The Essential Squarespace SEO Playbook
Unless you’re new here, you know we’re crazy about empowering business owners with beautiful Squarespace websites they can update easily and maintain hassle-free. But with so many business relying on search engine traffic for new inquiries, making the jump to Squarespace can be scary without a great SEO plan in place.
The good news is that SEO on Squarespace is actually easier to set up and maintain on Wordpress, and just as powerful. Below, we’ve outlined the essential steps we use with our clients to help them start ranking for their search terms right out of the gate. While SEO varies wildly depending on your specific market, location and goals, we’ve seen many of our clients jump from unranked to top three results on google in about 2-3 weeks.
Read on for our simple game plan, below, and be sure to download our PDF playbook to help you get started!
Getting started with search terms
Before you begin the steps we’ve outlined below, you’ll need to determine for which search terms you’re interested improving your rankings. To do this, get in the head of your ideal client. What is he or she typing into google when they’re seeking your services. This is quite a bit easier for local, in-person businesses (“Austin Texas Wedding Photographer”) than it is for online, national or information based businesses (“how to build your blog audience”). Moz has a great resource with tips and tools during keyword research.
Before you move forward, you’ll need to have defined one primary search phrase and a list of secondary search terms and phrases. Here’s an example:
Primary: Austin, Texas Fine Art Wedding Photographer
Secondary: austin wedding photographer, fine art wedding photographer, dallas wedding photographer, texas wedding photographer, best austin photographer, best wedding photographers, wedding photographer in austin, georgetown wedding photographer, round rock wedding photographer
Initial set up
To begin optimizing your Squarespace website, you’re going to start with some one-time changes. From your dashboard, navigate to Settings / Marketing / SEO. Groundbreaking, I know. These options help you control how your pages appear both to search engines and to viewers in search results. Because you’re making changes that will apply to each individual page and post, you can get a lot of milage from a few simple updates.
First up, Search Engine Description. This is the 1 or 2 sentence description that will display below your url in search results. This should be a coherent, human-friendly (read: not a list of keywords) description of your website and business that contains your most important search terms.
Next, your Title Formats for Homepage, Collections and Items. These control the way your pages are named in search results and in browser tabs. Because they’re at the very top of the hierarchy in your page, adding your primary terms can be extremely effective here. We recommend adding your primary search phrase after each of these using a pipe character ( | ). Squarespace uses variables to denote your titles and site names, so your input would look like the following:
Homepage Title Format:
%s | Austin, Texas Fine Art Wedding Photographer
Collection Title Format:
%c — %s | Austin, Texas Fine Art Wedding Photographer
Item Title Format:
%i — %s | Austin, Texas Fine Art Wedding Photographer
While these may seem super long (and they are!), keep in mind that the extra text will be cut off by size limitations of the browser tab, so they won’t look super goofy to your readers.
Next, navigate over to Settings / Blogging to update your Post URL Format. For your blog urls, we recommend removing all the date information, leaving only your (hopefully) keyword rich blog post titles in the URL.
If you’re making the switch from an established Wordpress website, you’ll want to take a few extra steps to ensure that the SEO you’ve already established on your old site will continue working for your new site. While it’s impossible to preserve 100% of your existing SEO, using best practices, you can expect to maintain 90-95% of your existing “link juice” - or SEO benefit of existing backlinks.
For your top level pages, you’ll want to be sure that every page either uses the same url (domain.com/about, for example) or is mapped to its closest counterpart on the new site. To do this, navigate to Settings / Advanced / URL mappings.
Squarespace URL mappings take the form of:
<original url> -> <new url> <redirect type>
You can use relative URLs here, so there’s no need to include the ‘http://www.domain.com' portion of your link for cleaner mappings. For each page that you’d like to map from your old site, follow this format:
/about -> /meet-our-team 301
While you can choose either a 301 (permanent) or 302 (temporary) redirect, you’ll want to use 301 redirects in this situation to let the search engine know you’ve moved pages permanently. Make sure that every page on your current website has a destination on your new site - even if it’s not an exact copy of the page. You can test that you’ve set them up correctly by typing the old urls into your browser.
If a page has no logical equivalent on your new site, redirect the url to your homepage using a blank destination. For example:
/history -> / 301
When it comes to blog redirects, if you’re coming from the typical wordpress format of /post-title, you’ll have to set up redirects for each post to accommodate the Squarespace format of /blog-title/post-title. Unfortunately, there’s no way to remove the blog title slug in Squarespace, and the number of posts on a typical blog makes setting up individual redirects a monster job.
Lucky for you, we’re serious nerds round these parts, and have developed an Excel spreadsheet that does all the work for you! (We accept thank you gifts in the form of wine.) Use the link below to download the spreadsheet and follow the instructions to get started. When you’re finished, you’ll just paste your list of redirects directly into Squarespace. We've included the spreadsheet in our Squarespace SEO Playbook, so be sure to download it below!
Once you’ve completed the initial setup, you’ll want to keep building and maintaining your SEO using good content marketing practices. Of course, the key to this is creating a consistent stream of good quality content (typically through your blog posts) that includes your preferred keywords and is sharable for maximum backlinks and exposure. There are thousands of resources available online for improving the written content of your posts - we particularly like this one from Moz.
That said, we’re seeing good returns on image optimizations, which while tedious, are a lot more passive - it’s easy to get them done while you’re watching old episodes of The Good Wife and drinking a margarita. Here’s what you’ll need to do for each image:
- Open up the image menu. For the Filename field, use your primary keyword phrase. Search Engines read dashes as spaces, so help them understand by using dashes between each word.
- Next, below your image, click on the “Write here…” text that marks the caption. In this space, paste your list of secondary search terms.
- Since this looks like nonsense to your human visitors, go back to your image menu and hide the caption.
We recommend doing this for every image in your static pages when you’re starting this process. As you add blog posts, continue to use this process on the new images you upload. With posts, feel free to modify the search terms to target viewers to that specific post, especially if it’s a particularly good one or on a popular topic. It can get arduous to go back and do this for every existing blog post, so you many consider enlisting the help of a VA, intern or wine+netflix in the wee hours.
By implementing these practices, you’ll see a major increase in the search engine visibility of your Squarespace website. Click below to download a PDF checklist to make sure you’re covering every opportunity.
Have you tried any of these practices? What questions do you have about SEO in Squarespace? Let us know in the comments!