I’m an avid WordPress user these days, but my first website used Squarespace. It’s a good service, too, bringing a premium and convenient feel to the industry. Squarespace is basically the Apple of website products: everything is presented in a neat, tidy, and easy-to-use package. It’s grown considerably over the last 4-5 years, which makes optimizing Squarespace for SEO valuable knowledge.
Unfortunately, also like Apple products, Squarespace’s ease of use also makes it difficult to customize to your exact specifications. I’ve used it myself for several years and can tell you that it’s a little bit difficult to get things just right.
If you’ve noticed that too, then this post is for you.
How to Access SEO Options Inside WordPress
It’s accessible under “Marketing > SEO,” but it’s not super helpful.
You can see a few things:
- Site title field.
- Site meta description field.
- A limited preview of your site in the search results.
The advanced SEO settings just let you alter the format of titles for the top-level domain, pages, and posts. Most SEOs prefer to set custom titles on a page-by-page basis to optimize them with more control, but this may be useful if you don’t have time to do that immediately.
This isn’t really a surprise. Squarespace’s philosophy is all about simplicity, and it’s trying to grow into a complete marketing platform. That’s why it’s developed basic suites for analytics and email marketing in the last few years.
The Benefits of Optimizing Squarespace for SEO
Making a Squarespace website means putting a lot of your SEO on autopilot. That’s not ideal for specialists (like yours truly), but it does come with some benefits if you’re a small team and looking to build a commercial website quickly.
Here are the perks that come with it.
You Get an Automatic SSL Certificate
Frankly, this was a fantastic move.
SSL certificates represent the new minimum standard for day-to-day cyber security for consumers, making it a huge trust signal for search engines. It took the hassle out of getting a certificate for most webmasters out there, including myself at the time. The feature has become less competitive now, since everyone can get a free SSL certificate from Let’s Encrypt, but it adds just another layer of convenience when optimizing Squarespace for SEO.
It’s still highly useful.
AMP Functionality is Built-In
Google has pushed accelerated mobile pages (AMP) for several years. The technology just boils down web pages to their essential elements in order to speed up loading times for visitors. Squarespace has this feature built into its templates, which is handy. It is now, anyway. I didn’t notice performance changes for the 3 years I used the platform, but having it is a serious competitive advantage.
Sites Come Mobile-Responsive
All the themes come ready to render on mobile screens, and this is absolutely part of the premium price tag you’re paying for Squarespace in the first place. Mobile-responsive design is an important part of technical SEO, making it a welcome feature when you’re optimizing Squarespace for SEO.
Most themes these days come with mobile responsive design as well, so it’s not an inherent advantage, but there are still some out there that don’t. This really is a necessity if you’re serious about SEO, either way. There’s also a limited number of themes to choose from within Squarespace, so be sure to scope them out for a favourite before committing to the platform, if you haven’t already.
The Drawbacks of Optimizing Squarespace for SEO
So it’s safe to say that Squarespace comes with some SEO-friendly features right out of the box, which is great for entrepreneurs and small teams that need to move quickly. However, there are some drawbacks to it that can impede a professional SEO strategy, ultimately limiting the pipeline of organic search traffic to your website.
Some of the Automatic Features Backfire
Automatically converting image descriptions into alt tag text is great… unless you don’t want visible image descriptions on your site. In fact, it’s mostly just photographers that include visible image descriptions these days.
The “Automatic site map” is another bare-minimum feature. It’s part and parcel of technical SEO; it’s so necessary for optimizing Squarespace for SEO that I wouldn’t recommend the platform if this wasn’t available. Almost every WordPress site on the planet uses the Yoast SEO plugin, which does the same thing for free.
The same thing applies for the “search engine page descriptions.” That’s called a meta description, and the free Yoast plugin does a far, far better job of outlining how it works, why it’s needed, and where it will display (or not). Making it so difficult to find doesn’t help you out as the webmaster or content creator, but it’s there.
Site Speed Can Take a Hit
Squarespace’s websites have a reputation for loading slowly. It’s not necessarily any slower than a WordPress site, but being able to fix website speed is an important aspect of technical SEO on any website.
My first Squarespace site took 5-6 seconds to load in 2017, which is a lot. Google considered anything over 3 seconds to be “slow” as of 2019.
That speed improved over time (I’m assuming there were product improvements made behind the scenes), but speed has never been great on Squarespace. WordPress also isn’t optimized for speed out of the box, to be fair, but you can customize it to exceed Squarespace’s speed. You don’t get that ability with Squarespace because having it all taken care of for you is part of the appeal. It’s still a good platform—but be aware that your page load speed may only improve whenever Squarespace improves its own servers.
All of this matters because site speed has a significant impact on your web traffic. The literature out there says that you can expect to lose 30% of your visitors for every 3 seconds your site takes to load. Google’s algorithm also penalizes sites for slow load times because it knows how much it affects the end user’s experience (between pages of similar content and quality).
URL Fragments Don’t Help Crawlability or Analytics
I built my the first version of this very site using Squarespace’s “Shift” theme. It looked clean, crisp, and spacious—everything I wanted in a theme at the time.
But this came at major expense for SEO.
The homepage itself was stitched together by a collection of URL fragments, which doesn’t do any favours to make your site crawlable. This isn’t inherently a a strike against your site’s SEO value, but it sure doesn’t make it easier for Google to crawl your site and learn what it’s about.
Pro Tip: URL fragments also make it difficult to use any kind of analytics platform other than Squarespace’s proprietary one if you want to get into advanced capabilities in the future, like progressive heatmapping or tracking custom goals on apps. It’s not strictly about optimizing Squarespace for SEO for the website itself, but you do need to be able to measure visits and performance clearly. Using Google Analytics on Squarespace, for example, might lead to problems with Squarespace’s excessive URL fragments. Google Analytics might see each fragment as a totally different page!
Styles Limit Your Headers and Typography
One of the biggest draws of Squarespace’s Apple-esque product philosophy is also one its biggest drawbacks.
And that would be the fact that Squarespace has preset designs for specific headers, and they’re not easily changed, if at all. So you’d better enjoy the typography and size of the text and headers in your theme, because sometimes you’ll be stuck with them. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s definitely not ideal.
What Happened When I Switched to WordPress
In early 2019 I switched my website from Squarespace to WordPress, and I noticed some important differences upon setting it all up.
First, Google indexed the new top-level pages immediately. The site had been on Search Console for many months before the switch, but this time Google nested those pages right under the top-level domain in the search results pages—and yes, all of those pages had been submitted for indexing through Search Console before the switch.
This is particularly nice because it takes up far more real estate in the search results for branded searches. Part of that came from the extra control I had on directories and URL structure. It’s just more straightforward to structure pages, which is important for SEO.
So What’s the Verdict on Optimizing Squarespace for SEO?
Rand Fishkin of Moz—a highly respected voice in the industry—has gone on record saying that Squarespace is an SEO-friendly platform.
But Rand also went on to say that while Squarespace works well for SEO right out of the box, setting up WordPress properly can definitely exceed it.
Sites can still succeed with SEO in that scenario, but it’s going to be a lot harder to get the ball rolling without a proper on-page SEO setup. You can still create content and earn backlinks too, of course, but you’ll need to work that much harder to make it all work.
At the end of the day all of this needs to be weighed against your business goals and resources. If you don’t have the time or energy to build an optimized WordPress website methodically, then Squarespace can certainly prove fruitful. It served me well for several years before I had the technical knowledge to build a WordPress website on my own.
It’s not the best setup for websites that plan to make SEO an integral part of their digital marketing strategies, but a lone professional or a small company can work with it to make the most the platform for convenience and technical optimization.