What is off-page SEO?

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Off-page SEO involves the various actions you can take (such as link building, directory listings, citations etc) outside of your own website to improve your visibility in the search engines. This is an essential part of a complete SEO strategy that you should regularly maintain alongside your on-page optimisations.

The role of off-page SEO is to send a collection of signals to Google and other search engines that your content/website is quality (links), that you have the authority to publish content on the topics you cover (relevant links and citations) and you are who you say you are (directory listings).

Why does off-page SEO matter?

If you want to rank well in search engines like Google, you have to send the right signals that tell them your pages deserve a place in the top positions.

With on-page SEO, you can create the best content and optimise it perfectly but Google still isn’t going to trust your website without receiving the right signals outside of your domain that vouch for the quality of your site and its pages.

Think of it like this: on-page SEO is you telling Google how great your website is while off-page SEO is other, reputable people telling Google “yes, this website really is as good as it says it is”.

Google’s search algorithms have advanced immensely over the past couple of decades and the search giant looks at hundreds of signals to return the best results for user queries – everything from keywords and anchor text to mobile-friendliness, page speed and more.

Yet, inbound links are still one of the most important ranking factors after all these years, as this recent study from Moz illustrates.

Moz study showing relationship between external links and rankings

A Moz study shows the correlation between inbound links and rankings for pages, subdomains and domains.

This is why link building is still so important in modern SEO and we’ll talk about how to earn the right kind of links later on in this article.

In the meantime, it’s important to discuss the other off-page signals you may need to optimise for:

  • Content placements: Posting content on third-party websites with a publisher’s profile including a link back to your website.
  • Content channels: Posting content under branded accounts on third-party channels, such as your own YouTube channel or Medium profile.
  • Social profiles: Active brand social media accounts with links to your website and complete business information.
  • Google Business Profile: If you have a physical business presence, a complete Google Business Profile, kept up-to-date and 100% accurate with as much information as possible.
  • Directory listings: Confirmed directory listings on third-party sites like Yell and Yelp – again, kept up-to-date and 100% accurate.
  • Reviews: Customer reviews left on Google platforms and third-party sites like Trustpilot.
  • Citations: References to your brand name on third-party websites.

How important each of these signals is to your search ranking, depends on the nature of your business – for example, retailers with a physical presence will benefit the most from having a complete Google Business Profile, third-party directory listings and positive reviews from customers.

What about branded searches & direct traffic?

Nobody outside of Google truly knows how its algorithm works. In fact, Danny Sullivan has been quoted as saying Google’s engineers don’t even understand exactly how some of the more complex components of the algorithm work, in reference to RankBrain (something John Mueller later denied).

Either way, there’s plenty of debate within the SEO community over certain factors being rankings signals or not.

In the off-page SEO niche, branded searches and direct traffic are two of the most debated factors. Some of the biggest names in the industry swear by these as important ranking signals while others insist they’re simply not viable.

  • Branded searches describe sessions where users type your brand name into Google or another search engine.
  • Direct traffic involves users typing one of your URLs into a browser address bar.

The argument for branded searches and direct traffic being ranking signals suggests Google looks at these signals as an endorsement from visitors or a measurement of demand.

Last year Miranda Miller published an excellent write-up on Search Engine Journal, exploring both sides of the debate on direct traffic being a ranking signal. She concludes that direct traffic is definitely not a ranking signal, describing it as “noisy, easy to manipulate, and difficult to collect and verify.”

As addressed in the article, much of the confusion comes from correlative studies that associate websites receiving high volumes of branded searches and direct traffic with higher search rankings. The problem is, this correlation doesn’t prove that either branded searches or direct traffic are ranking signals – or that they have any direct impact on search rankings at all.

We see this correlation in our own analysis all the time, where the top-ranking websites generate high volumes of branded searches and/or direct traffic.

In fact, companies with a strong brand image may generate the majority of their traffic from branded searches and/or direct traffic – and these are the kind of brands you would expect to rank in the top positions.

