What Is Off-Page SEO? A Comprehensive Guide 

Off-page SEO is one of the most important parts of a successful strategy.

If you want to rank your site on Google and increase your brand’s visibility and organic search traffic in 2020, you need to be looking beyond your own site.

In this guide, we are going to dive deep into off-page SEO and help you to understand what it is, why it is so important, and the tactics that you need to be using if you want to rank on Google and drive growth for your site. 

In this guide we’ll cover:

Off-page SEO, in short, covers all SEO tactics that take place outside of your own website. 

It is often thought to just be link building, but in reality, there are far more off-page SEO tactics that you should be using if you want to gain a competitive advantage. 

Tactics such as brand building, citation building, content marketing, social media, and more all play an important part in a comprehensive SEO strategy.

But as a simple explanation of off-page SEO, this covers any tactics that you use that don’t involve making changes to your own website or publishing content on your own site.

These signals help both search engines and users to gain a perception of your site’s authority and are also used as key trust and relevance factors. 

Think of it like this:

  • Your website = on-page SEO
  • Another site or platform = off-page SEO 

But to complicate things further, you also often need to turn to technical SEO to rank on Google. To help to clarify the differences between these, let’s explore these three core SEO approaches in more depth.

Pretty much all SEO tactics can be categorized into one of three buckets:

  • On-Page SEO

  • Off-Page SEO

  • Technical SEO

But what is the difference between these?

Quite simply, we can define these approaches as:

On-page SEO covers the tactics that you use on your site that help search engines to better understand and rank your content. From creating great content on your site, optimizing title tags, meta tags, and H tags to internal linking, image optimization, and more — these all fall under on-page SEO.

Off-page SEO includes those tactics that relate to activities carried out away from your own website. Link building is often considered to be the main off-page tactic, but this also includes tactics such as content marketing, social media, appearing on podcasts, landing reviews, building local citations, and more.

Technical SEO covers those things that directly impact the indexing and crawling of your site by search engines. Some argue that this falls under on-page SEO. However, it is also widely considered a discipline in its own right: site speed optimization, structured data, canonicalization, hreflang, and more all class as technical SEO.

Without off-page SEO, you will struggle to rank for competitive search terms.

Think about off-page SEO as building your site’s authority, and without this, your site won’t outrank those that already have higher authority. And it is usually the case that content from higher authority websites ranks higher than those with lower authority.

And when you stop to think about it, it makes sense. This example helps you to understand the importance of off-page SEO. It is all about increasing your site’s authority, something that often goes alongside building a brand.

Links are by no means the only off-page signals that Google’s algorithm uses to rank a website, despite being perhaps the most important.

An off-page strategy that doesn’t include link building is unlikely to drive the needed results, based on the fact that links are one of Google’s top three ranking factors.

But to think you can only focus on link building is a mistake. There are many other off-page SEO techniques and tactics that you should be using — they will not only help you to drive success from SEO but also help to build your brand.

Let’s take a look at 13 different off-page tactics you can use to grow your brand and organic search traffic in 2020:

Link building should be the backbone of any off-page SEO strategy, given the weight of links in Google’s algorithm, but it is important to understand how you should be approaching link building as an off-page tactic.

One of the key goals of off-page SEO is to build your business’ authority. Links from authority websites help to position your own site as an authority — they are a vote of trust from one site to another.

The #1 goal of link building should be to earn quality links from authority sites. You should always focus on quality over quantity. It is important to understand what the link gap between your own site and your competitors looks like. 

But there is a little more to link building as an off-page tactic than simply targeting authority sites (note: it is not easy to get authority sites to link to another, but with the right approach, it is absolutely possible).

Here are the three primary factors you should be considering with link building:

By now, hopefully, you already understand why the authority of links is so important. You can find the authority of any website that you are looking to earn a link from or to understand the authority of links that currently point to your domain using our own proprietary metric — Authority Score. But what exactly is AS, and what does it measure?

Authority Score is our compound domain score that grades the overall quality of a website and tells you how impactful a backlink from a site can be. The score is based on the following SEMrush data:

  • The domain’s quantity and quality (authority) of backlinks.
  • Quantity of referring domains and quantity of referring IPs.
  • Follow vs. nofollow links.
  • Organic search traffic (from our Organic Positions report).
  • The number of users (from our Traffic Analytics report).

