Off-page SEO, when combined with on-page SEO and technical SEO, is essential to any successful SEO strategy.
Many people think of off-page SEO techniques as focusing entirely on backlinks but, actually, it’s more nuanced than this.
Yes, link-building is important (and we’ll be covering this in a lot more detail below) but we’ll also be looking at issues such as brand mentions and citations, trust and authority, content and social media.
With this in mind, I’ve written this complete guide to all things ‘off-page’ SEO.
What is off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO tells search engines what others think of your website.
It covers all the activities you do away from your website to influence rankings and bring traffic to your site.
Off-page SEO vs. technical SEO
People often think that off-page SEO relates to what happens behind the scenes of a website, i.e. behind the page. However, issues such as security, mobile-friendliness, page load speeds or structured data mark-up all fall under the remit of technical SEO.
The technical performance of your website will influence what other people think of it and how willing they are to recommend your content, so it will affect your off-page (and on-page) efforts.
As the diagram above shows, an effective organic SEO strategy pays attention to on-page, off-page and technical SEO.
Do your on-page SEO first
Before you focus on your off-page SEO strategy, spend some time making your on-page SEO as strong as possible.
Because you have a great deal of influence over your on-page SEO.
You can experiment with different page headings, add alt text to your images, or break your content up with topic-rich sub-headings. Plus, you can add new content to your website in response to popular searches at any time.
All of these changes can make a positive difference to the strength of your on-page SEO and they’re all within your control right now.
On-page SEO acts as a solid foundation for your off-page SEO activities, especially if you get the structure of your website right (we’ll be covering this below – see Why internal link building matters).
It makes sense to create a solid foundation that you can build on off-page.
Core off-page SEO strategies & techniques
It’s off-page SEO that we’re concerned with in this guide.
In the following sections, we’ll be looking at some of the core strategies and techniques for attracting recommendations from third parties within an SEO context.
As mentioned above, one of the key activities for successful off-page SEO is link building.
As you’re no doubt aware, a backlink is a link from one website (Site A) to another (Site B).
It’s a way of helping website visitors move from Site A straight to Site B in a single click, which someone might want their audience to do when providing additional information about a topic or making a recommendation about where to buy a product, for example.
A backlink acts as a vote of confidence.
Essentially, the person who creates a backlink is saying to their audience, “I rate this content highly enough to send you to it because I think you will find it relevant and valuable”.
Google makes a note of this because it recognises that someone is recommending the destination of the backlink.
Therefore, it follows that lots of backlinks from multiple sources to your website – or a specific web page – act as multiple votes of confidence.
Quality and relevance matter before quantity
In the past, if you could secure lots of backlinks, you were on your way to SEO success. However, this led people to manipulating the search engines by dropping spammy backlinks anywhere and everywhere.
Search engines realised that not all backlinks are equal; just because loads of sites are linking to it doesn’t automatically make a website good.
Nowadays, search engines look at the bigger picture:
- The type of links:
- Natural, e.g. editorially given links from another website without any action on your part (beyond creating the original content)
- Manually-built, e.g. links created from link-building activities such as asking customers to link to your site or reaching out to influencers
- Self-created, e.g. links you’ve added to blog comments, directory sites or in forums
- The quantity of links pointing to your website
- The number of unique sites linking to yours
- The quality of the sites that are linking to your content (e.g. Domain authority)
- The relevance of the linking sites to your own website
- The freshness of the links
This means that links from higher quality – i.e. high domain authority – sites have more value than links from poor quality sites.
But Google goes even deeper than this – it looks for relevance too. If you can attract backlinks from leading sites in your field, it’s like getting a vote of confidence from a renowned expert with an in-depth understanding of your audience.
Understandably, this has the greatest weight.
But how can you attract backlinks? You can find some ideas below.
Internal link building comes first
A good link-building strategy actually starts with internal link-building on your own website.
Internal links serve several important functions:
- They literally help to ‘link’ related content together for visitors to easily browse.
- They let you offer additional content on a topic – for example, there are links in this article that will take you to tools and further information that can enhance your off-page SEO efforts and build your knowledge.
