How to do powerful SEO when using a website builder?
Website builders do not have a good reputation when it comes to SEO.
It’s common to see users and even web developers complaining about the inability to rank well on search engine ranking pages when using a website builder.
Some even claim that it’s impossible. However, the reality is, it’s not easy to get your web pages to rank on page one of Google, regardless of what platform you use to build and host your website.
For someone that doesn’t have the skills to improve the technical aspects required for good SEO, a website builder will be the easiest, and possibly the only way to rank well.
Search engine optimization is a science. It takes time, effort, and skill to outperform your competitors.
It’s true that highly skilled search engine marketers will find limitations with any website builder tool.
However, it’s still possible to rank well and generate organic search traffic for your website builder site if you work hard to implement the right strategy and optimize your website with SEO best practices.
A lot of the time the biggest problem that ‘website builder complainers’ have is a poor SEO strategy.
So, this article is going to walk you through the best practices for website builder SEO so that you can optimize your site for success. We’ll introduce the topic generally, explain how you can improve your SEO, and help you to evaluate if a website builder has the tools you need to optimize your site.
- What is SEO?
- Can you rank on page one with a website builder?
- How to improve your website builder SEO
- Which website builders are best for SEO?
- Website builder SEO checklist
Read the rest of the article to find out exactly how you can improve your website builder SEO.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization which can be defined as a set of techniques that are performed to increase a website’s visibility on search engine ranking pages.
The increased visibility leads to an increase in relevant website visitors clicking through to your site.
Unlike PPC campaigns like Google Ads or Facebook Ads, organic search traffic achieved through search engine optimization is free, and therefore, is a very valuable resource to any website.
The process of deciding where a page is ranked involves search engine bots crawling the internet and collecting information on every web page to put them in an index.
Then, an algorithm cross-references the information stored on each web page with a series of page ranking factors to decide which pages are the best and most relevant for every search query.
There are hundreds of page ranking factors taken into consideration but here are some of the most important as of 2020:
- Site security (HTTPS)
- Mobile responsive design
- Schema markup
- Content quality
- Length of content
- Page speed (Time to first byte / TTFB)
- User experience
- Social signals
- Optimized images
- Domain age
Can you rank on page one with a website builder?
While the website builder naysayers might tell you it’s impossible, we know for a fact that it is possible to rank on page one when using a website builder.
It’s true that you might be held back from reaching the top spot for highly competitive keywords due to the SEO limitations of website builders.
However, that’s primarily down to the fact that those websites most likely have a team of SEO experts working on the site. So, only the best of the best will ever reach the top spots for those types of keywords.
However, with 5.8 billion searches being handled every day by Google alone, there are plenty of less competitive keywords that you can target to generate organic traffic for your website builder site.
Additionally, if you take another look at the list of the most important ranking factors in 2020 listed above, you can see that nearly all of them can be edited and optimized on any website builder platform with the exception of schema markup and to some extent page speed.
So, it’s completely within your control to implement the most powerful optimization tactics to boost your site’s rankings.
How to improve your website builder SEO?
So, with the most important ranking factors in mind, how can you use the tools and features available on website builder platforms to optimize your site for search engines?
Before we get into the detail of what you can do, it’s important to note that the page ranking factors are there to help search engines provide links to sites that will make the searcher happy.
So, at its core and most basic principles, a great SEO strategy should aim to create a smooth, well-organized site filled with lots of relevant and engaging content.
If only it was as easy as typing that sentence! Let’s take a look at the specifics of website builder SEO, starting with what should be at the beginning of any SEO campaign, keyword research.
Before creating any website or blog content, keyword research should be performed to ensure that you are creating content based on what search engine users are actually looking for, not just what you think or hope they are looking for.
The best source of keyword data is from the Google Keyword Planner because Google processes the most searches and therefore has the most data.
However, unless you have an active Google Ads account, it will be hard to access the most accurate data. If this is the case for you, try using other keyword tools like those offered by SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz.
It’s particularly important if you are using a website builder, but also important to any new or young website regardless of the platform used, to target a mixture of competitive and less competitive keywords.
You’ll have a better shot at ranking well and bringing in organic search traffic with less competitive long-tail keywords. You can use the search volume and keyword competition data that keyword research tools provide to help you to judge which keywords are right to target.
