If you want the best results from your search engine optimization efforts, I’m just going to say it, WordPress is always, yes, always, a better solution than Squarespace.
Squarespace is a website builder and comes automatically with hosting services and premium themes. WordPress is a content management system and not a website building per se. Build on the open source WordPress.org, WordPress requires you to configure your own domain name registration and web hosting. However, the differences widen when it comes to search engine optimization.
Modern online businesses these days have a number of customer acquisition channels: there’s social and display ads that can be intent-based (Google Search Display Network) or interruption-based (Facebook ads), offline advertising, social media marketing, organic website traffic from search engines such as Google, email marketing, business development, and word-of-mouth.
As you can see, there are an increasing number of touch points and some acquisition channels are more cost-effective than others. One of these is organic website traffic via search engine optimization. Unlike using social media platforms to reach an audience, where organic reach is less than 6%, the benefit of investing in your own website is that the asset is something you own.
Running ads can be great for specific goals but running paid advertising non-stop may be not a sustainable approach to acquiring new customers, especially for a small business. Therefore, SEO is one of the best investments that you can make for your business long term.
Search engine optimization isn’t the holy grail. It is a viable channel for long term customer acquisition and growth, but it is by no means the only way to attract new customers.
For certain businesses, other marketing channels may be prioritized over website traffic. For example, in certain niches, the bulk of your prospects may be highly engaged with social channels such as Pinterest and Instagram. This user behavior makes sense for you to focus your marketing resources on targeting said users on these platforms. As a result, it may be appropriate for you to not invest as much time and resources into building out web pages that rank well for relevant keywords.
Similarly, your business model may rely heavily on an existing website such as Amazon, Etsy or eBay. Rather than competing against these giants, you can invest your time and resources on optimizing your stores on these sites and the corresponding listings for peak sales and cart abandonment avoidance.
Generally speaking, SEO should be a part of your marketing mix. But for certain businesses, their efforts may be better spent on other avenues. Therefore, it may be appropriate to throw up a simple website on Squarespace that provides visitors with basic information.
Since its launch in 2003, the New York based software as a service (Saas) company has grown in leaps and bounds. With an impressive array of stunning layouts, it has really cornered the market as an all-in-one website building.
However, in terms of search engine optimization, Squarespace websites suffered from poor implementation in its early days. It wasn’t until earlier in 2019 that the platform finally fixed a bug with duplicate URLs due to a trailing slash. And there are still some challenges around alt image text, and unique meta description implementation across every single design template.
Overall, Squarespace has made improvements to how SEO friendly its themes are but when compared to the options available to self-hosted WordPress site owners, Squarespace remains not as optimized.
To be completely fair, off-the-shelf, WordPress needs a fair bit of external plugins and technical knowledge to make a website SEO friendly. For example, you cannot modify custom meta tags such as page titles and meta descriptions without a plugin (Yoast SEO, All-In-One) or without extensive digging into design files. Similarly, when it comes to optimizing for page speed, you will need to know how to tweak advanced caching settings and/or invest in a managed WordPress web host. However, at its core, WordPress has a good foundation for clean and simple permalinks and site structure.
Recommended reading: What Are The Best SEO Tools For Your Small Businesses?
I didn’t write this with the intent to bash Squarespace. The New York company is one of the most successful SaaS businesses today.
As someone who optimizes sites for search visibility, I follow a framework of first auditing for technical and on-page issues where I will examine competing websites in the same niche and inspect the web pages that are ranking well. This gives me an idea of the competitive landscape of a particular keyword, industrial, and how much effort it will take to achieve the goal of increasing sales/revenue from improved search visibility.
Squarespace Vs WordPress: Overview
If there is one thing that Squarespace does well, it is its brand positioning.
Even I’m fanboy-ing right now over Keanu.
As I am writing this blog post, I have encountered countless reviews that recommend Squarespace to owners of creative businesses. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Squarespace has made launching a visually striking website super easy. It doesn’t require the technical knowledge compared to a self-hosted WordPress site.
Squarespace doesn’t fare all too well on Trustpilot with its 2.1/10 rating (based on 324 reviews as of June 2019).
But in Squarespace’s defense, after reading some of the reviews, some users simply gave a negative review because they were unable and/or unwilling to spend the time necessary to learn how to use the website builder.
Some surprising reviews on Trustpilot claim the platform to be suitable only for experienced designers. One of the most cited grievances was not with the functionality per se, but rather, the customer service experience when requiring support.