- They help Google understand the importance of a web page – search engines assume that lots of internal links pointing to a page is a good indicator of page importance. Cornerstone content (your best, most important articles) will usually have lots of internal links pointing to it.
Internal links also help you take advantage of the so-called ‘link juice’ entering your website from backlinks and decide how to distribute it.
Link juice is the ‘value or equity’ of links coming into your website from external sources.
The juice enters your site on the destination page/post pointed to by an external backlink. However, if that page includes internal links, the link juice will trickle through to the linked-to pages.
The more link juice a page has, the higher it’s likely to appear in search results.
To make as much of the link juice coming into your site as possible, it’s important to make sure that no internal pages stand alone.
Find opportunities for internal links
There are several ways that you can find opportunities for internal links.
If you haven’t done one recently, you might want to carry out a content audit of your website. This will help you to build up a picture of all the pages, posts, categories and tags.
You can then identify content that should be linked together.
Imagine, for example, that I were to write a new article about ‘Blog SEO’ covering how people can search engine optimise their blog content.
A quick search of my existing content would give me a list of older articles I’ve published about blog writing. I could add links to these old articles to the new ‘Blog SEO’ post and link to the new post from the old articles (making sure that they’ve had a bit of a refresh, if necessary).
This boosts the user experience by adding greater depth and context to a topic, as well as creating a two-way system for link juice to flow.
Pinpoint your most linked-to pages
Another approach is to identify your website’s most linked-to pages.
Google Search Console provides this information (Go to Links>External Links>Top Linked Pages).
You can also find it using Moz’s Link Explorer (sometimes referred to as ‘Open Site Explorer’). Click on the Top Pages option in the left-hand menu to see your most linked-to pages and information such as their Page Authority and the number of external links and unique linking domains.
These most linked-to pages potentially carry the most link juice into your site.
What content do you have on your site that is relevant to your most linked-to pages?
Again, the idea is to maximise the impact of the link juice by adding links to and from your most linked-to pages and related content.
Links from your Home page
On most websites, the Home page is the most linked-to page, especially from external backlinks.
Looking at the SEO+ site, for example, the Home page attracts seven times more backlinks than the next highest linked-to page. That’s a lot of link juice.
Knowing this, search engines view pages on a website that are linked-to from the Home page as being the most important on the site.
Another internal link building strategy is to add links on the Home page to some of the other most linked-to pages. Common techniques include a link to popular resources, free tools or ‘Top searches’.
Using a hub and spoke/pillar and cluster model
Topic clusters are an increasingly popular way to tie content together.
With this approach, you create a piece of cornerstone content on a broad topic that is central to what your business offers. This is referred to as the ‘hub’ or ‘pillar’ article and broadly covers the main topic.
The aim is then to write a batch of content that supports the main topic by going into aspects of it in more detail.
For example, you could have a ‘hub’ article about ‘business blogging’ supported by ‘spoke’ articles covering topics such as: launching a blog, creating an editorial calendar, blog SEO, finding images for your blog, coming up with new blog content, marketing your blog, and so on.
Each of the supporting articles would include an internal link back to the hub and the ‘hub’ article would include links to all of the supporting articles.
With this approach, the idea is that any link juice filters out from the hub to all of the spokes and from the spokes back to the hub. In theory, when one ranks higher, the whole cluster should see a rankings boost.
External link-building strategies
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about internal links, which may seem strange given that this guide is about off-page SEO. As mentioned above, this is because you want to ensure that you’re doing everything possible to capitalise on your off-page efforts when they bring new traffic to your site.
Now that you’re happy with your website’s structure, it’s time to look at how you can attract those all-important backlinks from third parties.
External content and outreach
Creating and publishing content away from your website is great for off-page SEO because it fulfils two key roles:
- It creates backlinks to your website
- It grows your reputation and builds your audience, potentially bringing visitors to your website from sources other than search engines
So, what do we mean by external content?
Let’s start with guest blogging, which is when you write content for a third party and are published as a ‘guest’ author on their site.
