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Which website platform is best for SEO?

[Original Research Project]

Written by Nadin Thomson | Oct 2021

Which website platform is best for SEO?

Which website builder is best for SEO – Contents

  • Which website platform is best for search engine optimisation?
  • How we did the research
  • Initial search results – which platforms are mostly used in the top 10 Google results?
  • Website builders and SEO
  • Understanding search intent – what does the searcher want?
  • Wix and Squarespace Google results
  • Which keyword types were used to find these websites?
  • Domain authority and page 1 success
  • Combining domain authority with the type of keyphrase used
  • Conclusions – which website builder is best for search engine optimisation?
  • Why are these 19 pages in the top 10 results?
  • Why are there not more Wix and Squarespace websites in the top 10 results?
  • What is the best website platform for search engine optimisation?
  • Which platform would I recommend?

When you are at the stage to decide which website platform is best for you, one of the points to consider is how well these platforms perform in Google. No doubt Google Sites has an advantage but it lacks many of the powerful tools and advanced ecommerce functionality that other website builders possess.

As a WordPress web developer and SEO expert, it’s always been important to me that my clients’ websites are found in Google. But more importantly – their websites should rank well in Google! It’s easy to rank for your company name, but for a more generic search – that’s an entirely different story when website building.

For years, I have said to my clients that they should only consider a WordPress website if they want to do well in Google.

I have to say that I work mostly with small businesses (from 1 to 50 employees). If the website is to attract new customers, for those businesses, WordPress is the best solution out there.

Most big businesses will have an in-house marketing & web department and they most likely use a custom-built solution.

I see the following question in Facebook Groups all the time.

Which website platform is best for search engine optimisation?

I have had lots of experience with self hosted WordPress websites and I can get them to rank amazingly well in the major search engines.

However, I was curious if my view was somewhat biased towards WordPress because I work with it every single day. When researching “Which website platform is best for SEO”, you will find numerous blog articles claiming this platform is better than another, or that all the platforms have good SEO tools and all perform the same.

I don’t like claims like that unless they are based on actual research.

So I did the research.

I ran 1216 websites through Google. Strange number, I know, but that’s the number I ended up with after cleaning the data.

Here’s how I did the research:

I asked a number of people around the globe to help me with it.
The task was set like this:

Research Methodology – How we researched the best website platforms for SEO

I asked the researchers around the globe to come up with 20 (twenty) random, different and unrelated search phrases for Google. The 20 search phrases should consist of:

  • 5 local phrases where you either use a location or a country as part of the search phrase (e.g. What is the best hair straightener UK, best chinese restaurant in Melbourne)
  • 5 question phrases without location (e.g. what is the best breed of dog for a first time owner)
  • 5 general keyword phrases with location (e.g. Buy astroturf UK, Wedding Photographer London)
  • 5 general keyword phrases without location (e.g. deep sea oil drilling, tree cutting)

In total, the 20 search phrases were supposed to be for completely different industries and topics.

The helpers were asked to run each query in Google and take a note of the first 10 actual websites that were found (basically the page 1 results).

They were asked to ignore any adverts, Wikipedia pages and videos.

Each website was then opened and – with the help of the Chrome extension Wappalizer – checked which Content Management System is used.

Initial Research Results – which platforms are mostly present in the top 10 Google Results?

The following content management systems were found:

  • Adobe Experience Manager (6)
  • Atlassian Cloud CMS (1)
  • Brightspot (2)
  • Chorus (2)
  • Contentful (1)
  • Custom (687)
  • DNN (2)
  • Drupal (49)
  • Ecommerce (77)
  • Expression Engine (3)
  • Ghost (1)
  • Joomla (3)
  • Kentico CMS (1)
  • Lithium (1)
  • Squarespace (9)
  • TownNews (2)
  • Umbraco (1)
  • Weebly (3)
  • Wix (10)
  • WordPress (355)

The two biggest numbers are:

Custom (687) and WordPress (355).

which-website builder is best for google

A website was recorded as Custom if no known CMS could be recognised.

I can only assume that many of the big company websites (such as New York Times, The Guardian, Healthline, Tripadvisor, Bupa etc.) are all run on their own developed system.

According to Search Engine Journal, in 2021, the WordPress CMS is used by almost 40% of the world’s websites.

