Overview of this guide:
Many people complain about the performance of website builders in search engines. Some argue that it’s impossible to rank well with them. But the truth is that they’re not too different from other website-building tools: what counts is how you use them.
The recipe for success is pretty straightforward: you have to invest time and effort. However, it’s also true that some of these tools have a couple of limitations and they aren’t suitable for SEO-heavy projects. But in our opinion, most of the issues come from a poorly implemented (or non-existent) SEO strategy.
So we’ve put together this guide for newcomers, which focuses on SEO for website builders such as Jimdo, Webnode, Wix, and Weebly. Along the way, we’ll answer some of the basic SEO questions that you may have. But let’s start with a short introduction of the topic.
What is SEO?
SEO is a set of techniques that help websites rank higher in search engines (e.g. Google or Bing). The final goal is to increase visibility, ideally ranking at the top of those search engines, which means more clicks and more visitors. Unlike paid traffic (e.g. Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, etc.), visitors coming from your SEO efforts (also known as organic traffic) are free.
Now you must be thinking: “Wait a second, free? What’s the catch?”. Yes, you’re right, there is a catch. Unfortunately, you are not the first to arrive at the SEO-party: there are already lots of websites fighting for organic traffic. Many of them spend considerable time and resources to improve their search rankings.
So, it’s not exactly free. But keep on reading to get an idea of how search engines work and how you can improve your SEO performance with a website builder.
For more general information on the basics of SEO, please check this video:
How do I get to the top?
The search engine results are presented in a hierarchical order and the higher you appear the more clicks and visits you get. Generally, you can expect around 60% of all clicks if you are ranked #1. This sharply drops to 15.8% at #2 and to around 7.9% at #3 (Source).
How on earth does a search engine decide who to rank number one?
Search engines want happy users. This means that when users look for something, search engines will aim to provide a list of smoothly-working sites with relevant, high-quality content. Easy right?
So let’s take a look at the critical factors:
The keyword: The center of the (search) universe
The SEO life-cycle starts with a keyword. It could even be considered the Higgs boson particle of SEO…but I’m not exactly a science buff, so don’t quote me on that.
Keywords are the queries that users input to perform their searches, for example, “cars” or “cool cars” or “cool red cars” or even “cool red cars with white stripes”. Pretty accurate, hey!
If there’s only one thing that you take away from this article, it should be this:
Google ranks pages, not entire websites. In order to get visits from search engines, you need to optimize each page for a primary keyword (e.g. cool red cars).
Additionally, secondary relevant keywords can be also added to help rank for variants (e.g. red automobiles with white stripes).
Before publishing any content you should do some keyword research with Google’s Keyword Planner and decide what your primary keyword will be. Typically, you look at the search volumes for the potential keywords and the intensity of the competition.
Sounds confusing? Don’t panic! There are detailed tutorials that will help you with this process. For example, check this video out:
On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO
Your website’s content is what’s most relevant to your user and Google. It’s called On-Page optimization. Most importantly your web page needs to be useful to your visitor. To help your content rise above the crowd, try using video and audio to complement your text and images. Check this article for an extensive list of relevant On-Page optimization factors.
However, that’s just one part of the story. The search engines are not smart enough (yet) to figure out content quality just by running it through their supercomputers. They need another signal, which brings us to Off-Page optimization.
Ages ago the Google guys figured this one out: websites that have more links from other sites (a.k.a backlinks), probably offer better quality than lesser-linked sites. And, ever since, every decent search engine pays a lot of attention to this metric.
Besides creating high-quality content, there’s very little that you can do on your page to make other sites link to yours. But you can run campaigns (e.g. guest blog posts or press releases), and these are considered to be Off-Page SEO. Please be careful with this as search engines don’t like every ‘technique’ that exists, especially if they’re dubious (e.g. buying backlinks). Read this Moz article if you’re looking for more information in this field.
Competition: choose your keywords wisely
The internet is a very competitive place. Therefore, be sensible when choosing your keywords and avoid over-competitive environments. If the competition is too intense it’s going to be hard to rank high, and if you ever do, someone will be constantly trying to oust you from your spot.
However, in less competitive environments you may very well stay at the top for weeks, months or even years, without too much effort. To achieve this, you need to do your homework.
Imagine you want to open a restaurant. Would you rather pick the small-town street which already has seven restaurants? Would opening a new restaurant be a smart business decision? I’m not sure about you, but I’d bet my money on a fishmonger, or a butcher, which can provide food to the restaurants. The very basic principles of supply and demand also apply to search engine rankings.
