Off-page SEO: an essential guide for small business marketing

Ross Hall

May 10, 2021
(Updated on July 21, 2021)

Quote: It takes time for a newly minted web page to gain traction

When you’re working with content professionals, the chances are you’ll hear about on-page and off-page SEO. We can get excited about these terms and start talking about outreach and backlinks and a bunch of other things that may not make sense.

This article explains what off-page SEO is, what it means in business terms and offers an outline of how to start your own efforts. 

What is on-page SEO? 

When you look at a web page in a browser what you can see is on-page SEO. The title, subheadings and text are written in a way to give the copy a good ranking. Your target keywords will appear enough to register, not so much they make it hard to read. There will be links spread across it that point to other sites in a way that adds a little extra credibility to your page.

It goes deeper than that.

The web page should be coded in a way that gives your SEO a kick too. Titles and subtitles will be in the correct “h” tags. Each image should have an “alt” tag that both describes it and adds to the SEO mojo. The page will be responsive so the user sees a good layout whether they’re using a 4-year-old mobile phone or the latest laptop. It’ll also load quickly.

All of this is under your control. It’s for you – and your writers, designers and coders – to get right.

Graphic comparing off-page and on-page SEO

What is off-page SEO?

Off-page SEO is about the way traffic comes into your website. In simple terms, it’s the links to your web page on other websites. The more of these links you have the more credible your content and the earlier in the search engine results you’ll appear. At least that’s the theory. 

Links into your site are “backlinks“. If you like this article you might put a link to it in your own blog. This is a backlink because you’re linking back to here. These are highly desirable in SEO.

There are other ways off-page SEO can work for you. Sharing your content on social media is a good way to get search engines to notice it for the first time. Using press releases to point blogs and news sites to high-value content is another way. You might reach out to people in your network and ask them to share it.

You have less control over off-page SEO. While you can prod and poke people to include links to your content, they don’t have to. Because of this, it can take time for it to show results.

Being seduced by “The Dark Side”

If you get frustrated, you could fall into the trap of using techniques that seem to generate links quickly but work against you. These vary from spamming to “black hat” methods designed to trick search engine algorithms. None of them have any positive effects on your ranking, and a few can even work against you.

Link swaps used to be a way of generating links quickly. You’d approach a site and offer to link to them if they linked to you. At first this was innocent with fans sharing links to one another. Then it developed into a cottage industry. Shortly afterwards Search Engines started ignoring these links, and later they applied penalties to sites with backlinks from so-called “link farms“.

Comment spam was another technique that fell out of favour. You’d visit various discussion forums and post a link or five to your website as replies to topics. Forum operators got wise to it and changed their settings so you either couldn’t post a link, or the link wouldn’t count with the search engines. If you kept abusing the forums, eventually you got blocked.

Fake reviews have grown in popularity. A string of high-rated reviews suggests your product is better than an equivalent one. This gives your page a boost so it gets rated higher in searches. Fortunately both platforms and regulators are getting better at removing these.

Usually these techniques are sold on “gig” sites at ridiculously low prices. Although it might make them seem appealing, the long-term harm you’ll do to your brand makes them something to avoid.

So how do you build off-page SEO?

It’s a long, hard slog and you need to focus on quality rather than quantity. A single mention in a highly regarded website like The Guardian or a specialist trade site will have more impact than hundreds of links from low-quality blogs. 

Make sure you’re creating content regularly. It needs to be high quality, so blogging about what you had for tea won’t cut it. There used to be a train of thought that said the more the merrier, leading to sub-300-word blog posts that were sometimes stretching for a topic. It’s better to aim for slightly longer pieces that are more insightful and valuable for your readers. This may mean publishing less often.

You need to share it too. There’s no harm in sharing a piece on social media from 3 to 4 months ago if it has relevance. Nor is there anything against referencing your own work elsewhere. Just make sure the quality is high.

A word about brand

It isn’t only specific pages that can raise your SEO score. Your brand matters too. Being mentioned in more places has a halo effect on your web pages. A mention in a reputable news site could be worth more than a link from a low value, spam filled blog.

Keep an eye out for mentions about your brand and be sure to follow up. You might get a quality backlink, or an opportunity to contribute more content.

Which means patience.

SEO is a more like a marathon than a sprint. The initial burst of traffic you get to your site is unlikely to come from incredible on or off page optimisation. It’s more likely to come from a well-written piece of content that’s shared appropriately and connects with readers. 

It takes time for your newly minted web page to gain traction. It needs a while to pick up the backlinks and get the shares it needs to climb high. Sometimes that could be a few months, other times it can be a year or more.

Three pointers to success

First, make sure you understand the difference between on and off-page SEO. On-page is all about the web page; how it’s presented, structured and coded. It’s entirely in your gift and you have complete control over this. Off-page is about how widely the page is seen and linked to. You can influence this with outbound communications, but largely it’s for others to determine.

Second, be wary of people offering to blast directories and blogs to get you backlinks quickly. This rarely works and could do more harm than good.

Third, relax. It takes time for SEO to work, so if you need a quick hit of traffic now you might be better with outbound marketing. Otherwise, buckle in for a long ride and make sure you can release good quality content regularly.

I'm Ross Hall, a writer and researcher based in Kobe, Japan. You can talk to me about B2B, sustainability and strategic management.

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