But just because so many people use it doesn’t automatically make it the best CMS.

WordPress is probably aimed at micro (1-person) and small businesses. I found it surprising that – according to Gartner – a small business is considered a business with up to 100 employees, and a medium sized business has between 100 and 999 employees.

A lot of bigger businesses (I’d say 100 employees and above) will likely have a marketing department and an in-house web development team, and several people will work on their website every single day.

When choosing a platform for your business – regardless of the size of your company – you need to consider certain aspects:

  • Ease of use
  • Monthly and/or annual running costs
  • Website security
  • How easily can the website be updated (and who will do it)
  • Is there any customer support available
  • Can I add custom development / functionality
  • Website speed
  • Server requirements
  • SEO tool

… just to name a few!

For these reasons, big companies (such as New York Times, The Guardian, Healthline etc.) will use their own custom built website solution so they can make their website exactly what they need it to be. Their requirements will be substantially different from those of a micro or small business.

Website builders and SEO

Website builders (other than WordPress) can make web design appear an easy thing to do.

These companies have a super easy sign-up and onboarding process (which we can all learn from!!). They allow complete website novices to put a website together with just “a few clicks” using a free website builder in some cases. Few people at this stage harness the power of the inbuilt SEO engines. Such as can be found in WordPresses Yoast SEO plugin and Wix SEO.

“Easy” website builders are very likely aimed at micro businesses. They certainly have their place in the market, as not every business person requires a huge and complicated website.

But the question remains – how are the different website builders performing in terms of search engine optimisation?

Out of 1216 Google page 1 search results, only 10 websites were built using Wix and only 9 websites were built using Squarespace.

I could stop the article here and consider the matter closed and simply say that WordPress is the best CMS for small business owners, but I want to dig deeper.

I want to know WHY these 19 websites are in the top 10 of the Search Results.

Understanding Search Intent – what does the searcher want?

Google wants to show the best results to the person performing a search.

Google is all about search intent.

Most people are logged into Google with their Gmail account. Every search you perform Google will “remember” and likely internally associate with you. So they have built a picture about what you are about (your interests etc.).

This is pretty common these days – if you’ve ever used a store loyalty card – the main reason for them is to collect information about you and then use this information to send targeted marketing your way.

For example our supermarket “knows” we have never bought any baby products but we buy cat food regularly. The personalised marketing we receive from them will never include offers on nappies, but often cat related products such as cat litter, cat toys etc.

Why is this relevant?

If one of the researchers for this project has entered a random search term about something they have never searched for, Google doesn’t quite understand the intention of the search, i.e. what is the searcher exactly looking for? In this context, Google is doing a little bit of guesswork and shows what Google’s algorithm believes is the best result for the query.

The results are most likely less relevant the broader the search term is. A broad search term consists of maybe two or three keywords. Google simply doesn’t understand what exactly you’re looking for.

We can see this in one of the websites shown in the results below, when the searcher was looking for “carpet cleaner”.

One of the websites that was in the top 10 results has an Ahrefs domain rating of Zero and has hardly any backlinks. The domain rating basically gives an indicator of the authority a domain name has. The lower the number the smaller the authority. You can check your own domain authority on Moz.com for free.

If someone is actually looking for these keywords, they will most likely rephrase their keywords and add more keywords to their search query.

This will then give Google a better indication of what they are actually looking for, e.g. a carpet cleaner where they live, or a carpet cleaner product, or if they are looking on how to clean a carpet.

We have all searched for something in Google, clicked on a page and realised within a second or two that the website doesn’t provide the information we’re after.

We then click the Back button or close the browser tab and go back to Google and check out the next result.

In the background, Google has taken a note of your action (closing the browser tab or clicking the Back button) and also how quickly you have done this.

They now know that this website didn’t deliver what you were after. This information will then be recorded for this website and if someone else searches for the same term, the website you just closed is likely not shown to the new person.

I have explained this process in a very simple way here, and usually when one person closes a website quickly it will have no impact on a website’s ability to rank on page 1. But if out of 1000 searches 990 people close the page immediately, Google will probably take note and decide if this website is worth showing in the top 10 results. 

This is the SEO purpose.

Wix and Squarespace website Google Results

So let’s dive into the results.

