In the good old days of SEO, you could write a 300-word blog post with a sprinkle of keywords thrown in for good measure and call it a day.
Those days are long gone. Modern search engine algorithms, used by Google and others, are now complexly designed in order to optimize pages for the user’s experience. For someone trying to raise their website’s rank on the search engine results page (SERP), this means that rudimentary techniques of search engine optimization (SEO) simply aren’t as effective as they used to be. Therefore, it is crucial to have a good understanding of all that SEO encompasses in order to build a successful campaign for your website.
Everything under the wide umbrella of Search Engine Optimization can be placed into two main categories of techniques, on-page and off-page. Simply put, the difference is this:
On-page SEO deals with the actual components and content of your website, and off-page SEO focuses on the domain and authority of your website.
However, there are many different factors that go into each category and a vast amount of strategies for optimizing them, so let’s break it down.
What is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO (also called on-site SEO) involves the direct manipulation of different parts of your website to optimize them for search engine rankings.
When trying to do on-page SEO, here are the most important factors to consider:
Give each page a unique title
By far the most important factor of on-page SEO, the title tag, appears on the SERP as the clickable text that brings you to a particular result’s webpage. You want your title tag to be unique, appealing, and descriptive of what the page contains, while remaining 55-60 characters in length (including spaces).
You should incorporate keywords as close to the beginning of the title as possible, while keeping a natural and logical flow to the title. A good practice is to include your brand name following a pipe bar (“|”) at the end of your title tag.
Use headings to break up text
Headings are the largest words to appear on the webpage and given more weight than the rest of the page’s text by search engines. Therefore, they are the second most important factor of on-page SEO.
As titles to the content on the page, headings should break your copy into smaller, manageable sections based on subtopics. They must follow a logical progression in order to add structure to your writing and make the page more easily navigable.
With just one heading in the H1 format (the largest font size) per page, and the rest displayed in a format between H2-H6 (smaller font sizes), each heading should be relevant and descriptive of the text that follows, and contain keywords if possible. Using the cascading stylesheet (CSS) to format your text will ensure that the right words are being emphasized in your copy.
Use a consistent and readable URL design
With the URL now appearing above the page’s title tag on the SERP, the importance for its optimization cannot be overlooked. The URL to your page should consist of the target keyword included in a relevant phrase to describe the webpage. Keep in mind that URLs need to be kept short and simple to be most effective.
Use images that add to the page
Using photos and graphics can greatly enhance the user’s experience on your webpage, but there are three main rules to follow for an image’s SEO.
First, you must have alt text (alternative text) to provide a description of the image to users who are unable to see it and may be used by search engines to decipher the image as well. Having alt text keeps your site in compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
The description must be specific and concise, kept to 125 characters or less, and contain any applicable keywords (without being stuffed excessively).
Second, the image filename should include the target keyword.
Third, the file sizes of all images should be kept to a minimum without hurting user experience, in order to ensure the page will load as fast as possible. Google cares a lot about the user experience on a website, and speed definitely comes into play there.
Give each page a unique and engaging meta description
The meta description appears under the title tag on the SERP and provides a brief description of the page’s content, optimally in 160 characters or less. This summary must be vivid and persuasive, convincing the reader that its particular webpage is the best choice on the SERP.
The snippet should be unique in order to stand out from the rest, and should also have the target keyword incorporated into it. Any words from the search query found in the meta description will be displayed in bold on the SERP, which is an opportunity to draw the user’s eye to your webpage’s result.
Make sure your site loads quickly
It is critical that your webpage displays quickly and properly for users, or they will simply grow frustrated and click away. Slow loading pages have high bounce rates, and are then ranked lower by search engines. The good thing is, there are ways to optimize your web pages to load faster.
Minimizing HTTP requests, keeping image sizes under 100kb, and making sure server response time is less than 200ms are all ways to shorten your page’s load time. A valuable tool to test page speed and to get tips for improvement is Google’s PageSpeed Insights.
Responsiveness measures if your page will display correctly on whatever is being used for access, whether it’s a mobile device or desktop. Designing your website for both kinds of displays is a must. As the trend increases to perform online searches on mobile devices, responsiveness is only going to become a more important factor.
Link to your related content
Internal links to other pages on your site should be incorporated into your copy to help the experience of both users and search engines. You should aim for 2-3 internal links per page, but what exactly do they do?
When you mention Topic A in a blog post about Topic B, you can insert a hyperlink at that point, leading to an in-depth blog post on your site covering Topic A. It provides users an opportunity to find more information about related topics they may be interested in. Internal links should be used to help users navigate your website, so make sure every page provides links back to its category and the website’s home page, at the very least.
