On-page vs Off-page SEO: What Is The Difference?

February 19, 2018
February 19, 2018 Carol Forden

SEO is one of the most misunderstood aspects of digital marketing due to the frequent misconceptions about SEO.

Yesterday discussed the basics of search engine optimization, covering in detail what SEO is and how it works.

If you browse through forums or the Reddit SEO topic, you’ll often see people asking what the difference is between on-page and off-page SEO and which one has a more significant impact on website rankings.

The thing with SEO is one size never fits all, every situation is different and is dependent on the website.

On-page and off-page SEO are not the same things, let’s define what each is with a few examples and how to optimize each.

On-page and off-page SEO, whats the difference?

SEO consists of two main categories – on-page and off-page.

Think of them as the two branches of a Y. They are each unique and both critical to running a successful SEO campaign

What is On-page search engine optimization (SEO)

On-page SEO deals with the pages on a website, both in regards to content and the backend structure of a site.

On-page optimization goal is to improve individual web pages to rank higher in search engines results driving qualified organic and targeted traffic to your website.

On-page SEO gives you control over the factors that influence rankings. Below is a list of the most critical on-page SEO factors:

1. Title tags

Title tags tell visitors and search engines what the given page is about and establish relevance. Title tags are one of the most important on-page factors for SEO. There are best practices you can follow to enhance the effectiveness of your title tags.

On-page vs off page SEO - an image showing an example of a title tag, an important on-page SEO factor

2. Meta descriptions

A meta description is a short paragraph of text that tells search engines and website visitors what the page is about.

Meta descriptions were an essential factor for search engines in the past, however today, Google algorithm (AI) can determine the content and meaning of the page.  As a result, their significance has somewhat declined.

Google will create a meta description if one is missing.

That stated, catching searchers’ attention and get them to click on your link still depends on the meta description and its best to create highly relevant meta descriptions yourself.

Meta descriptions are unique to each page, contain the focus keyword, includes between 135 and 160 characters and are written in actionable voice.

An image showing an example of a meta description, an important on-page SEO signal

3. Keywords and phrases

Keywords are one of the leading characteristics of on-page SEO.

As with the other signals, keywords assist search engines to identify what a given page is about. Although, today, Google algorithm can determine what a page is about without specifying keywords today.

Researching and building a list of keywords to target is one of the most critical first steps in any SEO campaign, is an ongoing and ever-changing process.

One of the most critical aspects of SEO is developing the initial list of keywords; this can be a harsh task, read more about some of the best practices.

4. Search engine friendly (SEF) URL

Below are two examples of search engine URLs, which one do you think is the search and user-friendly one?

An example of a non-search engine friendly URL

An example of a search enfine friendly (SEF) URL

If you said the second one, you are correct. Google loves user-friendly elements. Most CMSs can generate SEF URLs. Pay close attention to ensure that your URLs are optimized.

5. Heading tags (H1, H2, H3)

Every website needs to focus on the user experience, and heading tags are no exception.

The H1 tag (headline) is one of the first elements that site visitors see when landing on a page. Headings serve to reassure visitors that they are in the right place and have found what they’re searching for unless you are practicing click bait.  Click bait is when the headline is used to draw in the reader. However, the article has little reference.  Click bait drives clicks and not much else.

With the Google Hummingbird update, Google got much better at answering specific user questions.

Optimizing H1 tags for specific search intent and search query affords you the opportunity for the page to be a featured snippet at the top of the search results page.

Below is an example of Google featured snippet:

An image showing how a H1 heading helped a page rank firstt on Google and appear in the featured snippet

The H1 for this page includes the phrase “What is Rich SMS?” and answers the search query straight in the SERP.

6. Internal linking and anchor text

Anchor text is the text in a hyperlink that you click on. You see anchored links regularly, but you probably did not know what they represent regarding SEO.