The following tabs contain a table each with the website URL, the platform, the search term that was used to find it, the Ahrefs Domain Rating and how many domains link back to this website.

The domain rating (i.e. the authority of a domain) indicates how much “weight” a domain has. The authority tends to be higher the more (valuable) domains and/or backlinks link to the domain name. I.e. the more referring domains usually the higher the domain rating. However, you can still rank on page 1 in Google with a low domain authority if website competition for a specific topic is low AND if your content is amazing!

Simply click on the little plus sign in the blue bar to reveal the result for each query.

 

Wix, Search Term "Most deepest oil field in all over world"

Website https://www.onesteppower.com/post/the-biggest-oil-fields-in-the-world
Website Builder Wix
Search string Most deepest oil field in all over world
Why are they in the top 10? They have a well-written blog on their website with lots of information. Their domain rating is low, but they have many backlinks. It’s a very specific question which warrants a specific answer. The reason why they are in the top 10 of the Google Search Results is because they provided the answer to the search string.
Ahrefs Domain Rating 8
Referring Domains (backlinks) 80
Interesting point This website is in the top 10 of huge websites, such as Worldometer, Britannica, EnergyDetail etc.). By providing a great answer to a specific question, you can rank easily in Google.

Wix, Search Term "luxury interior designers london"

Website

https://www.catherinewilman.com/

Website Builder

Wix

Search string

luxury interior designers london

Why are they in the top 10?

They have a well-written blog on their website with  Question type articles (e.g. How To Set Up A Stylish Coffee Station). The searchers intent is probably to find a list of interior designers, and google delivers websites that answer that.

Ahrefs Domain Rating

9

Referring Domains (backlinks)

56

Wix, Search Term "Buy Bikes Hong Kong"

Website

https://www.firstbike-hk.com/eng-where-to-buy

Website Builder

Wix

Search string

Buy Bikes Hong Kong

Why are they in the top 10?

They have useful information about learning how to ride a bike for children. They use explainer videos. They provide lots of information about their products.

Ahrefs Domain Rating

9

Referring Domains (backlinks)

10

Wix, Search Term "Cut the fruit"

Website http://www.cutfruitexpress.com/
Website Builder Wix
Search string Cut the fruit
Why are they in the top 10? This is probably an “outlier” due to the company name having a very similar name to the search term. The website is not very deep, but well structured. They have a very low domain rating.
Ahrefs Domain Rating 2.3
Referring Domains (backlinks) 29

Wix, Search Term "party entertainment London" (1)

Website https://www.london-caricatures.co.uk/party-entertainment-london
Website Builder Wix
Search string party entertainment london
Why are they in the top 10? I personally think the website is too busy, but relatively easy to navigate. It contains enough information for people to find out about the service and most importantly the rates. The website has no blog. Title tags and description have been set up properly. Alt tags have not been used properly. I assume that the websites in this market are poor in general, so it will be relatively easy (with time & effort) to rank highly in Google)
Ahrefs Domain Rating 5
Referring Domains (backlinks) 12

Wix, Search Term "party entertainment London" (2)

Website https://www.chaplinspantos.co.uk/
Website Builder Wix
Search string ​​party entertainment london
Why are they in the top 10? Website does not look very professional, it’s too busy and has no clear branding style. However, it’s easy to navigate and contains information about their offering. No blog is used. As above, the competitors in this market all seem to be micro businesses with self-developed websites who could all do with improvements.
Ahrefs Domain Rating 7
Referring Domains (backlinks) 62

Wix, Search Term "carpet cleaner"

Website

https://www.freshaircleaners.co.uk/

Website Builder

Wix

Search string

carpet cleaner

Why are they in the top 10?

Title tag has been used properly. The words “carpet cleaner” and “carpet cleaning” have been used multiple times on their website. Website does not look professional unfortunately. They do not use a blog. 

Why this website is on page 1 in Google – I have no idea. They have no domain authority. I can only assume that the person performing the search has never searched for this key phrase and Google simply didn’t understand what they were looking for.

