below. You can also contact us if you need help with optimizing your Squarespace site for search engines, or link building.
Squarespace is a great platform in many ways - its templates are gorgeous, its content management system (CMS) is easy to use, and it provides a strong and comprehensive set of features, including e-commerce functionality.
But when it comes to the SEO department, Squarespace occasionally comes in for a bit of criticism — not because a page or post on a Squarespace site can’t rank highly in search, but because certain aspects of optimising it to do so are not particularly straightforward.
There are three main reasons for this:
The Squarespace CMS doesn’t always use industry standard terms for some of the elements of pages which you need to optimize for search engines.
Editing these elements, once you find them, can be a bit of a fiddly process.
There are no built-in tools or third-party Squarespace plugins available to help you assess how well you’ve optimised a page for search.
The good news however is that despite these issues, Squarespace does a lot right when it comes to SEO, and it is perfectly possible to optimise a Squarespace page effectively for search and to achieve a high ranking for it.
Additionally, Squarespace recently revisited their approach to SEO a bit, making a number of changes to their interface which make it a bit easier for users to configure SEO settings on their website.
I’ve gone through these changes in depth, and below you’ll find my updated Squarespace SEO checklist which outlines all the key things you need to do to maximise the chances of your site appearing in search.
Some tasks on the checklist apply to optimising any site, but we’ve aimed to provide advice that is as specific to Squarespace SEO as possible. Do leave a comment on this post if you have queries, or tips of your own :)
Let’s start with a look at something called SSL.
1. Create a ‘SSL’ version of your site if possible
In 2014 Google announced that they wanted to see ‘HTTPS everywhere’, and that a secure HTTPS websites (i.e., using SSL, ‘secure socket layer’) was going to be given preference over non-secure ones in search results.
SSL as a ranking factor was initially described by Google as ‘a very lightweight signal’, but the indications are that it is becoming more significant (and, SEO aside, browsers increasingly don’t like non-secure sites).
So it makes sense, where possible, to ensure your Squarespace site is secure - and thankfully, ensuring your site is secure is very straightforward in Squarespace.
You just go to Settings > Advanced > SSL and switch SSL on. But before you do this, there are a couple of important things to consider.
SSL for Squarespace sites on new domains
If you are building a new Squarespace site on a brand new domain, then switching on SSL is a no-brainer.
Not only will doing so ensure you are meeting Google’s expectations around SSL, but because Squarespace uses HTTP/2 for its secure sites, your site is likely to load faster too - this is something else which Google approves of and is considered another positive ranking signal.
Switching your non-secure site to secure in Squarespace
If you have an existing non-secure site that you wish to make secure, you need to tread carefully before hitting the SSL button. This is because creating a ‘https’ version of your existing ‘http’ one can actually hurt you in search if you don’t ensure that every old http:// link redirects permanently to its https:// equivalent, or if you don’t register the new https:// versions in Google Search console (more on Search Console in a moment).
As far as I understand it, the good news is that when you switch SSL on in Squarespace, it automatically create 301 permanent redirects from all your non-secure URLs to your new secure ones. This means that if you have an existing Squarespace site and just want to make it secure, it should generally just involve ticking a box, and after that, registering the https:// versions of your site in Google Search Console (Squarespace recommend leaving it 72 hours before you do this).
However, if you're moving to Squarespace from a different platform, and you're making your site secure for the first time in the process, there may be some more things you need to do to ensure you don't take a hit in search - as such I would advise that you:
contact Squarespace support for advice before enabling SSL
take an in-depth look at Google’s guidelines on making the switch to SSL
Ultimately, so long as you configure things correctly, I would argue that making your Squarespace site secure is generally a good move from an SEO perspective. Just be careful!
If you are enabling SSL on your Squarespace, it’s also worth ticking the accompanying HSTS option too (without getting overly technical, this basically forces browsers to only ever load a secure version of your site - it makes the most of your https status basically). Again, check with Squarespace's support team if you have any concerns around this.
2. Register your site with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
Registering a website with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools is something all site owners should do, regardless of the solution they’re using to build it. By registering your site with these two services, you are telling the two major search engines that your website exists and are ensuring it gets crawled.
One thing you should remember with Google Search Console is that you should register both the www and non-www version of your domain (i.e., www.yourdomain.com and yourdomain.com), and, if you’ve got a secure and non-secure version of your website, the http:// and https:// versions of each.
Registering a Squarespace site with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools is very easy - but for more information please see the below resources:
3. Submit a site map to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
Once you’ve registered your site with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, it’s important to submit an XML sitemap to both services - this helps these services index your site accurately and more quickly.
