Squarespace SEO: A Quick Audit Process

Squarespace SEO: Nail the basics

Squarespace SEO sometimes gets a bad rap, but the web site creation and hosting service offers the features needed to create a solid SEO foundation.

In this article, I’ll walk you through some of the basics to review and improve SEO within your Squarespace site, giving you a launching pad to branch out into longer-term content and link-building strategies to grow your audience. 


Squarespace SEO tools

Before we get started, here’s a list of the tools I’ll be referencing today:

  • Google Analytics : The mack-daddy, commonly-used free analytics toolset from Google.  

  • Google Webmaster Tools: Lets you see your site the way Google sees it, to spot errors and looks for areas to improve.

  • Screaming Frog: is a “crawler” that reviews and analyzes sites, and it’s free for sites with less than 500 web pages. (If you’re new to the tool, here’s an excellent Screaming Frog tutorial for beginners.)

  • Siteliner: A tool for finding duplicate content on your site.  

  • Squarespace Analytics: The Analytics package provided by Squarespace (also available in a nice iOS app.) 

  • TinyPNG: Allows you to compress (reduce the file size) of images so web pages load faster. Google likes fast web pages. You can upload and compress 20 image files at a time.


Your Squarespace analytics 

Squarespace has a pretty good internal analytics package that covers the basics, and an accompanying iOS app that’s easy to use. 

But if you haven’t already done so, set up your Google Analytics account, as it allows you to drill down much deeper depending on the goals for your site. 

(This Squarespace tutorial walks you through setting up your Google Analytics account and connecting it to your website.)  

Once set up, copy your Google Analytics Account number into the box provided inside Squarespace located at Settings > Advanced > External API Keys.

Tip: Make sure you log in—and stay logged in—to Squarespace on any browser you use (desktop and phone) to exclude your own site activity from your analytic stats. Otherwise, every time you visit your own site, your activity will be tracked as a visitor in Squarespace’s analytics package.  


Squarespace website architecture 

Your site should be as lean and logically structured as possible. An ideal website structure starts at the homepage, has a handful of key sections highlighted in home page navigation, and has nearly all other pages “nested” within those sections. 

A typical site structure for a personal or small business Squarespace site might look something like this:

The top level is your home page. 

At the second level are your main section areas, in this case:

  • About

  • Services

  • Newsletter

  • Blog

These sections are “nested” under the home page, and would appear in the main navigation menu on the home page. 

Don’t go too crazy with categories--seven is really the limit, and less is usually better for the user experience. 

Beneath these sections are third-level pages, which here includes blog posts and individual pages describing the services offered. 

Everything flows down from the home page, and “child” pages are nested under their parents. 

Tip: Do not nest at more than three levels if possible. After three levels, Google views pages as less important, decreasing the ranking potential of the lower-level pages. 

URL structure

Your site’s URL structure should match your site hierarchy

For example, the URL for the “Blog Post 1” page in the example above should look like this:

www.URL.com/blog/blog-post-1

The URL for the “Service Two” page should look like:

www.URL.com/services/service-2

Example: My site

At my site, the categories beneath the home page include:

  • About

  • Blog

  • Book notes

  • SEO notes

  • Newsletter signup

But my URL structure didn’t reflect my site structure, and I had work to do. 

My third-level book notes pages were set up like this:

www.matttillotson.com/booknotes-book-title-author, which makes the section structure unclear. 

The fix required two steps. 

First, I changed the URL of the book notes overview page to:

www.matttillotson.com/book-notes

And then the URLs of book notes pages themselves (as children of the book notes overview page) are set up as:

www.matttillotson.com/book-notes/title-author

That structure communicates the correct site hierarchy to Google. 

Keep URLs concise, and, after reflecting site structure, as limited to the keyword or keywords for that page as possible. 

For example, using our site map example above, a page in the services section detailing purple widget repair should use the URL:

www.URL.com/services/purple-widget-repair 

There’s no perfect answer on URL length, but generally aim for 50-60 characters. 

Remember: Changing URLs will break links—both links you have internally on your own site, and external links from other sites to yours). More on how to fix that later. 


Links

Links tell Google important things about the authority of your site and individual pages and can help search ranking. 

So what is site authority

Google wants to point its users to the best sources in response to the user’s query. So it looks for clues—by crowdsourcing, in part—using links from other sites to yours as a measure of authority and usefulness.

Broadly speaking, the more “inbound links” you have to your site (especially high-quality, highly-trafficked sites), the more authority Google assigns to your site and higher you may rank. 