Guest blogging has had a lot of stick over the years because it can be done very, very badly as well as very well.
If you’re interested in finding guest blogging opportunities, it’s essential to reach out to someone who shares a similar audience to you for whom your knowledge would be relevant and valuable.
You want the person who hosts the blog to feel confident about promoting your content and linking to your site. Being featured on someone’s website is one of the biggest votes of confidence you can get online because the host is agreeing to share their virtual stage with you.
But how do you find guest blogging opportunities? I recommend trying the following:
- Think about the topic you want to write a guest blog about – it needs to be a topic that’s central to your business and audience and that showcases your expertise
- Do a search for that topic in Google and make a note of the top ten results.
- Do the top ten search results link to blogs or websites with blogs?
- Is the blog active and with lots of followers?
- What is the Domain Authority of the website?
- Can you write an article that gives a different slant to what’s already on the host blog?
Once you know exactly what you want your guest blog to say and to achieve, and how you feel it would fit in on the host site, you can begin creating a pitch.
I occasionally welcome guest blogs on the SEO+ website because it’s an effective way to build connections with experts with complementary knowledge. You can find one such guest blog – about off-page SEO, in fact – here!
You might find the following resources about creating the perfect guest blog pitch helpful:
- How to write a guest post pitch that gets accepted every time – Creative Revolt
- How to write the perfect guest post pitch – PointVisible
- 11 successful blogs share how to craft the perfect guest post pitch – Blogging Wizard
Content syndication is when web-based content is republished by a third-party website. With the right approach, it can be a highly effective way to create backlinks.
The idea is that you recycle your existing articles on publishing platforms where the audience can search for content about topics that interest them.
For several years, for example, I have syndicated selected content to the Growth Hackers community-based blogging platform. Growth Hackers publishes an introduction to an article with a ‘Read full post’ button that takes the reader through to the original article on your site.
Now, according to Open Site Explorer, my second most linked-to SEO+ page is my article about the best DIY SEO tools. Nearly 20 of the highest Domain Authority backlinks come from campaigns via Growth Hackers, which has a Domain Authority of 63.
That’s a significant vote of confidence for that content in Google’s eyes.
Content syndication can have pitfalls though.
Most significantly, syndicated content has the potential to be seen as duplicate content, which could result in Google not knowing which URL to prioritise in searches and result in a downturn in traffic.
The secret is to do your homework before recycling your articles on third party sites.
A publishing platform like Medium, for example, automatically adds canonical tags to protect content that you’ve published off-site, i.e. the original article on your blog. There’s a handy ‘Import’ tool that handles this.
In its Search Console help, Google says:
“Syndicate carefully: If you syndicate your content on other sites, Google will always show the version we think is most appropriate for users in each given search, which may or may not be the version you’d prefer. However, it is helpful to ensure that each site on which your content is syndicated includes a link back to your original article. You can also ask those who use your syndicated material to use the noindex meta tag to prevent search engines from indexing their version of the content.”
While there are some people who have undoubtedly turned commenting on third party blogs into a black hat practice by dropping backlinks willy-nilly, it is still possible to use blog comments in a white hat way.
For a start, it’s good practice to allow and encourage relevant comments on your own blog. When an article gets people talking with lots of feedback in the comments section, Google notices and may prioritise the talked-about page in subsequent searches.
Here, the assumption is that the article is creating a buzz because of the value of its content.
Taking the time to respond to blog comments is also a way to show that you’re connecting with your audience and care about having a conversation with them.
To safeguard the quality of your blog, you will probably want to ensure that you have to approve blog comments before they’re published. That way you can intercept people who are using spammy link-building techniques and reject their comments.
You can also leverage the comments section of other people’s blogs.
The key here is to comment when you can genuinely add to the conversation with your own insights. Back in 2013, Google’s Matt Cutts Google said, “I leave topically relevant comments on topically relevant blogs all the time” and it’s absolutely fine to do this (see 0:17 seconds into this video).
If, for example, I see people talking about an SEO topic on someone else’s blog, I may decide to voice my perspective and a link to a resource that explains more. This is less about creating backlinks than offering the value of my experience.