Do I need any other tools besides my website builder?
There are many SEO-focused tools, and they come in all shapes and flavors. We consider only a couple of them to be essential (and they’re all free!)
- Web analytics: without being able to track your results, you won’t be able to measure your SEO efforts’ success. You can find other alternatives but Google Analytics is the most popular tool and is fairly easy to install. Check Google Analytics’ support page for more information. Most website builders provide an easy way to install it.
- There are many search engines, but let’s be honest: Google remains the most widely used one in most of the world, so focus on it first. It might also be worth adding Google Search Console to your site. This tool will help you discover SEO issues and will speed up the Google indexation process of your site. Please check Google Search Console support for more information.
- The free MozBar gives you instant access to important SEO, and social, metrics and it lets you see non-personalized Google search results. Even a page analysis where you can check your SEO titles, alt text etc. can be done.
- If you want to keep on top of a larger number of keywords you should definitely use a SERP tracking tool. This will track your positions for you.
Website Builders & SEO: set it up for success
We wanted to give you an introduction to a couple of important aspects of SEO. One thousand words later we are ready to talk about whether or not website builders can do a good SEO job, and, if so, which one is the best to use.
Be aware that we’ll only be discussing On-Page SEO aspects, because Off-Page optimization is independent of the tool you use. Moz is a great reference in this field, therefore, we’ve used some of their most important on-page factors in this table:
|Page Title||The title that shows in the search engine results. Make sure the targeted keyword appears as close as possible to the beginning of the sentence.|
|Headings||This refers to the headings of the page. Include the targeted keyword in the headers. It is good to be able to have structured, hierarchical headings (e.g. H1, H2, H3, etc.).|
|Body Text||Repeat the main keyword in the body of your page or article, but don’t overdo it as it can make the text sound unnatural. Include relevant synonyms too.|
|URL||Google likes seeing the keyword in the URL. For example, if you target “pizza recipes” try something like this: www.mysite.com/pizza-recepies.|
|Images name & alt attribute||Images are important, search engines can’t read their content, though,so they rely on their name and the alt attribute.|
For example, if you have an image of a red car, a name such as “red-car.jpeg” is better than one such as “image9884.jpeg”. Additionally, add the relevant keyword to the alt attribute of images. And whilst you are here, make sure your images size are optimized for the web, Tinypng will make it easy for you.
|Link structure||You should be able to go from one page of your site to another with less than 4 clicks. The more you link your pages amongst themselves, the easier it is for Google and other site engines to navigate (crawl) through your site.|
|Meta Description||This refers to the short blurb under the ‘Page Title’ that shows in search engines. This element isn’t as important as it used to be, but adding your keyword here is still relevant.|
|Search engine instructions||Sometimes you don’t want pages being indexed (e.g. pages with private content, the ‘contact us’ page, etc.). Therefore, it’s convenient to have a site builder that allows you to discourage search engines from showing a page.|
Be aware that there are other, more technical aspects we haven’t talked about. For example, optimizing the size of your images, providing a good user experience, etc. For more information, please check our SEO section under the free resources page.
The best website builders for SEO
This overview of different website builders will tell you which is the most SEO-friendly on the market.
|Page Title||Available for all pages||Available for all pages||Available for all pages*||Available for all pages *||Available for all pages|
|Meta description||Available for all pages||Available for all pages||Available for all pages||Available for all pages||Available for all pages|
|Customize URLs||Available for all pages||Available for all pages||Available for all pages||Available for all pages||Available for all pages|
|Headings||From H1 to H6||H1, H2 & H3 available||H1, H2 & H3 available||The use of Headlines is limited||H1, H2 & H3 available|
|Images alt attributes||Editable||Editable||Editable||Editable||Editable **|
|301 Redirects||Available||Available||Available in the Business plan||Available||Not available|
|SSL encryption||Available in all plans||Available in all plans||Available in all plans||Available in all plans||Available in all plans|
|Search engine instructions||Available for pages but not blog posts||Available||Available in the Business plan||Available||Available|
|Add Google Analytics||See instructions||See instructions||See instructions||See instructions||See instructions|
|Add Google Search Console||See instructions||See instructions||See instructions||See instructions||See instructions|
|Conclusion||Excellent website builder with limitations in image SEO. Detailed analysis.||Solid SEO and reliable website builder||Really good for SEO and solid website builder||Good for SEO and a great website builder||Good for SEO but there are better site builders|
*Your website name will always be appended to your page titles.