To gain insights into the authority score of current links, you can use the Backlink Analytics tool. You can view your site’s links and their associated authority score on the ‘backlinks’ tab:

You will see that the authority score in the first column header ‘Page AS.’ The higher the score, the higher the authority of the link.

But what about when prospecting for new links?

You can run any domain through the Backlink Analytics tool, and you will see the AS for that domain, not just those that link to it. You will find this on the domain’s overview tab:Remember, the goal of link building should be to earn links from sites with a high Authority Score, and with the data available from these tools, you can layer these insights into your prospecting. 

Another key metric of link building success is the number of linking root domains that point to your site, even above the number of backlinks. Studies have shown a clear correlation between the number of linking domains and higher rankings. Domain diversity should be a key focus as part of your strategy.

Credit: Backlinko

You can see the number of unique domains that link to your site using the referring domains tab of the Backlink Analytics tool.

You should always aim to land links from sites that topically align with your own. As an example, if you run a travel site, you should aim for the majority of the links that you earn to come from other travel sites; bloggers, online publishers (such as Lonely Planet), tourism boards, and the like. It makes sense.

Sites typically link to those that cover a similar topic, not those that aren’t related. That said, it is OK to have some links that come from other topics if they are natural and make sense; just aim for the majority to be closely topically aligned. 

But what about specific tactics that you can use to build and earn authority links?

You can check out our detailed guide to link building strategies that work in 2020 to gain a detailed understanding of tactics that you could be using, but our favorites include:

  • Digital PR

  • Unlinked Brand Mentions

  • Resource Link Building

  • Newsjacking

That said, there are a lot of effective tactics you can use to build great links, and diversifying your link profile should also be a key focus.

It is now a well-known fact that Google rewards brands. 

And brand building activities should form a key part of not just your wider SEO and marketing strategy but also part of your approach to off-page SEO. And once again, it all hooks back to build your online authority, both for users and search engines.

But just how does brand building intersect with your SEO strategy, and what are the metrics of success?

Perhaps one of the strongest indicators that you are building your brand is an increase in brand searches.

You can see more insights from our #SEMrushchat on this topic.

This could be searches for your brand name, products, or a domain name.

To see how your branded searches have changed over time, head to the Keyword Overview tool and enter your brand name. You will see a ‘trends’ box that indicates how search volumes have changed over the past month.

You should also take a look at Google Trends to help track interest in your brand.

Again, enter your brand name and see how interest has changed over time; it is possible to look back as far as 2004.

There is another reason why it’s so important to focus on brand-building efforts, too, and that’s brand SERPs.

What are brand SERPs? These are the search results that show when someone searches your brand name.

As Jason Barnard writes…

“Search queries in the SERPs for your brand name are vital touch-points for both people and machines and are therefore absolutely essential to your business.
You should be tracking, evaluating, and improving them consistently.”

At first, you may consider these just to have a reputational impact, but there is a strong SEO consideration, too. Barnard continues:

“The first pages of results for the search query {Brand} indicate how well Google understands your brand, and the first 2-3 pages of results for the search query {Brand + review} indicate Google’s assessment of your credibility.”

— Jason Barnard

Brand-building efforts help Google to understand your credibility, which is why it has become such an important off-page SEO tactic. When you build a brand, you will also find that you naturally earn links and mentions across the web, even without having to proactively work on these.

When we think of content marketing, it is all too easy to think of it only as an on-page SEO tactic — that being the creation and publishing of content that sits on your own website.

But, taking a holistic view, content marketing spans both on-page and off-page tactics. Publishing great content on your own site is only one part of content marketing; any content that you create and publish anywhere on the web falls under content marketing.

If you go ahead and write a guest post, that is content marketing. Publish an infographic that gets linked to from a top-tier newspaper? That is content marketing. 

The appeal of using content marketing as a tactic is that the creation of great, engaging assets make it easier to focus on off-page factors. And this, typically, comes from the promotion of the content that you are creating — publishing great, engaging assets that others want to share and link to.

Common content marketing tactics that work well to promote to build off-page signals includes:

Content marketing, as a tactic, is closely intertwined with link building, social media, and PR, as well as also helping to build your brand.

Quite simply, if you have a great piece of content, tell people about it. You can use our Content Marketing Toolkit to help you not only find popular topics that are gaining traction online but also find the most relevant industry media to promote your content.

For a long time, PR and SEO were seen as two totally different marketing disciplines, but in recent years, the lines have blurred, and the two have come together.

