Search engine optimization is a large umbrella term that relates to dozens of different factors that affect your site’s organic visibility on search engines. These factors are typically categorized into two groups: on-page SEO and off-page SEO factors.
For small businesses, these factors can be important first steps that lay the groundwork for any additional advertising that you do for your site. It may be time to revisit (or finally visit) your on-page SEO and off-page SEO strategies to earn more organic traffic and boost your revenue. (There is also local SEO, which we’ve discussed in our Ultimate Local SEO Checklist.)
While Google’s constant search engine algorithm updates make it hard to fully understand where you should be focusing your efforts, we’ve broken down the ranking factors that we’ve seen hold the most importance.
Breaking Down On-Page SEO & Off-Page SEO
On-Page SEO is defined as the practices you use to optimize your content on your own web pages. When you use keywords in your page title and subheads, or add keywords to the meta description to enhance search engine results, you’re using on-page SEO factors.
Off-Page SEO refers to any optimization practices that involve other web pages not under your control. For example, incorporating backlinks from other websites is one off-page factor, as well as social media shares and your domain authority score.
While you can’t necessarily control all off-page SEO factors for your own website, there are some ways to boost your SEO through off-page practices. However, on-page factors involve lots of optimizations you can do on your own, and some are pretty quick fixes. With that said, we recommend first conducting on-page optimizations before reaching out to off-page SEO.
We’ll share exactly what factors you can implement on your own and how to set up your site for success with our lists of on-page and off-page SEO factors to prioritize.
What On-Page SEO Factors Matter Most
Your website’s backend and content is the foundation for your SEO. Using on-page SEO techniques, you can tell Google exactly what type of content you’re sharing and why it matters to users. Ideally, you provide the most relevant, trustworthy, and detailed information in your niche, which is why Google will show your pages as results to their customers.
In order to receive a high ranking on the search results, you have to hone your content and add technical SEO markup. While that may sound scary if you haven’t done it before, a lot of these are easy optimizations that don’t require a lot of time.
Optimized High-Quality Content
A big focus when it comes to SEO work involves content…and not just any content. You want new content that has high value and relevancy to your target audience and search engines. Great content is a key component to any digital marketing SEO strategy because it helps your site rank for more keywords that are relevant to your business.
You also want your content to be formatted for readability and mobile responsiveness. This means shortening your paragraphs to a maximum of 2 to 3 sentences and using quotes or bulleted lists to break up the text.
Maximum readability also means using subheads, images, quotes, and even charts or tables to emphasize content and draw the reader’s eye into the content. (You also want to add captions to any photos.)
If adding videos, make sure that you embed them toward the middle or end of your post. You want your reader to scan through and review your content before jumping to a video tutorial or other content.
Every page on your site should focus on ranking for 2 to 3 primary keywords. From there, include related keywords (known as LSI keywords). LSI stands for latent semantic indexing, which means that your pages include related keywords that answer audience intent questions and add more relevance for the subject.
For example, if you are writing about Apple products, you would also use terms like iPhone, Apple services, iPad, and iMac on the page to indicate the tech company and not the fruit (which, by comparison, would have LSI keywords like Washington apple or Honeycrisp apple).
After prioritizing those keywords on the page, Google contextualizes that page for users who visit and then determines other keywords that your site should be ranking for.
Title & Header Tags
The title and headers of your site’s pages are important factors when trying to get your site to rank for relevant terms and should be a main prioritization for your website when conducting on-page optimizations.
There are several hierarchies of headers on a web page. To start, there is a title tag (this is what gets pulled into the search engine results page). It should be around/under 60 characters and should contain the primary keyword(s) you’re trying to rank for.
Aside from the title tag, there are also headers that are visible on the page itself. There’s the H1, followed by H2, H3, H4 and so on for subheads. Your H1 is the main headline of the page, which should contain the keyword you want to rank for, and should typically follow your title tag. Any subheadings you place on the page should contain relevant or LSI keywords that match your H1 and the content of the page.
Not all of your tags have to contain a keyword, but it’s helpful to add in relevant keywords and alternative keyword phrases to the main keyword whenever you can.
Google has taken to using the intro paragraph in most cases to describe your page in search results. And, while you can still specify a meta description, it’s ultimately up to Google to determine whether they use your meta description or not.
Meta descriptions show underneath your headline in Google search results and are typically cut off after 160 characters.
Your website should load quickly for mobile users. Why? Because on average, people typically bounce or abandon pages that don’t load within 6 seconds or less. Your blogs need to be mobile optimized, including any images or call-to-action buttons.
Incorporating a mobile-first focus is a great way to make some quick wins in search engine rankings!