Links fall into two categories: 

  • Internal: Links from one page of your site to another page of your site.

  • External: Links from other websites to pages within your site. 

This audit process focuses only on internal links. We need to get our own house in order before we start inviting people to send guests our way.

Internal links

According to SEO Moz, internal links are important for three reasons: 

  • They allow users to navigate a website.

  • They help establish information hierarchy for the given website.

  • They help spread link equity (ranking power) around websites.

Just setting up proper site navigation helps your internal linking greatly. From there, Neil Patel shares a simple internal linking strategy

The basic idea is that every page on your website should have some link to and some link from another page on the website.

In other words, make sure your second- and third-level pages link to other pages on your web site--but only in ways helpful to your visitors.  

Internal linking examples:

  • In a blog post, link to another blog post your site about an adjacent topic, or a post that goes more in-depth on a topic touched on in the main post. 

  • On a services page, link to other related service pages, or link to a “contact us” page to allow a potential customer to reach out to you. 

Internal links help spread authority across your site, and more links are better than fewer—but only when it’s good for the user. For example, a highly linked-to blog post that has an internal link to your homepage allows some of the authority from the blog post to be shared with the home page. 

Tip: Link to another internal page just once on any given page: Google will ignore repetitive links on the same page.

Tip: When linking to other pages within your site, include the keywords for the linked page in the text for your link. This content is called “anchor text.”

For example, if you are linking within your site to a blog post focused on iPhone cases, make sure to include the phrase “iPhone cases” as part of your text you use to link. 

Broken links 

Google hates broken links: links to your site that lead to pages that no longer exist, or have been moved, and create what is called a “404 error.”

Screaming Frog can quickly crawl your site and find any 404 errors on your site. 

As you can see from this screenshot of my Screaming Frog report, I had a hot mess of 404 errors. The errors were caused by a double-whammy: moving my site to the Squarespace platform and reconfiguring my URL structure to reflect the site hierarchy:

A screenshot of 404 errors detailed in Screaming Frog

Yeah, clean up on Aisle 404, please … 

In Squarespace, the process for correcting 404 errors is more complex than point, click, and fix, but it’s pretty straightforward. 

You need to set up URL redirects, and relax, it’s not scary. Squarespace can walk you through URL redirects, but here’s an example from my site.

I changed the URL structure for all my “book notes” pages, so the old URLs showed up as 404 errors. For my book notes page on David Goggins’ “Can’t Hurt Me,” I set up what’s called a 301 redirect to point the old, broken URL:

http://www.matttillotson.com/Cant-Hurt-Me-David-Goggins-book-notes

To the new URL:

https://www.matttillotson.com/book-notes/cant-hurt-me-david-goggins

How? By using a little bit of code in URL mappings panel in Squarespace.

Breathe. The code is really simple.

The structure for the code is:

<original url> -> <new url> <redirect type>

For the Goggins redirect, this looks like:

/Cant-Hurt-Me-David-Goggins-book-notes -> https://www.matttillotson.com/book-notes/cant-hurt-me-david-goggins 301

Notice you don’t input your main URL (www.yoursite.com) --just the part after the dot-extension. 

In Squarespace, my redirects look like this:

An example of Squarespace URL redirects at matttillotson.com

Fixing broken links is really important. If you don’t, Google looks at your site like a scary abandoned house with broken windows, and will point users elsewhere.  


Squarespace basic SEO content strategy

Your Squarespace content should be structured and pruned to maximize our relevance and authority. Remember we want to run our site mean and lean: every page and every word should serve a user purpose. 

Here are some simple steps to help with that. 

Excess pages 

If you have excess or unimportant pages (maybe very old blog posts, or product or service pages that are now defunct), delete them or change them to “nofollow” so Google doesn’t crawl them. 

In Squarespace, you can either click the trash can to the left of the page in the “Pages” menu to delete the page, or turn off the “enable” option in the general settings for the page. 

You want to “nofollow” or delete pages Google won’t see as valuable. Yost, a WordPress plugin to address no-indexing, has a good post on choosing pages to nofollow. In general, nofollow blog category pages, author pages, date pages, and technical pages like terms of service. 

Remember: if you delete or nofollow pages, set up your 301 redirects.

Thin content 

The goal is value, and “thin” (low-word count) content can be a red flag for an invaluable page. 

Screaming Frog can give you word counts for each page, but remember that some portion of the word count doesn’t really reflect the unique word count of that page: header text and navigation text, for example, will be counted on every page. 

As a very broad rule of thumb, try to keep unique word counts north of 500.

