Search Engine Optimization can involve a wide range of different tasks and techniques, all of which have their own specific benefits and long-term goals. However, when it comes to ranking higher in search engines, breaking these tactics down into categories can really help.
Overall, there are two core types of SEO to focus on: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. While both are extremely important in boosting your search engine rankings, understanding the differences and how they impact your rankings can be extremely important in getting the job done well.
But what are these two different types of SEO techniques, and how are they meant to be used?
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While you most likely already know a fair amount about SEO, it is important to quickly recap the goal of SEO for context.
SEO focuses on ranking your website higher through a range of factors, from internal work done on the site itself to outside links that push your website’s ranking position higher overall. This means that SEO can involve many different sites alongside your own, either as placements for links or natural sources of links and traffic.
In general, SEO can be broken down into two distinct types:
- On-page SEO, which focuses on work done within your site itself – both on a content level and technical level.
- Off-page SEO, which uses opportunities and techniques that go beyond the site itself.
What is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO refers to doing things to your own website to boost its search engine rankings, usually by making it more appealing to search engines and/or giving search engines a reason to rank it higher.
While SEO and search engine algorithms can be complicated, search engines understand what makes a website “good.” There are a lot of factors that influence a website’s visibility, and many of them are tied to the site itself – so improving the site can improve your SEO in the long term.
On-page optimization focuses heavily on the various elements of a web page for SEO reasons. Improving your site in the correct ways can lead to more organic search traffic without even building links, making it a vital part of any good SEO strategy.
What are the On-Page SEO Factors?
Even before you get other websites involved for off-page SEO techniques, you want a solid foundation to work with. On-page SEO forms the basis of your overall SEO strategy, and any major changes to your site can fundamentally alter how and why you are ranking for different search terms or audiences.
On-page SEO covers many major ranking factors for search engine results pages, most of which are going to apply to your site even if you do not actually want them to. These factors directly influence your website’s visibility online, as well as the way that search engines understand it and decide how to present it. Some of these factors include:
Core Web Vitals
The core web vitals are Google’s overall metrics for tracking a user experience on a site. This means things like the site’s visual quality and stability, its interactivity, and even its loading times – good web vitals mean that the site itself is pleasant to use and does not have any major technical flaws.
No search engine wants to put bad-quality sites on their search engine results pages, so technically flawed or poorly designed sites will see a drop in rankings. The more quality your site offers, the more willing search platforms will be to rank it highly.
Sites that are more mobile-friendly also tend to rank higher since this is something that a lot of search engines take into account. Not only does this make your site more likely to appear for mobile users, but for users in general since it serves as a mark of care and attention.
This does not just mean sites that can run on a mobile device but also how well they do – responsive designs, easy navigation, and fast loading times are key.
The page titles you use on your site can also influence your search engine rankings quite dramatically. The title of each web page in the HTML code has a direct impact on the page’s relevancy to specific content, including the page’s content itself.
A page will appear more often when a user searches for relevant keywords, and putting those keywords in the title tag can have a significant impact on this. Title tags will appear more frequently for relevant search queries, so optimizing your title tags can really matter.
For example, even just creating distinct title tags for other pages can help since there is less title tag overlap. The more specific and relevant these tags are, the more likely they are to appear for the right searches.
While title tags are important, headers can matter too. These are important for marking out different segments of your content but can also be important for appearing in the right search rankings.
For example, if your site has headings based on specific questions or terms that users might be searching for, your own site is more likely to appear for them – even if that term is not necessarily part of the article’s main title.
Meta tags, like meta descriptions, are HTML code additions that describe a page’s content and purpose. These influence relevancy and appear on search engine results pages, meaning that it can be extremely important to get them right.
Again, adding relevant keywords will influence the page’s rankings. However, you also want to make them eye-catching since a good description will also tempt more users to click on your listing in the search engine results pages rather than a competitor’s.
