Distinguishing Between On-Page and Off-Page SEO

By Max June 6, 2017

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) encompasses a wide variety of methods and techniques, but ultimately, it can be distilled into two basic categories: on-page and off-page SEO.

These are the pillars of the trade. Much like how a sports team must excel, to some degree, at both offense and defense in order to win, SEO professionals must tend to both on- and off-page matters if they want to succeed.

It's not an exact science. There is no equation that models your expected level of success based on how much time and resources you poured into each form of SEO. Or a magic formula that tells you how to rightfully allocate them.

But by distinguishing between the two, one can better understand how his or her website is performing, and, going forward, figure out how to improve it effectively.

How They Differ

What primarily separates on-page and off-page SEO is that the former is largely under the control of a website's administrator(s) while the latter is more reliant on the willingness of the Internet at large to endorse and share one's site.

Does this mean that it's useless to pour energy into improving off-page SEO? Absolutely not. Just because external forces are brought into the mix, it doesn't mean that search engine optimizers lose their agency in things. In fact, it's quite the opposite. All that changes is the types of skills being utilized to boost SEO.

An on-page SEO strategy will be about handling all the technical aspects of a website while also taking care of the design and content-related elements that make it appealing for visitors. Off-page, on the other hand, is about finding ways to get the word out and actually bring in those visitors.

Elements of On-Page SEO


Without content, you won't get very far in creating an SEO-friendly website. That's just the reality of the game.

Will creating quality content require sustained effort and thoughtfulness? You bet it will. But the reward is that you end up bolstering a crucial piece of on-page SEO that helps makes the others worthwhile in the first place.

Linking Internally

I could try and sell you on the value of internal linking, but my colleague has already done a far better job of it than I could have possibly hoped to, so I'll just direct you to his work instead.

Meta Tags

Imagine that content is represented by packaged food. Now picture the labels for that food. In this analogy, what you're picturing are meta tags.

From a pure SEO standpoint, the value of meta tags has declined. But—and this is a crucial but—both meta titles and meta descriptions can be highly useful in attracting visitors to your site. When results appear on a Google search page, text from those aforementioned items are what greet visitors and help them decide whether the link is click-worthy (hence the label comparison).

Site Speed

This is 2017, not 1997. Nobody has patience for a slow site, and the bots crawling web pages in order to rank them certainly know it.

Proper Formatting

Not formatting on-page features properly is like answering a question correctly on a test, but being too lazy to show your work; thus losing out on easily attainable marks. Most features aren't particularly difficult to format, they just require a small bit of effort and conscientiousness.

I'm talking about things like formatting images the right way, using heading tags properly, not putting out duplicate content, having succinct and relevant URLs, choosing sensible anchor text, not overdoing it with keywords, etc. There's no excuse for not learning about these types of common mistakes and avoiding them.

Mobile Optimization

At Rank 1st we've talked at length about why mobile optimization is so crucial for businesses (or anyone hoping to be seen, really). Going forward, its importance will only grow. Don't sleep on it as a major determinant of on-page SEO.

Bounce Rate

When I wrote earlier that on-page SEO is "largely under the control of a website's administrator(s)," this is one case that justifies the use of the word largely. Bounce rate is a measurement of how long visitors are staying on the pages of your site that they visit. Search engines will pick up on those signals and factor them in accordingly to your ranking.

Elements of Off-Page SEO


Backlinks are really the bread and butter of off-page SEO. Although search engines have targeted illegitimate backlinkers over the years and found ways to cut down on black-hat SEO practices, there are still plenty of ways to earn legitimate backlinks. And there is plenty of incentive to do so.

Websites don't get seen on a large scale without backlinks. They allow Internet users to be directed to pages that they might otherwise never come to organically. And they represent the primary measurement for citation flow, one of the most trusted metrics for off-page SEO around.

Getting good, relevant backlinks may require some serious outreach legwork, but the end result will be worth it.


Search engines want to feature reputable websites, not questionable ones. That's why it's essential to present your site as one that can be trusted.

Doing that will largely depend on your ability to gain approval and endorsement from well-established websites. If they feel comfortable linking to you, then it says a lot about the quality of what you've put together.


One particular form of online information sharing that helps out with building both backlinks and trust is reviews. Whether it's through Yelp, TripAdvisor, or any other type of review site, a good review will do lots for off-page SEO.          

Social Media

The jury is still out on exactly how much social media contributes to SEO, but there's no doubt that lots of likes, shares, and follows will be a win for your website. Try to build a social media presence for your website that, again, is trustworthy and could be linked to.