You’ve probably heard people talking about on-site and off-site SEO strategies. Broadly speaking, these are the two main components of any successful SEO campaign, so it’s important to know the difference between the two. Understanding how to utilise them together can help to maximise your visibility in search engine results.
So, what’s the difference between on-site and off-site SEO? Is one more important than the other? Read on as we reveal all and show you how to get the most from your SEO efforts…
What is On-Site and Off-Site SEO?
It’s no secret that SEO is important for being visible to your target audience and driving lots of targeted traffic to your website.
While SEO can be a complex subject (and quite honestly the goalposts can change on an almost daily basis), knowing even just the basics can really help maximise your success. If you want to rise above your competitors and get more of those all important leads, you really need to have at least a basic understanding of this stuff.
One of the key things to understand is that SEO can be broadly split into two main categories:
On-Site and Off-Site SEO.
Both are equally important and work together to improve your rankings in search engine results, so let’s talk a little more about each and what these terms mean practically speaking.
As the name suggests, on-site SEO (sometimes also called on-page SEO) is concerned with optimising the pages on your website itself to make them search engine friendly.
This is the easier of the two to get your head around because it covers all the things you have full control over – like creating relevant header titles (H1s, H2s etc) and filling your site with high quality, keyword-optimised content.
On-site SEO is incredibly important because it helps search engines to more easily index each page on your site and understand exactly what the content is all about. This is also important for the user as it helps them see whether the page contains what they are looking for.
Remember: When someone makes a search, it is the job of the search engine to show the user the most relevant content possible. On-site SEO helps the search engine understand precisely what is on the page and serve up the highest quality, most relevant search results possible.
What Are the Most Important On-Site SEO Elements?
Search engines assess a myriad of different factors to determine where a page should rank within search results, including title tags, keywords, content quality, page loading speed, accessibility and much more.
Page title and meta description
The page title and meta description is what appears within search engine results pages (SERPs), so it’s important to get this right. Both help both the search engines and the use to get a clear idea of what the page is about.
Title tags should be limited to 60 characters or less and contain your targeted keywords.
Although meta descriptions do not directly affect rankings and search engines do not use them in their ranking algorithms, they remain an important part of on-site SEO. Generally speaking, they should be 160 characters or less and sufficiently descriptive to give a good idea as to what is on the page. Good meta descriptions encourage higher click-through rates, which in turn can also have a positive impact on ranking.
Header tags aren’t as critically important to rankings as they used to be – but they remain an important part of basic SEO. They are vital for making your content easy to read and providing context for search engines:
- H1 tags: The page title, the H1 tag introduces your content and should include the main keyword.
- H2 tags: The subheadings of your content, helping to organise it into logical sections.
- H3 tags: A subsection underneath the main subheadings, H3 headers define the subheadings and further clarify your content.
- H4, H5 and H6 tags: These tags help to organise the page content even more and further break up the text. They’re usually not so important from an SEO perspective – but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them if you feel they are relevant.
An easy way to understand header tags: If the H1 tag is the book title, H2 headers act as the different chapters. H3 tags would then be subsections within each chapter.
One of the biggest things search engines take into account is the quality of your content. Gone are the days when keyword stuffing and other decidedly old-school tactics would help you reach the top of Google.
Today, search engines only want pages containing high quality content that is genuinely useful and provides the answers to the queries users are searching for. This has always been important, but it’s even more so following Google’s helpful content update.
Remember: write for humans first, search engines second.
By the way, all this is NOT to say that keywords are no longer important. They should still be included in your content, but your focus should be on ensuring the page contains quality information that is highly relevant to the reader and their intent.
What actually IS helpful content?
While you could argue that quality content is subjective, Google offers us plenty of clues to what it considers helpful content to be. Last August it published some useful guidelines you should keep in mind when writing content.
First and foremost, you should write for humans first and search engines second. This means creating meaty content that is genuinely useful to the reader You should always prioritise the target audience and give them exactly what they want.
