Your search engine optimization strategy can be divided into two different categories: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. Both are crucial to the success of an SEO campaign, but they're on completely different sides of the fence when it comes to improving your search engine rankings. To understand the difference between the two, you have to understand, at a basic level, how search engine algorithms work. Let's break it down.
There are two main buckets that search engines look at when evaluating your site compared to other sites on the web.
- On-page: what is your site (or your page) about?
- Off-page: how authoritative is your site? How popular is it?
Put simply, what you rank for is largely determined by on-page factors, while how high you rank in the search results is largely determined by off-page factors.
What is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO (also known as "on-site" SEO) is the act of optimizing different parts of your web site that affect your search engine rankings. It's stuff that you have control over and can change on your own website. Here are the the biggest factors included.
Headings are usually the largest words on the page, and for that reason, search engines give them a little more weight than your other page copy. It is a good idea to work your target keywords into the headings of each web page, but make sure you accurately reflect your page content.
Put keywords into your URLs if possible. However, do not go changing all of your current URLs just so they have keywords in them. You shouldn't change old URLs unless you plan on redirecting your old ones to your new ones. Consult a professional before doing this.
Alt text for images
Any content management system should allow you to add something called "alt text" to all images on your website. This text isn't visible to the average visitor - alt text is in fact used by screen reader software to help blind internet users understand the content of your images. Search engines crawl images in a similar way, so inserting some relevant keywords while accurately describing the image will help search engines understand your page's content.
Fast-loading pages, or page load speed
Google wants to help its users find what they're looking for as quickly as possible to provide the best user experience. Therefore, optimizing your pages to load faster helps your site rank higher in the search results.
The content on your pages needs to useful to people. If they search for something to specific to find your page, they need to be able to find what they're looking for. It needs to be easy to read and provide value to the end user. Google has various ways to measure if your content is useful.
Linking internally to other pages on your website is useful to visitors and it is also useful to search engines. Here's an internal link to another blog post on our site that talks more about internal linking. Very meta.
On-page SEO ensures that your site can be read by both potential customers and search engine robots. With good on-page SEO, search engines can easily index your web pages, understand what your site is about, and easily navigate the structure and content of your website, thus ranking your site accordingly.
What is Off-Page SEO?
Off-page SEO focuses on increasing the authority of your domain through the act of getting links from other websites. A good analogy for how authority works is this. If you have a bathtub with rubber duckies in it (the ducks are your pages), and you start filling the tub with water (links), your duckies are all going to rise to the top. This is how a site like Wikipedia ranks for pretty much everything under the sun. It has so much water in its bathtub that if you throw another rubber duck in it, it's going to float to the top without any other effort. There's a score called "Domain Authority" that calculates how authoritative your website is compared to other sites. You can type your domain name into here to see your score.
- Creating awesome content that people want to link to because it is valuable.
- Social media shares of your content that ultimately generate links.
- Outreach e-mails to influencers in your industry that ultimately link to you.
- Guest blogging on sites related to yours. These guest posts will have links back to your site.
While link quantity is still important, content creators and SEO professionals are realizing that link quality is now more important than link quantity, and as such, creating shareable content is the first step to earning valuable links and improving your off-page SEO. How many links do you need for good off-page SEO? That is a tough question and it's going to be based on the Domain Authority of your competitors, as you want to make sure you're playing in the same sandbox. SEOs also used to believe that buying links was a valid way of link building; however, Google will now penalize you for buying links in an attempt to manipulate Page Rank, and you can also be penalized for submitting your links to link directories whose sole purpose is to increase your Domain Authority. Again, quality wins out over quantity when it comes to link building.
Which One is More Important?
It's not about choosing between on and off-page SEO. That would be like choosing between a foundation or a roof if you had decide which to use for your house. On-page and off-page SEO work together to improve your search engine rankings in complementary fashion; however, SEOs generally advise getting your on-page SEO ducks in a row before focusing too much on off-page SEO. Just like building a house, you want to set the foundation first before building the rest of the house. Like a foundation, you may need to come back and do some maintenance to your on-page SEO from time to time. Balancing the two will help make your website "bilingual" so that your users can understand it as well as the search engine robots- and that's how your rankings start to improve. But how long will they take before they do? Check out our e-book, How Long Does SEO take? and find out.