Generally, in the first call with a new prospect or a new client, I end up making sure that they understand the difference between on-page and off-page SEO and how they both play a crucial role in getting results in SEO. Many businesses and organizations that we work with have some experience working with SEO companies or just experience from a DIY standpoint and know pieces included in both, however, I find it easier to talk about them as separate topics so as to fit them neatly into two different buckets. The strategy and deliverables for both are very different and I think it is important to make this distinction right out of the gate so we are all speaking the same language. So what is the difference between on-page and off-page SEO?
On-page SEO defined
I have found the most simple definition of on-page SEO is this. Anything that happens within your own website that can either positively or negatively affect your search presence. This can be a multitude of different things including, the content on your website, the page load speed of your website, the interlinking of your website, the tags on your website and tons of other stuff. If it is happening within your website and you can easily control it, it’s most likely in the on-page SEO bucket.
Off-page SEO defined
Conversely, off-page SEO is anything that happens outside of your website that can either positively or negatively affect your search presence. This list can get very long, but some of the big things are inbound links to your website, citations (anywhere your name, address, and phone are listed in online directories), social signals, and a ton of other stuff. Again, for the most part, if it is happening outside your website it is off page SEO.
Where to Start (Off Page SEO or Onpage SEO)
Now the question comes, where is the best place to start with SEO? The reality is that both are really important, but onpage SEO is creating a solid foundation for your offpage SEO efforts, so if you are going to start small, start with onpage SEO. Once you get a solid foundation built you can then move into some of the offpage SEO items that can then really help your SEO take off. In most cases, if your on page SEO is bad no amount of off page will help.
Common Onpage SEO issues
Let me start by saying, just about every website out there has some issues. If you own or manage a business I am certain you get all the spam messages about things wrong with your website, I can tell you even the best ranking websites have some issues to be fixed, but I will outline some of the most common one’s we see below as a good place to get started.
This is far an away the most common issue we see as an agency. If you don’t have enough content on your website it will never rank for the search terms you r are going after. Each page that you want to rank needs to have a similar amount of both written and visual content to those web pages that are already ranking for those search terms. For instance, if you want to rank for “plumber in San Diego” and all the other webpages have 3000 words of content, your webpage that you are trying to rank better have at least 3000 words of content. This is the most common issue we see with websites. That said, this alone may not fix the issue, but it is generally a great place to start.
Under Optimized or Over Optimized
Most pages we run into are under optimized. Meaning they don’t have enough content or they don't have meta descriptions and H1 tags inserted properly, which for any search term that is even remotely competitive means they will have little or no search visibility.
What to do first, if you are under optimized.
Meta Descriptions - if you have a default meta description set, you are doing something wrong. Your meta description should include the exactly match of your focus keyword.
H1 tags - this can be a bit more varied from situation to situation, but make sure you have at least 1 H1 tag with an exact match of your focus keyword.
Open Graph - the open graph is essentially how your page pushes into social media platforms when you post the link there. Make sure this is filled out completely and includes your focus keyword.
ALT Tags - make sure that your alt tags have at least one instance of your focus keyword
URL structure - if possible, use your exact match keywords in your URL.
What does is mean to be over optimized?
Well, this could be a really long topic as well, but we see a lot of DIY type SEO people that have really over optimized pages, meaning pages where they have stuffed keywords in every possible place that they can on the page. While the items listed above are important to ensure that Google can pick up on what your page is about, there is a balance between optimizing a page and over optimizing. While SEO writing is a bit different than a novelist, make sure that your written content is natural, not keyword stuffed. Also, when using tags, do not use the same keyword over and over again in your ALT tags and H1s, this will hurt you not help you!
The reality is the SEO is becoming more and more complicated by the day. Some of the tricks that worked 5 years ago do not work today and that will continue to happen as the Google search platform continually evolves. If you are looking for a place to start, make sure that your on-page SEO is shored up and not over optimized, then start chipping away at off page SEO items. While this is not a guarantee of results, it’s at least worth the effort if you are trying to gain more organic search visibility.