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On-Site or Off-Site SEO: Which is More Important?

If you’re just starting out your SEO efforts, or simply looking to achieve better results, it can feel overwhelming to determine the next best steps. Many lament the task of focusing on on-site or off-site tactics, and are looking for factual evidence as to exactly what each focus means, and the real-world results they can manifest.

Rather than fret about keeping up with Google and Bing’s ever-changing algorithms, do yourself a favor and first just focus on creating a first-class website. This, in essence, is the secret to stellar on-site SEO. It’s also the secret to creating high conversion rates, great customer loyalty, and impressive analytics.

SEO, however, is more than just a well-performing website. To determine which long-term strategy best suits your company’s needs, it’s first necessary to understand what methods to employ, and how best to execute each.

What Is On-Site and Off-Site SEO?

Specifically, when we speak of on-site SEO, we are talking about all the little details your website contains that communicates exactly who and what you are to search engines. Here is a detailed list of what that entails:

All your website content – pages, blogs, articles, etc.
Title tags, meta tags, and H1 tags
Your user interface, layout, and all aspects of design
Alt text for your images
The keywords you use, and their usage density (do not assume more is better!)
How fresh, unique, and current your content is
The time it takes for your website to load
URL structure, and whether or not the URLs contain your keywords
XML sitemap – it should be comprehensive and dynamic
A full indexing of your site (you can select pages that you do not wish to be indexed by search engines)
Internal linking (linking to other pages within your site) and navigation
Robots.txt file (this tells the search engines to index your site)
301 redirects

Off-site SEO is therefore all the link building and marketing techniques you employ outside the context of your own website.

These include (but are not limited to):
Link building; back-linking and inbound
Press releases and other media articles that directly reference your website
Any article directory submissions you have made
Competitor analysis
Your social media posts and related marketing
Keyword analysis – the popularity and accuracy of your keywords
Leaving comments and links on other sites, blogs, forums, and videos
Submissions to SEO-friendly directories
Videos placed on sites like YouTube, properly optimized
RSS feeds
AdWords and other paid keyword campaigns

Is One More Important Than the Other?

While almost all SEO experts recommended a blended on and off-site approach, all the off-site efforts in the world cannot make up for a rock solid website. In other words, perfecting your on-site presence is a critical first step, before you amass mounds of links and outbound campaigns.

Content marketing is next in line, in terms of priority, and that mainly qualifies as off-site SEO, unless you are publishing articles on your own business blog. The big buzzword here is always, always quality – your content should inform, engage, and otherwise wow your audience, or it’s truly a wasted effort.

Next, focus on your off-site strategies, generating a long-term link building plan, and regular submission to directories, media sites, etc. PR strategies are critical at this phase, as are online campaigns, RSS feed submissions, and loads of connectivity with industry leading bloggers and forums.

The Most Powerful On and Off-Site SEO Tactics

Ready to go full-scale into your SEO attack? Here are the two most important techniques for both on and off-site SEO:

On-Site’s Top 2

1) A Reputable, Comprehensive SEO Plug-In: Assuming your content is up to speed, the next step is to install an excellent all-in-one SEO plugin, like Yoast. A tool like this will be like a loyal watchdog, evaluating all your on-site efforts, alerting you to missing or low-performing pieces, and analyzing all your results. Look for one that reviews content before it is published, revealing possible issues before it’s ever live. The lack of a great SEO plugin can cause undue mistakes, and dramatically impact your rankings.

2) Excellent Page Title Tags: This may sound like a small thing, but your title tags communicate directly with search engines, revealing the details of your content. If they are missing or inaccurate, you will absolutely suffer lower rankings. As a rule, this formula works well: [Primary Keyword] – [Site Name] – [Secondary Keyword]. If your site sells high-end designer women’s shoes, a title might look like this: Discount Designer Shoes – Fall’s Greatest Shoe Designs Revealed – Wholesale Women’s Shoes.

Off-Site’s Top 2

1) Write Guest Posts for Other Industry Blogs: The more you establish author rank and web-wide credibility, the more powerful your outbound SEO efforts will be. Seek out the top blogs and media sites in your industry, and submit valuable, informative content to start spreading the word about your expertise and offerings. Make sure your posts are not promotional in nature, or they won’t be accepted. It is, of course, totally fine to softly mention and link to your site, but your posts should offer actual value to the blog’s readers, and this will be pure gold to your off-site SEO.

2) Learn to Promote Your Content Like a Pro: No one else is going to alert the masses that you exist; you’ve got to become aces at marketing your site. Once you’ve created oodles of drool-worthy content, your efforts should be focused on outreach. Create an index of the most influential sites and writers in your industry, and implore that they share your content with their readers. You should draft an irresistible, honest, and polished letter just for this purpose, then customize for the specific contact. What you’re after: a link to your content via their site or blog, a social media mention, or an inclusion in a newsletter.

What on and off-site tactics have worked best for you? Do you focus primarily on one or the other, or attempt to strike a balance?

Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and true cooking diva. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.

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