On-page and off-page SEO strategies are equally crucial to the success of any search ranking campaign. While Google's algorithm for ranking content is continuously changing, off-page SEO-related factors carry 50% or more of the overall ranking weight, according to Moz. That's why marketers, working to improve their website's PageRank and SERP organically, need to put equal effort into both strategies.
What is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO is a set of techniques that you can implement directly to your web pages to improve search rankings. Publishing content that's SEO optimized for specific keywords will naturally lead to better results as it’s more straightforward for Google to understand which searches the content is most relevant for. "There are a few strategies people tend to think of when they hear 'on-page SEO,' like targeting keywords within the H1 and H2 tags, using descriptive alt text for their images, [and] writing a compelling meta-description," explained Aja Frost, senior SEO strategist at HubSpot. The variety of on-page SEO techniques are endless, from faster page loading to strategic keyword placement and ensuring high content quality. These small changes to your web pages "all influence how Google interprets your page content and can influence its ranking," said Tarun Gehani, SEO director at Pure Visibility.
You shouldn't confuse on-page SEO with onsite SEO, which focuses on the entire website. Some onsite techniques include optimizing your website architecture, including a sitemap and adding structured data markup. These tactics focus on making it easier for search crawlers to index your site.
All of these changes may seem inconsequential, but they help search providers understand your website and its content better. The more search providers know about your website, the better chance Google or Bing has to present your site during relevant searches.
What is Off-Page SEO?
Off-page SEO is a strategy that affects your search rankings, but is not directly within your control. These techniques affect the popularity and authority of your website.
"Building links is the classic example," stated Frost. With a link building strategy, you have to build authority through publishing high-quality content in the hope that other websites will link to your site. In the past, frequent black hat backlinking strategies forced Google to update its algorithm. The new change introduced the concept of dofollow and nofollow links, which made backlinking significantly more challenging for marketers. That's why Frost said, "at the end of the day, even the best link-building campaign doesn't guarantee you'll actually increase your number of backlinks."
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Along with traditional backlinks, another area to focus on is social engagement. Google takes the way you interact with customers or site visitors, the social media channels you use and other social signals seriously. Having a strong social media presence and followers that regularly share your content suggests to Google that your content is highly valuable.
Backlinks, social signals and other off-page SEO strategies are all about influencing how others perceive your website. Most off-page SEO tactics, therefore, relate to brand building and reputation management.
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Why Both Are Important for SEO
"To rank, you need both a well-optimized site and external trust signals," said Frost. That means you shouldn't focus too heavily on one aspect of SEO over the other.
Most experts recommend you start with on-page SEO because it's directly within your control, and there's no reason not to optimize your website. "In competitive search results, even the smallest optimizations can make a difference," said Gehani. You should frequently audit your website to make sure HTML tags, metadata, internal URLs and many other minor details are optimized for search engines.
From there, it's essential to get started with off-page SEO early because it takes time to have an impact. Essential to off-page SEO is consistently producing high-quality content that will naturally lead to backlinks and social media shares. If your website has some authority, it becomes easier to try other off-page techniques like blogger outreach and social media engagement to improve your SEO strategy further.
If you focus too much on on-page SEO, you may hit a point of diminishing returns, but if you focus too much on off-page SEO, you may be limiting your site's potential. When it comes down to it, Google's trying to deliver the best search experience for users, and both SEO strategies factor into that.
There's no perfect mix between the two, so you'll need to experiment to determine what's best for your website. "Both on-page and off-page SEO contribute to your overall ranking potential, and marketers should put effort into both areas to make sure they are covering all of their bases in terms of SEO," said Gehani.