Squarespace SEO - 12 tips on how to make a Squarespace site rank in Google
In this post we look at Squarespace SEO and provide simple 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 e-book as well as following the tips below.
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.
However, 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 really use industry standard terms for some of the elements of pages which you need to optimise.
- Editing these elements, once you find them, can be a bit of a fiddly process.
- There are no built-in tools or 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.
Below you’ll find our checklist of key things you need to do to maximise the chances of your Squarespace 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.
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 > SSL and Security 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 a bit 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 provide the fastest experience on the block).
That said, there are some things you can do to make sure your Squarespace pages load as fast as they can:
- Use compression tools like Tiny Png to reduce the size of any images you’re uploading to Squarespace.
- 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).
- Use Squarespace’s SSL option if possible - this means that your site will be delivered through the faster HTTP/2 protocol (see above for more information on SSL - and some pitfalls to avoid).
- Switch ‘AMP’ (Accelerated Mobile Web Pages) on - when enabled, this displays extremely fast-loading versions of your blog posts in mobile search result. 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).
Switching AMP on in Squarespace is very easy - just go to Settings > Blogging and then tick the AMP checkbox - but there are a couple of things which you may need to tweak on your posts before you do so, and as such it's worth reading the Squarespace support material on AMP before doing so.
5. Ensure you’re formatting your page titles correctly
One of the most important elements of a web page is its title - search engines treat it as a key piece of information when indexing a page, and your title itself shows up as the largest component of a search result (as well as at the top of browser windows).
You 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).
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 - simply enter your page title into the appropriately named ‘page title’ field.
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’s three different places to enter them, and the term ‘meta description’ is not used in any of those places!
To add a meta description to your home page, you’ll need to go to Settings > SEO, then populate the ‘search engine description’ field with your meta description.
To add a meta description to a static page, you’ll need to go to Pages, hover over the relevant page, click the cog and then enter your meta description into the ‘description’ box.
To add a meta description to a blog post, you’ll need to go to your post, then click ‘Edit’ followed by ‘Settings’. Once there, you need to write your meta description in the ‘excerpt’ box.
There is a general problem with the way Squarespace handles all the above: 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.
Squarespace's slightly weird approach to meta descriptions is a frustrating feature of a generally excellent CMS, and hopefully the company will tweak things so that we end up with properly labeled, dedicated meta description fields that only display content in search engine result pages (SERPs) and not on websites themselves. For now, we’ll have to work with the various ‘descriptions’ and ‘excerpts’ as best we can, knowing that they may end up on actual pages of our site, as well as in SERPs.
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 particularly 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
- Click ‘Inline’
- 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 very 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 thankfully 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
Squarespace generates clean URLs for you automatically - certainly for static pages - but when it comes to certain types of blog posts, you might want to consider editing the post format so that you don’t include date information in it. Including date information can make the URL unnecessarily long and, particularly if you intend on updating your blog post in future, irrelevant. (That said, if you’re publishing news articles which are related to specific points in time, it does make sense to keep them in).
It's easy to change a blog post slug in Squarespace - you just go to the post, click Edit and then navigate to to the Options tab:
To save you a bit of time with this, and to keep your blog post consistent, you can set global settings for blog posts in Squarespace by going to Settings > Blogging and then editing the 'post URL format' so that it only contains the title (%t in the below example).
You’ll find more information from Google on simple URL structures here, but the key takeaways are:
- Always use short URLs that contain relevant keywords
- Break up your URLs with punctutation 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)
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 - 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.
It only works if Google has a 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.
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 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.
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: mobile 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.