Helpfully, Squarespace generates a sitemap automatically for you - the URL for this on your Squarespace site is simply www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml - and you simply need to give Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools this link.
In both services you do this by going to your site’s dashboard, and then clicking ‘sitemaps.’
4. Ensure your Squarespace site is loading as fast as it can
Page speed is a signal used by search engines to rank websites, with fast-loading sites given a preference over slower ones.
Now, your options with regard to page speed are somewhat limited on Squarespace — because rather than being able to buy your own hosting and code your own superfast template, you are stuck with Squarespace’s servers and their templates (which, whilst generally acceptable from a speed point of view, don’t give you fine grain control over hosting speed).
That said, there are some things you can do to make sure your Squarespace pages load as fast as they can:
Keep image widths relatively low — Squarespace recommends that images you upload should be between1500 and 2000 pixels in width — although depending on your template and your images, if you can get away with lower than that without your photos becoming too pixelated when viewed on larger screens, so much the better.
Use compression tools like Tiny Png to reduce the size of any images before you upload them to Squarespace.
Use compressed JPGs rather than PNGs for images where possible.
Keep use of any external scripts or custom code on your site to a minimum.
Avoid using a large number of web fonts on your site — Squarespace suggests keeping it to two — or even consider using web safe fonts (which load faster).
If you do end up using web fonts on your site, 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).
Use Squarespace’s SSL option if possible — this means that your site will be delivered through the faster HTTP/2 protocol. Switch on the accompanying HSTS option too (see above for more information on SSL / HSTS — and some pitfalls to avoid).
If you’re using any Youtube or Vimeo embeds, always choose the ‘use custom thumbnail’ option. Otherwise, Squarespace has to look up content from these services, 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 down page load times.
Switch ‘AMP’ (Accelerated Mobile Web Pages) on. When enabled, this displays extremely fast-loading versions of your blog posts in mobile search results. These versions of your posts can be prioritised by Google in results (they’re more likely to appear in its ‘Top Stories’ section) and because they load so quickly on mobile devices, they’re more likely to be read (thus increasing the dwell time on your posts, a positive ranking signal). To switch AMP on in Squarespace, go to Settings > Blogging and then tick the AMP checkbox. Note however that are a couple of things which you may need to tweak on your posts before using the AMP option, and as such it's worth reading the Squarespace support material on AMP before switching it on.
A slightly more technical step this, but you could consider reducing your DNS (domain name system) lookup time. DNS lookup time is the process of finding out, via an IP address, where a domain is located (the best way to think of this is as the online equivalent of looking up somebody’s number in a phonebook). Now, some domain name providers don’t provide particularly fast DNS lookup times — take a look at this chart to see how the leading services differ quite significantly in terms of DNS performance. So, if you’re currently using one of the slower providers, there are benefits to be gained by transferring either your domain or nameservers (or both) to another one. (For the record, we currently use Cloudflare for our Squarespace site, but with its cloudflare proxy option off, as this can cause problems with the platform).
5. Ensure you’re formatting your page titles correctly
One of the most important elements of a web page is its title tag — search engines treat it as a key piece of information when indexing a page, and your title shows up as the largest component of a search result (as well as at the top of browser windows).
So, should ensure your page and post titles are never vague and ideally start with your ‘focus keyword’ - the phrase you want to rank for in search.
As a simple example, if you run Joey’s Music shop, which is located in London and specialises in vintage guitar sales, you are better off using a page title which includes the phrase ‘Vintage Guitars London’ instead of settling for a more conventional (but less SEO friendly) ‘Joey’s Music Shop’.
A good page title for the above would be ‘Vintage Guitars London - Joey’s Music Shop.’ (Note: there are various keyword research tools that can help you find out which phrases are actually searched for on search engines - you can read about a few of these tools here. My personal favourite is Ahrefs.)
To add or edit a page title in Squarespace, simply go to the Pages section, hover over the relevant page, and click the cog icon that appears. The page settings dialog box will appear — click SEO, and then enter your page title into the ‘SEO Title’ field as per the screenshot below.
6. Use headings properly
Ignoring headings is a common mistake made by non-developers who build and update their own websites using tools like Squarespace. Instead of applying headings (H1, H2, H3 etc.) to their text, they add bold or capitalised text to break up their content.
This causes quite a few problems: first, from a aesthetics point of view it usually looks pretty awful. Second, it makes it harder for visually impaired visitors to your site using screen readers to access your content. And finally, it makes it more difficult for search engines to index your content properly.