According to Google, it looks to reward content that it described as giving visitors a “satisfying” experience. Naturally, content that doesn’t deliver this will not perform so well.
Remember to make your content unique to each page and avoid the temptation of stuffing them with too many keywords. As we just said, keywords remain an important part of SEO – but don’t overdo it.
Of course, there are plenty of ways you can differentiate your content from existing content, for example:
- Sharing your own unique experiences, stories and insights
- Providing your opinion or own stance on a particular topic
- Expanding on the information available on other websites – making your content the most comprehensive source out there
One useful trick here is to analyse other content that is already ranking in SERPs for your target keyword. Consider how you can make your resource beat out the competition – for example by going into more detail or covering a more comprehensive range of sub topics. Again, it can really help to draw on personal experiences and insights within your content. Consider how you can create the most helpful resource you possibly can to leave users fully satisfied.
Page URLs should be well formatted and contain keywords where possible.
Each image on your site should have alt text attached to it. This is the text that is shown when an image cannot be rendered, and it is also extremely important in terms of accessibility as it is used by screen readers.
From an SEO standpoint, alt text can contain keywords and is another way to help search engines understand the content contained on the page.
Anchor text is the clickable text of a hyperlink. For example, here’s another post with more top SEO tips for eCommerce.
Anchor text helps search engines index pages and understand what content is about, so be sure that the anchor text is relevant to the page you are linking to. Again there are no hard rules, but a guideline is to include 1-3 internal links on each page to relevant content.
In short, schema markup is code that helps improve how search engines read and represent a page within search results.
Adding this markup helps Google to understand a page’s content, and it can also be used to enable special features within SERPs – for example, recipe snippets that appear above the main results, with a video and star rating. You can find more information about structured data here.
Providing a great user experience is an increasingly important part of on-site SEO.
What does mean in practice?
To start with, make sure your website has a fast page loading speed and incorporates accessibility feature. Of course, it should be mobile-friendly and conform to best practice.
Again, it all goes back to how it is the job of the search engine to provide the user with the highest quality results possible.
Off-site SEO is all about the activities you do outside of your website. The main goal is to boost the search engine’s view of a site’s popularity, trustworthiness and authority, which can be achieved by generating backlinks or promotions from other relevant, high authority sources.
The number of links you have and, most importantly, where they come from, can have a huge impact on your rankings. Ideally, backlinks should be from highly trusted sources with a good Domain Authority. Imagine getting a backlink from the BBC or a leading university… That would immediately send a positive signal to Google, whereas a link from a spammy site would have the opposite impact.
Search engines take into account many different factors, including:
- Site popularity
- How relevant the linking site is
- How trustworthy the site is – and what domain authority it has
- Anchor text
- When the content was published
Off-Site SEO Backlinks
Backlinks can broadly split into three main categories:
- Natural links: Links that are generated naturally – e.g. a fashion blog rounds up the top 10 tops for Summer 2022 and includes one of your products, with a link to your website.
- Manually built links: gained through link building activities, like asking a social media influencer to link to your content.
- Self-created links: Links that are created manually by yourself – e.g. adding your link to an online directory or posting it on a forum. Search engines often mark these links as spam, so you have to be really careful in this area.
In short, link quality is WAY more important than link quantity. A focus on creating quality shareable content is really the way to go, for example by creating regular blog posts that people want to link to and then promoting them on social media to encourage shares. Guest posting can also be a great strategy for generating backlinks and generally getting the word out there.
On-Site and Off-Site SEO: Which is More Important?
Now that we’ve discussed the difference between on-site and off-site SEO, you’re probably wondering about which one you should focus on.
The simple answer is that they are both extremely important. If you want to increase your rankings, you’ll need to develop a balanced long-term strategy that incorporates both on-page and off-page SEO techniques.
Need some help with your SEO strategy? Want to rank higher in Google and become more visible to your target audience? Get in touch with our experts today.