Ahrefs Domain Rating

0

Referring Domains (backlinks)

5

Wix, Search Term "wedding venues retford"

Website https://www.oldvicarageatelkesley.co.uk/
Website Builder Wix
Search string wedding venues retford
Why are they in the top 10? Outdated website, but with lots of information about the wedding venue at the location searched for. It’s quite a specific search term and this shows that websites with a lower domain rating can rank on page 1 in Google.
Ahrefs Domain Rating 12
Referring Domains (backlinks) 61

Wix, Search Term "how to choose a therapist uk"

Website

https://www.thecounsellorscafe.co.uk/single-post/2018/11/11/how-do-i-choose-a-therapist-a-guide-to-getting-it-right 

Website Builder

Wix

Search string

how to choose a therapist uk

Why are they in the top 10?

The question entered in Google is answered in a blog post in depth. The blog post contains the Google search term in the title and URL. The blog post is long and well explained. Domain rating is quite high too which helps.

Ahrefs Domain Rating

32

Referring Domains (backlinks)

255

Wix, Search Term "construction company richmond va"

Website https://www.rvaconstruction.com
Website Builder Wix
Search string construction company richmond va
Why are they in the top 10? It’s a very basic website with not a lot of content. As I have seen multiple times, some smaller construction companies could do with improving their online presence. This company probably is the “best” of a “bad” lot. This means that their local competition is probably not much better.
Ahrefs Domain Rating 2.7
Referring Domains (backlinks) 22

Squarespace, Search Term "best coffee bean in uk"

Website https://www.batchcoffee.co.uk/stories/best-speciality-coffee-beans-uk
Website Builder Squarespace
Search string best coffee bean in uk
Why are they in the top 10? Great content on the website, they specialise in coffee beans in the UK and they keep mentioning this. They also have worked on their domain rating and built an impressive number of backlinks.
Ahrefs Domain Rating 32
Referring Domains (backlinks) 256

Squarespace, Search Term "wedding venues london ontario"

Website

https://www.adamgoarley.com/blog/2020/12/20/top-3-wedding-venues-in-london-ontario

Website Builder

Squarespace

Search string

wedding venues london ontario

Why are they in the top 10?

A well written article which provides the answer to the search string. Title tag is used properly. This is a great example that a website with a very low domain rating can make it on page 1 in Google. The query is specific and with relevant and good content is possible to rank highly.

Ahrefs Domain Rating

0.7

Referring Domains (backlinks)

8

Squarespace, Search Term "flower growing"

Website

https://education.teamflower.org/learn/growing/ssl/how-to-grow-a-debt-free-flower-farm

Website Builder

Squarespace

Search string

flower growing

Why are they in the top 10?

They provide in depth information on the search topic. The page found for the string is a long-form blog post with lots of information and many images. They also have a really good domain rating which will help tremendously. 

Ahrefs Domain Rating

43

Referring Domains (backlinks)

274

Squarespace, Search Term "House design Nottingham"

Website https://www.designhausarchitecture.co.uk/
Website Builder Squarespace
Search string House design Nottingham
Why are they in the top 10? A website with a good blog with lots of questions answered about house design and conversions. This is quite a specific keyphrase for a certain area.
Ahrefs Domain Rating 4.8
Referring Domains (backlinks) 8

Squarespace, Search Term "best Canada Cattle farm in Ottawa"

Website https://www.harleyfarms.ca/
Website Builder Squarespace
Search string best Canada Cattle farm in Ottawa
Why are they in the top 10? Website contains a wealth of information, but could do with a design upgrade.
Ahrefs Domain Rating 16
Referring Domains (backlinks) 47

Squarespace, Search Term "construction company richmond va"

Website https://www.eci-inc.com
Website Builder Squarespace
Search string construction company richmond va
Why are they in the top 10? Text that is too small to read, however the website contains a lot of text and that’s probably one of the reasons why it ranks well. They also use page title tags correctly which will likely have an impact on SEO. This is a similar situation as the website mentioned above where the websites of the competition are not much better, so they have a chance to be in the top 10 even with a “bad” website. (See RVA construction above)
Ahrefs Domain Rating 8
Referring Domains (backlinks) 30

Squarespace, Search Term "soap making workshop in new hampshire"

Website

https://sacredlore.com/classes/in-home-private-soap-making-classes

Website Builder

Squarespace

Search string

soap making workshop in new hampshire

Why are they in the top 10?

This is a very specific search string where people are searching for a specific workshop and the blog post answers this search string perfectly. Even with a very low Domain rating and hardly any backlinks to this website, they managed to get into the top 10. 

