Thank you all for your thoughtful questions for Squarespace Expert Matt Callahan’s SEO AMA. He’s responded to the top 10 questions below. If you’re interested in learning more about Matt or hiring him for a project, you can contact him through his Squarespace Marketplace profile.
Can you share your definition of SEO, as well as your model for its Return on Investment (ROI), and compare this to an investment in paid search?
My definition of Search Engine Optimization is simple: SEO is anything you do to make your website more attractive to a search engine. This includes onsite SEO, linking, coding, content, keywords etc. — but it also includes things like creating videos, a robust social media presence, or a compelling white paper. These are all part of SEO because they are all potentially relevant and interesting to your audience, and Google cares A LOT about your audience — almost as much as you do. They want to make sure that the results they serve up are the best results, and if they see an audience interacting with content — any kind of content — that leads back to your website, that’s a signal that they should pay attention to your brand.
Search Engine Optimization, like any marketing tool or tactic, has a variety of ways to measure efficacy. It can be measured apples-to-apples right alongside paid search campaigns, using tools like Google Analytics and Tag Manager to track conversions on your website (whether it’s a purchase, a form submission, or an email signup) vs. cost. Where organic SEO absolutely blows paid search away, is in Brand Authority, and Brand Authenticity. At the end of the day, search engines are used to answer questions. If your brand is the one Google has “selected” to provide the answer to a search query, your brand is now effectively the expert on that topic. And that expertise, that “Authority,” is invaluable on a scale that a paid ads campaign could never touch. Think of it this way: If you stop an AdWords campaign, all results stop immediately. But if your organic search presence is established and authentic, you’ll get traffic, leads, and ROI for a long time to come.
Do you conduct a Site SEO Audit for clients, how do you approach new clients, what information do you look at in Squarespace and what tools do you recommend?
As an agency, we always conduct an SEO audit as part of our work. As far as approaching new clients, most of the time we’re responding to inbound leads but even if we were reaching out to prospects, we would be asking the same question: Is your website working as hard as you are for your business? And if it’s not, how can we fix that? There are so many different variables and data points to look at when determining an SEO strategy, but for the sake of your question I will stick to the 3 big-picture things we generally look for during an SEO audit:
Site Structure and Metadata
How is the site set up? Is there already a sitemap, and does Google have an up-to-date copy of it? (Google Search Console can help out with this.) Is all metadata filled out, and filled out properly? Are images optimized for size? Does the site load quickly? (Screaming Frog is a great tool to check this.) Is the site properly mobile-optimized? Are H1s, H2s, and H3s structured hierarchically?
Are there internal links, and do they work properly? (Both Screaming Frog and Google Search Console are great for this.) Are there backlinks to the site, and are they helpful/broken/garbage? (Ahrefs is great here.) Are there outbound links on the site, and are they good/helpful/working? (And yes, outbound links do affect your SEO.)
Is there content on every page of the website? Is it enough content to be helpful? (The argument continues to rage over “how many words does Google want on a web page?”, but at the end of the day, if the content that’s there is what the audience is looking for, length doesn’t matter so much.) Are there a good amount of strategic keywords in the content?
What types of searches; informational, comparison, transactional, and so on, should we be optimizing our site for - what part of the searchers journey should we target to optimize our investment in SEO?
This completely, 100% depends on the industry of your brand. Optimizing for products is very different from optimizing for services, which is very different from optimizing for blogs, and so on. That being said — you should always strive to be as useful and helpful to your users as possible. What questions are being asked by the prospects served by your industry? Are they comparing two products? Are there frequently asked questions? Do some questions not have answers (or are the answers that are there wrong)? Are the questions about price, or timing, or the meaning of life? Depending on the brand, these questions may or may not be relevant — find the questions that are relevant, and answer them as authoritatively and completely as possible. Be helpful.
What's your best advice for keyword research without investing in one of the expensive tools?
There are TONS of free or inexpensive tools out there to assist with keyword research — here are my three favorites:
Google AdWords Keyword Planner is an excellent free resource; creating a Google Ads account is free, and you can get really helpful info like search volume data, average cost per click (which helps you figure out what keywords are most valuable and most competitive), historical keyword data, and the ability to generate new keyword ideas based on your industry and service offerings.
