On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO: What’s the Difference?
In today’s world, most people expect to find whatever they need at the top of Google search results. If your website ranks at the top of the search engine results page (SERP), it’s much, much easier to attract new customers to your business. Creating a solid search engine optimization strategy is one of the most valuable investments you can make for your business.
Effective SEO strategies are generally split into two groups: on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
- On-page SEO refers to SEO factors and techniques focused on optimizing aspects of your website that are under your control.
- Off-page SEO refers to SEO factors and strategies focused on promoting your site or brand around the web.
Essentially, on-page SEO is about building a website that appeals to users and, therefore, search engines while off-page SEO is about getting exposure for a website while building trust and authority for your content.
On-Page SEO Factors
On-page SEO is everything you do to your own website in order to improve its position in search engine results. When you think of most of the “basic” parts of search engine optimization - things like keywords, HTML tags, page titles and mobile friendliness - you’re thinking of on-page SEO.
This part of SEO is all about ensuring your website’s content can be crawled, indexed and understood by search engines. However, it’s also much, much more than that.
On-page SEO also comprises techniques that improve the experience for users who visit your website. Search engines such as Google want to recommend the best websites for searchers, so making your site “delightful” for humans to visit is also a big part of on-page SEO.
Factors that can impact on-page SEO include:
Core Web Vitals: One of the newest Google on-page ranking factors, Core Web Vitals are a set of real-world metrics that quantify a website’s user experience. They measure important dimensions such as visual stability (Cumulative Layout Shift), interactivity (First Input Delay) and load time (Largest Contentful Paint). Improving your website’s Core Web Vitals tells Google your site has a positive user experience. The Core Web Vitals hub has all the information you need on these new ranking factors.
Mobile friendliness: In short, mobile friendliness is a measure of how well a site performs when someone tries to visit and use the site with a mobile device. Mobile friendly pages are able to shrink down to fit on any device’s screen while still allowing people to navigate around the page to achieve their goals. They also prioritize the mobile user experience through responsive design, simple and easy navigation and fast page speeds.
Title tags: Title tags, also called “page titles”, are HTML tags that (as you probably guessed) define the title of the page and describe what the content on the page will be about. For example, the title of this article is “On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO: What’s the Difference?” so the title tag for the page is `<title>On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO: What’s the Difference?</title>`. When looking for content that’s relevant to a user’s query, Google relies on the keywords in title tags (among other things) to decide whether or not a page is topically related. Follow SEO best practices when optimizing your title tags.
Meta descriptions: Meta descriptions are, like title tags, HTML tags that help describe what the page is about. While Google does use descriptions when deciding if a page is relevant to a query, their main SEO function is to encourage people to click through to your site from search results. Our guide to using meta descriptions for SEO breaks down the best ways of using this on-page SEO factor to boost your page’s click-through rate in search results.
Content quality: When it comes to on-page SEO, content is king. Search engines have a lot of different ways to evaluate content quality, but it really comes down to answering A) Is it useful for the user? B) Is it easy to read? C) Is it unique? and D)Is it relevant to a user’s query? If you can honestly answer “yes” to each of those four questions, your content is in a good place.
HTML headers: HTML headers are HTML tags that specify headlines and subheads within a webpage’s content. They help your website’s visitors better read and understand your content. For on-page SEO, these tags help search engines better understand what the content on a page is about and how it relates to a person’s search query. Learn how to use headers as part of your on-page SEO strategy using our guide to HTML headers.
Image alt text: Image “alt text” refers to an attribute within an image’s HTML tag that contains a text description of the image. Alt text is used by assistive technologies such as screen readers as well as browsers as a backup when an image fails to load on a page. Search engines look at alt text as a way to decide how relevant an image is to someone’s query. As such, alt text is a very important on-page SEO factor for image searches as well as traditional web search.
Internal linking: Linking to other pages on your site from within your own content is useful as it helps visitors find related content with extra background or context. We do it several times in this article, linking to more in-depth guides to explain important details regarding on and off-page SEO. Internal linking also improves your site’s SEO by helping search engines find new content. Plus, the anchor text you use for your internal links tells search engines what they should expect from the destination page and how it relates to the linking content.
Navigation: In the context of on-page SEO, “navigation” is about making sure all users can access and consume the content on a web page. We’re not talking about how your pages are grouped or linked together (that’s called “site structure”). Google cares a lot about what sort of page it’s recommending to searchers and they want anything they recommend to be accessible to everyone, regardless of disability or browser. Our guide to navigation, accessibility and SEO breaks down how navigation impacts SEO and what you should do to ensure you provide a good user experience for all visitors to your site.
Off-Page SEO Factors
Off-page SEO is the collection of strategies, tactics and efforts you undertake to promote your content on third-party sites across the web. This part of SEO focuses on getting your site, company and/or brand discussed on another website.
You’ve most likely heard of off-page SEO before in the context of building links to your website. It’s true that backlinks are very important, and we’ll go over them a bit below, but there’s much more to off-page SEO than just links.
A brief intro/survey of off-page factors:
Backlinks: Backlink quality and quantity are still some of the most important factors for off-page SEO. Backlinks are so important that Google has dedicated multiple algorithm updates to fighting link schemes and link spam. Links are important for off-page SEO because they pass what’s known as “link juice” to your site, helping it to appear more authoritative and trustworthy in the eyes of search engines. There’s a lot that goes into backlinks so we recommend our in-depth guides to building links, evaluating backlink quality and conducting a link audit.
Social media: While a page’s ranking isn’t directly influenced by how many shares, likes or comments it has, social media is still an important channel to promote your site online. Social media helps people find and engage with your company online and helps you reach new and existing customers. Plus, Google indexes pages on the major social media platforms, so consistently posting to these sites helps you control your brand SERP.
Unlinked mentions: Unlinked mentions are any time an unaffiliated site mentions your company name or website online without linking back to your site. It’s rare, pretty much impossible, for every mention of your site or brand online to include a backlink. In fact, if that were the case Google would probably find that very suspicious and levy a penalty against your site. However, that doesn’t mean unlinked brand mentions don’t have any value for off-page SEO. They can still function as citations for your site’s authority and trust. Plus, mentions offer up a great opportunity to create new backlinks.
Google My Business: Google My Business (GMB for short) allows businesses to easily and simply provide important information directly to Google. This information includes location and/or service area, business type, contact information and opening hours. GMB is also how Google populates results for the Google local pack and Google Maps searches. As such, it’s a vital off-page SEO factor for any local business that relies on traffic from a specific geographical location. Set up your business’s GMB listing to add it to Google Maps and take advantage of this important off-page and local SEO technique.
Start Optimizing Your On-Page and Off-Page SEO
Remember that a good SEO strategy isn’t about choosing between on-page SEO and off-page SEO. That would be like trying to decide between putting tires or an engine in your car - you need both to get wherever you want to go.
However, SEO works best if you’ve got good on-page SEO before you spend too much time and effort (and not to mention money) on building links or promoting your site on social media.
With the data and insights available, you’ll be able to create the perfect strategy to target both on-page SEO and off-page SEO to reach a wider audience and attract more visitors to your website.