Ahrefs Domain Rating

2.8

Referring Domains (backlinks)

6

Squarespace, Search Term "Broken road"

Website

https://bittersoutherner.com/the-broken-road-of-peggy-wallace-kennedy

Website Builder

Squarespace

Search string

Broken road

Why are they in the top 10?

This is a very broad search string and google probably doesn’t “know” what the searchers intent is. Are they looking for road work related information, or is this the title of a movie? Google has “guessed” and provided a website which tells the story of “Broken Road”.

Ahrefs Domain Rating

71

Referring Domains (backlinks)

3,430

Squarespace, Search Term "How to build a Yoga Center first time"

Website

https://theyogafactorytx.com/firsttimers

Website Builder

Squarespace

Search string

How to build a Yoga Center first time

Why are they in the top 10?

This website doesn’t actually answer the search question, but due to the amount of text relating to yoga they are shown in the results. Also the URL includes the term that’s included in the search term.

Ahrefs Domain Rating

14

Referring Domains (backlinks)

115

Which keyword types were used to find these websites?

Platform Key phrase Type of key phrase
Squarespace best coffee bean in uk Local search
Wix how to choose a therapist uk Local search
Squarespace best Canada Cattle farm in Ottawa Local search
Wix wedding venues retford Local search
Wix luxury interior designers london Local search
Wix Buy Bikes Hong Kong Local search
Squarespace construction company richmond va Local search
Wix party entertainment london Local search
Wix party entertainment london Local search
Squarespace House design Nottingham Local search
Squarespace soap making workshop in new hampshire Local search
Wix construction company richmond va Local search
Squarespace wedding venues london ontario Local search
Squarespace How to build a Yoga Center first time question
Wix Most deepest oil field in all over world question
Wix carpet cleaner broad
Squarespace Broken road broad
Squarespace flower growing broad
Wix Cut the fruit broad

The results in this table are actually really promising for business owners who want to use either Wix or Squarespace to build their website.

On 13 occasions (out of the 19 results), a local search was performed. Many micro and small businesses serve a particular location and with good SEO optimisation the website will be displayed in the search results.

Domain authority and page 1 success

SEO experts know the direct link between domain authority and the likelihood to rank well in Google. In very simplified terms, with a higher domain authority your website is more likely to rank better.

When comparing the domain authority and backlinks, you can see a direct correlation between the two. However, in this table it’s clear that websites that use Squarespace have a higher domain authority.

This is a tiny sample of websites using Squarespace and Wix and it’s not fair to come to a conclusion here and claim Squarespace is better than Wix.

It simply means that each website owner of the 3 particular Squarespace websites have done an amazing job optimising their website and achieving an excellent domain authority. 

Platform Domain Authority Referring domains
Squarespace 71 3430
Squarespace 43 274
Squarespace 32 256
Wix 32 255
Squarespace 16 47
Squarespace 14 115
Wix 12 61
Wix 9 56
Wix 9 10
Squarespace 8 30
Wix 8 80
Wix 7 62
Wix 5 12
Squarespace 4.8 8
Squarespace 2.8 6
Wix 2.7 22
Wix 2.3 29
Squarespace 0.7 8
Wix 0 5

The websites with a high domain authority will have made an effort to achieve this. It takes amazing content, time and energy to achieve a large number of backlinks.

Some of the websites have a very low domain authority and a very low number of backlinks / referring domains, yet they still managed to be in the top 10 of the Google search results. Why is that?

Combining domain authority with the type of keyphrase used

Let’s look at the Domain Rating (DR) and the type of keyphrase that was used in the search.

Only two of the 13 local searches have a relatively high domain authority (32 on two occasions).

All the other websites have a DR or less than 20 and most of them less than 10.

The two question keyphrases have a relatively low DR too and the four very broad searches delivered results from either end of the spectrum – two amazingly optimised and two very basic websites.

Both platforms perform similarly in the search results.