Similarly, Rand Fiskkin, ex-Moz now Sparktoro founder, is often cited as having giving Squaresquare a stamp of approval back in 2014. Digging a little deeper, it is not as black and white.
Once again, I didn’t set out to bash Squarespace.
If I were to compare Squarespace to WordPress, I would use the analogy of Apple iPhone versus Android smartphones where Squarespace is Apple and WordPress are Android devices. As an iPhone user myself, I just want something that works, without all the customizable functions that Android users benefit from.
Squarespace streamlines the domain name registration, web hosting, caching, speed optimization, design, HTTPS protocol, and content creation process into one sleek interface.
For the average non-technical small business owner, this streamlined process is a godsend.
Right off the bat, I can totally understand why so many small business owners, especially those in the creative field such as wedding professionals favor Squarespace over the clunky setup of a self-hosted WordPress site.
WordPress on the other hand, takes a bit of effort to make it look and feel good.
I’m not going review both platforms based on ease of use, content management backend, quantity and quality of themes, and eCommerce implementation. I feel as though these have been adequately addressed by other sites such as Style Factory, Kinsta and Website Tool Tester.
Instead, I am going to compare the two based on their ability to implement fundamental on-page and technical SEO.
Squarespace Vs WordPress: SEO Features
I’ve prepared a quick and dirty reference table comparing Squarespace website and WordPress in terms of SEO features.
|Clean URLs for crawling/indexation||✅||✅|
|Indivudal customizable page titles||⚠️||✅|
|Customizable meta descriptions||⚠️||✅|
|Title is wrapped in <h1> tag||⚠️||✅|
|Alt image text||❌||✅|
|On-page SEO assistance (via plugins)||❌||✅|
✅- indicates support either internally or via third-party option (e.g, plugin)
⚠️ – indicates feature not fully supported without significant tweaking
❌ – indicates that the feature is not supported or unavailable
Similar to other website builders such as Wix and Weebly, Squarespace shares a number of limitations that make good SEO more difficult than it needs to be.
Simple things such as the ability to set unique page titles and meta descriptions are missing in certain Squarespace templates. Admittedly, WordPress doesn’t have this feature built-in without the help of a third-party plugin such as Yoast SEO, Rank Math or All-In-One SEO.
One the topic of SEO plugins, this is an area where WordPress excels with its large library of Wordpress plugins. In particular, Yoast SEO, Rank Math and All-In-One SEO can be very useful for following basic keyword density implementation. Some of these plugins also include schema for blog posts and pages – something that Squarespace does not implement with ease.
For example, on this page, I have implemented FAQ schema using Yoast SEO. Doing the same in Squarespace requires a whole new learning curve and manual code injection.
Clear winner: WordPress via plugins and add-ons
Squarespace Vs WordPress: SEO-related design
I’m by not means a designer but I do know that website design plays a role in page speed and technical SEO.
WordPress themes can be a hit or miss. There are literally millions of WordPress themes; some better than others. Some premium themes can cost over $100. This is an area where Squarespace definitely wins on value proposition as there are 21 families of fully responsive templates to choose from, each with drag and drop ability to produce visually appealing web pages.
Squarespace offers 92 templates to choose from. All are professional designed and are eye-catching for both desktop and mobile devices. However, not all templates share the same customization when it comes to fundamental on-page SEO.
For example, themes such as Pacific, Charlotte, and Fulton will force your meta description to display over a hero image.
Meta descriptions aren’t direct ranking signals but these 160 characters do play a role in click-through-rate.
This can be problematic when a Squarespace user prefers the cleaniness of an image and removes the meta description.
The same problem is seen in certain themes where the template forces the title tag to display directly on top of the hero image banner.
Jennifer Villa has put together a list of Squarespace templates to avoid if SEO is something you care bout:
To make full use of Squarespace SEO, you should consider using these templates instead:
Not as clear winner: WordPress, if you choose the right theme and take the time to implement basic on-page SEO
Squarespace Vs WordPress SEO: Page Speed
Page speed is a measurement of how fast the content on a web page loads. To find out more, Moz has a great explanation.
WordPress sites can be hell sluggish due to their choice of theme, hosting provider, and number of plugins and scripts running on the site. I would know because I ran one of these slow-ass WordPress sites on shared hosting.
Optimizing WordPress sites for page speed requires a certain expertise. GTmetrix’s waterfall tab is great for identifying individual elements that cause slow load times. But other recommendations such as eliminating render-blocking resources will require the help of a developer. Alternatively, choose a managed WordPress hosting such as WP Engine, Flywheel, A2Hosting, SiteGround, Kinsta, and WPX Hosting to drastically improve TTFB.
