Today we’re talking about on-page versus off-page SEO, but that’s not how we want you to think about it. While there certainly are differences, you should always think about it as on-page AND off-page SEO. A great SEO strategy considers both elements equally.
In today’s competitive SEO market, amazing content unfortunately isn’t enough. Ranking well in the SERP isn’t just about finding the right keywords and writing an article. You need to consider the structure of your website and the technology used to create it and how that impacts both readers and search engine crawlers.
Once your website is live, it’s time to think about how to garner high-quality backlinks and get your readers to share your site with their networks. All of this contributes to the overall strength of your domain.
Understanding what goes into nailing both on-page and off-page SEO will level up you content while increasing it’s ranking potential.
What Is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO refers to the tactics you use on your website to help it rank better. That includes everything from the technology you rely on to build the website to the way you use the words on the page. These are things you have complete control over and are the single most powerful tools you have for impacting rankings in the SERP.
When you nail on-page SEO, it’s easy to convey the relevancy and quality of your content for both readers and search engines. There are a number of different facets to this, so let’s take a look at how each can impact your ranking.
Website URL Structure
The URL you use for each page of your website has a direct impact on its ranking ability. When you’re first building your website, it’s important to consider how the URL structure you choose will impact subsequent pages in the future. There are two basic ways to set up a blog, either as a subfolder or a subdomain; we suggest using a subfolder.
That’s why our blog looks like this:
Instead of this:
The first format uses a subfolder and has some significant advantages from an SEO perspective. Not only does it make it easier to track your blog’s performance, it shares authority with your main website. As a result, high-quality backlinks to your blog help the rank of your main website and vice versa. When you’re using a subdomain, this reciprocal relationship doesn’t exist, making it harder for both sites to rank well in the SERP.
The only caveat with creating subfolders is that you need to keep the number of folders to a minimum. This creates a flat site structure that’s easier for search engines to crawl.
When you’re creating articles, you should also think about how to incorporate the target keyword for each page in the most succinct way possible. Take this blog, for example; we structure the URL as:
Instead of this:
Many content management systems, such as WordPress, will automatically set your URL as the title of the post. It’s important to edit this whenever you create a new page on your site. Using shorter URLs that focus on the keyword also looks better in the SERP and to potential readers.
Whenever anyone searches for your website, they’ll also see the URL and be able to quickly parse what the page is all about.
Your meta description is one of the first things a searcher sees when they encounter your website in the SERP. Outside of the title and the URL, it’s your best chance to explain the value of your content and get people to click through. Meta descriptions also provide that information to search-engine crawlers, making it easy for them to figure out what your site is about and bring it back to be indexed.
Here’s an example from our article on how to find long-tail keywords in Google:
When you’re writing a meta description for any page on your site, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you’re getting the most on-page SEO value from it:
- Always include the keyword; it will be bolded when people encounter your site in the SERP.
- Keep meta descriptions under 160 characters; Google will truncate anything longer.
- Make sure it conveys the value your article will provide to potential readers.
By including these three elements, you’re optimizing each meta description to not only make it easy for search engines to find and index your content but also make it easy for readers to understand why they should click. Doing so will increase your potential click-throughs and provide searchers with the most valuable information up front.
Title tags are the HTML elements of your site that tell search engines what title to display in the SERP. Located in the
section of your website, tags make sure that the title you created is always correct, regardless of how readers interact with it.
Here are just a few places that will pull the title tag:
- Entries in the SERP
- Browser tabs
- Social media posts
When you define the title of your page, make sure it is unique to that individual page and includes the keyword you’re targeting. Doing so will ensure that every page on your website is different from the others, making it easy for web crawlers to get a picture of everything your content has to offer.Setting the correct title tags also guarantees that anytime your content is shared, it uses the correct title. Social sharing is an important aspect of off-page SEO, and an incorrect title can hurt your ranking potential.
Content structure is probably the first thing people think of when they hear the phrase “on-page SEO.” On the surface, it refers to the way content appears when a reader lands on your website, but content structure goes deeper than that. How you structure the words on your site helps search-engine crawlers parse the information you’re writing about and makes it easier for readers to understand.
As you’re writing a new landing page or blog post, it’s important to use headings to differentiate distinct sections. This is done with HTML elements called heading tags, which provide the hierarchical structure of your website. You’ll often hear these referred to as H1, H2, H3, etc.