Search engines also use internal links to understand the content of your site better, and how it should be indexed. When search engine robots encounter website with proper internal links, they will easily be able to understand its structure, and rank it accordingly.
Write great content for your site
The technical aspects listed above will go far to improve your website’s on-page SEO, however the actual content you offer is what truly brings traffic to your site. Above all else, your content must be easy to read and useful, ultimately fulfilling the need of the searcher. Content will have even more value to users if it is engaging, relevant, and interesting to them.
Since search engines seem to favor pages with a greater amount of content surrounding the targeted keywords, you should try to include as much useful information as possible. There’s no steadfast rule, but it is recommended to have at least 500 words of copy on each page that is not duplicated text from any of your other webpages.
Some forms of content that have proven to be popular with users include videos, infographics, original research, lists, “how to” and “why” explanations, quizzes and polls, reviews, interviews, and case studies.
Be sure to include social tags so that people can post about your content to their own social networks. When people share your content, this is an indication to search engines that your website is worthwhile and should rank higher on the SERP. Building this sort of credibility leads to the next category, off-page SEO.
What is Off-Page SEO?
Off-page SEO involves any measures taken outside of one’s website in order to increase its domain authority and credibility. This usually consists of getting quality links back to your website, which causes a boost in the site’s organic search ranking. Links from outside domains to your site are called backlinks, and you can find a complete explanation of how they work here.
The most important thing to remember about backlinks is the quality matters much more than the quantity of them. Avoid the temptation of buying untrustworthy backlinks in an attempt to increase your website’s ranking, because search engine robots can tell the difference between backlinks from reputable, relevant sources and those from sketchy ones. The wrong backlinks will bring penalties to your site.
Since you do not have direct control over other websites and what they are posting, off-page SEO is a little harder to work on than on-page SEO. However, there are still many steps you can take to start building a positive reputation for your website across the internet.
Create Content Worth Sharing
Not only is it important for on-page SEO, creating great content that people are interested in is equally beneficial to your off-page SEO. People won’t want to link back to your website if there’s nothing worthwhile on there, so filling your pages with media that has substance and value is crucial to getting backlinks.
Try guest Blogging
Offering to write an article for another website as a guest blogger is a great way to promote you and your own site. You will get the chance to exhibit your expertise in your field to a new audience, and the posted article will undoubtedly link back to your website.
It is best to write for websites that aren’t in direct competition with you, and to make sure your article isn’t overstuffed with links or too self-promotional; these faux pas will reflect poorly on your website.
Build relationships with Industry Influencers
Connecting with influencers in your industry can lead to a number of opportunities, but it is important to approach these relationships with respect. Remember, you are trying to build your website’s credibility, so you don’t want to come off as spam, or as if you’re trying to take advantage of them.
Sending them a piece of content you believe the influencer or their audience would find useful can lead to a share on their website, and writing that is personalized to them is more likely to be shared.
Interviewing an influencer for an article, or simply mentioning them in relation to the topic, will make for popular content. These cases can lead to positive exposure if the influencer chooses to share the interview or mention on their own platform.
You can even explore influencers’ blogs and hunt for broken links in their posts, then suggest replacing the broken links with similar posts you’ve published on the same topic. This is a service to the influencer by helping them maintain their website, and at the same time an opportunity to promote your own content.
Get Yourself Listed on Directories
There are many directories on the internet that people refer to every day to find new websites and businesses, and you want to be visible on as many as possible. Adding your own website (with all of its correct information, of course) to listings such as Google My Business, Yelp, and other local listings you can find will expose you to an array of new potential users.
Do your research to find potential niche directories that would be appropriate for your website to have a listing on. Though you may have to enter your business’s information manually, you will be exposed to a highly concentrated group of people that could be the next visitors to your website.
When should I do on page or off page SEO?
Now that you know the ins and outs of the two categories of SEO, you may be wondering which kind is more important, and where to start working on SEO.
When it comes to which category to tackle first, it makes the most sense to do on-page SEO before off-page SEO. You want the website you’re trying to promote and build credibility for in top technical condition, or you can risk looking unprofessional and sloppy to those you’re trying to impress.
On-page and off-page SEO are equally important and you will need to continuously devote a great deal of time to both. Search engine algorithms and web user behavior are constantly evolving, so the best practices for SEO never stay the same, either. Updating your website and conducting outreach should happen periodically, as often as your schedule allows.
At the end of the day, what you want is to have a great, technically sound website, and for people to know that your website is great. You must employ strategies of both on- and off-page SEO to make this happen.