As Google continues to make constant updates and modifications to their search engine algorithm, one thing continues to stand true. You can't oversimplify things and only focus on one dimension. Your SEO strategy needs to address both on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
To help you learn more about the ins and outs of each, and retune your strategy to be current, here’s a comprehensive overview of both of these essential SEO approaches along with best practices.
What is On-Page SEO?
Think of the most basic search engine optimization tactics:
Using keywords in your page title and page copy
Optimizing the meta description to stand out in search engine results pages (SERPs)
Using HTML code and alt tags
THAT’S the foundation for on-page SEO.
It’s all the measures taken directly within your website to improve its position in search rankings by making it easy for search engine bots to interpret the page as well as give end-users a preview of what they’re clicking through from the SERP. It also takes into consideration overall content quality, page performance, and content structure.
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On-page SEO factors:
It’s important to approach this with the mindset that “content is king.” You can do all of the optimization around keywords, descriptions, and internal linking you want, but if the on-page content sucks, no one is going to visit your site.
While keywords are less important than they were a few years ago, keyword optimization is still a cornerstone of SEO today. That said, the focus has shifted towards more long-tail keywords, which better fit the search patterns of today’s internet users. Think of your audience and the keywords they’re searching for; then create and optimize your website content around those keywords.
The title tag refers to the title of a web page, or the main heading you see in the SERP, and is one of the most important on-page SEO factors after your actual on-page content. Keep this title to 65 characters or less (choose your words wisely!)
A meta description is a short description that appears below the URL on a search engine results page and below a headline in a social post. It describes the content on that page but, more importantly, it’s written to help your web page stand out in the list of SERP results. Keep the description to under 155 characters to ensure your entire description is shown in search results.
Alt text refers to the word or phrase that can be attributed to a picture file to help ensure it gets indexed and so search engines understand what it is since they can’t see images (they only see text). For example, if you use a graphic in your blog that outlines some injection molding tips, you can save the alt text for that image as “automotive-injection-molding-tips,” and that graphic will start to rank for that phrase in the image results.
Page security is more important than ever, and enabling Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) security technology is crucial for improving your security, trustworthiness, and visibility. By enabling SSL, you increase the likelihood that a third party doesn’t come between your web server and the visitors’ web server, ensuring that information entered on the site is safe. Likewise, Google actually prefers sites that are SSL-enabled, making it essential to boosting visibility.
In addition to the factors listed above, an organized URL structure is important for today’s marketers because it allows search engines to crawl from page-to-page on your website easily and makes navigation more efficient for visitors. URLs should contain keywords that reflect the pages they direct to, as easy-to-understand URLs are more likely to earn clicks and help search engines crawl your site. URLs should also be relatively short, using your primary keyword for that page and not using redundant words.
This is where pillar pages have come into play more recently for marketers, with certain website pages being dedicated to popular topics your prospects are searching for and also linking all related pages back to that pillar. Let’s say you want to create pillar pages dedicated to automotive, medical, and consumer injection molding applications. With your pillars identified, you can tailor your content and URL strategy specifically to those pillars, link all related content back to the main pillar page, and help you boost your searchability on those topics.
Speaking of linking, internally linking related pages on your website is another important factor of on-page SEO. Linking to different relevant pages on your site makes it easier for search engines to crawl everything, and it also keeps visitors engaged longer.
Breadcrumbs are navigational aids that inform website visitors where they are on your site and also help Google understand the structure of your website. A small text path typically located at the top of a page, a breadcrumb indicates where the user is, with every step being clickable. Breadcrumbs appear in Google search results, giving users a simple overview of where the page is located on your site.
The three different types of breadcrumbs:
Hierarchy-Based — shows how many steps gets you back to the Home Page Home > Blog > Industry > Title of Post
History-Based — ordered by where a visitor has been doing on the site Home > Name of Previous Page > Name of Previous Page > Current Page
Attribute-Based — most common on e-commerce sites; shows product attributes Home > Product Area > Style > Material > Size
While other factors of on-page SEO deal with content quality and structure, the performance of your website (and its pages) also are on-page ranking factors. Pages that take a long time to load or don’t render properly on mobile rank lower in SERPs, as users get frustrated, leave, and increase the bounce rate.
