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The state of SEO on Substack
SEO on autopilot for all writers, plus the customization tools that experts need
An update from our SEO team on the progress Substack has made to ensure that your publication is discoverable on search engines, and to empower savvy writers with robust SEO tools.
Those who have been writing online for more than a decade know the challenges, and the importance, of driving traffic to your website. A website built from scratch is an island and hard to discover if proper search engine optimization (SEO) hasn’t been put in place.
There are a lot of questions to answer: Where should I host my website? What plug-ins will help my work get indexed in search? Who’s going to manage my plug-ins? Answering these questions requires technical chops and time that takes you away from the work that matters most: writing.
When you host on Substack, we handle all of this for you. In choosing Substack’s easy-to-use, integrated website, newsletter, and payment system, you also get a dedicated SEO team that spends their days focused on making Substack publications appear higher in search rankings.
Over the past year, our team has made great headway. Your post pages now get 60% more subscriptions from search than they did this time last year—no plug-ins required.
You might think it’s a given that SEO improves over time, because more people are writing and reading on Substack. But with more people comes the increasing challenge to ensure that search engines can find and index the volume of Substack posts and publications.
SEO is a topic that some writers have no interest in, while other writers care deeply about it. If you want to go deeper on SEO, the remainder of this post is for you. We’ll walk you through our most recent work.
Advanced SEO options in posts
SEO power users wanted more control and customization over their posts. Working with these writers, we added the option for all writers to directly edit the SEO title (title tag) and SEO description (meta description) of your post.
These fields do not impact how your post appears when sent to subscribers via email or in the app, or how viewers see it displayed on your Substack website. The job of the SEO title and SEO description is to talk directly to search engines and suggest how they might display your post in search results.
We set your SEO title and SEO description by default based on the title and content of your post. The default is strong, and many writers never need to touch it. For writers who want extra control, these tools allow you to fine-tune how your post appears on search engines.
Learn more: A guide to SEO on Substack
Posts with social preview images get an average of twice as many signups and 40% more clicks than those without images. But images also have a downside. Search engines like Google penalize your website when images are too large and slow down your pages.
To ensure that your images don’t hurt your SEO ranking and offer the optimal reader experience, Substack resizes your images. This means you can upload any size of image at any resolution directly into the editor. We compress the photo, without distorting the quality. For mobile devices, we automatically resize the images for the size of the device to save bandwidth and allow faster load times on cellular connections. In supported browsers, we serve images in WebP format, which offers a 25% faster image loading time.
We also tell browsers which images are at the top of your post and which are lower down, so they can prioritize downloading the images at the top of the post first and load the remaining images as the reader scrolls. For readers on slower connections, this allows them to start reading faster and eliminates staring at a blank screen while images load in the background.
We know that no matter how great your post is, if search engines can’t find it and easily crawl it, then you won’t get your fair share of search traffic.
In the past year, we’ve invested in making sure search engines can crawl posts quickly and effectively. In late 2021 for publications with over 100 subscribers, the median time between when a post was published and when it was crawled by Google was 15 hours. As of the start of this year, the median time between a post going live and Google crawling it is down to three hours, and over a third of posts are crawled within one hour. This is all happening in the background. You don’t need to do anything but keep writing.
If you want to go deeper on SEO optimizations for your publication, visit our new guide to SEO on Substack. Here you’ll learn strategic steps you can take with customization tools.
And if you’re considering starting a blog or a newsletter, don’t start it on your own and fight for traffic. Start on Substack—we’re on your team.
Special thanks tofor leading the SEO work at Substack. Dan will be in the comments today to help answer your questions.