- H1 tags are used for the title of your page.
- H2 tags are used for the primary subheads on the page.
- H3 tags are nested within H2 tags to break up the text further.
Here’s a framework of what it might look like:
Whenever readers or crawler bots land on your website, this structure will help them get a sense of what they’ll learn by reading deeper. Because crawlers assign top priority to your H1 tags, followed up H2, then H3, etc., it’s important to include your target keyword in the H1 and relevant H2 headings. That will help the article rank higher by signaling relevancy to the search query that keyword targets.Using headings is the best way to provide a snapshot of how valuable your website is to people searching for a specific keyword. It breaks up the text, increasing readability, and it provides much-needed structure to what would otherwise be a long blog of text. The experience of reading your content is just as important as the information you include. You can be as relevant as you want, but if no one can read it, you won’t be able to rank well.
Image Alt Text
Image alt text is the text that appears when images are not displayed on your website. While it’s primarily a way for you to describe the content of images when they don’t load, or when website visitors are using a screen reader, choosing the right image alt text is a vital part of on-page SEO. When a search-engine crawler reads your site, they’ll be able to parse these HTML attributes faster than the image file as well.
Writing image alt text is a pretty straightforward affair, but it’s easy to overlook or to do poorly. Here’s a picture of some manatees that we’ll write alt text for:
Image via Unsplash.
For the sake of example, let’s call the image file manatee.png. A good example of what your image alt text might look like:
Now, when a reader lands on your site and the image isn’t displayed, or when they’re using a screen reader to parse the page, they’ll understand what the image displays even without seeing it.
You should always try to include the keyword in your image alt text as well, but in a way that doesn’t pull focus away from the accessibility value of the alt text itself. Image alt text needs to add value for the people who rely on it.
The more content you create on your website, the more value you can provide to readers. When you’re creating this content, it’s important to consider how all of it fits together to provide readers with the best possible browsing experience. Not only does internal linking making it easier for bots to crawl your site quickly, but it encourages readers to go deeper into your site as well.
You’ve already experienced this on-page SEO tactic in this very post. We link to a number of different articles from our blog to offer more information on the various different topics we’ve covered so far. Take these two from the section on meta descriptions:
We link out to two different resources: one that digs into the topic of meta descriptions and one that explains how to find long-tail keywords. This gives readers the opportunity to learn more about one or both of those topics outside of its impact on on-page SEO and connects the new post with existing ones.
By connecting the post with existing content, we’re making it easier for web crawlers to find the page. Since they already have the meta description and long-tail keyword articles in the index, the next time a bot goes out to crawl the page, they’ll quickly find the new post and bring it back to the search engine.
This builds a map of the content on your site and provides valuable context for search engines to learn how authoritative and comprehensive your site actually is.
Site Speed and Responsiveness
Search engines continue to place more value on the experience of interacting on your site as well as the information you provide. Faster websites rank higher, so it’s important that the technology you use to run your site is optimized to load quickly across multiple different browsers and mobile devices.
With over 60% of Google searches performed on mobile devices in 2019, making sure your site is mobile responsive is a big part of on-page SEO. If your site performance suffers when people use a mobile device, that will decrease your site’s ranking over time.
Google provides you with a tool to test out your site that tells you what needs to be changed to be considered mobile-friendly.
SpyFu.com, run through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
When you use the tool, it will provide you with a screenshot of how your page appears on mobile and will offer suggestions for what needs to be improved. As you’re optimizing your on-page SEO, these diagnostic tools can help you identify areas of opportunity or confirm that recent changes are making a positive impact.When you think about on-page versus off-page SEO, it’s really about how to build and distribute your content in such a way that it appeals to both search engines and website visitors. You’re crafting an experience that makes interacting with your content easier while also boosting your ranking potential.
What Is Off-Page SEO?
Off-page SEO refers to ranking factors that are outside of your website itself. While some of these elements are outside of your direct control, there are steps you can take to impact them if you’re focused. A good off-page SEO strategy will grow brand awareness, boost engagement with your content, and highlight how relevant your site is to SERP users.Many of the choices you make in your on-page SEO strategy will also affect how well your off-page SEO is overall. That’s why at the beginning of the post we talked about changing your thinking from on-page versus off-page SEO to on-page AND off-page SEO.