Digital PR is now the link building tactic of choice for many SEOs, given that it is the perfect way to earn authority links at scale. You can use PR tactics to promote a great story and corresponding linkable assets, and it is possible to earn significant volumes of links as a result.

In fact, a recent study highlighted that the average campaign earns links from between 10 and 24 unique linking domains.

PR contributes to off-page SEO signals in more ways than simply helping to build links. A great PR campaign can also:

  • Increase brand awareness and resultant brand searches.

  • Puts your business in front of your target audience and gets them talking about you.

  • Drives referral traffic.

  • Positions you as a thought leader in your industry and helps to build trust signals.

While local SEO is a complete discipline of SEO in its own right, there are certain elements that are key off-page SEO tactics — two are Google My Business and citations.

Google My Business plays a vital role in the online presence of pretty much any local business, and it is easy to forget that optimizing your page and getting it to rank on the map pack is actually off-page SEO.

GMB isn’t your own website, and let’s not forget that any efforts that focus on anything but your own site counts as off-page. 

It has recently been reported that 46% of all Google searches are looking for local information and that 4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information. It is a simple fact that if it is not your business that is showing amongst local GMB results, it is one of your competitors.

Take a look at our ultimate guide to Google My Business for 2020 to learn the tips and tricks to help you optimize your listing, and understand how to make the most of the platform as part of your off-page strategy.

A citation is a mention of your business online that typically references not just your business name but also your NAP (name, address, and phone number). Think of them as business listings.

If you are a local business looking to rank for geographically targeted search terms both on the standard SERPs or as part of the map pack, you simply cannot avoid the importance of citations, given that they are considered to be one of the main off-page ranking factors. 

But one of the keys to success with citations is consistency.

Inconsistent citations demonstrate a lack of coherency, and, for that reason, it is important that you take the time to ensure that all of your NAP references match up.

You can use our Listing Management Tool to audit your citations, find new opportunities, clean up duplicates, and manage reviews.

It is 2020, and we live in a social-first world. In fact, 97% of digital consumers have used social media in the past month.

Social media plays a huge role in the way we, as consumers, use the web and search for answers to our questions. Think about it this way, social media platforms are used as a type of search engine (or answer engine as we are often now referring to them as).

And let’s clear one thing up — social shares aren’t a direct ranking factor.

Treat social media platforms as search engines and discovery platforms and understand that your presence across social can help put you in front of potential clients and customers who are looking for answers to their questions or to engage with the right brands on the social networks that they are using.

Social media is also often used as a customer service platform.

A customer wants to speak with your brand to raise a query or question? Most of your customers will reach out on social as the first port of call.

It is important that you maintain a strong presence, communicate professionally, and treat social as another brand channel, one that both existing and potential customers will discover at part of their sales journey.

You may be surprised to see forums recommended as an off-page SEO tactic. Why?

Because for years, SEOs spammed forums, comments, and other UGC platforms as a way to build links (as a way to build not very good links).

For this reason, the attention for many shifted away from forums completely. But let’s look back at one thing again, off-page SEO is about so much more than just links.

When used as part of a wider strategy, forums can add real value to your marketing mix. Rather than using forums (including both niche forums that are specific to your vertical and larger platforms like Quora and Reddit) as a way to build links, go in with a different mindset.

Think of using forums as a way to get directly involved in conversations that relate to your expertise, to position yourself as an expert, and quickly rise up to be seen as a specialist or expert. 

Very few other platforms give you the opportunity to have open discussions with potential customers who are already asking questions about what you have to offer, and this is a fantastic way to begin building relationships and trust. 

With a bit of effort and commitment, you can relatively easily build up a strong community and level of trust from audiences on forums. Reddit and Quora are key large-scale platforms to usee, but forums within your niche can be just as effective.

Forums have declined in popularity since their heyday in the 2000s, so there is a pretty good chance your competitors won’t be there, making it much easier to cut through any noise.

Influencer marketing comes in a number of different forms in 2020. Rewind a few years, and the tactic was all about bloggers doing sponsored posts. Today, it’s all about Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok.

Don’t start using influencer marketing as a way to build links unless they are nofollowed; links within sponsored content violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. 

We see a common theme here — off-page SEO isn’t just about links.

Influencer marketing can be a phenomenal way to build your brand, amplify your content, and reach new audiences. 

We have already discussed how social networks are search engines in their own right. While they are used in a different way than Google, they are a form of a search engine where users are actively looking to find content. 

