8 Squarespace SEO Tips You May Have Missed

SEO is like chess: strategy and tactics

SEO is like chess: strategy and tactics

Squarespace has its quirks, so doing SEO for Squarespace can be a little tricky. That’s why I’ve put together some lesser-known tips to improve your Squarespace SEO. They should be useful for beginners but also more experienced users. As always, you can get in touch with us for SEO help.

1. Headings Are For SEO First

A lot of the attraction of Squarespace has to do with the design elements. Gorgeous templates are a big draw. And Squarespace is particularly well suited to designers, artists, photographers, and businesses that want to display their work in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Which is all well and good. But Mr. Google is a dour sort of fellow. Gorgeous fonts and great images don’t seem to move him very much. He’s mainly interested in words. And what he really likes to see is words that are natural (or at least seem natural) and well organized.

Header hierarchy for SEO. Credit: Khalid Irfan.

Header hierarchy for SEO. Credit: Khalid Irfan.

A big part of that organization has to do with the pages on a website and their relationship to each other. That’s your site architecture.

But individual pages also need to be organized. On the page level, headings are the crucial organizing element.

Headings (also sometimes confusingly known as headers, because they exist between header tags) are numbered to indicate their relative importance. Ignore that fact at your peril, because those numbers actually mean something to search engines. Headings should exist in a hierarchy which ideally cascades down in a rational way. It’s not absolutely crucial that there be one H1, a couple or more H2’s, and even more H3’s. But that’s the main way to build a sensible header structure.

If you are going to care about what Google cares about, you’ll figure out the header hierarchy for pages on your Squarespace website first and foremost. Do your work on the aesthetics of the website around that.

Of course, you do want a good user experience, so don’t take this tip too far. If your site is ugly, you’re not doing anyone any good. Still, if you want a website with good SEO, you’ll want to make sure your header hierarchy is a priority, not an afterthought.

2. Captions Add Alt-Text, So Be Aware

There’s a lot of confusion around about how to add alt text in Squarespace. The rule is that the caption to an image will be its alt text, unless there’s no caption, in which case the filename will be. In other words, captions override filenames for alt text.

That’s true even if you enter a caption and then hide it, as any number of guides will tell you to do to enter alt text. Personally, I just enter the filename and I’m done with it. (Actual filenames for images, as opposed to alt text, are an infinitesimally small ranking factor, so you don’t need to worry about them.)

I’d prefer to make an ironic remark about this fluffy cat here, not say it’s a fluffy cat.

I’d prefer to make an ironic remark about this fluffy cat here, not say it’s a fluffy cat.

But sometimes you really just want an actual caption for an image. And a caption is not really a description of an image, is it? It’s more of a commentary. But a description is what alt text is supposed to be. So what are you supposed to do?

Squarespace has an unfortunate history of doubling up functions like this. It used to use its so-called Page Descriptions for meta descriptions, which was one of the main problems with doing SEO for Squarespace, until they fixed it. In this case, the doubling up of functions for captions remains a problem.

For now, you just need to consider how off-base your caption will be as alt text, keeping in mind that alt text is a ranking factor, but a relatively small one. I’m not worried about the alt text for the cat picture you see here sinking the rankings for this post.

You can read more about this issue in my article on problems with Squarespace SEO.

3. Use Squarespace’s Newer Image Blocks With Care

There are five newer image blocks in Squarespace: poster, card, collage, overlap, and stack. (Until a couple years ago, only “inline” image blocks were available). All are designed to integrate text with images. And they’re a great addition to Squarespace’s design toolbox, even if their rendering on different devices can get a bit wonky.

pipe.jpg

This Is Not A Header

This isn’t either. They’re both just body text for a collage image block.

The problem with them for SEO purposes has to do with the two forms of text available, which Squarespace calls the “title” and “subtitle.” The title looks like a header, being larger than the body text (the “subtitle”). Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Remember, for Google, a header is not text that happens to be styled larger than other text on the page. Rather, it’s text that falls within a header tag, such as <h1>, <h2>, etc.. But these image blocks don’t put “titles” in between header tags. So for Google, they’re just a bit of text.

Does this mean you shouldn’t use these blocks? No. The SEO tip here is just be aware of what you are doing. If they play a prominent role on the page, or you really think you need a header somewhere, think about making a different design decision.

