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Resources 10 min read

On-Page SEO vs. Off-Page SEO: A Complete Guide

Ayesha Renyard photo

Written by Ayesha Renyard

Content Writer @ Galactic Fed

Dallin Porter photo

Expert reviewed by Dallin Porter

Marketing Director @ Galactic Fed

Published 15 Oct 2020

If you’re exploring the abyss of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you’ve probably floated by some alien terms, such as on-page SEO and off-page SEO, and wondered, “what’s the difference?”

A meme of a lady thinking

What is On-Page and Off-Page SEO?

On-page SEO focuses on optimizing controllable parts of a website—such as keyword placement and page speed—to demonstrate to web crawlers (also known as search engine bots) the value it offers users.

Off-page SEO focuses on increasing the overall authority of a domain through external factors—such as backlinks and social sharing—to improve its search ranking.

Although we differentiate on-page and off-page SEO in this article, it’s important to note that they are not mutually exclusive. You see, how a webpage will rank depends on how authoritative, relevant, and valuable the content is, and that requires optimizing both on-page and off-page SEO. Like our favorite Sci-Fi duo (Han Solo and Chewbacca, am I right?), they perform best together.

But to better understand what on-page and off-page SEO are and the strategies they entail, this article offers detailed checklists on how to optimize your on-page AND off-page SEO—so you can turn these alien terms into strategies that create galactic results.

Our SEO Series aims to keep you updated on the latest trends, strategies, and even search engine algorithm updates. At the end of this article, we discuss what’s to come in 2021 and how it may affect on-page and off-page SEO strategies. Don’t float past that section!

On-Page SEO Checklist

Strategic keyword placement: Keyword research is fundamental to SEO strategy. Why? Because it reveals content that’s in demand and target keywords that you should incorporate in your content. Once you conduct this research (try Moz or Ahrefs) and identify these target keywords, it’s time to place them in the title tag and main headers.

We recommend including target keywords followed by your brand (separated by pipe bar) for title tags.

For example: Cheap Flights to the Moon | Galactic Airlines

But beware of “keyword stuffing” or using keywords too often, which could actually kill your SEO ranking. Search engines will penalize pages that seem to overuse keywords—so keep it tasteful.

For example: Want Cheap Flights to the Moon? Get Cheap Moon Flights Here

Intentional alt text for images: Within an HTML code, you can describe the appearance and function of an image on a page—we call this alt (alternative) text. First and foremost, it allows visually impaired users to understand the webpage’s content; however, it can also replace an image if the file cannot load.

Alt text is also an opportunity to optimize on-page SEO by incorporating target keywords; it’s one more way to show web crawlers that your content is highly relevant to users. But again, don’t stuff this section with keywords. Place keywords in the alt text if it’s natural and makes sense.

Good example: < img src=”rocketship.png” alt=“Rocket ship flying to the moon” >

Bad example: < img src= “rocketship.png” alt= “cheap flight cheap flights flights to the moon hot deals cheap deals” >

Succinct URLs: When it comes to URLs, it’s worth your while to rewrite them, so they are short, sweet, and easy to read. If they are miles long filled with random letters and numbers, users are less likely to know what your webpage offers them—which could mean lower click-through rates.

Again, if you can tastefully drop your target keyword in there, we encourage you to do so. A subtle plug of the target keyword reinforces the relevancy of your content.

Fast-loading website: We all have come across websites with so much promise (What?! Moon travel on a budget?!), but are sadly let down by slow loading times. Because user experience is essential to Google’s algorithm (especially for 2021, hint hint), a fast-loading website is incredibly important for your on-page SEO. An easy place to start is compressing and optimizing large files, videos, and photos.

Easy webpage navigation: If your website consists of standalone pages that have one big block of copy, it’s hard for both users and web crawlers to navigate your site. We recommend breaking up the copy by using headers, subheaders, lists, and images.

Internal links: To create a cohesive website, aim to include 1-3 internal links on each page or post. Internal links are hyperlinks that point to other pages on the same website and serve to build relationships between pages—helping algorithms understand your site’s topics and hierarchy.

Bonus: Not only do internal links optimize your on-page SEO, but they also encourage users to check out more of your content, reducing bounce rates. Not a bad day at the office!

