Off-page SEO refers to techniques you can use to improve the position of a website in the search engine results page (SERPs). Many people associate off-page SEO with link building but it is more than that.
In general, Off-Page SEO has to do with promotion methods – beyond website content –for the purpose of ranking a website higher in the search results.
Why is Off-Page SEO important?
Search engines have been trying for decades to find a way to return the best results to the searcher.
To achieve this, they take into account a number of on-page SEO factors (described below), some other quality factors, and off-page SEO factors.
Off-page SEO gives them a very good indication of how the World (other websites and users) perceive the particular website.
A website that is high quality and useful is more likely to have references (backlinks) from other websites. It is more likely to have brand mentions on social media (Facebook likes, tweets, Pins, etc.) and it is more likely to be bookmarked and shared among communities of like-minded users.
All these signals give the ‘green light’ to search engines to rank a website higher in the results.
Off-page SEO Benefits
A successful off-page SEO strategy will generate the following benefits to website owners:
Increase in rankings – This is the most important advantage of off-page SEO. The website will rank higher in the SERPs and this also means more traffic.
Increase in PageRank – Page rank is a number between 0 and 10 which indicates the importance of a website in the eyes of Google.
It is the system invented by Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google founders) and one of the reasons that Google became so successful in showing the most relevant results to the searcher.
Page rank today is only one out of the 250+ ranking factors that Google is using to rank websites.
Greater exposure – Higher rankings also mean greater exposure because when a website ranks in the top positions: it gets more links, more visits, and more social media mentions. It’s like a never-ending sequence of events where one thing leads to another and then to another etc.
Establish Trustworthiness – In addition to the above, Google has recently introduced the concept of Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T), which plays an important role in rankings and is directly related to off-page SEO.
In simple terms, Google wants to rank websites that demonstrate expertise and authority on a subject, and one of the ways to ensure that the websites picked up by the algorithms can be trusted, is through the number and type of incoming links.
For example, if you want to be perceived as an expert on a subject, it’s not enough for you to say it but other related websites should agree and this is expressed through links pointing to your website.
Off-Page SEO Vs On-Page SEO
To avoid any confusion for beginners, let’s examine the relationship between off-page SEO and other SEO types like on-page SEO.
To understand the difference between the two, you first need to understand what is SEO.
SEO or Search engine optimization is the term used to describe a set of processes that aim in optimizing a website for search engines. SEO is important not only for getting high-quality visitors from search, but it’s also a way to improve the user-friendliness of your website and increase its credibility.
Search engines are using complex algorithms to determine which pages to include in their index and the order they show these pages in the search results. SEO is the way to ‘speak’ to search engines in a language they can understand and give them more information about your website.
SEO has two major components, On-Page and Off-Page SEO.
On-Page SEO refers to settings you can change on your website so that it is optimized for search engines.
The most important On-Page SEO elements are:
- Having optimized titles and descriptions
- Optimized URL Structures
- User-friendly navigation (breadcrumbs, user sitemaps)
- Optimized internal links
- Text Formatting (use of bold, italics, etc)
- Properly optimized H1 tag and other headings
- Image optimization (image size, proper image names, use of ALT text)
- User-friendly 404 pages
- Fast loading pages
- Mobile-Friendly pages
- High-quality fresh content (This is always the most important SEO factor!)
- External links (no broken links or links to ‘bad’ sites)
On the other hand, off-page SEO has to with techniques you can use outside the boundaries of your website, hence the name ‘off-page’.
On-page SEO has to do with activities you can fully control but with off-page SEO it’s sometimes out of your reach. For example, it’s easy to ensure that the quality of your content is good but you cannot force someone to link to your website unless they want to.
Off-Page SEO Techniques
As mentioned above, Off-page SEO refers to activities you can perform outside the boundaries of your website. The most important off-page SEO techniques are:
Link building is the most popular and effective off-Page SEO technique. Basically, by building links to your website, you are trying to gather as many ‘votes’ as possible, so that you can bypass your competitors and rank higher.
For example, if someone likes this article and references it from his/her website or blog, then this is like telling search engines that this page has good information.
During the ranking process, search engines will take that into account when deciding which pages to show on top of the results for the term ‘Off-Page SEO’.
Over the years webmasters have been trying to build links to their websites to get higher rankings and they ‘invented’ a number of ways to increase link count.
This ‘forced’ search engines to add more rules to their algorithms and start differentiating between good links and bad links.
Let’s see the difference between the two and why it’s important.
