On-Site vs Off-Site SEO: Getting the Balance Right

It’s very often the case that the focus of SEO is too much on the technical aspects of on-site optimisation or too much on the content-based approach to off-site SEO so it’s worth spending time to dispel the myths and to help you build a plan for balancing both.

What is On-Site SEO?

On-site SEO is to do with getting your house in order; it’s optimising your ‘owned’ assets; it’s about maximising what you have easy control over and minimising missed opportunities from what could be called ‘quick wins’.

On-site SEO is specifically to do with ensuring search terms – words, phrases, topics & themes – are included in the various tags and content on your site. It’s not about keyword stuffing, doorway pages and hidden text as was the case way back when, but it reflects your opportunity to respond to the queries that your potential customers use in search engines by organising your content in a way that reflects this intention.

On-site SEO can be seen as a prioritised checklist as there are certain factors that are more important than others, but it’s important to understand how clever search engines are trying to be and organise your content based on great user experience. A site that has no consideration for breaking content up to make it readable and manageable is unlikely to succeed when it comes to both humans and machine readers understanding that content.

On-site SEO should follow an ordered process of research. ThinkSearch always follow the following plan:

  1. Technical SEO Audit – what impediments are there to SEO success
  2. Search Term Research – what are those words, phrases, themes & topics relevant to your audience?
  3. Page Allocation – which pages do you have relevant to these topics (and which are missing)?
  4. Meta Data Inventory – apply latest, best practice optimisation to Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
  5. Site-Wide Optimisation – a guide to optimising the rest of the content, links, images & other assets on the site

The general order of priorities for optimisation of each page on the website is as follows:

  1. Page Titles – the 70 character blue hyperlink in Google and the test in the tab in the browser chrome
  2. Headings – H1, H2 & H3 should be used if the page content can be structured this way
  3. Body copy – is it clear, concise and well structured to represent the themes and topics of the page
  4. Links – don’t forget that the links on the page to and from the other pages on your site and important
  5. Meta Descriptions – the 156 character snippet below the blue link in Google is the first thing a user from search will read
  6. Image alt text – yes it’s still important
  7. Bold text and <p> tags, etc. – structure counts

It’s been a couple of years since I updated the training presentation but if you want to learn more about all this flick through my deck on Slideshare: SEO training workshop

Respectfully get these facets in order and you’ll have done good on-site SEO. Review once a quarter. In the meantime…

What is Off-Site SEO?

Off-site SEO is to do with the signals that Google takes from the rest of the web in regards to your website. It’s specifically to do with links but also important are citations or mentions.

Off-site SEO is equally to do with reputation management, PR & thought leadership as it is a reflection of how well acknowledged, thought of and mentioned you are.

There’s no duping the algorithm any more so you need to be realistic about how far you can take this, but almost any business vertical has something important and/or fun to talk about.

Off-site SEO often has the misnomer of Content Marketing as the process of gaining links from some corners of the web involve creating and pitching articles. There are on-going arguments about whether these are the same things. It’s safe to ay that if SEO is done well it could indeed be called the same thing. If you know your audience, know the networks, are able to take time to build great relationships with the networks and write genuinely good content that fulfils needs and takes a topic further than it’s been taken before then you are doing Content Marketing as well as SEO.

The important thing is to see link growth on a regular basis, and links from relevant areas of the network relevant to your business. Google understands semantics and knows the topics and websites in your niche, so the more relevance here the better.

What does Google’s algorithm currently prefer?

Of course no one actually knows what the algorithm favours. It’s developed in many locked rooms with guys in lab coats working in isolation. One day one guy saw two parts of the algorithm and had to be exterminated (OK so I’m joking!)… but the point here is that all we have to go on is what the community of practicing professional believes.

Thankfully there are two industry bodies who run annual surveys for us to whom we can turn for advice.

Moz.com and SearchMetrics run regular ranking factors surveys both of which (unsurprisingly) return similar results. Both of the most recent reports conclude that approximately 45-50% of Google’s current algorithm looks at back links to the website.

Search Metrics Search Engine Ranking Factors

Search Metrics Search Engine Ranking Factors

See the full Search Metrics report here.

Moz.com Search Engine Ranking Factors

Moz.com Search Engine Ranking Factors

See the full Moz.com report here.

Creating an SEO strategy based on this knowledge

The easiest way to start out on the assessment for determining your approach and focus for SEO is to use the industry standard measurement tools as a benchmark.

Moz.com have Domain Authority & Page Authority (and MozRank) and Google has Page Rank. The former is on a scale of 100 the latter on a logarithmic scale of 10. Install the browser plug (here are some for Chrome & for Firefox) in to see the Page Rank of your home page and use Open Site Explorer to get your home page Page and Domain Authority.

Generally speaking, if your Page Rank or Authority is lower than your competitors, partners, blogs and other influential websites in your sector and/or network then you need to spend more time on focussing on the off-site elements of SEO. As that authority improves you can start to shift back to using your website as a much more successful platform for publication, and one on which all your efforts to create compelling, sticky and shareable content are much more likely to come to fruition.

It sounds simple, and in essence it is. Understanding this simple difference and determining how to approach a Content Strategy to improve your SEO is the real trick. Good luck!

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