One of the primary drivers of a successful off-page SEO strategy is your backlink profile—the quality and quantity of outside websites that link to your page. Gaining relevant links from authoritative websites helps boost your ranking ability considerably.
The reason for this boost is due to how search engines classify relevant content. Basically, when other resources link to your website, they transfer some of their link equity to your content, making it more valuable both to search engines and to readers. There are a few factors that go into a high-quality backlink:
- Anchor text used
- Domain strength of the site
- Relevancy to the content of your post
When these come together, it tells search engines that you are creating relevant and optimized content on your website and others think so as well. With SpyFu’s Backlink tool, you can discover high-quality backlinks for specific keywords, see what URLs are linking to your content, and what URLs are linking to your competitors.Here’s an example of backlinks for content that ranks for the keyword seo tools.
When you’re thinking about creating content for a specific keyword, this data helps you understand the type of backlink profile required to rank well in the SERP. It also gives you an idea of why and how certain URLs link to content for that keyword, which you can use to inform the structure and content of your own article.
When entering a competitor’s website, this information helps you suss out other areas of opportunity and see what different kinds of blogs favor your competition.
Doing that makes it easy to form relationships with other websites in your industry. That way, you can reach out and see if they’re interested in linking to new content you believe will be relevant to their audience.
Domain strength is a measure of how authoritative your site is, according to search engines. Also referred to as domain authority, it takes a number of different factors and then scores your site on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the most authoritative content available for any given search.
Here are some of the factors:
- Your link profile
- Overall website traffic numbers
- Relevancy to the search query
- Visitor experience
Everything we’re talking about today can impact your score, both in the on-page and in the off-page SEO sections. And if that seems like a lot, just think about Domain Strength under the umbrella of relevancy.
The more relevant your content is, the higher your domain strength can be.
When you nail that core idea, everything else will fall in place. Relevant content includes the right keywords and semantic variations, it gains traffic and is linked to because the content is relevant, and visitors can easily parse the information and interact with your content.
More and more, search engines are looking at how your content thrives in the greater internet landscape. While the connection between social sharing and ranking potential feels nebulous at best, content that’s shared will frequently rank higher in the SERP. The likely reason for this is due to how search engines look at relevancy.
When you’re trying to figure out whether or not an individual piece of content is relevant to a particular search query, there are a number of different factors that can impact your relevance score.
The best way to make an impact on this off-page SEO component is by adding a social sharing option to your content. We do this for each of our blog posts:
It’s a subtle reminder that if the reader finds our content valuable, they can easily share it to Twitter with the click of a button. This increases the potential for every article we create to be shared and can make a positive impact on our ranks as a result.But social media isn’t the only place to share content; finding interesting ways to distribute your content to relevant audiences can positively impact your ranking as well.
The internet was built as a way to share information, which is why it was once referred to as The Information Superhighway—a term that feels anachronistic nowadays. But it’s true: we share so much information online every day on a number of different platforms that are outside of social media.
In some ways, off-page SEO is about how you distribute your content, or how your content gets distributed by others. Every public share of your website can impact how well your content ranks in the SERP. A great off-page SEO strategy will include relevant forums, websites, and communities to share your content in.
Here are just a few:
Each of these platforms has an engaged audience, whose members share vast amounts of information with one another. But you have to be careful: shamelessly promoting your content in a forum won’t work. Posts like this from reddit can be a great place to share your thoughts.
It’s important to be an active member of each community you think is relevant. Not only will that help you share your own knowledge and expertise, but it will also give you the benefit of the doubt when linking to a piece of content you create.
These communities can also be found in private Facebook or Slack groups. There are any number of different distribution networks to be found just about anywhere; you just have to know where to look.
As you’re thinking about a strong off-page SEO strategy, it’s important to think about how your content lives on the internet after you publish it. What life does it take on, how do people prefer to interact and share it, and how can you make that easier.
Think On-Page AND Off-Page SEO Not On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO
With a strategy that combines both on-page and off-page SEO, you’re giving your website the best chance it has to rank in the SERP. With on-page SEO, you build a site that’s tailored to specific keywords; with off-page SEO, you make sure people are aware of the content you’re creating.
When you think about these two strategies together, it helps you build a more well-rounded and powerful SEO strategy. Don’t miss out on the potential ranking benefits by focusing too much on one or the other.
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