There’s no denying that search engine optimization (SEO) is complex, but the fundamentals are actually quite simple. In fact, when you get past all the smoke and mirrors, there are really just two core factors at play:
- On-page SEO
- Off-page SEO
That’s right, just two core factors.
Once you understand this key concept, then SEO becomes much easier to understand, easier to implement yourself in-house, and easier to outsource to a consultant or agency. As Aunt Tilly explained to Sophia the First in The Secret Library, “Knowledge is the key to everything.” (You’ll have excuse my Disney quote. Thanks to my daughter Violet, the theme song to Sophia the First is now on repeat in my head. :)
Seriously though, it’s critical to your digital marketing success to have a basic understanding about how SEO works. Otherwise, you risk spinning your wheels, or worse, getting your website penalized by Google, which can have long-term consequences.
Alright, let’s dive in to each of the two core SEO factors.
What Is On-Page SEO?
As you can probably guess, on-page SEO is everything “on” your webpages. The good news about on-page SEO is that it’s 100% in your control. You own your website and you or your webmaster can make edits as needed whenever you want. That means there’s no excuse to ignore or neglect your on-page SEO!
Think of on-page SEO as the foundation for your SEO campaign. If you don’t get this right, then you won’t have a chance of ranking on the first page of Google. So what does it mean to have your on-page SEO set up correctly?
Here are the 3 key areas to focus on to ensure the foundation of your SEO is stable:
- Website Structure: The structure of your website plays a critical role in SEO. In order to rank for a particular keyword, you must have a corresponding page on your website. One of the most common mistakes we see when conducting SEO Audits for clients is the use of a single “services” page instead of individual pages for each service. Google is looking for the most relevant webpages to rank in their search results, so make sure you’re not combining too many different topics on a single page.
- Webpage Content: Once your website is structured properly, then it’s time to optimize each webpage for the corresponding target keywords. “Optimize” in this case means editing the page titles, meta descriptions, headers, and body copy. The goal here is to show Google that your webpage is 100% relevant to the keyword your prospects are searching for.
- Website Usability: Finally, you can’t ignore your website usability. If your website is hard to navigate, slow to load, and littered with broken links, then why would you expect Google would want to rank it high in their results? Of course they wouldn’t because that would be frustrating for their users. Google wants to rank easy-to-use, fast-loading, and error-free websites.
Again, everything listed above is within your control and it’s the most important step because it lays the foundation for your SEO. Don’t move on to the next factor, off-page SEO, until you’re confident your on-page SEO is set up properly.
What Is Off-Page SEO?
To understand the importance of off-page SEO, we need to put ourselves in Google’s shoes. Let’s assume every business lays a strong foundation with on-page SEO. That would mean for any given keyword, Google would have thousands of relevant webpages that have a shot at ranking on the first page.
How does Google decide the order to rank all these relevant webpages?
The answer is by using off-page SEO factors! If everything else is equal, then the webpage with the stronger off-page SEO will be ranked #1. Unfortunately, this is the area of SEO that gets a bit cloudy. That’s because Google doesn’t publicly announce all the off-page SEO factors.
However, I would argue that knowing the exact factors is not as important as understanding Google’s goal. Google’s goal with their algorithm is to find the best webpage for any given search. “Best” means the most relevant (think on-page SEO). “Best” also means the information is accurate, up-to-date, and well-written. And “best” also means the webpage was published by a trusted business.
Now that you know Google’s goal, off-page SEO should make more sense. Below are a few ways that Google can determine if a webpage has accurate, up-to-date, well written information and if the webpage was published by a trusted business:
- The number of other websites that hyperlink to the published webpage. The more links to a particular website, the better because that’s a good sign that the information and business behind it are trusted among its peers.
- The number of citations (mentions of your business name, address and phone number) published online. Established businesses tend to be listed in major business directories.
- The number and frequency of press and blog mentions online. Mentions by news websites and blogs are another indication that your business should be trusted.
- The amount of social media activity (shares and comments). Clearly, if a webpage is shared and talked about all over social media, then that is a good sign that it should be ranked higher in the search results.
As you can see, you have much less control over your off-page SEO factors. That’s why it’s so important to focus first on your on-page SEO. Once your website is set up properly, then focus your efforts on encouraging other websites to link to your website, and encouraging social media users to share your webpages with their audiences.
Does Your On-Page SEO Need a Tune-Up?
On Thursday, October 22 at noon Eastern time, I’m presenting The Complete SEO Tune-Up: 6 Steps to Get More Traffic from Google.
When you attend, you’ll discover exactly how to optimize your website, so you get more traffic from Google. And I’ll stay on the line to answer all of your questions.