What is the difference between on-site and off-site SEO?
If you build it, they will come. Have you heard that before? This might be the case for a retail store or a restaurant on a busy street in the downtown core that benefits from a lot of foot traffic—the signage, the location, and the outward appearance are all factors that will draw in inquisitive customers. Its not, however, the same for a website. To simply build a website then sit back and wait for people to visit it is the equivalent to building a restaurant in a deserted part of town, hoping that patrons will somehow find it.
That’s where SEO comes into play. SEO—search engine optimization—can be most simply described as telling Google what your website is about, so that Google knows when your website is the best match for what someone is searching for. SEO can be divided into on-site SEO and off-site SEO, both of which are critical to your website’s success.
- On-site SEO (also known as on-page SEO) is needed to tell Google what your site is about. It determines what your site ranks for on the search engine results page (SERP).
- Off-site SEO (or off-page SEO) is needed to prove to Google that your site is popular, and “authoritative” – referring to its relevance for a specific subject area or industry. Off-site SEO is a means of proving the site’s relevance and will impact how high your site ranks on the SERP.
On-site SEO is something that you, the website owner, have control over. It involves optimizing specific areas of your website. The biggest factors that influence what your site ranks for are as follows:
Above all else, the content on your site’s pages must have value to those visiting your site. There’s nothing more frustrating as a search engine user to follow a link to a site that looks like it’s going to answer your question only to have to trawl through paragraph after paragraph of irrelevant content. Google doesn’t want to people to have to do that either, so it won’t rank your site highly for content that is not relevant to a search query. Google collects data such as click through rate, bounce rate, time on page etc. to determine if the content on your page was useful to a searcher. It then uses that data for the next search query.
Content is great and is a critical element of on-site SEO. However, without keywords your content won’t be working for you in the way it could be. Keywords ensure you will start to rank in search for terms you care about—terms people are actually searching for. Keyword research will be needed to ensure you select the best keywords to target to drive qualified traffic from search engines to your website. What you think people may be searching for might not be what they are actually searching for.
Ensure you use your chosen keyword(s) several times throughout the page of content.
Title tags are the second most important factor for on-page SEO after content because they let the searcher know from the search engine results page, before they click, what information they can expect if they visit that page. Similarly, the page meta description is important as this is the snippet of information that is visible on the SERP, therefore it can significantly impact your click through rates. Put your targeted keywords in the title tag of each page on your site.
Search engines give H1 headings a little more weight than the rest of your page content, so it’s a good idea to work your target keywords into the headings while at the same time reflecting the content of the page.
Good on-site SEO practice is to put keywords into your URLs if possible (but don’t change any existing URLS or you’ll end up with page errors!). It’s also a best practice to ensure the site’s URLs reflect the category hierarchy of the page.
Search engines use this information to determine the relevancy of the web pages. The first URL lets the search engine know that Product 1 is a glass shower, and it will therefore not show this page to someone looking for a glass window. There’s no indication of this in the second URL and it is therefore of very little value to search engines.
Linking to other pages on your website allows you to take site visitors deeper into your site, exploring other relevant pages. It’s also useful to search engines. Google crawls websites by following internal and external links, determining the relationship between the various pages, posts and other content. Internal links on your site’s pages also helps guide Google to find pages on your site that cover similar subject matter. As with all site optimization tactics, don’t go overboard. 3-4 internal links per 600-750 word page is a good guide.
Image alt text
Adding alt text to your images is another on-site SEO tactic that will inform the search engines what your page is about, while also increasing the chances of your site’s images appearing in image search results. Make sure you use your target keyword in the alt text.
As a user, there is nothing more frustrating than a slow-loading website. Google recognizes this, and is able to use your site-load speed as a ranking factor. There are several ways to reduce page-load time, however, they can be quite complex for a layman, so we recommend discussing optimizing page speed with your web developer.
As you can see, on-site and on-page optimizations is a combination of many factors that can all help site visitors—and search engines—better understand what your site is about. Solid on-site SEO will ensure your site has been accurately indexed by search engines and will present your page to relevant searchers in the results, ultimately helping drive more traffic to your website.
Off-site SEO focuses on increasing your site’s Domain Authority – or website strength – in order to rank your site higher on the search engine results page (SERP). The higher your site’s DA, the higher it will rank in a search about a particular subject.
Domain Authority is made up of an aggregate of metrics and link data that have an impact on the authority score, and as such it is difficult to influence directly. However, there is a tried and true off-site SEO tactic that can work to significantly increase your site’s DA.
Links, links and more links.
The more links that point towards your site, the higher your site’s Domain Authority. Think of your website as a boat in a lock, and external links as the water that is added to the lock. To raise the boat to a higher level, water is added to the lock. The more water is added, the higher the boat rises. Similarly, the more external links that point to your website, the higher your DA, and the higher your website will sit in the search engine rankings.
This is a boat lock in Kelowna, BC. As water is added to the lock, the boats rise until they are at the same level as the lake. External links work the same way for websites. As more and more links from quality websites point to your website, the higher it will rise in the search engine results.
However, what makes this tactic tricky is that there are good links and bad links, and Google won’t hesitate to punish sites that are trying to skirt the system. In September 2014, Google targeted private blog networks—a form of link farm where an owner of multiple sites had them all linking to each other—with ranking penalties. In fact, Google explicitly states that any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which can come with serious penalties. The types of links that are good for your DA are links from articles and attributions for content, etc. and a link from a website with high authority is more valuable than a link from a site with little or no authority. Why? Because every time another site links to yours, it passes on some link equity. Google—and other search engines—see a link as a “vote” and if a high ranking website is giving your site the thumbs-up, it’s going to help your site’s rankings. This is why external links are so valuable.
Beware, however, that link authority does not pass to your site when the link comes from pages with irrelevant content, pages that have a lot of links, ad links, and paid links, to name a few. The best link authority comes from pages that have content relevant to your site, pages that have relatively few outbound links, pages that contain quality content, and pages that appear high in SERPs.
How can I build more quality links to my website?
So we know that inbound links are good, but low-quality links are bad. How then can you get more quality inbound links to your website? Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
The first step would be to use a tool such as Moz.com (free account creation is required) to measure your own site’s Domain Authority and compare it to your top competition. This will give you an idea of what you’re up against. Your ultimate goal shouldn’t necessarily be to get the highest DA possible, but rather to have a higher DA than your competition. Moz.com allows you to see the exact sites that are linking to you and your competitors, which is great insight, but only if you know what to do with that information.
That’s where a link-building strategy comes in.
A link-building strategy starts with creating valuable content that is easily shared – as this is the number one way to organically increase links to your website and give your off-site SEO a boost—and then focuses on sharing and promoting that content in a way to earn links. A good link building strategy can be quite complex, but in a nutshell, it requires social media sharing of your content to generate links, reaching out to industry influencers to try and earn a backlink, guest blogging on related sites, and monitoring competitors broken links. To reiterate, earning quality inbound links isn’t easy, but is one of the best ways to help your site rank higher in the search engines.
Which is more important, on-site SEO or off-site SEO?
The short answer? Neither is more important. You must do both. They work best together to help your site rank higher in the search engines. Both are needed for humans and search engine robots to understand what your site is about and if it is worthy of a visit. However, you should probably ensure your on-site SEO is completed first. If you’re trying to get people to link to your site in order to drive more website traffic, you want your site to be fully optimized in order to benefit from the additional traffic.