Influencers can go a long way to helping to ensure you are present, as a business, on these platforms. 

Events are making a comeback within marketing strategies and, believe it or not; they can help to contribute to your off-page SEO strategy.

Now more than ever, the number of online events such as webinars is significant, and they can go a long way to help build your brand.

Not only can they help to engage your audience, but you will also benefit from a real buzz around your business, which will drive social engagement and even links.

Host your event through Meetup.com? That is another search engine for local niche meet up events. 

Don’t, by any means, discount using events from your marketing strategy in 2020. Yes, they require effort to run properly, but that buzz can be difficult to replicate in other ways. They are also a great way to also pick up some fantastic PR coverage. 

Guest posting, when done right, can contribute far more to your marketing strategy that just being used as a way to build links — it is all about writing as a guest for someone else’s website and providing value and information to their audience.

However, there is no denying that it remains one of the most commonly used link building tactics, coming out as the most effective strategy in our 2019 study of 850 SEO specialists.

When executed properly, guest posting can help you put your brand in front of a targeted audience, send targeted traffic, and help to position you as experts in your field.

And, the reality is that links shouldn’t be the only reason why you guest post; they should just be an added benefit if they happen.

Your primary objective of guest posting should be to reach a new audience, get in front of a related site’s traffic, and build your brand. When you approach the tactic with this mindset, you will find that it can be highly valuable.

Podcasts are insanely popular right now, and they are continuing to gain more listeners every month. In fact, 44% of Americans have listened to podcasts at least once in their life, while 73 million Americans listen to them monthly.

They are a big deal, and if you are not using them as part of your marketing strategy, you could be missing out on huge opportunities. Keep in mind, podcasting is work; see this guide on what it entails.

Let’s look at the benefits:

  • Most businesses still aren’t using podcasts as part of their strategy, and this means that it is a great way to gain a competitive advantage.
  • They are a great way to reach new audiences, share your expertise, and to gain visibility on search engines that aren’t Google.
  • Apple’s Podcasts is still a search engine — one that lets you find relevant podcasts with keywords.
  • Google Podcasts is another, as is Listen Notes.

The businesses that recognize that SEO should cover more search engines than just Google are ultimately those who succeed in building a brand, and finding ways to target their potential audience whichever platform they choose to use.

Your online reputation has never been so important.

Did you know that 93% of people say online reviews impact their buying decisions? Reviews are a big deal and a massively underrated off-page SEO tactic, and online reputation management is something that no business can ignore.

As TrustPilot says, “Perhaps the most underrated benefit of collecting reviews is that, when implemented properly, reviews can help Google better understand your site. The common understanding is that Google uses them to derive brand signals, which can boost your site’s domain authority and eventually your position in search.”

Once again, we are back to talking about brand signals. Off-page SEO, when stripped back to basics, all comes back to building your brand and creating signals that portray you as one that deserves to rank at the top of the SERPs. 

A business that has collected great reviews on third-party platforms is positioning itself as a brand. Great reviews help to increase conversions and, once again, trust. 

Credit: TrustPilot

Sometimes, a publication will look to syndicate content from other sources to supplement their own original articles. They do this because it is easier than creating fresh content all the time.

You often find that content is syndicated across sites that form part of a network owned by a TV or radio group. But publishers are starting to also use this to increase the content that goes live on their site every day.

Yahoo! is perhaps one of the biggest platforms that commonly syndicate content from other sources.

You might also have considered syndicating your own content to other publications to increase your reach and readership.

But how does this sit as an off-page SEO tactic?

Let’s take a look at what 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.

Syndicated content often isn’t indexed by Google, for obvious reasons that relate to it being a duplicate of the original, but that doesn’t mean to say it should always be avoided.

Content syndication can help amplify your content, and more eyeballs on your published work can positively impact brand signals, even when this results in URLs that canonicalize to the original; something that has been discussed in detail here. 

You can’t ignore the importance of off-page SEO in 2020, but it is important to recognize that it is about so much more than link building.

SEO success comes from building a brand, and off-page SEO has shifted from a core focus on driving signals that impact ranking factors to including a focus on optimizing, creating content, and ranking on other search engines in their own right aside from Google.

You need to be using off-page SEO as part of your wider digital strategy, and those brands who do enjoy solid growth in an ever-competitive marketplace.

Think brand-first, and you will go into off-page SEO with the right mindset to achieve the results that will truly make a real difference upon your brand’s online presence. 

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