An example of internal linking through anchored text

Anchor text links to web pages internally, within a website.  The descriptive keywords in your anchored text are essential elements to establish a site architecture and help spread link juice.

Linking internally to your website is one of the quickest ways to give your content a little boost and experience an SEO uptick.

7. Robots.txt

The robots exclusion protocol (REP), or robots.txt is a text file webmasters create to instruct search engine robots the pages to crawl and which pages not to crawl. Robot text is found on every website at www.website.com/robots.txt, and it looks like this:

An image showing an example of robots.txt

Each bot has something called ‘crawl budget’ (this is the number of pages Google will crawl on a site on any given day).

The size of the crawl budget is dependent on the size of the website, the number of inbound links to the site and the number of errors the bot encounters. If the bot doesn’t have enough budget to crawl your newly submitted or optimized pages, this will delay your SEO efforts.

That’s why it’s important to ensure that archived pages – pages with thin, low-quality content and duplicate content pages are not indexed allowing the crawl budget for the pages that matter.

8. XML sitemap

An XML sitemap lists the URLs for your website and acts as a roadmap to the critical pages. A sitemap aids Google to find the pages you deem critical for your website and allows search engines to crawl the site intelligently.

9. Website performance

SEO is very much dependent on website performance; Google wants to rank websites that provide an exceptional user experience higher. Page speed, a mobile responsive design are crucial factors in your website’s performance an impact your search rankings.

Google announced in 2010 that site speed was officially a ranking factor in their algorithm. A slow website kills the user experience, negatively impacts SEO and will dramatically impact your bottom line.

Numerous studies have shown that 40% of people will abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Every second that passes before a page loads increases the abandonment rate.

Google also announced in 2016 that they were experimenting with mobile-first indexing.  In 2018, they are making the hard shift to a mobile-first index.  This means that search engines will look at the mobile version of a page’s content to evaluate if it’s relevant to the user search query.

This means that a responsive mobile website is more critical than ever.

On-page SEO covers a lot of ground. However, you want to spend your time and effort where it matters most. Below is the anatomy of a correctly optimized page, courtesy of Moz:

Off-page Search Engine Optimization

Off-page SEO is the actions taken outside your website that impact search engine rankings. You have less control over these.

Off-page consists of link-building.  Link building can be accomplished through various means, from guest blogging, outreach, participating in forums and leaving comments on blogs.

Off-site SEO also includes social amplifications, reviews, and brand mentions.  These all play a critical role in off-page SEO signals.

The number and quality of links pointing to your website are still one of the top three signals taken into account when Google ranks a site.

Google considers backlinks to be a vote for your website. Backlinks are a vote of confidence demonstrating that someone outside your site trusts your content finds it’s valuable enough to link to it.

Below are some of the most common off-page SEO techniques:

1. Manual link-building

Manually reaching out and asking for the link is what manual link building is.  These are not naturally occurring links.  A good example is when you ask a customer to link back to your website.

Another conventional technique is involving influencers in content creation, mentioning them in your content piece or expanding on a topic they discussed and asking them to share it or link back to you in their next section.

2. Self-created links

Website submission to directories, commenting on blogs, participating in forums and commenting while adding the URL of your website of a page on your site as part of your online signature, are all examples of self-created links.

Doing this excessively may earn you a significant penalty from Google, they may consider some of these activities as black hat SEO.

You need to make sure that your comments and input in online communities and forums are providing value.  They should not be spam or self-promotional with the sole purpose to earn a backlink.

Only submit your websites to trustworthy directories with high domain authority.

3. Social sharing

Social media doesn’t have the SEO clout as many people may think it does.

Google confirmed that social signals aren’t a direct ranking factor. Google doesn’t care how many Twitter followers, Facebook likes or content shares on social media when ranking a website.

Social media does provide indirect SEO benefits from:

  • Increased inbound links and brand mentions from online visibility
  • Improved brand awareness from increased brand exposure to a bigger audience
  • Social Media helps you build an audience for your website

Although social media may not play a direct role in website rankings, don’t discount it.  Social media enables you to build an audience for your site, and social selling does drive revenue.