Off-Page SEO Checklist

Backlinks: When one website links to another website, they become referring or linking domains, and create a backlink. Quality backlinks are essential for your off-page SEO because they represent “votes of confidence” for your webpage, telling web crawlers that your content is the real deal.

Why do we say quality backlinks? Because search engines are aware that people buy backlinks and submit them to shady or unrelated link directories to manipulate their page ranking. Search engines penalize this behavior, so focus your energy on gaining backlinks from authoritative, trusted sources. Search engines will read this as a valid endorsement of your content and rank you favorably.

There’s definitely an art to it. Here are some great tips for link building!

Social shares: Like link building, social media marketing, influencer marketing, and guest blogging can also build credibility and authority. To optimize social shares, ask yourself these questions: is my content worth sharing, and is it easy to share? URLs and anchor text that are clear, accessible, and point to value, will lead to more shares—it’s science, really. For influencer marketing and guest blogging, seek out synergistic partnerships with like-minded individuals to support long-term link building opportunities.

Remember, more shares = more visibility, backlinks, and traffic!

Domain authority: Relevancy, value, credibility—these all contribute to the overall authority of a website. Other contributing factors include the “age” of a site and its activity level. If you launched your site yesterday, not enough time has elapsed to assess the credibility of your site; if your site hasn’t published content in awhile, web crawlers will also question its relevance to the user.

Several SEO software platforms, such as Moz’s Link Explorer and Ahref’s Authority Checker, offer tools to assess your website authority—mainly, how it measures up against your competitors. Both tools run on a scale from 0-100. The higher the number, the more authoritative the website is. But take these scores with a grain of salt. It’s more valuable to check out your competitors’ scores, rather than those with the highest scores, such as Wikipedia.

If your competitors’ domains rank higher than yours, ask yourself these questions:

  • What keywords are they using (and where are they placed)?
  • What design layout are they using?
  • How does their loading speed compare to yours?
  • Is their site easy to navigate? Why?
  • Are their URLs static or dynamic?
  • How many backlinks do they have (and what are the referring domains)?

Through this comparative analysis, you can paint a pretty good picture of what web crawlers also see—so you know which buttons to push, and switches to flip, to steer the ship towards higher SERP rankings.

How to Optimize On-Page and Off-Page SEO in 2021

Not to spread rumors, but it sounds like Google will be updating its algorithm in 2021 to optimize the mobile experience. Nothing here is groundbreaking, but it’s important to be cognizant of what is on Google’s (and other search engines’) radar and how we, as marketers, can create an SEO strategy that will take us into 2021 and beyond.

Google’s Page Experience Update

Keep your eyes peeled for Google’s new ranking signal designed to judge webpages based on the user experience. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to devise an SEO strategy that prioritizes the user.

Here are a few places to start:

  • Ensure your website is mobile-friendly: According to Statistica, by the end of 2019, organic mobile search traffic on Google reached 61%. Desktop use is dropping, yet only 13% of websites actually retain the same SERP across all devices. It’s time to ensure your mobile version performs just as well as your desktop one!
  • Use long-tail keywords: Google reports that 27% of the global online population uses voice search on mobile. With an expected increase in voice search use, identify conversational, long-tail target phrases, and incorporate them into your content.
  • Avoid interstitial marketing: We can all attest that interstitial marketing, such as the use of pop-ups, is disruptive and impacts the user experience. Now, Google will crack down on the use of interstitials by lowering these webpages’ rankings.
  • Abide by Google’s safe browsing policies: Google Safe Browsing helps protect devices by showing users warnings when attempting to navigate dangerous sites or download harmful files. Suppose Google catches you repeatedly switching between compliant and policy-violating behavior to maintain a successful review and remove warnings. In that case, you will get a 30-day time out before submitting a reconsideration request. Yep, as an adult, you will be subjected to a time out. So don’t do it!

You now know the best practices (and poor practices) for on-page and off-page SEO optimization. Ready to launch your next SEO strategy? If you still have questions, get in touch. We know a thing or two about SEO and have the success stories under our belt to prove it.

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Ayesha Renyard photo

Ayesha Renyard

Content Writer @ Galactic Fed