There’s no doubt that Google would be wary if all your backlinks came from blog comments but, as part of a diverse link profile, blog commenting can be a positive off-page SEO technique.
As with blog comments, online directories can be included in your off-page SEO activities but it’s important to tread carefully to steer clear of black hat territory.
In the past, people added backlinks to multiple online directories to mine the potential link juice. Search engines soon realised this was spammy link-building with no real intention to serve potential customers.
Directories do still have their place. Many people still use them to find products and services or even to look for blogs on specific topics. In addition, Google will look at a consistent presence across high domain authority directories at a sign that a business is reputable and established. This is especially the case for your name, address and phone number (NAP) if you have a bricks and mortar business.
The key is to target directories based on their trustworthiness and relevance to your audience.
Hubspot has put together a list of 57 of the highest domain authority directory sites that you might find helpful.
Creating and distributing an infographic can be a surprisingly effective way to gain backlinks to your website.
A starting point is to create an infographic and publish it on your website with the code underneath that people need in order to copy and paste to embed the infographic on their own site (HubSpot has created an excellent guide about how to do this).
Each time someone embeds the infographic, it acts as a backlink to the original source.
In addition, there is a huge number of infographic submission sites online that will publish infographics to their audiences.
If you’ve written a popular blog post, you could try repurposing the content as a video by talking to camera about the key points. This video can then be published to YouTube or Facebook and feature a link back to the written post on your website where people can go to read the blog in full.
Broken link building
The Internet is littered with broken links. These can occur because of expired hosting, problems with migration, typos in the hyperlink, and many other reasons.
The good news is that broken links can offer an off-page SEO opportunity if you approach them correctly.
Imagine, for example, that an influencer in your industry has a website on which you’ve always wanted to be featured. While browsing their blog, you notice that the external resource they once linked to in an article is no longer available and the link is broken.
As luck would have it, you have a guide on your website that would make a perfect replacement for the missing resource.
You may be able to gain a backlink by reaching out to the host of the website and pointing out that the link is broken but that you have a guide on your website that you think would fill the gap.
Another approach is to find a broken URL that was widely linked to and then create content that’s specifically written to be a replacement resource.
Quicksprout has an excellent step-by-step guide to modern broken link building, complete with links to helpful tools and an email template.
A word about bad links (internal and external)
While on the topic of links, it’s important to recognise that Google can penalise sites with unnatural backlinks or keyword-stuffed anchor text.
While you can’t control the anchor text external sites use to link to your content, you can control the anchor text you use for internal links.
My advice is to keep your anchor text informative and relevant. Think about what the link takes users through to and use text that reflects this. If you look at the anchor text in this guide, for example, you’ll see that it always describes the destination and that most of the text refers to off-page SEO activities and techniques but I’ve only used the term ‘off-page SEO’ in one link.
Expertise, authority and trust
As mentioned right at the beginning of this guide, off-page SEO isn’t just about link building. There are other ways that you can bring traffic to your website and improve your Google rankings without backlinks.
Three words are particularly important here: Expertise, authority and trust (EAT).
Google is looking for signs, in addition to backlinks, that demonstrate that your content is relevant, high quality and valuable to visitors.
It wants to know that you can be trusted.
One way for Google to do this is by recognising brand mentions or source citations, even if they don’t include a backlink. Every time someone talks about your brand positively online, quotes your content or flags up a resource you’ve created to their audience, search engines see this as an ‘implied link’.
In its Search Quality Guidelines, Google states:
“For Page Quality rating, you must also look for outside, independent reputation information about the website. When the website says one thing about itself, but reputable external sources disagree with what the website says, trust the external sources.”
Tracking mentions and citations
As we can see, it’s vital to see what people are saying about your business online because it will have a direct impact on your off-page SEO.
There are various tools that can help you track brand mentions and citations:
- Google Alerts
- TweetDeck (Twitter monitoring only)
- Social Mention
- Board Reader (searches forums and message boards)
If people are talking about your business, look at ways you can join the conversation or respond to their comments or questions. Even a negative mention can provide the opportunity to create a good customer service experience.
