SEO doesn’t actually amount to any one activity. It’s made up of a whole bunch of different techniques which affect how digital marketers or e-commerce businesses write content, choose images, and even how they design their websites. The natural question is of course this: which matters more in regard to your ranking, on-page or off-page SEO?
We’ve already given a brief overview on this blog of the basics of SEO, and done some work on dispelling the common myths that surround it. Now it's time to move onto the practices and techniques which make up what we know as SEO!
As we have said before, discussions of what SEO actually is are pretty opaque. This is because SEO doesn’t actually amount to any one activity. It’s made up of a whole bunch of different techniques which affect how digital marketers or e-commerce businesses write content, choose images, and even how they design their websites.
The natural question is of course this: which matters more in regard to your ranking, on-page or off-page SEO?
The answer: it depends.
Perhaps not the most catch-all answer in the world, but bear with us.
On-page SEO refers to everything happening on your website which has an effect on your search engine ranking. Techniques in this area involve making your site as friendly to Google’s algorithm as possible. Put simply, on-page SEO is anything that the site owner can affect through their actions, such as:
- Internal site links
- Title/heading tags
- URL structures
- Meta descriptions
- Keyword usage
- Content quality
- Image alt tags
Off-page SEO is anything affecting your ranking outside of your website. For this reason, you cannot influence off-page SEO directly. This is decided in the form of ranking signals that Google picks up from other websites in relation to yours. Improving off-page therefore entails efforts at making your site appear trustworthy, relevant and authoritative so that it gets a push up the search results. This involves activities such as:
- Social media marketing
- Building backlinks to your site
- Guest blogging
- Email outreach
- Social signals e.g. shares and comments on your content
This means that the question you should be asking isn’t which is more important, but where you are at with your own SEO strategy. This is where the ‘it depends’ comes in.
Naturally, on-page SEO is much more straightforward from the perspective of the site owner; optimization relies entirely on you. Off-page SEO is more challenging, simply because there are more limited tools at your disposal. A strong SEO strategy is one which has a blend of both on-page and off-page considerations – having a perfectly optimized site won’t help your ranking a great deal if you aren’t visible through external links, for example.
But if you are someone who is starting out from scratch with their SEO strategy, you have to pick your battles. Trying to hit all elements of both on-page and off-page at once will be overwhelming, and won’t create a very coherent approach. A great way to prioritize is to think about SEO like building a house; your on-page considerations are the foundations, so that everything that goes on top is stable. Off-page considerations are the roof which finishes off the house. Would you put on a roof before the foundations? Of course not! It makes no logical sense. Neither does desperately trying to get other sites to link to you when you haven’t put any time into making your site friendly to Google. Prospective sites are very unlikely to bite, because linking to an un-optimized site could run the risk of penalizing their own ranking.
So, in order to put together a long-term, cohesive strategy, you need to get the basics down first. This means getting your site set up so that it meets Google’s requirements for promoting you higher in the rankings. This is also known as improving your ‘organic’ web traffic i.e. direct from the search results. Since 51% of web traffic comes from organic searches, focusing on the on-page side is enough to see many businesses get up into those first few results.
For those who have the on-page side of SEO sorted but still aren’t seeing the results they want, off-page considerations will have more relevance. For businesses who are in more competitive fields, off-page is a great way to gain a bit more of an edge in the rankings.
But more importantly, what do both sides of SEO have in common?
Answer: Content, content, content!
It simply isn’t possible to succeed at any kind of SEO unless you are developing really great content for your site and partnerships. The reason? Content IS SEO. Google’s algorithm has changed a lot over the years, but one thing that has stayed consistent is rewarding sites who produce authoritative and relevant content, whether that be blogs, eBooks, vlogs or case studies. If you aren’t doing this, your site simply won’t reach its full potential because you aren’t proving that what you offer is valuable to those searching. This should be your primary focus, even before you bring SEO into the game.
To round up, both on-site and off-site SEO are integral to a good strategy. However, it’s important to get the basics sorted with your own site first before you turn your attention to what’s happening outside it. As always, your content is the key to success in both sets of techniques. Focus on this, and you will see your site gain traction!