There are two types of SEO in this world: on-page and off-page.
It’s not uncommon for one type to receive more attention than the other in many marketing playbooks. However, the reality is, each type of SEO matters and needs to be balanced by the other.
As you’re building out your SEO strategy, you’ll want to know the difference between on-page versus off-page SEO. Keep reading for a breakdown of the two, and how to balance on-page techniques with off-page techniques to give yourself the best chance at ranking.
What is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO relates to all the elements on your webpage that impact your search engine rankings. The goal of on-page SEO is to inspire high-quality, relevant content that people genuinely want to consume.
The main purpose of ranking algorithms, after all, is to predict the intent of a user. Algorithms use a variety of on-page signals to determine whether a piece of content matches what a user’s looking for. This is why if someone searches, “HR management tools,” Google will likely display sites that offer an HR management software.
On the other hand, if a person searches for “HR management” (without specifying “tools”), then Google may show articles describing the role of HR departments, HR management tips, and a variety of other resources.
Google also uses on-page SEO to verify that a user will fully enjoy his or her experience on your site. In other words, Google wants to know that your site is trustworthy, informative, and thoughtfully built. Visitors shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time digging for information; they should be able to quickly navigate to what they’re looking for from the link.
To give you a better idea of what we mean, here is a list of several major on-page signals. Note that this is not a comprehensive list—see our article on performing an SEO site audit for more details.
Keywords are the favorite child of most SEOs. They reflect the words and phrases that your target buyers type into the search bar when googling for a product or service like yours.
Back in the old days, you could land first-page ranking just by stuffing the same keyword into your page titles, headings, and body paragraphs.
But nowadays, Google is smart enough to spot when you’re trying to game the system. It will penalize sites that use keywords unnaturally—and on the flip side, reward those that weave them in naturally.
Keyword-optimization still hasn’t lost its magic, but ranking algorithms will prioritize relevance, sentiment, and semantics over exact keyword matches. So, as you build your keyword strategy, you’ll want to identify primary keywords and secondary keywords that resonate with your buyers, then incorporate both into your page.
Titles and headings
The title and subheadings of your page help Google decipher what your page is all about.
Take a moment to consider how a person who lands on your page may consume your content. They’ll likely scan through the subheadings first and make a split-minute decision about whether your page is worth their time or not. Google behaves similarly; it scans your titles and subheadings to determine if your content is relevant.
For this reason, you’ll want to include your primary keywords within your titles and headers. You’ll also want to structure your subheadings strategically. While Google doesn’t necessarily care whether you use H1 or H2 as the primary header tag, it’ll look at the order of your tags to determine priority. For example, H1 will always take priority over H2, and H2 will always take priority over H3.
Pro tip: The best way to increase the click-through rate (CTR) of your titles is by A/B testing various options. RankScience once conducted an A/B title tag test that resulted in a 14.8% increase in clicks and 59% growth in traffic across a site’s pages—all from one simple tweak to the title. You can read the full story here.
Meta descriptions go hand-in-hand with meta titles. They are HTML tags that you (ideally) customize for every page, which determine what people see when they view your URL on Google. You can leave these blank and have Google auto-select the copy to show, but having custom descriptions is known to boost clicks by 5.8% on average.
That said, Google does not always choose to show your custom meta descriptions. Still, a customer description can let both search engines and readers know what to expect from your page.
Note that Google will highlight the words within your meta description that relate to a user’s query, so you’ll want to make sure that your keyword is present within it. Your meta description further plays a role in getting people to actually click on your link, so make sure they’re compelling and easy to understand.
As you’re probably all too aware—images serve to enhance user experience. From an SEO perspective, they additionally offer you the chance to appear on Google Images, which could drive even more traffic your way.
When you’re adding images to your site, you’ll want to make sure they tick off a few boxes:
- Right image format (usually PNG or JPEG)
- Quick loading and small file size (you can compress images with free tools, like TinyPNG)
- Descriptive file name (swap “IMG1234.jpg” for something like “person-on-computer.jpg”)
- Alt text (which improves accessibility of your page)
- High quality
In general, your site should be fast-loading, easy to navigate, and mobile-friendly. Slow site speed disrupts a search engine’s ability to crawl your site and leads to higher bounce rate and poor engagement.
If Google senses that people are getting frustrated whenever they land on your site, then it will stop suggesting it to them—simple as that. This is why you should never turn a blind eye on poor UX/UI. When you de-prioritize user experience, you enter the SEO race at a big disadvantage.
What is off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO involves all the elements outside of your site that impact your rankability. These signals are meant to confirm the trustworthiness of your site. They refer to link building, citation building, content distribution, and other effects that give you a competitive edge.
Think of off-page signals as external references. When you apply for a job, you don’t usually submit a resume and call it a day. Many times, you’ll be asked to provide a list of references and/or a portfolio of your work. All these serve to demonstrate your expertise.