Social media can make a content piece go viral. A viral loop results in people naturally link back to you and mentioning your brand.

4. Guest posting

Guest posting adds benefits to SEO and your brand in general.

It’s a win-win. Guest posting takes a lot of time and effort. However, the ROI is excellent.  Guest posting should be a key role in your digital strategy. Below are some aspects to consider:

  • Sets your brand as an authority on your subject
  • Expands your exposure and reach new audiences
  • Guest blogging drives serious referral traffic
  • Builds relationships with valuable influencers and other notable figures in your industry.

Guest posting can drive SEO and increases brand mentions and backlinks to your website. The key is to create valuable content that people want to read.

Most guest posts allow a short bio box, usually at the bottom of the blog post. Its a brief description giving you the opportunity to introduce yourself, adding a link to your social profiles or website. Here’s an example where the author has included a link to their site:

Example of an author bio in a guest post

5. Brand mentions

Brand mentions and locating unlinked brand mentions is a powerful link-building technique, and it’s an essential exercise for new websites to monitor brand mentions while trying to build the first 50 backlinks.

The easiest way to monitor brand mentions is by using third-party solutions like Mention or deploying advanced Google search commands.

Once you’ve uncovered websites that mention your brand, employees or founders, you can email them and politely ask them to include a link along with the brand mention.

This will not only get new backlinks, but these mentions can bring tons of referral traffic.

On-page SEO vs. Off-page SEO: Which is More Important?

Both are equally important.

Both needed to garner good ranking on search engines.

There are some instances where it would be better to focus on one more than the other. Below are three situations along with how you should allocate resources and time:

1. An aged domain with an active link profile

A website which has been around for a while has evolved organically and managed to get a good number of backlinks over the years.

The content has been neglected and web pages which have never been optimized, many are no longer relevant or have thin low-quality content.

This type of websites is an SEO goldmine.

These websites tend to have an abundance of technical and on-page SEO issues ranging from duplicate pages, old, out of date keyword research, non-SEF URLs, and more.

In this case,  focus your resources on on-page optimization. By optimizing and refreshing old out of date content, you’re likely to see a decent boost in SEO rankings.

2. A brand new domain

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The debate on if you should focus on content or link-building with a new domain causes quite the discussion in the SEO community, and this debate will never be settled.

I’m in the ‘content comes first’ community.

With a brand new website, there is no content. Why would an established site with a high domain authority want to link back to you?

The new website wouldn’t have anything worth linking to.

A website selling a disruptive product or service may have an easier time to get people talking about it and cultivate backlinks to the website. In a saturated market, chances are you’ll need 10x content to get people talking about your product(s).

Content is the backbone of every successful website and marketing campaign; the web runs on content, so start with content.

3. A website with few backlinks, no distribution strategy with valuable content

Just producing great content and waiting for it to get discovered is a dead zone today. Maybe it never really did get found.

Ever notice how many blogs there are out there that have valuable content that nobody reads.

Regardless of how good your content is, it wouldn’t get the attention it deserves without a distribution or amplification strategy. Most businesses fail to realize this fact.

In this case, the best action plan to shortlist the best articles, give them an update and put a thorough distribution and outreach strategy in place.

A distribution and outreach strategy should be multifaceted, consisting of action items as contacting influencers in your niche, sponsor the content on other websites, run a paid social media campaign utilize native advertising.

There are so many options available on how to distribute content. This should win you enough backlinks to get you started.

Also, use your existing content to run a broken link building campaign.

Want to Stay Ahead Of Your Marketing Strategy?

Ideally, this article gives some insight into on-page and off-page SEO.

If you are interested in updating your marketing strategy by implementing an SEO strategy, contact us, to talk about how Outsell Digital can help.

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