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"Off-site SEO" (also called "off-page SEO") refers to actions taken outside of your own website to impact your rankings within search engine results pages (SERPs).
Optimizing for off-site ranking factors involves improving search engine and user perception of a site's popularity, relevance, trustworthiness, and authority. This is accomplished by other reputable places on the Internet (pages, sites, people, etc.) linking to or promoting your website, and effectively "vouching" for the quality of your content.
While search algorithms and ranking factors are constantly changing, the general consensus within the SEO community is that the relevance, trustworthiness, and authority that effective off-site SEO affords a website still play a major role in a page's ability to rank.
While we don't know the full algorithm Google uses to rank content, data from our Search Engine Ranking Factors study show that off-site SEO-related factors likely carry more than 50% of the ranking factor weight.
Building backlinks is at the heart of off-site SEO. Search engines use backlinks as indications of the linked-to content's quality, so a site with many high value backlinks will usually rank better than an otherwise equal site with fewer backlinks.
There are three main types of links, defined by how they were earned: natural links, manually built links, or self-created links.
Natural links are editorially given without any action on the part of a page owner. For example, a food blogger adding a link to a post that points toward their favorite produce farms is a natural link.
Manually built links are acquired through deliberate link-building activities. This includes things like getting customers to link to your website or asking influencers to share your content.
Self-created links are created by practices such as adding a backlink in an online directory, forum, blog comment signature, or a press release with optimized anchor text. Some self-created link building tactics tend toward black hat SEO and are frowned upon by search engines, so tread lightly here.
Regardless of how links were obtained, those that offer the greatest contribution to SEO efforts are generally those that pass the most equity. There are many signals that positively contribute to the equity passed, such as:
While earning links from external websites is the most commonly practiced off-site SEO strategy, almost any activity that a) occurs outside of your own website and b) helps to improve your search ranking position could be thought of as "off-site SEO." These include things like:
It's important to note, though, that the net result of each of these activities is to somehow create a reference to your site from elsewhere on the web — be that reference a link, a mention of your brand or website, or otherwise. So, the concept of truly "non-link-related" off-site SEO is actually a bit of a misnomer!
Off-site SEO relies on human behavior (namely, that people only reference and share content they like). As such, it applies to both organic and local SEO. Even in a brick-and-mortar business, high quality products get a lot of word-of-mouth referrals from current customers — the in-person equivalent of off-site SEO.
At a high level, improving the "off-site SEO" of a website involves improving search engine and user perception of a site's quality. This happens by getting links from other sites (especially those that are reputable and trustworthy themselves), mentions of your brand, shares of your content, and "votes of confidence" from sources outside of your own website.