This can apply to alt text for images, too. Alt text is useful for screen readers who need to interpret an image, but some search engines also consider alt text when looking at the relevancy of content on a page.
Your Website’s Content
Content is obviously a vital part of SEO and has a huge impact on how search engines rank your website. Creating good-quality content is important, which usually means a combination of four things: uniqueness, usefulness, readability, and relevancy.
In simple terms, you want every piece of content to have value behind it, from blog posts to large-scale articles. This means content that offers something worthwhile and does not just copy from other sites or pages – ideally, something that would make other sites want to link to it as a resource or reference point.
Internal Links and Navigation
Internal links – links from one page on your site to another page on your site – help visitors navigate around easily. This can also benefit the crawler/spider bots that search engines use to understand site layouts, so adding internal links can actually benefit SEO in some cases.
This also gives you a new place to put link anchor text, which can help search engines determine how relevant content is to each link. In certain situations, this might slightly improve your SEO results.
Navigation as a whole also influences your rankings, but this particular part of SEO can be quite tricky to understand. In general, the better your navigation is and the easier it is to move around the site, the higher it will rank within its relevant keywords and searches.
What is Off-Page SEO?
Off-page SEO is all about SEO beyond the page itself – usually meaning things like link building and social media marketing. These are techniques that boost SEO ranking factors without requiring any major changes to the page itself or sometimes no changes at all.
These are effectively the other half of SEO and the part that many people learn about first. Off-page SEO refers to anything that uses “third-party” methods of boosting your search engine rankings rather than the “first party” techniques involved in improving your own website’s code and assets.
Off-page SEO can be a lot more complex and require a lot more planning since you have far less control over how you are influencing your rankings. However, it can also have a much greater impact on your rankings than on-page SEO, making it a vital part of seeing large-scale success online.
What are the Off-Page SEO Factors?
While on-page SEO refers to a lot of technical page SEO techniques, such as mobile friendliness or tweaking the HTML source code, off-page factors are much more focused on engagement. With off-page SEO, you are trying to direct relevant traffic to your website in ways that will make people actually visit.
Most off-page work is based around securing more organic traffic – visitors that naturally arrive at the site. While it helps to do on-page work, such as trying to create high-quality content, many sites find off-page SEO important specifically because it gets that content out to the world and draws in more attention.
Backlinks are the incoming links that your site gets, either earned naturally or by direct link building. These have a huge impact on your SEO if they come from trusted and relevant websites and are connected to relevant keywords.
Search engines treat backlinks as a major part of how a site ranks in search results, so improving your backlinks is vital if you want to rank higher. This is because they pass along some “link juice” – the linking site’s authority – which boosts your own website’s authority and your rankings for relevant terms.
Link building refers to the process of “building” links artificially, usually through methods like guest blogging to put linked guest posts on other websites. As long as the target keywords are correct and they reach the relevant traffic, these guest posts can bolster your SEO overall.
Not all backlinks are good. Search engine bots recognize when a link comes from a poor-quality site or an irrelevant page, and part of off-page SEO is knowing when to cull these links. Spammy or poor-quality links might even damage your overall search engine optimization results.
While a good mix of backlinks is important if you want to rank higher, sometimes removing bad or irrelevant links can nudge you to higher positions in search engine results. The less relevant and trustworthy a site is, the less value its links will have, even if that pushes it into the negatives.
Unlinked Brand Mentions
Some search engines, such as Google, treat mentions of your brand as a link even if there is not actually a link. If other websites are talking about your brand and product, they can sometimes boost your rankings even before you approach them for an off-site SEO-boosting link.
Of course, the benefits are very minor here. For a successful SEO strategy, it is still best to turn these mentions into targets for guest blogging or other link building strategies since direct links from other websites are almost always going to be better.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing can help you target keywords effectively and draw in a specific audience as organic traffic whilst also sometimes letting you rank higher in search results. Good social media marketing can place your brand in front of more web users and allow you to engage with them directly.