Platform Google Search String DR Type
Squarespace best coffee bean in uk 32 local
Wix how to choose a therapist uk 32 local
Squarespace best Canada Cattle farm in Ottawa 16 local
Wix wedding venues retford 12 local
Wix luxury interior designers london 9 local
Wix Buy Bikes Hong Kong 9 local
SquareSpace construction company richmond va 8 local
Wix party entertainment london 7 local
Wix party entertainment london 5 local
Squarespace House design Nottingham 4.8 local
Squarespace soap making workshop in new hampshire 2.8 local
Wix construction company richmond va 2.7 local
Squarespace wedding venues london ontario 0.7 local
Squarespace How to build a Yoga Center first time 14 question
Wix Most deepest oil field in all over world 8 question
Squarespace Broken road 71 broad
Squarespace flower growing 43 broad
Wix Cut the fruit 2.3 broad
Wix carpet cleaner 0 broad

Conclusions – Which website platform is best for SEO?

When you just look at the first results, you would assume that you should custom build your website, or at least have a WordPress website to make it onto page 1 in Google.

However, looking at the Wix and Squarespace websites that made it into the top 10 search results shows a different picture.

Why are these 19 pages in the top 10 results?

Most of the above websites’ owners have put in time and effort to provide amazing content. They also worked on their backlinks and with that they have increased their domain authority over time. These are the main reasons why any website ranks well in Google.

Why are there not more Wix and Squarespace websites in the top 10 results?

In my experience, Wix, Squarespace and other (intuitive or “easy to use”) ecommerce website builder options are aimed at micro businesses (1-person businesses) who cannot afford or do not want to spend money on professional website design.

For micro business owners it’s often very hard to make ends meet when they start out, therefore investing a large sum in a website is often not possible for the business owners.

Website builders like Wix and Squarespace are the perfect solution for them. They can keep track of their costs and create their own website in their own time (check out the blog post about a price comparison of the different website builders).

However, this is sadly where it often stops. The person working on their own website might create something visually appealing, but they do not have an understanding of marketing or how to use a marketing tool, content creation and Search Engine Optimisation. In most cases, SEO is an afterthought.

Just having a website does not guarantee any Google rankings unfortunately.

The main reason why there are no more website builder websites in the search results is because they cannot or do not want to spend the time on learning how to use the SEO features in the web builder SEO tool.  Which would allow them to apply best practice to give their website a good chance to rank in Google.

This is by no means meant as a complaint or a nag towards small businesses. I know too well how hard it is to build a business on your own. It takes time and effort and it can easily get overwhelming. Adding a website and SEO into the mix of everything we do on a daily and weekly basis can often be too much.

I never thought I’d say this – especially being a WordPress web developer – but website builder websites can absolutely rank in Google. But like any other website they require a huge amount of time and effort to provide an amazing visitor experience.

What is the best website platform for search engine optimization?

The initial question I raised and often see online is how well different website platforms perform in Google. However, after the research, this is the wrong question.

Each platform can achieve page 1 results. The question should be “are you willing to put in the time and effort to continuously work on your website and provide great content and optimise it for SEO?”

It’s all down to learning / expertise, cost and time.

I have put together a table with some recommendations.

Business size explanation:

  • Micro Business (1-10 employees)
  • Small Business (11-100 employees)
  • Big business (>100 employees)
Platform Business Size Easy of use Flexibility
Wix Micro Easy Limited
Squarespace Micro Easy Limited
WordPress Micro, Small Requires a bit of learning Huge
Custom Small, Big Requires expertise Unlimited

Which platform would I recommend?

The best platform for SEO is…..

WordPress is the best website builder for SEO! I have personally used Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, Drupal, Joomla and Webflow. Unless you’re a bigger business and you start using web builders like Hubspot and other big website platforms.

WordPress is hugely flexible and the website can grow with your business needs. You might need a little bit more time to get used to the platform, but you have so many customization options to extend your website and truly make it yours.

However, if your budget is very limited and you need a website up and running super fast, one of the other web builders is totally fine.

No matter which site builder you end up using, the next step in your journey will be to master the feedback that Google Analytics provides you with.

Nadin Thomson

Nadin Thomson started developing websites in 1999 as a hobby and started her business as a web developer in 2004. She has 18+ years of experience in helping businesses of all sizes to create an online presence and improve their website. She's also worked as a photographer in Scotland for 15+ years. The majority of her customers found Nadin through Google as she's continually optimised her website for SEO.

Nadin Thomson has a University Business degree and a Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Marketing.

Find out more about Nadin Thomson.