Moz has a really excellent (and free) Keyword Explorer that gives you most of what Google’s Keyword Planner does, but it also gives you things like who is showing up in top results for keywords, the ability to see what keywords you’re already ranking for, and the ability to compare your rankings directly with your competitors.
Answer The Public is a great tool for finding more detailed and abstract keywords (“long-tail” keywords) like full questions (“What does an SEO agency do for small businesses?”), comparisons (“SEO Agency vs. SEO Practitioner”), and more. (Note: Their free version limits you to a few searches per day.)
Do you have any Squarespace-specific suggestions for optimizing local SEO for a business with multiple physical locations?
Let me say this first: Regardless of the website platform, the single most important thing you can do for local business SEO (with 1, 5, or 100 locations) is to create and optimize your Google My Business profile. If you have 10 or more locations, this Google support page can help you bulk upload, verify, and manage multiple listings.
Another great platform-agnostic optimization for locations is Schema markup — and helpfully, there are versions for both single and multiple locations. I won’t go into detail about this here, as there are many factors that affect implementation, but reaching out to an expert who knows their SEO stuff will help.
Now — to the Squarespace-specific recommendations:
Local SEO For Businesses With 2–5 Locations
If possible, I would suggest creating a separate page on the website for each location. This will allow you to optimize specifically for each separate address. NOTE: this is helpful *only* if the content on each page is unique — if you include the same information and only change the address and contact info, Google will most likely see these pages as duplicate content. Not helpful.
Another suggestion apart from separate location pages is to use something like the Advanced Map Block feature from Squarewebsites, or Google’s My Maps feature to include multiple locations inside the same map.
Local SEO For Businesses With 6+ Locations
Optimizing for lots of locations is difficult no matter what platform you’re using — but there are a few things that we recommend here. First, and easiest, would be to create a simple text list of your locations on your Contact page, and link them to their respective Google Maps listing. On a slightly more involved — but also much more sleek and helpful — level, you could create a searchable/filterable database of your locations using something like Squarewebsites’ Universal Filter feature. This method is great particularly because people would, in general, much rather filter or search for what they want instead of scrolling through lists. Again — search engines like when you’re helpful.
How do you add Schema Markups in Squarespace to get featured on the SERP sections?
Great question — Schema is a really important part of SEO, as it can have a huge effect on whether or not your site shows up within Google’s “rich results” area, also known as “rich snippets” or “featured snippets.” As far as actually adding your Schema markup to a Squarespace site, there are two main ways:
Using the Data Highlighter Tool Inside Google Search Console
This is the simpler and faster way to add Schema markup to your site, and although it’s not foolproof, it doesn’t involve writing code. Google has a good introduction for using Data Highlighter here, where they basically walk you through what to do for each page on your site. The downside of this option is that it doesn’t work with all types of Schema, like recipes and certain kinds of reviews, for example. But if you want a basic, fairly code-free way to add Schema markup to your site, this is it.
Adding Schema Markup To Your Site Manually
This is the much more complicated way to add Schema markup to your site, as it involves a good amount of digging through code and writing your own — but it’s definitely the more comprehensive route. One you have the markup ready, it will be inserted in the Code Injection area of your website backend, as well as by using code blocks on pages (depending on the Schema type). I won’t attempt to give you a breakdown of how to actually write Schema markup, but schema.org is an excellent place to start. And of course, you can always reach out to me if you get stuck or have more questions.
How much does image optimization matter to SEO overall, and what are the best ways to optimize images on a website?
In the grand schema of things (sorry), optimizing your images isn’t the single most important thing in the world when it comes to SEO — but it certainly matters. Optimizing your images breaks down to two major categories: image size, and image metadata. Let’s break those down a bit further, shall we?
The smaller your images are in terms of megabytes (or hopefully kilobytes), the less space they will take up, and the faster your website will load. Google has indicated a number of times that page load speed, particularly on mobile, is looked at as a ranking factor — and the number 1 culprit of a slow-to-load Squarespace website is overall image size. But what about those large, border-busting fullscreen banner images, you ask? Shouldn’t they be full size to ensure they look spectacular on your website? Yes, of course they should — but just because their dimensions are large doesn’t mean that they have to be large in size as well. Get them down to 2500px in width, and always use an image-size-optimizing tool like tinypng and you’ll be right as rain.