While social media may not be among the direct off-page SEO ranking factors, it still influences your off-page SEO results. Good search engine optimization is about using all of the tools you have available.
Listing and profiles, such as Google My Business or the equivalents on other platforms, can be surprisingly powerful. A well-prepared Google business profile can display your business on the side of a search if users are looking it up, effectively giving you entirely new search page elements to work with.
Placing your site on more business listings in general also means more incoming links and can have your site appear in more search results when users are looking up services like yours. Even if it is not your own site, having something related to your business appear higher up can draw in more traffic regardless.
Using Off-Page and On-Page SEO
Both on-page and off-page optimization can sound intimidating at first. Everything from your internal linking structure and meta description details to targeted keywords and web host quality can influence whether you appear in high search engine rankings, and even something as small as page speed could damage your flow of organic traffic.
Good on-page SEO and off-page SEO both require some common sense. The best on-page and off-page optimization comes from helping search engines understand what your site is, how good its content is, and which search engine results pages it should appear in – then trying to climb the ranks.
For example, search engine optimization focuses heavily on both external and internal linking. Common sense applies here: a blog post that has nothing to do with your business will not provide any real off-page SEO benefit, whereas highly relevant web pages will boost off-page optimization.
Both on-page and off-page optimization can be tricky if you rush into them. However, neither on-page nor off-page optimization relies on fast-paced tweaks. Search engine result pages only update when crawlers run through your site, so you have a lot of time to optimize your web pages.
Tackling smaller on-page factors and off-page optimization options (such as image optimization and local SEO link building) can form a strong foundation. From there, both on-page optimization and off-page optimization can be gradually built up as you discover new ways to push yourself higher in the rankings.
Both on-page factors and off-page optimization can be very data-driven. From the keywords used in meta descriptions to the performance of individual web pages, you will get the best on-page and off-page SEO results if you are using real data to back up your choices.
For example, if your site performs poorly on mobile devices, you may need to do on-page SEO work to optimize its mobile friendliness. If your off-page SEO data shows that users are not clicking on your pages, maybe the meta descriptions are not drawing them in, or they are being shown other pages of your site that do not relate to their exact search terms.
Monitor Search Engine Rankings
Keep track of your SEO success. If you do a meta description overhaul or other types of on-page optimization, try to see how it impacts your overall SEO results. This will tell you whether or not the on-page optimization was actually a success.
By looking at the data and success surrounding your SEO, you can get an idea of whether or not certain tactics are working. This makes it much easier to identify areas of improvement or roll back choices that do more harm than good.
Understand Search Engines
While few search engines make their algorithm completely known, you can still come to learn how they work in general.
For example, you might start to see patterns in how on-page optimization and internal linking are influencing your rankings, which can alter how you approach internal links in the future. This would fundamentally change the way you are tackling internal links, even if it is only in a very slight way.
Remember that different search engines are not going to use the same algorithms, anyway. In general, successful off-page or on-page tactics will boost your rankings across all of them, but not necessarily in the same way or at the same scale. Prioritize the search engines that make sense to target.
Ranking Higher in Search Engine Results Pages
By now, you probably get the broad strokes idea behind both on-page and off-page search engine optimization. While there is not necessarily a best way to approach either on-page or off-page optimization perfectly, applying some common sense can point you in the right direction.
Remember that SEO is very focused on trial and error. If something does not work, there is always a reason for it, from keywords and metadata to backlinks and search crawlers.
Take your time to understand SEO as a whole and how it can apply to your site, and make sure that you are always tweaking anything that does not work quite right. Experimentation can push you to entirely new heights of success.
Scott Calland is a highly regarded content specialist with an English Degree. He has a passion for creating compelling content as a UK journalist that engages, informs, and entertains readers. With over 10 years of experience in creating news publications as a reporter, Scott has developed a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of how to craft content that resonates with audiences. Working closely with data analysts Scott’s research on topics is unrivalled for latest news updates.
Scott is also an investor in Searcharoo.