So make sure you read up on headings and how to apply them properly to your text before you upload content to your Squarespace site! In terms of adding them in Squarespace, it’s very easy: when editing a page, you just highlight a piece of text and then choose your desired heading from the formatting drop down menu.
7. Add meta descriptions to your pages
Meta descriptions provide short summaries of web pages, and usually appear underneath the blue clickable links in a search engine results page.
Although Google says that they aren’t a ranking factor, a well-written meta description can encourage more clickthroughs to your website - which raises the clickthrough rate (CTR) of a page. The CTR of a page IS considered a ranking signal by Google, so getting meta descriptions right is very important.
In Squarespace, the way meta descriptions work is a bit confusing, because there are three different places to enter them, and the term ‘meta description’ is not used in each.
To add a meta description to your home page, you’ll need to go to Settings > Marketing > SEO, then populate the ‘SEO site description’ box with your meta description.
To add a meta description to a static page (i.e., a regular page — not a blog post) you’ll need to:
Go to the Pages section
Hover over the relevant page
Click the cog
Click the SEO tab
Enter your meta description into the ‘SEO description tab’
To add a meta description to a blog post in Squarespace, you’ll need to find your post, then click the ‘Edit’ option followed by ‘Settings’. Once there, you need to enter your meta description into the ‘excerpt’ box.
There is a bit of a problem with the way Squarespace uses the same data to populate both a post’s excerpt and its meta description depending on the template you’re using, these descriptions may appear not just in search results but on your site too (for example, at the top of a page or in a summary block containing a list of your blog posts).
This isn’t ideal really, because a well-written meta description may not lend itself to being displayed on your site — the purpose of a meta description is to encourage clickthroughs to content; it shouldn’t really be part of the content itself.
Hopefully Squarespace will make improvements in this area soon.
8. Add alt text and optimised file names to your images
Adding alt text in Squarespace
There are three main reasons for adding ‘alternative text’ to your images:
Screen readers use it to provide a description of an image to visually impaired users of your website.
Search engines use it to categorise your context.
If your image fails to load, a description of it can be displayed.
You should aim to add alt text that works for both screen readers and search engines - a description that that contains your focus keywords but it is still perfectly understandable to anybody who is using a screen reader to access your content.
Adding alt text is a very fiddly affair in Squarespace - the method for doing so varies considerably depending on whether you are working with an image on a page, a gallery image, a product image, a cover page image or a thumbnail image. (There doesn’t seem to be an option to add alt text for a banner image — although I think the file name serves as one).
I suspect that most users will want to add alt text to images that are inserted on pages - to do this, you need to
Add your image
Hover over the image and click ‘Edit’
Click ‘Design’ tab
Ensure that the ‘Caption Below’ is selected
Add a caption (which then becomes the alt text).
If you don’t want to display the caption, you need to then set the caption option to ‘Do not display caption.’ If you want to use a different image layout (for example ‘poster’ or ‘card’) you’ll need to ensure you’ve followed the above steps before using your preferred layout...or you won’t have any alt text accompanying it.
As you can probably tell by now, all this is a rather convoluted way to add alt text to your images, and why Squarespace don’t provide a simple ‘alt text’ box is beyond me. I guess when they conceived the platform they wanted to avoid making the options seem too ‘techy’ — but at the end of the day anybody serious about building a successful website will need to add and optimise alt text for search; and although you do so using the above process, it's unnecessarily complicated and a hindrance to SEO.
Because the method for adding alt text in Squarespace varies by page, product and image type, I’d recommend having a very careful read of their help page specifically on alternative text.
Optimising image file names in Squarespace
Search engines also look at file names when indexing and categorising the content of pages - and as such it certainly doesn’t hurt to optimise your image files. For example, in an article about London featuring an image of Big Ben, it would be preferable to use a file name of ‘big-ben.jpg’ rather than ‘DSC125212.jpg.’
This is quite straightforward in Squarespace — you just hover over your image, click ‘Edit’ and you can enter a desired file name in the ‘Filename’ box.
9. Use a simple URL structure
Using ‘clean’ URLs with a simple structure is encouraged by Google.
Clean URLs are short, simple and intelligible: as an example, if you were selling red guitars, it would be advisable to use a URL of www.yourdomain.com/red-guitars rather than www.yourdomain.com/prd/p223.php?ref=1456_red_gtr
You’ll find more information from Google on simple URL structures here, but the key things to remember when creating them are:
Always use short URLs that contain relevant keywords.
Break up your URLs with punctuation if necessary to make keywords more obvious to both Google and users (i.e., www.yoursite.com/green-shoes is better than www.yoursite.com/greenshoes).