Everyone has smartphones, and the search for information seems constant. Yes, mobile has changed the world, so a mobile-friendly website is a critical part of your online presence.
There are two big reasons to make sure visitors with mobile devices have a good experience on your site:
Non-mobile-friendly sites force visitors to pinch or zoom just to read content, which is frustrating and could cause them to abandon your site
Because all of Google now uses the mobile version of website pages for SEO
Schema markup is used by Google to get information for SERP snippets. There are many kinds of Schema Markup, some pertaining to a target persona more than others:
Core Web Vitals
Launched in spring of 2020, Google’s Core Web Vitals helps determine a website’s page performance as well as user experience. It helps quantify the experience of a site and identify opportunities to improve.
Each Core Web Vitals represents a unique part of the user experience and reflects the real-world experience of a visitor. Currently, the set covers three aspects of the user experience: loading, interactivity, and visual stability.
Page Experience Signal (coming in 2021)
This is not yet live, but you should be getting ready for it. The good news is that if you’re already doing the things listed above, your page experience signal should already be in good shape.
While on-page SEO refers to the factors you can control on your own website, off-page SEO refers to the page ranking factors that occur off your website, such as backlinks from another site. It also includes your promotion methods, taking into account the amount of exposure something gets on social media, for example.
Off-page SEO factors:
The number and quality of backlinks you have to your site is undoubtedly the biggest factor of off-page SEO. The more sites linking to your content, the more domain authority Google grants your site, boosting your ranking. This has led marketers to try questionable paid link-building tactics, but there are several organic approaches you can take that produce effective results, such as:
Being featured in industry trade publications
Seeking out contacts in the industry who’d be happy to share your content
Guesting on a podcast
Participating in an industry community such as a forum
The backlink anchor text is very important, too. It’s why most companies have no trouble ranking for their brand name. Most anchor text will contain their name. When you want to rank for a specific keyword you really want that anchor text to contain the keyword.
Measured on a scale from 1-100, your domain authority is a number given to you by search engines to determine the strength of your website. Think of it as a grade, essentially. Websites with a higher domain authority receive preference in the search results, while websites with a lower domain authority are more likely to rank near the bottom.
Domain authority is measured by a few different factors, including how long you’ve had your domain name (the longer the better), the history of the domain name, the number of backlinks, and the number of 404 pages. By ensuring you have a technically sound website that follows the SEO best practices, you can maximize your domain authority and improve your ranking.
While page ranking isn’t tied directly to the interactions on a social media post, social posts that generate a lot of clicks will certainly help boost traffic to the site and generate a ton of link shares.
Online reviews on sites like Google My Business, Yelp, and other review sites help boost local SEO because they revolve around where you are. For instance, looking for IT services in your area brings up local listings. There’s no point in showing you an IT management company if they don’t service your area. Also consider NAP (Name, Address, Phone) citations.
PPC (Google, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn)
I am sure you’re thinking, “This is supposed to be about SEO!” Well, SEO is part of a good pay-per-click (PPC) campaign and vice versa. When your site is still getting off the ground, you need to get visitors, and PPC can help with that. If you have good content that you’re promoting with PPC, it generates more traffic to your site, resulting in more backlinks to your site and other forms of ranking factors.
On-page and off-page SEO work together to improve search engine rankings. By working on what you can control today — producing quality content that’s supported by high-quality on-page SEO — you’ll be well on your way to earning backlinks, improving your domain authority, and controlling your off-page SEO.
Ready to learn more about SEO? Check out our comprehensive SEO survival guide and download a copy to reference every time you publish website or blog content.
Posted by Jonathan Stanis An engineer by training, Jon focuses on the technical delivery of an effective inbound marketing program. He builds client website plans that solve for conversion potential and utilize smart user experiences. He is also responsible for analyzing and monitoring the success of inbound projects. Jon fits the definition of being a "whole brain marketer" because he is both a strong writer-designer and a deeply analytical thinker.