4. Don’t Use Too Many Categories And Tags

There’s a mistaken idea out there that tags are the same as keywords. That’s not actually true.

The concept of a keyword relates to the significance of words for search. Tags and categories on a Squarespace site might be keywords as identified either by you (aspirationally) or by Google (if it ranks you for one of them). But they might not be.

A lot of tags aren’t going to help your SEO.

A lot of tags aren’t going to help your SEO.

What they actually are is meta data you have chosen to organize your content with. Even though there is often very good reason for overlap with keywords, that doesn’t mean they are the same thing. And they are certainly not meta keywords, which they are sometimes confused with, since both are words you add to your site that work behind the scenes.

So here’s a tip: don’t go piling on tons of tags and categories to your site and your posts. It’s not going to help your SEO, and it may very well hurt. And not just because you are keyword stuffing.

Among other reasons, it’s because when you add a tag or category in Squarespace, you’re actually adding what’s called a dynamic page to your website. And that page may compete with other pages on your site for Google’s attention.

Just let that sink in for a moment. When you add a category or tag, you add a page to your website. Are you sure that’s what you want to do?

You should add categories and tags when you are actually using them to help organize your site, not just to denote content in some way.

Fortunately, Squarespace recently added the option to no-index tag and even category pages in the SEO tab of the main blog page. That means you can be sure you aren’t adding extra dynamic pages you don’t want to Google’s index. But it’s a complex issue, among other reasons because you still don’t want tons of no-indexed pages on your site.

For more on tags and categories, check out our article on how to use tags and categories for SEO. And if you’re interested in keywords, check out our post on how to use keywords in Squarespace.

5. Fix Your Schema Markup

What is schema markup? To quote one of our articles on schema, “Schema markup is code for structured data that helps search engines understand what your website and your enterprise are about. It's a way of addressing search engines directly in order to help them better understand the content on your website and return richer search results. Squarespace adds Schema, which is really an agreed-upon framework for structured data, to all websites.”

Unfortunately, Squarespace’s implementation of schema is missing some required fields, and produces errors in others. Someday, it will clean up all the problems with schema markup on its sites. But it hasn’t happened yet.

As of this writing, several different schema types on Squarespace websites, including Event and Product schema, produce errors in the structured data testing tool and sometimes provoke disturbing emails from Google if you have a Google Search Console account, which you should.

Let’s not overdramatize this. Schema is a matter of growing but still fairly limited importance for SEO. It’s a small ranking factor, if at all—though this is a matter of some dispute.

Still, error-filled schema can’t be good. And for events and products in particular, you may be missing out on having Google return the best rich results, like your event being listed right in your knowledge panel.

So here’s a tip. If you decide it’s a matter worth fixing, and you’ve already dealt with the biggest issues on your site, check out our article on fixing problems with Squarespace’s schema markup.

6. Don’t Take SEO Scans Too Seriously

A lot of folks freak out when they see the results of third-party SEO scans of their Squarespace sites. These include SEMrush, Woorank, and Ahrefs. Sometimes, there's good reason to. A lot of sites have serious things wrong with them, and these scans can point up important problems. But you also get a lot of false negatives—issues that are not that important. Then there are Squarespace-related issues that do matter, but are things you just can't do anything about.

SEMrush is a good example. I have a free SEMrush account, and for the heck of it I do look at the issues that are pointed up by their monthly emails. But if I didn't know better, I would think most Squarespace sites are in worse condition than they really are. The worst misdirection is flagging for "toxic backlinks," which freaks out clients who are determined to use Google's disavowal tool as a consequence—rarely a good idea.

Ahrefs site audit health score.

Ahrefs (paid) is my favorite SEO tool by far, but if I took their Site Audit too seriously I would be very worried. Squarespace sites which use folders in the navigation generate 302 (temporary) redirects, which causes most pages to be marked by Ahrefs as "unhealthy." It's an unfortunate issue with Squarespace that folders work this way, but its effect on SEO is likely to be quite minor. You wouldn't know that from your site's "health score" though.