When using a website builder on-page SEO is one of the areas where you have complete control, providing that the platform gives you the tools you need to optimize your content.
It’s where you can optimize for some of the most important ranking factors that were outlined earlier such as length of content, content quality, user experience, and image optimization.
So, what should you be focusing on when it comes to on-page SEO?
Length of content
There is no ‘ideal’ length for a piece of content because it depends on the topic and your audience.
However, there are some best practices to consider. Google sees anything under 700 words as ‘weak content’.
So, you want to make sure your word count is 700 words plus at the very least. Backlinko analyzed over 11 million search results to find out that the average word count of pages on the first page of Google is 1447 words. Therefore, aiming for 1500+ for your word count is a solid strategy.
Content quality & user experience
Content quality and user experience are two ranking factors that can be targeted with the same on-page SEO tactics.
It’s all about making your content relevant and engaging for the searcher while making it easy to read and navigate. You want to focus on:
- Including relevant keywords
- Page titles
- Meta descriptions
- Headings (H1-H6)
- Friendly URLs
- Internal and external links
- Rich content (images, videos, infographics)
- Content formatting
- Turn on blog comments
Part of image optimization is to help improve your page speed while the other part is to help search engines and visually impaired visitors understand what an image is about.
For images to improve your page speed you need to make sure that the file size of each image (measured in bytes) is as small as possible. The fewer bytes there are to load, the faster your website will be.
In terms of making your images easier to understand you can use an ALT tag to describe what the image is about and use descriptive file names with keywords where appropriate.
For example, in the image above you can see that instead of a standard filename like ‘image5.png’ it’s been changed to ‘Women in a Pilates class’. It’s then much easy for search engines and visitors using a screen reader to understand the images.
On-page SEO is the key to a strong foundation for your SEO strategy, but you can’t make it to the top of the rankings without off-page SEO.
This is because search engine algorithms aren’t intelligent enough to decipher if a page is relevant and engaging just from on-page SEO factors, it needs another signal.
That’s where off-page SEO comes in. Two of our top search engine ranking factors fall into this category, backlinks and social signals.
Backlinks are simply hyperlinks from an external site to your site and will have the biggest impact in regards to off-page SEO.
Search engines decided that web pages with lots of inbound links are more likely to be relevant and engaging than those with fewer inbound links.
The best way to secure backlinks is to create amazing content that other content creators will organically want to link to.
For example, publishing the results of unique research for a popular topic is a great way to gain organic backlinks. However, it’s unlikely that you will be able to publish link-worthy content all the time.
So, other methods like guest posting and submitting press releases to other publications are a great way to gain links.
You can also buy backlinks, however, be wary of this method because search engines look less favorably on this type of backlink and they are becoming more intelligent at figuring out what these types of links look like.
It’s difficult to see exactly how social signals affect your SEO, especially as the official word from Google is that they are not a direct ranking factor, even though they do play a role.
The evidence suggests that it’s not something you want to forget about as there is a strong correlation between high ranking web pages and high levels of corresponding social media activity such as likes, shares, and comments.
Therefore, there is no harm in getting busy on your social media channels and working with influencers to spread your content far and wide. You’ll not only be improving your SEO, but you will also be increasing your web traffic and building brand awareness. It’s a win-win…win.
The third and final part of the SEO triangle is technical SEO. This is where website builders have the biggest limitations, especially the ones that don’t give you access to the HTML scripts.
It’s where the argument that ‘website builders are terrible for SEO’ comes from.
However, if you don’t have any coding skills, the code sitting behind website builder platforms will be much better than trying to go it alone and much cheaper than paying an expert to do it for you.
Four of our top ranking factors come under the bracket of technical SEO. These are page speed, site security, schema markup, and mobile-friendly design.
Even though technical SEO is the Achilles heel of website builder platforms, it’s not as bad as it seems.
The code developed by WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) website builders can be less efficient than what professional developers would write.
Therefore, website builder sites tend to have more code per page which can produce slower loading times. For most of us, that’s out of our control.
However, there are a couple of things website builder users can control to improve their page speed. First up, choose a website builder that has fast loading times.
Making an effort to reduce the file size of all multimedia uploaded onto your site will help to maintain page speed and keep the weight of your pages down.
