Offsite optimization vs. onsite optimization

Even as we approach 2012, there seems to be a debate as to what is more important, on-page optimization or off page optimization? For those a little more experienced you will understand that they both complement each other not unlike chocolate and peanut butter in your favorite candy bar. To be successful in search engine optimization you need both. The fact is without well optimized on-page elements your off page optimization efforts will only take you so far. So let’s take a look at how on-page and offsite optimization can impact your online success.

On-page optimization is the process by which various elements on an individual web page are established and structured so that the page can be found by the search engines for a given keyword or key phrase. From my experience there are really five key elements to on-page optimization:

  1. Title Tags – still arguably the most important on-page element (other than your page copy)
  2. Meta Data – the meta description and meta keywords tags. A well written description can help with click-throughs and although devalued because of spam techniques, Google still looks at the keywords tag to get an idea of the topicality of the page.
  3. Page Copy – this is really the key to your success. Ensuring that your content can be crawled by the search engines and is well optimized but not over optimized can determine how much success your website may have from a search perspective.
  4. Heading Tags – specifically H1 tags as they still carry some value with the engines.
  5. Interlinking – how pages are interlinked is also a key factor to consider when looking at on-page optimization efforts.

On page Optimization plays very important role in SEO. It helps to make the off-page efforts easy. Without on-page optimization in place, it becomes increasing difficult to rank for the keywords that you are trying to be found for. Just because you have one instance of “red widgets” on your page does not mean that you deserve to rank in the top spot in Google for “red widgets”. So addressing all of the key on-page elements goes a long way in helping the engines determine the topicality of your page and your site as a whole. It is no secret that to perform well in search you really need to produce high quality content. Ideally, if this content is of value, the off page optimization should take care of itself. This is why on-page optimization is so critical and in my mind will continue to be important in order to perform well in the search engines.

Yet the fact remains that you still need people to find your content. This brings us to off-page optimization.

Off-page optimization

Off-page optimization really consists of:

  • Acquiring inbound links to your pages
  • Leveraging social interaction with your webpages – acquiring social links/mentions and buzz

Because the internet is based on, and consists of, a Web of links, traditionally link popularity has been key to having high rankings within search results pages of the engines. However link acquisition is one of the most over-manipulated SEO tactics that has ultimately resulted in poorer search results in recent years. The fact that link popularity can be easily manipulated has seen the search engines shift their algorithms to focus more on quality of content and site engagement and less on how many links your have pointing to your pages. It is true that sites with poor quality content that lack on-page optimization have sometimes surfaced to the top of search results due to artificial inflated link inventories. However Google’s recent algorithm updates (see: Panda) are really working on addressing web spam of which artificially inflated linked sites may fall into. Some black-hat SEO’s will argue that even in 2011 links are still the easiest way to obtain a number one ranking in Google but quite honestly these are not always the results that I, as a user of Search, want to see. The days of link popularity as the top ranking factor are numbered.

Remember search engines such as Google incorporate hundreds of factors in their ranking algorithms. There are numerous factors both from an on-page perspective and off-page perspective that get factored in as to why page A ranks higher than page B in the search results. These factors continue to change. One trend that we are seeing is the use of social metrics or social engagement as a ranking factor. Both Bing and Google have communicated that social and site engagement will continue to play a key role in what we will see in future search results.

Herein lies the importance of a key off-page factor and that is social engagement. Whether it is the number of people who tweet your content, Like your content, social bookmark your content or “vote” for your content via Google +1, the importance of social and site engagement cannot be understated.

So what comes first the chicken or the egg?

The next logical question becomes which do you focus on first? Well it’s like this. Let’s say that you are looking to sell your home and you will be having an open house. Of course you are going to ensure that the interior of your house is clean, tidied and de-cluttered. You will probably spend some time ensuring that your lawn is cut and that the hedges are trimmed. Well on-page optimization is a lot like housekeeping. It is something that you just do and then do it repeatedly. Off-page optimization is like the exterior house chores, the cutting of the grass if you will.

When you are optimizing your site, you will want to take care of the housekeeping first. That means ensuring that your tags are optimized, that you feature unique and relevant content, that your URLs are clean and can be found by the search engine spiders, that you have effectively interlinked your site’s pages and have leveraged both HTML and XML sitemaps to assist with the crawlability of the site. Once the majority of your housekeeping is down, then you can address the external stuff like:

  • Building quality inbound links to your site
  • Promoting your content via social channels to obtain some social traction
  • Adding social bookmarking options to let users share and promote your content for you

If you are lucky and have created some great content that is well optimized (but not over optimized) some of the exterior off-page optimization such as acquiring quality links should take care of itself. Of course you will want to monitor both your internal and external optimization efforts to ensure that you are performing as well as you should be and that your house… or in this case your website is clean and in fine working order.

Offsite Optimization vs. Onsite Optimization

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