Given what we’ve said above in this article about the best external links coming from high authority, relevant sites in your field, it might be time to see if you can connect with some influencers.
An online influencer is “someone who has access to a large audience and can persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach” (Source: Pixlee).
If you can earn a backlink, mention or ‘shout out’ from an influencer, it can sky rocket website hits and social media engagement.
One tactic for getting on the radar of influencers in your sector is to create a round-up blog post.
For example, you might want to write a post titled: 39 expert SEO predictions for 2020. You could then reach out to some of the big SEO names via email and ask if they would be happy to give you a short soundbite that you can use in the round-up article.
Of course, the round-up post will feature their name, business, etc. and a backlink to their site. In turn, you can let them know when the post goes live and they may be happy to give you a shout out to their audience or even link to your article.
You can find some great resources about successfully creating round-up posts below:
- Ninja Outreach (find influencers in your sector – seven-day free trial available)
- How to create a round-up post that will skyrocket your traffic to high heavens – Neil Patel
- The ultimate guide to creating an expert round-up post that gets 1000s of shares – SmartBlogger
You can also help to demonstrate trust in your brand by encouraging your customers to leave online reviews on platforms such as Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, LinkedIn and some reputable directory sites.
Star ratings help to show at a glance what customers think of your business and people are often more trusting of reviews on third party sites than those on a business’s own site.
Reviews can indirectly influence your rankings too.
As an example, when I do a search for ‘SEO Devon’, the top three results are:
The results all have a 5.0 star rating but SEO+ has 35 reviews compared to four and two. When you click on the reviews, you can see that those for SEO+ are currently far more recent.
Having a higher number of reviews, especially more recent ones, means that SEO+ is likely to attract a significant percentage of the clicks for this search.
In turn, an increase in clickthroughs to the website is a positive signal about relevance, encouraging Google to rank SEO+ highly for the same search in the future.
Another way to build your authority beyond backlinks is to look for press and PR opportunities.
Help a Reporter is a site that helps journalists connect with people they can quote as experts in their articles. You can sign up as a source and may be contacted for your insights. Although there are no guarantees, this can be an effective way to get mentions and citations in print and online.
You could also try searching for #journorequests on Twitter and see whether anyone is looking for your unique perspective.
Although search engines can’t and don’t track the exact number of likes, comments, shares, retweets, pins, etc. your content attracts on social media, your social media activities and engagement can still affect your off-page SEO.
Way back in 2014, Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed that rankings aren’t directly affected by social signals. However, an experiment by Hootsuite in 2018 found that there is a correlation between social engagement and higher rankings.
In all likelihood, a high level of social engagement causes the following things to happen:
- Content gets shared more widely, which means that it’s seen more widely
- Content that is seen by a lot of people is more likely to get linked to from other websites
- This results in a wider variety and number of backlinks, which we’ve already seen acts as a positive ranking signal
- The higher rankings for the content means it is seen by more people in searches and shared more widely on social media
- And so the cycle continues…
Knowing this, there’s no doubt that social media marketing is an essential part of a successful off-page SEO strategy.
One simple tip is to make sure you have social sharing set up on your website.
Social sharing buttons let website visitors quickly and easily share content that they like with their own networks. Each share has the potential to create mentions, citations and backlinks.
Your off-page SEO efforts
As we’ve seen, off-page SEO is really about building your credibility and attracting those all-important votes of confidence from beyond your own website.
As with on-page SEO, your customers come first. If you can create content that aims to be genuinely helpful to them, they’ll want to talk about it.
This should begin to grow the online equivalent of a word-of-mouth following evidenced by backlinks, mentions, citations and shares.
Now it’s over to you
Which off-page SEO activities do you do regularly? Which would you like to try that you haven’t considered before?
I’d love to know what you think so please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Hazel Jarrett, director of SEO at SEO+, is well-known in the SEO space, has won many awards during her 20-year career and has been published on various well-known sites. Through her services and training programs, her SEO strategies have generated 10s of millions of sales for her clients, earning her a big reputation for delivering the results that matter.
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