Your milage may vary, because some pages, simply don’t need much content. A newsletter signup page, for example. 

So evaluate your pages carefully, and if a page really isn’t delivering unique value, then either delete it or expand the content. 

Duplicate content

Duplicate content can mean a couple of different things: content that has been duplicated within your own site, or content that exists elsewhere on the Internet.

A free tool called siteliner can help find duplicate content, but there are caveats:

  • Some content will naturally be repeated across pages: navigation and header text, blog excerpts that may appear on a blog overview page, footer text, etc. 

  • Without getting into too much detail, it’s often just fine to re-publish your blog posts elsewhere, or publish posts on your site that originally were posted elsewhere, like Medium or LinkedIn.
    (If you do this,  you may need to set up “canonical” tags so Google knows your site hosts the original content. This is a manual process in Squarespace and something we can tackle in a later post). 

So, apply salt liberally when evaluating duplicate content. Really, you’re looking for pages you may have accidentally set up twice, and overly redundant content within your own site. 


Tags and descriptions for SEO 

Clean, descriptive, and well-structured text in titles, tags, headlines and descriptions can give your SEO a turbo boost. Here’s how to do it right.

Title

Title refers to the HTML title for a given page. You can set the title in settings section of the page. 

Screenshot showing page title settings in Squarespace

  • Squarespace lists page titles as “optional”--it’s not! Not if you want effective SEO. Use titles on every page of your site

  • Keep your title tight (65 characters or less), include your keyword for the page, and remember you are writing for an audience--Google will use your page title in its listings. 

Meta descriptions

Meta descriptions will appear in search results under your link and title and can be configured in the same screen as your titles

Screenshot example of Squarespace SEO title and meta descriptions.

Keep your descriptions under 155 characters, but over 70

Use your keyword for the page, and remember you are writing to draw an audience in. Be interesting, be accurate, be persuasive. Meta descriptions are your best shot at getting a user to click--and you’re in competition!

The good news is meta descriptions are neglected by many marketers. Writing good ones gives you a leg up.  

Headlines and subheadlines 

Squarespace allows you to create headings in your static pages and blog posts, as designated by the settings H1, H2, H3, and all the way to H6. 

Let’s just worry about H1-H3 for now: 

  • Use just one H1 header, as the headline for the page (such as the title of your blog post)

  • Use one H2 header per section

  • Use one H3 header for each sub-section (supporting idea) within your post

Again, the goal is usability, and Google’s header preferences guide you toward clear, well-organized content. 

Don’t: Use heading designations just to create large text. Use paragraph or “normal” designations and adjust using the template menus in Squarespace. You run the risk of screwing up your on-page SEO otherwise. 


Squarespace Image optimization

Lean images with good supporting descriptive text can help your SEO rankings. Here’s how to optimize your images.

Compressing images 

Google likes sites that load fast. Squarespace performs adequately in this area, but you can help things along by ensuring your image files—photos and graphics—aren’t unnecessarily large which can slow down page load times.

A service called TinyPNG is like Weight Watchers for image files: it makes them lean. You can upload as many as 20 image files at a time and the service reduces the file size. Then simply replace your existing files with your new leaner and meaner version.

Image alt text 

Image “alt-text” is used to describe images to search engines and aids in accessibility for vision-impaired site visitors. 

Write your descriptions for an audience, and utilize your keyword strategy. 

Squarespace uses the image captions you write as alt-text, but that doesn’t mean you have to display the captions. In the image editor, you can choose “Do not display caption” as a setting in under the caption tab in the design area:

Screen shot of Squarespace image caption.png

(For further guidance, check out Squarespace’s image alt-text tutorial.)


Squarespace site map 

Ok, you’ve done all the work. Now it’s time to send your clean and shiny sitemap to Google, so it can read all about your changes and index them accordingly. 

Your sitemap teaches Google about the structure and flow of your site, and in Squarespace the sitemap URL is typically:  

yourURL.com/sitemap.xml 

Example: My sitemap is located at www.matttillotson.com/sitemap.xml

Visit the Google Seach Console site and submit your sitemap URL under the sitemap heading:

Screenshot of sitemap submission on the Google Search Console

Your Squarespace SEO foundation is set

Congrats! If you’ve implemented the steps in this post, you’ve laid a solid foundation for SEO with your Squarespace site. You’ve created your launchpad for world domination. Now go forth and conquer, Squarespace SEO Warrior.


Thanks for reading! If you liked this post, I’d appreciate it if you signed up for my weekly newsletter on SEO, marketing, and other interesting stuff.