On-site vs Off-site: which is more important in SEO?

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The vast number of factors that search ranking algorithms take into account to determine the order in which to display search engine rankings makes it impossible to predict how much impact one change will have on your SEO. External environmental factors including what your competitors are doing in terms of SEO, or the patterns of your traffic could impact performance.

Nonetheless, one of the questions I am frequently asked is: in a SEO content marketing campaign what is most important – on-site or off-site content? There is no one-size-fits-all answer but it worthwhile to examine the case for both on-site content and off-site content to help business owners understand what both types of content can achieve in terms of SEO.

The fundamentals
First, let’s clarify what I mean by on-site and off-site content.

On-site content is anything that you publish directly on your own website – including on the homepage and any other pages. If you have a blog that hosted on your website – this will also include any blog content.

Off-site content is anything external to your website that supports and promotes your site, links to it and builds your website’s authority. Off-site content might include bloggers that reference your business and your website, social media pages, Wikipedia entries, online journal, trade magazine articles or press releases that point to your website.

The argument for why on-site content is most important
Many search engine marketers believe that on-site content is superior. Here’s why:

  • Every business needs a website – Without your own website and on-site content there’s nothing for search engine bots to crawl and index so SEO would be pointless.
  • User-friendliness – User-friendliness is both an SEO factor and a customer factor. Even if you rank high in search engine rankings, what’s the point if a visitor gets to your website but you’ve put all your best content somewhere else and they can’t see what you offer or why they need it. In other words, off-site content can improve your brand mentions and image and warm up leads but it’s unlikely to close the deal and reach the final goal – for conversions and retentions on-site content is essential.
  • Keywords – Your own website allows you to develop pages and blog posts specifically for targeted keywords that you know your potential customers will search for. In contrast, certain types of off-site content written by others about your business even if positive will not necessarily use the right keywords.

The argument for why off-site content is most important

  • Link building can be incredibly valuable when done right – Links help build authority. When Google decides page rank it takes into account the authority level of your site. If you have high-quality links coming in, it lifts your perceived authority. If you have lower quality links coming in, it reduces your perceived authority. So taking time to find lots of good quality links to your site can have a big pay off.
  • Referral traffic – Most small to medium-sized businesses wouldn’t get millions of views a day, but other sites like the Huffington Post or Forbes do. So, if an author for one of those sites likes your content and shares or links to it, it can generate a huge amount of inbound traffic which has vast benefits aside from the obvious SEO benefits. (You could also consider pitching one of these sites to see if you could become a guest contributor on a topic related to your business).
  • Building awareness of your brand and reaching new audiences – On-site content if great; but it’s not how you establish your reputation. Most people won’t naturally discover your content or your website on their own which is why off-site is important in helping people discover your business and what you can offer.

What methods do on-site and off-site content employ?
On-site SEO is more than just the text of the content. It also entails using:

  • Title tags, meta tags and H1 tags
  • User friendly layout and design
  • Alt text for images
  • Keywords and keyword density
  • Uniqueness of your content
  • Page load time
  • URL structure
  • XML sitemap, Robots.txt file (these both help search engines to index your site)
  • Internal linking (including 301 redirects)

Off-site SEO also includes a number of elements:

  • Link building
  • Press releases and media articles that reference your website
  • Submissions to article directories or SEO friendly industry directories
  • RSS feeds and Trackbacks
  • Videos on sites like YouTube and Vimeo
  • AdWords and paid campaigns
  • Social media posts and comments and links on sites, blogs and forums 

Using both these types of content is necessary for successful long-term SEO results, but ultimately there is no one-size-fits-all answer as to which is most important. It is worthwhile to understand the case for both on-site content and off-site content to help you realise what both types of content can achieve in terms of SEO, and which might help you achieve your own business’ goals best.

Click here and see 5 more great reads from our digital expert Luke Chaffey:
1. What is seasonal marketing?
2. How to avoid 4 common SEO issues
3. 7 social media tactics you need to avoid
4. How to get and retain email subscribers  
5. Improve your ecommerce conversion rate


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Luke Chaffey
Luke Chaffey is a senior member of the KBB Digital team, and heads up the search marketing division. With a keen eye on innovation and developing digital trends, Luke regularly attends the Google Partners Masterclass, and is also a prolific writer for websites such as Yahoo, The Australian Government (Digital Business sector), Kochie’s Business Builders, Smarter.Digital, KBB Digital.

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