How to Improve Your Website’s Off-Page SEO

ByThomas L. Elston

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smiling young woman standing behind the counter in a cafe

Image source: Getty Images

Off-page SEO is about optimizing all the signals outside your website that affect your ranking in search engines. There can be quick wins and not-so-quick ones.

I am amazed at airplanes. Big machines defying gravity and going up into the air. SEO is the same, but so much simpler. The mechanics will check your site architecture, you will fill it up with all the content you can carry, and then you’ll start gaining speed with off-page SEO. Ready for take-off? Got that page load speed fixed? Created great content? Let’s make this baby fly!

Overview: What is off-page SEO?

Search engines look at the web as a whole and interpret signals to determine what information is the most important. Crawling individual websites helps them understand what content is available in a website. But there are also signals outside of a website determining its importance. Off-page SEO is about optimizing these external signals to improve your website’s ranking.

The number, strength, and context of backlinks is an essential part of off-site SEO, but any reference to your website or brand could potentially be part of the search engine algorithms today or in the future. This includes unlinked brand mentions, social media activity, influencer marketing, and even user behavior too.

Balancing on-page SEO vs. off-page SEO is not so simple. An SEO audit should provide you with a great view of what to do first. In many cases, this will be fixing any technical SEO issues and creating content for all the keywords you are targeting before addressing off-page optimization.

6 elements of off-page SEO

Off-site SEO services from commercial providers are really difficult to manage because a link is not a precisely defined entity. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of off-page SEO.

Illustration of ahref, image, nofollow, sponsor, and UGC backlinks.

The plain old ahref backlink with a keyword is what most people are looking for, as other link types are not certain to help your rankings. Image source: Author

1. Mentions with a link

The most effective backlinks are typically simply coded ahref tags including your targeted keyword in the anchor text. But links often appear on an image (such as your logo) or carry anchor text (such as your brand name) or neutral text (such as “click here”).

2. Sponsor links, nofollow, and UGC

Backlinks considered marginally effective are those including the nofollow, sponsor, or UGC instructions and those hidden away in JavaScript or in forms. Nofollow is an instruction to search engines to not index the linked page. The sponsor instruction is to indicate the link was paid for, and UGC is used to indicate that the link was user-generated content, and therefore not a signal from the website on which it appears.

3. Link importance

Links appearing inside body text are considered of higher value than backlinks sitting in a footer. A footer will often contain repeated navigation links that aren’t tied to the core topic of the page they sit on. The importance of a link is also based on the estimated PageRank (PR) of the page where it appears. If you see mentions like PR5 or PR6, these refer to sites with a PageRank of five and six.

PageRank is a patented system created by Google to indicate the popularity of a webpage and named after one of the founders, Larry Page. PageRank is indicated on a scale from 0 to 10. The higher the PR of the page linking to your site, the higher the potential impact on your rankings.

4. Mentions without a link

Many sites, whether they are news media or blogs, won’t link to your site. A brand mention is believed to have some importance for your site. This could be a long-term positive effect, but won’t directly improve your rankings. In some cases, failing to add a link was a case of forgetfulness, and soliciting a link reference will meet with success. It is worth trying.

5. Social media activity

There was a time when Twitter was fully indexed by Google, but today it is not believed that social media platforms directly influence search rankings. But a strong social media presence can strengthen your brand and probably influence the creation of links, a positive user experience, and traffic to your site.

How to improve your website’s off-page SEO

Whether a specific off-page SEO technique will improve your rankings depends on a number of factors. So, when you move through the off-page SEO checklist below, feel free to move quickly to the next step if you feel you have an item fully covered already. Many of the steps are made easy by the leading SEO tools in the market.

1. Find and fix broken links

SEO tools such as Majestic and Ahrefs index backlinks with their own crawlers. They can identify broken links on external websites that were supposed to link to your site but were coded incorrectly. If you have changed your domain name, remember to check for links pointing to your old domain too!

Screenshot from Ahrefs showing broken backlinks.

Finding and fixing broken backlinks can be a quick win. But in many cases, it will be easier to fix the missing page on your own site than contacting the remote site to correct the link. Image source: Author


2. Connect your assets

Whether you are doing it for end users or for search crawlers, make sure all your third-party web properties are linking back to your website: Facebook company pages, LinkedIn company pages, Twitter profiles, YouTube channels.

3. Submit your site to directories

There are a ton of directories in the market. Many of them will have been created for linking purposes, so beware of snake oil offers or useless links. You no longer have to submit your sites to search engines to be crawled and indexed, but you can submit to directories for a ranking effect.

4. Systematically share your content

You can indirectly improve your off-page SEO and at the same time generate more website traffic by systematically sharing new content. You can set up automatic sharing via social media management tools, turn on automatic browser notifications for new publications from your CMS, and make sure new content is mentioned in any newsletters you publish.

All of these actions can have an indirect impact on your SEO because of interactions by end users.

5. Use guest blogging and partnerships

Providing your content to other websites can generate both backlinks and authority. You will probably be acknowledged with links and mentioned if you write an article for a blog, and it may also make sense to place a link in the article to reference existing content on your own website.

6. Do digital PR

The best off-site SEO strategy is based on digital PR. In a digital PR project, you will create attractive, valuable, and linkable content for your site. Next, you will reach out to the media and bloggers to pitch the story. This is very similar to traditional PR which is about pitching a story to the media.

When digital PR is successful, it can create high volumes of backlinks from authoritative sites as well as press coverage generating visibility and brand recognition in its own right.

4 best practices when optimizing off-page SEO

SEO can make such a great difference to a website with seemingly endless amounts of free traffic. It is easy to get carried away with the perspective of important gains, but most SEO success is really the result of great products and services and great messaging, rather than mere optimization. Let’s look at a few best practices for your off-page SEO.

1. Fuel up with linkable content

If there is no content to link to on your websites, off-page SEO won’t do much for you. Make sure you have had the mechanics in to check that your site is perfectly fit, that you have done your on-page SEO appropriately, and check your content to make sure it is linkable and attractive.

2. Benchmark your competitors

To understand what is possible, and what is required to rank for the targets you set in your keyword research, there is nothing better than benchmarking competitors. By analyzing the top results for a keyword in search engines with a good SEO tool, you will be able to see what volume range of links and what domain authority is required to rank for that keyword. Pick your battles.

3. Aim for a great user experience

Search engines evolve, and the signals they monitor evolve over time as well. But if you focus on the end-user experience, you are aiming to do the same thing as the search engines: Create the best possible experience for users when they search for products and services. Therefore, always keep the user experience in mind when you are working on off-page SEO.

4. Build for the long term

The best backlinks are the ones that are the hardest to get because nobody else did the effort. Build an off-page strategy for the long term and aim for the top mentions and links, then work systematically toward them.

It is possible to buy links. This is considered fraud by the search engine, and they will penalize your site if they detect it. Building for the long term may take longer, but the rewards at the end will be bigger — and the risk lower.

The sky’s the limit

There is only so much you can do to optimize your site from a technical standpoint, and your on-page SEO should really only need to be done once. But for content and off-page SEO, the sky’s the limit. Once you’ve cleaned your broken links and submitted to directories, you can enter into a cycle of content creation and outreach to extend the reach of your site via off-page SEO.


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