** It’s possible to add alt text for images but it’s not always an easy implementation.
> Compare the rest of these website builders’ features with our in-depth reviews
Be aware that some website builders even offer more advanced features, such as the possibility to add canonical tags, integrate custom scripts to their pages (e.g. to install Google Analytics) or even set pages to “not index”. Some even comes with a live Google results snippet that lets you see how your page will look in Google. However, the basic features are the ones in the table, and they should be the first place to start developing an efficient SEO strategy.
What about WordPress?
With WordPress, the sky is the limit. You can edit all the areas we mentioned above. But you’ll need plugins as, out of the box, WordPress comes completely unprepared for SEO. Recommendable plugins are: Yoast SEO or All In One SEO (AIOSEO). We use Yoast for all our websites as it offers a few more features than AIOSEO. Both of them will allow you to edit your article’s URLs, page title, meta descriptions and much more.
You’ll need to sort out SSL encryption with your hosting company, but that’s usually included for free these days anyway. And finally, to do 301 redirects, you can either use your hosting company’s backend (if they offer it) or you get another plugin. 301 Redirects – Easy Redirect Manager is our plugin of choice for that.
That’s basically all you need to play (and hopefully win) the SEO game with WordPress.
Website builders’ SEO & their limitations
Being able to host and publish a website for free is great. However, it does come with some limitations, unfortunately, some of which have a big impact SEO-wise:
- With a free website builder site, your website will; you on a subdomain (e.g. www.your-page.weebly.com). Not having your own domain will make it more difficult to rank.
- Some website builders save their most advanced SEO options for the premium tiers. For example, ‘Jimdo Free’ users will only be able to set their Title tag and meta-description tag for the homepage.
Follow this checklist to ensure your SEO is ready to rock
Remembering all the elements that need to be optimized can be, at times, overwhelming. So we’ve put together a short list of the SEO-basics that you should focus on for your web pages and site:
- Install Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
- Make sure each article targets one primary, and 1-2 secondary keywords:
- Include the targeted keywords in your content: both in headings and text
- Make sure the title tag and the meta-description contain the primary keyword
- The URL of your page should display the primary keyword (e.g. www.mysite.com/my-keyword)
- When possible, add the keywords in the alt text of your images
- Make sure one of the images’ filename contains the primary keyword (e.g. my-keyword-image.png)
- Double check that your pages are set to be indexed by Google.
- To improve the loading speed:
- Resize the images to the correct dimensions; you don’t need big images if they will be displayed in small size
- Optimize your images for the web, use our Image Compression Tool.
- Broken links upset Google, so make sure you don’t have any. This site can help you find them.
- Link between your pages when possible, this will make it easy for search engines to discover new content.
- Create a sitemap for your website. Submit it to Google Search Console.
- Submit your site to be indexed by Google.
Final thoughts: Can website builders be trusted with the SEO job?
Recently website builders have been improving their SEO capabilities. Nowadays, it is possible to build a project with a website builder and rank well for a competitive keyword.
But what about Wix? Well, we made it to the top of Google’s rankings for “HTML5 website builder” with this small page, although as we don’t update it anymore we’re at the bottom of page one (still a good result). Additionally, John Mueller (Google employee) stated that “Wix websites work fine in search“. For more details please refer to our Wix SEO guide.
So, how easy or difficult is ranking for keywords going to be with a website builder? That depends on you. As we discussed in the first few paragraphs, SEO is a bit of a science and like most sciences, it requires time, knowledge and hard work. You’ll probably make some mistakes when choosing your first keywords, and how to target them, but as they say “practice makes perfect”.
Not every website builder has the same capabilities although most come with the basic SEO features you’ll need. From our view, Squarespace has most of what (SEO-wise) you’ll need. However, we have the impression that they have a slower loading system than average, we’d like to see them improving this area. Surprisingly, we found some websites (e.g. The Architect’s Guide) ranking pretty high for competitive keywords.
Webnode doesn’t offer 301 redirects and some templates don’t have a SEO-friendly heading structure. But otherwise it’s not bad at all.
Weebly is better, but we’d like to see implemented a better system for heading structures (e.b. H1, H2, H3, etc). Finally, Jimdo and Wix are more flexible and they come with most of the features that you need to rank well in Google.
> Learn more about these tools with our comparison table
29 Oct 2021 – Section about WordPress added
16 Aug 2021 – Minor updates
06 Sep 2019 – Squarespace improved SEO.
09 Apr 2019 – Webnode also supports SSL in all their plans.
03 Sep 2018 – A few updates for Squarespace