What is a bad link?
A bad link is a link artificially generated by webmasters for the sole purpose of tricking search engine algorithms.
The most common examples of bad links are:
Blog Directories – something like yellow pages but each entry had a link pointing to a website.
Forum Signatures – Many people were commenting on forums for the sole purpose of getting a link back to their website (they included the links in their signature).
Comment link – The same concept as forum signatures where you would comment on some other website or blog in order to get a link back. Even worse, instead of using your real name, you could use keywords so instead of writing ‘comment by Alex Chris’, you wrote ‘comment by SEO Rules’.
Article Directories – By publishing your articles in article directories you could get a link (or 2) back to your website.
Some article directories accepted only unique content while other directories accepted anything from spin articles to already published articles.
Shared Content Directories – Websites like ‘hub pages’ allowed you to publish content and in return, you could add a couple of links pointing to your websites.
Link exchange schemes – Instead of trying to publish content you could get in touch with other webmasters and exchange links. In other words, I could link your website from mine and you could do the same. In some cases you could even do more complicated exchanges by doing a 3-way link: I link to your website from my website but you link to my website from a different website.
Notice that I used the past tense to describe all the above methods because not only they do not work today, you should not even try them.
What is a good link?
So, if the above links are not useful, what is a good link? Here is a summary of the main characteristics of good links:
Good links are coming from trusted websites – One of the basic concepts you need to understand about link building and links is that it’s not only a matter of quantity but it is a matter of quality as well.
In other words, it no longer matters how many links are pointing to your website but it is more important from where these links are coming.
For example, a link from a normal blog does not have the same ‘value’ as a link from the New York Times or from any other highly trusted website on the Internet.
Good links are coming from related websites – For a link to have value it has to be given by a related website. For example, if you blog about SEO and you get a link from a fashion blog, that does not have the same ‘value’ as a link coming from a related blog.
Good links have relevant anchor text – Anchor text is the text description of a link and it gives a big hint to search engines what the target page is about. Good links should have relevant anchor text.
For example, a link that points to this post with the text ‘what is off-page SEO’ is more important than a link with anchor ‘click here’.
Good links do NOT have the ‘nofollow’ tag attached – In their attempt to fight spammy links and in order to give webmasters a way to link to a website without passing any ‘link juice’ (for example in the case of ads), search engines introduced what is known as the “nofollow link”
This is a special tag you can add to a link that tells search engines not to count the particular link as a ‘vote of trust’ to the referenced website.
This was done so that you can link to other websites from yours without taking the risk of being caught for selling or exchanging links.
In terms of off-page SEO, links that carry the ‘nofollow’ tag are ignored by search engines and have no influence on your rankings.
How to get high-quality links for your website?
If you ask Google they will tell you that any links pointing to your website has to be natural links.
Natural links are exactly what their name implies. A website owner or blogger likes another website or blog and naturally adds a link to his/her blog.
Does this happen in reality or is it another myth? It certainly does but you have to try really hard to get to this point. Take for example this blog. It has many incoming links because other webmasters find the content interesting and I also link to other sites in my articles because I find their content interesting.
This is what natural link building is all about. A link has more value from the reader’s’ point of view rather than the search engine’s point of view.
Nevertheless, there are ways to build links to your website that adhere to Google guidelines.
The most effective link building techniques are:
1. Publish link-worthy content – This may sound cliche but it’s extremely important for two reasons.
First is that great content will get you natural links if you promote your page correctly to the right people (using social media marketing – more on this below).
Second, if you don’t have good content, even if you manage to secure links, your page won’t rank. A ranking factor that is more important than links is to have content that satisfies the user intent. If these two are not present (good content and links), you won’t be able to rank.
Examples of link-worthy content are case studies, original research, different opinions about a topic, and generally content that is unique and unbiased.
2. Guest posting on other websites – Guest posting is a popular method of getting links to your website. The idea is simple:
- You find websites that accept posts from guest authors
- You pitch them with your ideas
- You get the posts published with a link pointing to your website
The problem is that webmasters have over-abused this method over the years and Google added rules to their algorithms to detect and de-value guest posting links.
They don’t completely ignore them, they still have value if they are coming from trusted websites that also have a lot of content on their own and not just guest posts.
In other words, if a website is only publishing posts from guest authors, then it is likely that a link will not have any value or positive effect on your rankings. But a link from a website that has good rankings and good content generated from their own authors and guest contributions, can positively impact your rankings.