Use hyphens rather than underscores to denote spaces (i.e., www.yoursite.com/green-shoes is preferred to www.yoursite.com/green_shoes).
In Squarespace, the method for creating URLs differs by the type of content you’re creating.
To change a regular page, a gallery or events page URL, go to your page and click Settings > Basic. Then, enter your clean URL into the ‘URL slug’ field.
To change a blog post URL, locate your post and click Settings > Options, Then, enter your clean URL into the ‘Post URL’ page. Note that you will not be able to remove the ‘blog’ prefix.
To change a product page URL, locate it and then click Settings > Basic. Then, enter your clean URL into the ‘URL slug’ field.
To change a product URL, locate it in your inventory, click on it and then click the Options tab. Then, enter your clean URL into the ‘Product URL’ page. Note that you will not be able to remove the product page name prefix before it.
10. Add rich snippets to your Squarespace site
Rich snippets - data that can be added to your site to help both searchers and search engines understand what a page is about - are an important part of how your website behaves in search results (check out this Search Engine Journal article about rich snippets to find out why).
Rich snippets typically feature visual clues about the content of a page or post - for example, star ratings, author, prices and so on - which appear just below the page/post title and before the meta description:
They are typically generated through the addition of 'Schema Markup' - HTML code featuring tags defined by Schema.org (a collaborative project between Google, Yahoo!, Bing and Yandex aimed at helping webmasters provide more accurate information to search engines).
I've tried unsuccessfully in the past to use code blocks to add Schema.org data to Squarespace sites; and after not having much joy, I contacted Squarespace's support team for advice. Their solution was to use Google's Open Data Highlighter instead. This allows you to load up a page, highlight information on it, and send Google the necessary markup. Another method which may work — I’ve yet to try this one out on a Squarespace site — is to use Google’s Tag Manager to add Schema Markup to your Squarespace pages.
Either method only works if Google has crawled your site and has a cached copy of the page you want to mark up - as such you may need to wait a few days until your content has been crawled and tags can be added. (You can sometimes speed this process up a bit by submitting your pages to Search Console for reindexing).
11. Focus on creating great content and building backlinks to it
This goes for all sites, not just Squarespace ones. Sites that feature in-depth, informative posts on topics that people are genuinely interested in tend to perform well in search - and particularly so if there are lots of external links (or ‘backlinks’) pointing to them.
You’ll find some more resources on how to go about creating strong content and building links to it below:
One thing worth remembering is that before you invest time in writing great content and building backlinks to it, some keyword research is always a good idea. This helps you get a strong understanding of the niche topics that people are actively searching for, as well as how hard it will be to rank for a particular niche.
12. Assess the quality of your on-page SEO
One particular advantage of using Wordpress over Squarespace is that you can add plugins to help you with your SEO efforts. The best-known of these is arguably Yoast, which aids you in real time as you optimise your page and gives you a report on how successful you’ve ultimately been in doing so.
Although you can’t add SEO plugins to Squarespace — and there’s no built-in equivalent to Yoast — there are still many third party tools you can use outside of Squarespace to run checks on your SEO efforts. Hubspot provides a useful list of some of the leading ones here.
And it's worth noting that Yoast has a 'real-time content analysis' tool that you can use. This allows you to enter a URL from your Squarespace (or indeed any other site) into it, after which a report is generated which outlines what you've got right and what you need to address.
More ways to improve your Squarespace site's visibility in search results
The above tips should definitely help make a difference to the performance of your Squarespace site in search results, but they're only scratching the surface of SEO!
If you're interested in finding out more about the whole topic of search engine optimization, and want to make significant improvements to your site's performance in Google, then you might like to download our new 'Super Simple SEO' book.
Super Simple SEO: How to make Google LOVE your website is written for readers who are new to the world of search engine optimization (SEO).
Written in a friendly, jargon-free way, it takes you through the key concepts of SEO, provides you with actionable steps to improve your search ranking, and gives you a series of SEO 'cheatsheets' that make it much easier to implement vital changes to your website and backlink building tactics.
Finally, if you'd like some more advice on how to improve your site's general visibility in search, make sure you join our mailing list (we send out regular tips on SEO and inbound marketing).
Any thoughts on Squarespace SEO?
We hope you’ve found these Squarespace SEO tips useful — do feel free to add your own in the comments section below (note: smartphone users reading an AMP version of this article may need to view the full version of this post to add a comment).
Also, if you’ve enjoyed the article we’d be really grateful if you could share it on social media - or if you run your own blog or site, it’d be great if you could consider linking to it :)
If you need help with a Squarespace project, you can find out about our Squarespace web design services here.
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