Similarly, if your customers come from various geographic regions around the world, a content delivery network (CDN) is highly advised.
For the average non-technical small business owner, optimizing a WordPress website can be extremely difficult.
When it comes to page speed optimization, Squarespace does not have a whole heap of customizations avialable. Thankfully, Squarespace websites are generally ok provided that you resize high quality images and compress them prior to uploading them.
In the above screenshot, there are a few speed issues with this Squarespace website. Using Google PageSpeed Insights tool, the results are even worse: a meager score of 14 out of 100 for mobile experience.
Clear winner: WordPress, provided you use a managed WordPress host, use lazy loading, and apply caching
Squarespace Vs WordPress: Image SEO
Every web page, product page, and blog post should have images.
Images help break up walls of text and if used appropriately, help readers better understand the on-page content.
In terms of optimizing images for search engine visibility, there are a few rules to follow:
- use keywords in image filenames
- resize image display size prior to compression
- compress images
- apply descriptive alt image text tags for relevant images
- apply descriptive tiltle text
Squarespace makes it unnecessarily difficult to apply alt text due to their varying content blocks. For example, Blocks, Gallery Page Images, Gallery Blocks, Product Images, Cover Page Images and Thumbnail Images all have different alt text instructions.
WordPress, on the other hand, has super easy alt image text implementation.
Anotehr area where WordPress excels for image SEO is due to its extensive library of plugins
Another area where WordPress excels for image SEO is due to its extensive library of WordPress plugins, in particular, image compression plugins such as Shortpixel.
Clear winner: WordPress
Squarespace Vs WordPress SEO: Link building
Building links is central to content marketing which is an arm of search engine optimization. This is because when external websites link to your web page, this is a positive signal to Google that your site is a quality resource worthy of citation.
Think of backlinks as citations in a research paper; the more citations your site receives, the more credible it appears to search engines.
Link building is thankfully CMS agnostic.
Clear winner: Tie (just make sure you devote resources to link acquitions)
Squarespace Vs WordPress: Structured data + rich snippets
Structured data is a specific code that allow search engines to understand the purpose of a web page. The easier you make it for Google to understand your web page, the better your chances are for improving your search visibility.
If you use Squarespace, implementing structured data (or schema) is difficult. Furthermore, the author field in blog posts is missing from the schema markup.
For WordPress websites, implementing structured data can also be difficult, although there are a number of plugins that can help. For example, at the time of writing, Yoast SEO has FAQ schema and Q&A schema as Gutenberg blocks.
Clear winner: WordPress
Squarespace Vs WordPress: WordPress Is Better For SEO
If I were comparing features (without any modifications using plugins or code injection), drag and drop content creation, and ease of having a professional looking site live in a matter of hours, Squarespace would definitely win.
When search visibility is concerned, however, WordPress does come out on top – primarily because of the third-party plugins.
Some businesses do not need to rely on organic search results – they have existing brand recognition – such as Keanu Reeves’ Arch Motocycle.
For the average small business, the story is usually very different. And ranking for relevant keywords is a viable way to bring in new customers and make sales across time.
What does this mean for you?
If your website is currently built on Wix or Weebly, talk to a professional on how to migrate your content to an SEO friendly platform such as Squarespace and WordPress. Working in a Wix and Weebly environment is swimming against a strong current.
If you do not have a website, I urge you to consider building out your business on WordPress with managed WordPress web hosting. Managed web hosting usually costs $30 per month which can be double or triple the price of shared hosting. However, the page speed gains you recieve are well worth the asking price.
If your business website is a Squarespace website, ask a professional to review the top ranking websites in your industry/niche/vertical. More competitive industries and keywords may require you to deploy schema markup and ensure that all on-page optimizations are followed. In these situations, a WordPress webite may be more appropriate for you in the long run.
If your business website is running on Squarespace, review the theme/template that you have chosen (scroll up to see our list of recommended SEO friendly themes).
If your website is using WordPress.org – there’s still plenty of work for you to do!
For example, you may need to completely overhaul your site design – cosmetically and site structure. You may need to resize every single image in your media gallery and apply compression to them. You may need to perform a site audit to identify which of your pages have missing or duplicate page titles and meta descriptions. You may need to investigate which pages would benefit from structured data.
Recommended reading: 3 Things You Can Do Today For Some Easy SEO Gains
Over To You Now
What did you think of this WordPress versus Squarespace article?
Did it help in any way?
Do you disagree with any of the points raised?
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