Similarly, Google is like a recruiter who’s looking to validate the claims that you make about your site. Before it decides to award you with a highly coveted first-page position, it will verify that your site is, in fact, honest and helpful.
Once you’ve successfully won over Google’s trust, you’ll enjoy an easier time ranking on SERPs. Here are some fundamental off-page signals to keep in mind.
Backlinks are links to your content from another site. They convey that another site deems you important and thinks that your content is worthy enough to share.
Not all backlinks are created equal though; Google will pay more attention to links from high-authority sites. There are such things as toxic links too that Google considers spammy. When you spot toxic links, you’ll want to make every effort to contact the site owner to have them removed and/or disavow links so Google doesn’t consider them.
To earn backlinks, try guest blogging for other sites or launching a social media promotion that organically generates links. Stay far away from black-hat tricks and instead prioritize quality links over a high volume of links.
Domain authority (DA)
While DA isn’t a metric that Google tracks, it’s a helpful metric that SEO platforms like ContentEdge and SEMRush offer. This is an indicator of how your site compares to other competitive sites. DA scores factor in things like keyword positions, backlinks, and other signals that indicate how you measure up against other sites.
On-page vs. off-page SEO: which is more important?
It’s not a matter of “Which one?” but “How do I manage both?” You need to focus on both SEO buckets to maximize your SEO ROI. However, how you divide up your time between the two can vary.
One month you might be redesigning your site and prioritizing on-page (including technical) SEO. Another month, you might be focusing on content distribution, and thereby optimizing off-page SEO.
What you decide to focus on depends on the weaknesses and opportunities you see within your content strategy, in addition to your current growth and marketing goals.
SEO best practices for 2021
As you hunker down on SEO, here are some best practices that you’ll want to prioritize and that will help you strengthen both on-page and off-page factors.
Tip 1: prioritize humans over algorithms
Think from the perspective of your target consumers. What do they search for when researching a solution like yours? What questions do they have as they’re weighing their options? Who within an organization does the research and/or decision-making? How do they speak about the topic at hand?
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of questions you could dig into. For example, Jake and Gino, who offer a real estate investing mentorship program, generates a ton of content based on client FAQs. A recent blog demystifies the process of buying your first 25-unit apartment complex so prospects can ease into the idea of apartment-investing at scale.
Bottom line: you’ll want to focus on providing content that meets your customers’ needs and speaks their language. Today, Google uses natural language processing (NLP) and looks at semantically related words to determine relevancy.
Tip 2: write about what you know
E-A-T is an acronym coined by Google that stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. It’s relevant to every B2B SEO practitioner, who’s challenged with keeping their brand top of mind and earning customer trust before being able to open up a sales conversation.
With consideration to E-A-T, you’ll want to focus on creating content that touches on topics that you have experience in. Google will want to see that an author is a verified subject matter expert, and that your site is well-reputed in the industry.
Moreover, if you already have extensive knowledge in a certain topic, you’ll enjoy an easier time writing unique, authoritative content, which naturally builds up your SEO creds. But, if you’re not familiar with a topic at hand, then tap a teammate or existing expert to help you out.
Tip 3: pay attention to the user experience
Always take the time to analyze the UX of your site. Keep in mind that the world is increasingly adopting a mobile-first mentality—a trend that Google first announced in 2016—so you’ll want to make sure that your site can keep up.
Not only will this help with SEO, but it should also help with overall sales and conversion rates. It’s a win-win situation and an overall healthy business practice.
As you’re creating content, you’ll want to consider the types of content that your visitors want to consume, too. This will naturally guide you towards supplementing text with helpful visuals, videos, and more—all of which Google applauds.
Tip 4: collaborate with other companies and influencers
One of the best ways to spread the word about your brand is through industry influencers or business partners. Many marketing collaborations will include content swaps, mutual brand promotions, and/or customer referrals that allow you to broaden your network.
This will simultaneously help you to earn organic backlinks and social shares. By building each other’s brands up, you help all ships rise; each party benefits from greater brand credibility and online exposure.
Tip 5: process, process, process
Consistency is key when it comes to SEO. It’s no secret that SEO is a long-term investment and can take anywhere between four to 12 months to yield results.
To that end, you’ll want to establish healthy internal processes early on. For example, start and maintain a regular blogging schedule. Have a checklist ready, specifying how to optimize each article for SEO and promote pieces once they’re published.
Hold your team accountable to a regular reporting schedule and challenge them to regularly find ways to improve web performance and engagement. Through processes like this, you can make sure SEO remains a top priority.
Kick SEO into high gear
The difference between on-page and off-page SEO is essential to understand, but most importantly, you’ll need to know why they matter and how you can continually improve them.
Need an extra hand with SEO? Our team of experts can help you to construct the right strategy (plus complete the work). Contact us today.