Top organic keywords for Skyscanner

Again, this doesn’t prove branded traffic is a ranking signal because we expect the top-ranking brands to be well-known. Building brand awareness is one of the primary goals in SEO and the higher you rank for competitive keywords, the more traffic you would expect to generate from branded searches and, potentially, direct traffic.

Whether branded searches and direct traffic are ranking signals is debatable (they’re probably not) but let’s keep in mind that ranking factors aren’t the only things that matter in SEO. Featured snippets aren’t a ranking factor but they can generate large amounts of traffic and they’re certainly worth optimising for.

The same is true for branded searches and direct traffic. Even if they’re not ranking signals, they’re incredibly valuable for driving traffic and effective measurements of brand awareness – so they deserve a place in your off-page SEO strategy.

Link building: As important as ever in off-page SEO

Link building describes an off-page SEO strategy that aims to earn valuable inbound links from third-party websites. Specifically, this involves a website linking to your site from one of their pages, which Google may look at as an indicator of content quality.

The key thing about link building is that not all links are worth the same; most are worth little or nothing at all.

To build your search ranking with link building, you have to earn links that elevate your profile. You need links with a specific set of characteristics:

  • Authority: This is an unofficial SEO term used in the industry to describe a website’s quality and influence within a specific topic or set of keywords.
  • Domain relevance: The more relevant the linking website is to your brand, the more legitimate this link will be seen by search engines.
  • Topical relevance: This describes the relevance of the content on the specific page linking to your website.
  • Do-follow: Do-follow links pass significantly more credit to your website than no-follow links.
  • Placement: The most valuable inbound links are placed within the text of the content/copy of the page linking to your site.
  • Anchor text: Ideally, you want the anchor text for your inbound links to be descriptive, rather than something generic like “this page”.

Quality links don’t necessarily need to fulfil all of the criteria above but you definitely want links that perform well in terms of authority and relevance. Authority is particularly challenging to quantify but a good rule of thumb is to aim for links from sites that rank higher than you for top-level keywords.

Most SEO tools include some kind of authority score as part of their domain analysis reports. While these metrics are all slightly different (and calculated differently), you can get a good idea of a website’s authority by averaging out the scores of multiple tools.

To wrap this section up, we should clarify something very important about link building: link quality is far more important than quantity.

How to build links

A few things you can do to build good quality links include:

  • Write quality content and blogging on a regular basis
  • Create the best content available on the web for your most important topics
  • Publish data-driven content – such as surveys, industry reports, etc. – that other sites will want to quote and link to
  • Create quality data visualisations and encourage sites to embed them with links to your original content
  • Submit your site to business directories
  • Guest post on relevant high-authority websites
  • Participate in social media communities
  • Comment on relevant blogs
  • Promote your most linkable content on social media

Whichever approaches you take in your link building strategy, always remember the core essentials. Not all links are created equal. You have to send the right signals to search engines and this starts with authority and relevance.

Likewise, you also have to consider the users who will see the links pointing to your website. These links can put your brand in front of fresh faces so think carefully about what kind of content they might be looking for and what you want them to do if they click through and land on your site.

Quality inbound links aren’t only going to boost your search ranking but generate relevant traffic and build awareness of your brand – and you want to take full advantage of this.

Related reading

Check out this blog for more advice: 16 MUST HAVE tools for off-page SEO and link building

Need help with your off-page SEO?

We can help! Contact us on 02392 830281 or submit your details below. You can also find out more about our SEO services here.

Gemma Scarth profile picture
Gemma Scarth

Gemma joined Vertical Leap in March 2020 as an SEO Specialist after having worked in marketing for 7 years for both in-house and agency side, where she was involved with everything from social media management, through to content development and email marketing campaigns. As a member of the ESEO team, Gemma helps to deliver strategic SEO campaigns across a range of brands on a local, national and international level. Gemma is well travelled after exploring the world for almost two years and living down under for 12 months. She’s passionate about snowboarding, fitness and supports her local football team, Southampton FC! When she’s not at work doing SEO, you can often find her on her paddle board floating somewhere on the River Hamble or indulging in a snack or two.

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