Google’s robust image search function gives you another opportunity to rank in the results — after all, a full third of all Google searches are for images. But how exactly do you rank an image? The answer is in the metadata. Images have multiple kinds of metadata, which means multiple opportunities to optimize. Here are three simple things you can do to optimize your image metadata:
Give your images a short, descriptive, accurate filename, so instead of “img_5727529v.jpg” you might have “seo-tips-infographic.jpg”
Add helpful ALT tags to your images — originally developed to help the visually impaired, ALT text is also used by Google to interpret the makeup of an image. Squarespace has a helpful guide on how to add ALT text to your images here.
When possible and/or appropriate, image captions are also very helpful. Make sure that they reside close to the image (preferably directly under the image), and make them short but descriptive.
I’ve been told that no Squarespace website will ever be as good as a Wordpress website for SEO, particularly because you can't use the Yoast plugin with Squarespace. Is Wordpress actually better for SEO?
Utter Balderdash. While there are some platforms out there that are genuinely crap for SEO, Wordpress is no better than any other website or CMS platform in existence. In fact, here are three reasons why I greatly prefer Squarespace to Wordpress for SEO:
Wordpress is in the dark ages when it comes to security (see: plugin vulnerability, platform vulnerability, PHP vulnerability, hosting vulnerability, I could go on and on) — and in this day and age, it’s extremely important to Google if your website is secure or not. Squarespace’s lack of plugin infrastructure is actually really helpful here — fewer logins + fewer accounts + fewer updates + free, automatic SSL = a secure website.
It’s hard to believe that this is still an issue, considering that we were warned back in 2013 that Google was going to start to prioritize mobile optimization. Squarespace websites are all responsive by default. With Wordpress websites… it depends on the theme, it depends on the version, it depends on the update. Also, unless you install a site builder plugin (again, vulnerabilities though), getting your Wordpress theme to be mobile responsive and actually look nice can require a ton of coding.
Squarespace Enables The Person Doing The Optimization
At the end of the day, any decent SEO can easily overcome particular platform issues. What separates decent SEO from really, really great SEO isn’t about the platform at all — it’s about understanding the industry you’re in, the goals you’re trying to attain, and the ability to answer questions and truly create a resource out of your brand. That involves creativity, great writing skills, the ability to improvise, and most importantly, the ability to understand what your users want and how they’re feeling. Once you have those things, Squarespace makes implementing them (implementing anything, really) so much easier than Wordpress.
How has SEO changed both with the continued move to mobile, and the establishment of Amazon as a primary search engine and Facebook etc. as primary platforms on the web?
SEO And The Mobile-First Web
As I mentioned earlier, Google has signaled for many years that they use website mobile optimization as a ranking signal. So, has anything shifted recently? Yes — that “signal” has evolved into more of a requirement: Back in 2018, Google announced that they would be slowly transitioning to “mobile-first indexing.” This means that Google will primarily use the mobile version of a website for both ranking and indexing. As of today, this transition has been implemented — and there’s no way to opt out of this, either. Luckily, Squarespace’s built-in mobile optimization for every website means you should be good to go with this issue — but if you want to get nitpicky like I do, you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to dig down further.
Amazon, Facebook, And The Rise Of Alternate Search Engines
As with any marketing strategy, there will always be both tactical and scattershot approaches. I’m fond of both — identify your likely performers and drill down deep, while also throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. If you sell products on Amazon, it’s possible that optimizing for Amazon’s search may be more important for the success of your business than optimizing for Google. If your industry or target demographic is just right for social media, then Facebook might be your priority. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, unfortunately — but I always recommend more brand visibility over less, so if it makes sense for your brand to be on a platform, why not do it and see where your customers are most likely to find you?
What is the number one thing that all Squarespace site creators should do regarding SEO? Understand that there will be multiple actions to get better rankings, but if you had to name just one, what would it be?
Oh man… just one? That’s such a hard question to answer because there are so many variables, based on what kind of site you have, what kind of industry you’re in, and what your goals are. But if I had to pick just one thing to do, across any business/industry/goal, I would say:
Make Your Content The Absolute Best It Can Be.
That’s the biggest variable out there. The Squarespace platform does a great job with the basics of the backend SEO stuff — it will submit a sitemap to Google automatically; the platform is secure and gives you a free, automatic SSL certificate; mobile-responsiveness is built-in and really great. But at the end of the day, Google will prioritize interesting, relevant, timely content that matters to your audience over things like meta descriptions and alt text.