As mentioned above, your page should load quickly. And if you’re having trouble or your web page sticks, you can use Page Speed Insights from Google. This will give you a full report on what’s holding your page back from loading as quickly as possible.
Google requires that webpages have secure HTTPS protocols to be featured in search. This shows that your webpage is safe to load for the visitor, among other benefits of SSL certificates.
All of your images should have title attributes and alt text using the main keyword, LSI keywords and keyword phrases.
Your URL structure should follow something like this: www.yoursite.com/on-page-seo or www.yoursite.com/blog/on-page-seo. It’s helpful to place keywords directly in the URL structure.
On each of your blog posts and SEO pages, you should link to other pages that are relevant. While you don’t want to stuff keywords, it’s important to use keywords to link to other internal pages. Ideally, you have 2 to 3 internal links on every blog or SEO page.
Have you ever noticed that pages allow you to click back through the pages you previously visited at the top of the post? This is called breadcrumb navigation. While it’s helpful for Google crawlers, it’s also extremely helpful for the user experience.
Instead of users having trouble going back through pages on a site (potentially increasing your bounce rate), this type of navigation can increase the average time spent on your site and improve your ranking on Google as a result.
Schema markup is the technical coding behind your page that signals Google crawlers to the context and relevance of your content. Schema markup uses microdata to categorize and label your content with code so that crawlers understand more clearly what your page is about. There are a number of categories for all kinds of industries and content types, so take a look at the Schema list for more options.
Note: Google has unveiled new plans for “page experience signals” in 2021. If you’ve already optimized with the above factors, then your site should already be set. However, we’ll be keeping up with this change to see how it will impact SEO going forward.
What Off-Page SEO Factors Matter Most
If you want to optimize your website for higher ranking and more traffic, you also need to set up and boost your off-page SEO factors.
This primarily happens when other high domain authority websites link to your website from their own. Google notices when these higher domain authority sites reference your website (or link to your blogs), and they typically see it as a sign of trustworthiness.
With this in place, it’s likely that Google will start serving up your website for more relevant queries. This, along with user engagement once they land on your site, will improve your ranking on the SERPs so you are a dominant authority in your industry.
There are several ways to go about this, which we’ll detail below.
Backlinks are huge when ranking up in Google. When the search engine sees other trustworthy, high-ranking sites linking to your blog, it uses that as a signal (or ranking factor) for when it’s calculating where sites should rank for queries.
Acquiring backlinks can be done in two ways: naturally and through outreach. Natural and outreach link building takes time, but there are ways to fast track the process. For example, you can often look up content on Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Business Insider that’s relevant to your niche. Then, if you look at the authors, you can share your content with them via Twitter or email them to see if they’ll feature you in a new piece.
There are also several platforms out there that will help automate sourcing sites for you. They give you a list of places that are most advantageous to reach out to and get high-quality backlinks to the site placed.
When generating these links, it’s important to also take into consideration the anchor text that you will be using (e.g. using your brand name, domain name, targeted keyword, etc. as what the user sees for the link). Having a proper anchor profile is just as important as the backlink itself when it comes to SEO – make sure that you analyze your site’s anchor profile and follow best practices to ensure your page rank improves.
In other cases, you may be able to use guest posting to create backlinks to your content. This is when you create a blog with quality content that you then post on a site that is relevant to your niche and visited by your audience.
For example, you’re a blogger and own a website about pet toys and write a blog about reducing anxiety in dogs with pet toys. You can post this piece of content as a guest post on another blog like Go Pet Friendly with a link back to your site. This is alternatively called a sponsored post, and it typically provides more authority than a standard backlink.
Social Media Marketing
You should set up as many profiles as possible on social media for your website, particularly on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. These websites attract a lot of engagement, and as more people share your content, the faster you’ll rank in Google (particularly if you earn media coverage).
While you definitely want to earn visibility through others covering your website and linking to your content, you can also use PRWeb and Newswire to distribute press releases for links and positive content ranking in the News section of Google. While these aren’t as valued as media coverage, they do lead to more visibility if you are just starting out.
Final Thoughts: On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO
There are several factors that you should consider when taking a look at your site’s SEO. If you’re just starting out, you should prioritize your on-page SEO. Then, once you have a good foundation, you can start focusing on off-page factors like guest posts and backlinks to complete your organic digital marketing strategy.
We understand that not many businesses can conduct all of these SEO tactics while keeping working on their actual business. It requires valuable content, consistent updates (for some aspects), and routine maintenance to ensure that your site is able to compete in the SERP.
For those that need help with technical markup and setting up on-page or off-page SEO factors, our team of SEO experts is ready and waiting to improve your organic visibility!