SEO scans routinely flags issues on Squarespace sites which are unlikely to be serious:

  • Incorrect page in sitemap

  • Issues with unminified Javascript or CSS files

  • Low text-HTML ratio

  • No hreflang and lang attributes

  • Duplicate H1 and title tags

  • Toxic backlinks (assuming you have not paid for links)

Then there are flagged issues that may be problems you can work on, or may not be. They require you to actually investigate and see if they are real and can be fixed, or are things you can't do anything about. Potential problems on Squarespace sites include:

  • Pages with low word count

  • Pages with temporary redirects

  • Pages with no or too-short meta descriptions

  • Pages with more than one H1

  • Broken external/internal links

  • Too much/not enough text in title tags

  • Images without alt attributes

  • Slow page speed

  • Small font sizes

  • Tap targets too close together

I find these scans most useful to check for broken links, internal or external, which may have cropped up over time or due to user error. They are also helpful for finding missing or inadequate meta descriptions and duplicate content.

7. Site Speed May Not Be As Important As You Think

This is a tough one. Site speed is a significant ranking factor. It's just not as significant relative to other factors as many people think, and not very malleable where Squarespace is concerned. Once you've attended to image sizes and fonts for your Squarespace site and turned on AMP, there's not much you can do (though see the tip below), and it’s not a deeply urgent matter to try to do so. You're better off trying to create good content that will actually rank in search engines and generate traffic because people want to read it, making sure to link internally from these pages in a way that supports other pages on your site that will convert.

Cheers studios’ Squarespace font optimizer.

Cheers studios’ Squarespace font optimizer.

I like to keep image sizes below 250k at the very most, preferably less, and smaller dimension images can go way lower. You should keep fonts below three at a maximum, preferably fewer. If you really want to speed things up, choose a web safe font like Arial or Helvetica and just stick to it. Cheers Studios offers a very useful font optimizer tool for Squarespace Circle members that eliminates unwanted extra fonts on your site. Take these steps, then take care of more important problems on your site.

For most folks, problems with site architecture, poor internal linking, lack of backlinks, thin pages, and weak content do much more harm than even significant site speed issues. Also, keep in mind that if you are using AMP for blog content, which you should, your content is actually loading much faster than scans may indicate.

8. Eliminate Script-Heavy Features

And now, for contradictory advice. If your site has gotten to a pretty good place, it makes sense to try to speed it up where you can. I already mentioned image sizes and fonts, which is standard advice. But there are a few more things you can do. They just involve sacrifices you might not want to make.

Run Pingdom's speed test, which is the one I prefer, on your site. You’ll see a “load time,” but don’t take that too seriously. It’s not precise and will vary with each scan—even from the same location. Instead, look and see how many "requests" there are. The fewer the better. Under 50 is pretty good for a Squarespace site. Page size should be under 2mb if you can help it and ideally closer to 1.5mb.

Pingdom speed test File Requests

Scroll down to the File Requests section, and increase "entries per page" to 100 or more so all your requests show. Uncheck the "Rising" box at the top, and choose sort by "Response Total Size." Now you can look at everything that gets loaded on your page, from images to fonts to scripts, in order of size. Hover over each one individually to see what they are. In most cases, you will be able to identify what the item is related to by identifying the plain English contained in the long file name. For example, if you see the word “commerce” in it, it’s a script related to commerce.

Make sure you don't have any images that are too large. Now look at the other stuff that clusters near the top. Also pay attention to items farther down that take a particularly long time to load.

Here are a few possible candidates for elimination, because they are large, take long to load, generate too many scripts, or just don't do enough for you:

  • Commerce

  • Blog Comments

  • Maps

  • Simple Liking

A feature like Commerce may simply be necessary for your business. But if it's not really doing anything for you, consider eliminating it (by deleting all Commerce-related pages and blocks), because the script gets loaded for every page regardless of whether you are using it (including blog posts), and it’s a resource hog. Squarespace's Comments system is also a resource hog. It can be eliminated in the Style Editor by turning off comments. So is the Map Block, which loads a ton of scripts. If you're not getting many simple likes, eliminate the option in the Style Editor and get rid of a script.

You may see third-party plugins that are big resource hogs as well. Considering that Squarespace is not very fast in general, you may want to reconsider whether it's worth having them. Examples might include review plugins that no one uses, or cutesy visual plugins or stuff that uses jQuery that doesn’t really help with conversions. You'll see them all in the File Requests section.

 
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