3. Asking for links – Another popular technique for building links is asking for links. I’m not a big fan of this method but I do get tens of emails per day asking for links.
The idea is that you find related websites, email them, and ask to link to your content.
The chances of getting positive replies are limited but not zero so for this method to work, you’ll have to send a lot of emails.
I don’t like this method for a number of reasons but other people are using it and it works if you’re willing to do it on a scale.
4. Linking to other websites from your content – A better version of the above method is to link to other websites from your content and email them to let them know about it. Webmasters will be happy to receive the link and return the favor.
This is different than a link exchange (which is against Google guidelines) because it’s up to them to return the link and it’s not part of a deal or a paid agreement.
5. Publishing link-worthy visuals – This is an old technique that still works well. The idea is to publish great visuals on your website (infographics, statistics, graphs, illustrations, charts) that people might find useful to add to their content with a link to the original source.
Off-page SEO and black hat SEO
Link building was an easy way to manipulate the search engine algorithms and many spammers tried to take advantage of this by building link networks which gradually lead to the creation of what is generally known as black hat SEO.Google has become very intelligent in recognizing black hat techniques and with the release of several algorithmic updates, they managed to control the problem and protect their search results from spammers.
The most important are:
- Panda – Initially released in February 2011, targeting low-quality websites and content farms
- Penguin – Introduced in 2012, targeting link farms, low-quality links, and over-optimized anchor text
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is part of ‘off-site SEO’ and if you think about it, it’s also a form of link building.
A few things to know about social media marketing and off-page SEO:
Google officially states that social signals (like likes, comments, shares) do not directly impact rankings. The main reason is that they can easily be manipulated or paid for and they don’t represent an accurate picture of how popular a social posting is.
It should also be noted that almost all of the links you get from social media sites are “nofollow”, which means that they are ignored by search engines.
So, artificially getting thousands of likes for your post, will not help your website at all. But, if a post gets real attention on social media or even goes viral, this will have an indirect impact on your rankings.
Popular posts are seen by thousands of people and it is more likely for webmasters to actually link to your post from their blogs.
Another way to think about how to use social media for link building purposes is this:
When you publish a post, it will only be seen by your followers and unless it starts ranking high in the results, no one else will read it or find it on the Internet. It will get lost in the billions of published pages.
On the other hand, if you promote each of your posts on social media and reach a larger audience, it is more likely that more people will read it and it is possible that some people will link to it.
If you want to take it a step further, you can optimize your social media campaigns to target people that are more likely to link to your post, rather than showing your posts to a general audience.
To sum up, social media can indirectly help off-page SEO if used correctly.
Google loves brands and prefers to rank branded websites on top of the results. The reason is the same as explained above about Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. Brands are more reliable and likely to be trusted by users and this translates to a better user experience and happier Google users.
The difference between brand mentions, link building, and social media marketing is that brand mentions do not necessarily have a link pointing to your website. It can be mentions of your brand in forums, articles, reviews, or social media networks.
Google crawlers can ‘pick up’ these signals and evaluate them accordingly to create a more accurate picture of how your brand is perceived by other people.
As part of your off-page SEO strategy, you should pursue any positive mentions of your website, products, or authors and make sure that you respond to negative or misleading comments.
If a brand mention is linked, that’s even better but even if it’s not, it still has some value.
Customer reviews whether is for your business, website, services, or product reviews, have a role to play in your rankings. Reviews are the most effective off-page SEO technique for local online marketing.
The majority of reviews will have the ‘nofollow’ tag attached but if they are coming from trusted websites (like Google My Business, Yelp, TrustPilot, etc), they can positively impact your local rankings. Google trusts these reviews and uses them as a ranking signal.
So, if you are selling products or services claim your business profile on all major review websites and ask your customers to publish reviews.
Adding reviews in your off-page SEO strategy will help you gain more exposure on search engines and build trust with your users.
Off-page SEO is as important as on-site SEO. If you want your SEO campaigns to be successful you have to do both.
When thinking about link building don’t take the easy way, but try to get links from hard-to-get places. The more difficult is to get a link, the more value it has.
In the past, you could easily get thousands of links and rank higher but nowadays you also need to give special attention to the quality of your content.
My advice for beginners is to concentrate first on creating a great website with awesome content and then start working on your off-page SEO to get links that can make a difference in your rankings.
Try each method separately and find out what’s working best for your website and do that consistently and soon enough you’ll see a positive effect on your rankings.