Finally, limiting the number of apps and plugins you install onto your website will also help to keep the total volume of code to a minimum and your loading times acceptable.
Shopify has recently released a feature that helps you measure the effect that app installs have on your page speed and there are lots of independent page speed checker tools available to measure your loading times.
Site Security – SSL
Having an SSL certificate for your site is essential to protect your web visitor’s data and search engines take it into account when considering where to rank your page.
It won’t have a huge impact on your overall rankings but pages with an SSL certification are much more likely to rank higher than a website without one.
Most website builders now come with SSL certification automatically but make sure you double-check if it’s something that the platform you want to use offers. Once your site is live you want to see HTTPS before your domain name rather than just HTTP.
Schema markup is a form of microdata that search engines use to represent your pages in more interesting ways.
For example, product information such as ratings, price, and stock levels can be added to your search listing. Additionally, implementing the correct schema markup for your articles can help them show up in the ‘top-stories’ section of search results.
Beginner web developers without the skills to adapt any code are at the mercy of the website builder platform.
They either have it or they don’t. Research from Website Builder Ninja’s SEO audits found that Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, Bigcommerce, Shopify, Simvoly, and Ucraft all have schema markup data present.
However, with the exception of Shopify, the schema markup data is incomplete meaning that it’s not possible to utilize all of the possible search result features.
While it’s not a direct ranking factor, it plays a significant role because it improves the user experience on search engines through rich snippets, improves click-through rates, and helps the search engine to understand your content.
All of which play a role in improving your site’s SEO.
Finally, this last point is important but not one that you will have to think about too much when using a website builder, at least from the technical point of view.
It’s a safe bet that all of the ready-to-go web templates offered by website builders will be mobile-friendly and responsive to different screen sizes. So, using a website builder simplifies the process of making a mobile-friendly site.
What you can do though, is enable Google’s AMP or accelerated mobile pages. This will create lightweight versions of your web pages that load faster on mobiles.
Google will then prioritize AMP results on mobile search engine result pages. The other thing you can do is utilize the mobile preview that’s available on most website builder editors to check that your designs look good and offer a good user experience for mobile visitors as well as desktop visitors.
Which website builders are best for SEO?
So approximately 10 minutes of reading time later and I’m finally ready to tell you which website builder is best for SEO… well kind of.
The thing is, it’s really hard to provide a blanket statement that says [brand name] is the best for SEO because everyone reading this will have different skill levels and have different requirements for their website.
However, I’ve listed my top five website builders for SEO and explained why they are good and who they are good for.
- Shopify – is great for beginners because a lot is already taken care of. However, it also allows access to the theme code for advanced users to make further optimizations. It’s also the only website builder I know of that has complete schema markup data present.
- Weebly – has fast loading times and has several useful, high-quality SEO apps to boost SEO performance with minimal effort.
- WordPress.com – best for the more advanced user who wants to be heavily involved in the SEO process. Additionally, you will get access to the highly-rated SEO plugin Yoast which is respected among many SEO experts.
- Wix – great for beginner users as the easy-to-use WYSIWYG editor makes on-page optimization simple. The downside is a slow page speed.
- Squarespace – has a solid all-around SEO offering with the ability for advanced optimization via the Squarespace Developer Platform.
Website builder SEO checklist
Finally, I would like to leave you with a checklist that you can use to make sure your website builder has everything you need for SEO.
Cross-reference the list of SEO features offered by your website builder with this list to see how much it offers. If it has everything on this list, you’ll be able to create a very SEO friendly website.
SEO features checklist:
- Title tags & meta descriptions
- Ability to create friendly URLs
- Headings H1-H6
- SSL encryption (HTTPS)
- Mobile responsive designs
- Automatic 301 redirects
- Image optimization (alt-text & filenames)
- Fast loading times
- Automatic sitemaps.xml
- Access to HTML theme code
- SEO plugins and apps
- Mobile & tablet preview
- Schema markup data
- Ability to connect with Google Analytics
This post was written by Jake Hughes, head of content marketing at Website Builder Ninja and co-founder of Liberty Office. His own experience with online marketing has developed into a passion for writing about it. Website Builder Ninja helps you to find the right platform to grow your online business through in-depth reviews and analysis of the world’s leading DIY website builders.