You’ve never heard about on-page or off-page SEO? Lucky you – I’m going to outline both in the following article, and I will also answer which of the two is more important than the other…
SEO In A Nutshell
I’m pretty sure all of you know that SEO is an abbreviation for search engine optimization. The goal of SEO is to improve a website’s rankings in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
Since Google owns by far the biggest share in the search market, SEOs mainly focus on increasing their sites’ rankings here and usually neglect competing search engines such as Bing and Yahoo, which is totally justifiable.
The Difference Between On-Page And Off-Page SEO
Now there are essentially two parts to search engine optimization. The first part is called ‘on-page SEO’, the second is called ‘off-page SEO’.
In a nutshell, on-page SEO includes everything that you do on your site, that is supposed to gain you a ranking advantage, whereas off-page SEO refers to every step that you take off your site to help with your rankings.
Before I dive deeper into the important elements of both on-page and off-page SEO, I wanted to make sure that I’ve mentioned that search engine optimization in general is not what one would call an exact science. This is because Google and the others will never ever reveal their ranking algorithms to the public, and with good reason:
They don’t want webmasters to shift their efforts from trying to provide the best experience for the user to providing the best experience for the crawlers so to speak.
That’s why SEO has always included quite a bit of guesswork, but as more and more case studies have been conducted throughout the years, SEOs where able to come up with dozens of rules to follow and best practices to apply.
The Important Elements In On-Page SEO
Listed below are the most important elements in on-page SEO, which have by far the biggest ranking impact.
1. Content – Nowadays on-page optimization is all about high-quality content. It’s what makes your visitors stay on your site and interact with it, which Google values. And as a bonus it also increases your conversion rate. A higher conversion rate means more email subscribers, more eCommerce sales, more social media shares, etc., for your business.
A. Headings – Headings and subheadings are part of every high-quality piece of content. It helps search engines and real users to better understand the structure of an article. Headings should be implemented on your site in form of h1 to h6 tags.
B. Images/Video – It feels like I keep repeating myself when I say that no one wants to read a huge wall of text. What’s more, there are things that you can’t express with words, so you better use images and video.
C. Bullet Lists & Tables – Bullet lists and tables make information easier to digest. Plus they are another great way to break up long paragraphs.
D. Links – A link can point to another page on your site and is then called an ‘internal link’. Internal links are important for a smooth user experience and to direct visitors through your site. An external link points to a third party website and is great to provide your visitors with additional information on a certain topic. It also helps to build trust and credibility.
E. Schema Markup – Schema is only really important for businesses trying to rank in the local search results. If you don’t know what schema is, you can learn more here.
F. Keyword Density – Keyword densities used to play a major role in the past. However, if you focus on writing in a natural voice you should not really bother with them.
2. Meta tags – There are so many meta tags that you could implement on your site (see a full list here), but the only two that provide a real SEO benefit are the meta title tag and the meta description. For the meta title make sure to include your main keyword or keywords towards the beginning of the tag. The meta description is first and foremost used to arouse user interest to increase click-through rates.
3. URL – According to an official Google representative, page URLs are a very small ranking factor. They definitely carried more weight a couple of years ago. Still, try to include your main keywords here.
4. Mobile Responsiveness – The mobile-first index has rolled out and although the majority of websites aren’t affected yet, you should make sure to optimize your site for mobile devices.
5. Page Speed – Page speed is becoming a more and more important factor in on-page SEO especially since the rise of mobile search.
The Important Elements In Off-Page SEO
‘(…) data from our Search Engine Ranking Factors study show that off-site SEO-related factors likely carry more than 50% of the ranking factor weight.’ (source)
What follows now are they key elements of off-page SEO.
1. Links – If I could choose only one of the four off-page elements on this list for my SEO campaigns, it would definitely be links or rather link building. Link building has always been the most important ranking factor in SEO, which you can read more about in a previous post of mine.
A. Site Authority & Trust – Focus on getting links from high-authority sources that are trusted by Google. Again, make sure to also check out my other post linked above.
B. Anchor Text – A link with a keyword-rich anchor text passes more ranking power. However, it’s also much more likely that you get penalized due to over-optimization.
C. Content Relevancy – A contextual link placed in an article that is relevant to the content on your site is the best-case scenario.
D. Naturalness – Building links is all about naturalness. Unnatural link patterns will likely earn you a manual penalty and consequently a drop in rankings.
2. Linkless Brand Mentions – For some time now Google has also measured the authority of a page/site by taking into account linkless brand mentions. If you don’t know what that is, click here.
3. Social Signals – Although correlation does not imply causation, case studies have shown that there is a connection between higher rankings in the SERPs and a stronger social media presence.
4. Business Citations + NAP Consistency – Just as schema markup, this is only important for businesses trying to rank for local search queries. If you’ve never heard of citations and NAP consistency before, make sure to check out this article.
On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO: Which One Is More Important?
The truth is, none is more important than the other.
I mean, there are those that claim that with good off-page SEO in combination with bad on-page SEO you can still rank for medium competition keywords, but essentially you have to have both components in place, if you want some serious search traffic coming to your site.
Webmasters often use the analogy that on-page SEO is like your car with which you are trying to win a race. Off-page SEO is the fuel that you put into that car.
On the one hand, without any fuel or an insufficient amount your car might not even start and you are definitely not going to win the race. On the other hand, without a fast car you can have as much jet fuel as you want, you will always lack behind your competition.