For many years now, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) may have been the single biggest subject of discussion among digital marketers.
From enhanced security to content quality and everything in-between, SEO encompasses all the qualities content marketing requires.
However, SEO is far from a clear-cut subject. Most marketers embrace it now, but Google is a bit less than transparent about its ranking factors.
This, coupled with the experiential nature of most SEO guidelines, presents the first notable challenge.
The second comes with SEO’s scope; it is simply too vast for the uninitiated to fully grasp it. Trying to do so also costs, and not every business has the budget to spare for holistic SEO.
Combined, these factors create the need for prioritization; which of the 3 SEO subtypes is more worth leaning on?
Since technical SEO rarely makes the cut, the question becomes, which is more important: on-page or off-page SEO?
Let us explore both and find out.
Defining SEO and its Subtypes:
First, since we’ve touched on the three subtypes, let us very briefly define them and SEO on the whole.
As the name suggests, SEO is a series of practices that seek to optimize content for search engines.
Given Google’s unquestionable dominance across most markets, optimizations typically cater to Google’s ranking factors specifically.
However, SEO is far too vast, as mentioned above. Marketers have identified over 200 ranking factors, which is quite a staggering number.
To focus on specific aspects, SEO has been divided into 3 main subtypes. These are the following:
- On-page SEO. This subtype focuses on on-page elements, such as keywords and image optimizations.
- Off-page SEO. Conversely, this subtype focuses on off-page elements, such as backlinks.
- Technical SEO. Finally, this subtype focuses on technical health, such as XML sitemaps and robots.txt.
There is another subtype that has gained prominence in recent years; local SEO.
Instead of focusing on a specific aspect of content quality or page health, this subtype focuses on Google My Business (GMB) and local searches.
Still, local SEO tends to cater to locally-focused businesses, and technical SEO often sees due care by webmasters.
So the question remains, which is more important: on-page or off-page SEO?
To answer that, we will first need to explore both. Then, we will need to weigh the value of each as regards Google’s algorithm criteria.
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Starting with the former, on-page SEO may be the most popular among the three subtypes. There are a few different reasons for this, so let’s explain.
Initially, on-page SEO includes many on-page factors that marketers, users, and Google value highly. These primarily inform content quality and relevance, the user experience, and more.
To demonstrate, consider that on-page SEO significantly affects loading speeds through image optimizations and other practices.
This alone is invaluable, as Google/SOASTA research finds a clear correlation between loading speeds and bounce rates:
Second, on-page SEO also significantly informs Google’s Core Web Vitals. These are a primary Page experience signal, which too can heavily affect final rankings:
Finally, on-page SEO is, arguably, quite easier. Gathering user engagement data through Google Analytics, heat maps, and other tools is quite commonplace and effective.
Still, off-page SEO is just as crucial. It includes a wealth of strategies, most notably link-building, and marketers continuously strive to choose the best solutions among them.
Off-page SEO delves into off-page elements, including social signals, backlinks, and more. It overlaps with influencer marketing, user-generated content (UGC), and similar strategies.
All such strategies are SEO mainstays, and for good reason; backlinks alone are the proverbial backbone of SEO.
For text economy, let us simply elaborate on their value, SEO-wise and otherwise:
- All backlinks produce traffic. Revenue aside, all such traffic can yield user engagement, which informs SEO rankings.
- All backlinks typically attract audiences invested in your niche. Such audiences are more likely to engage and convert at higher rates.
- Do-Follow backlinks enhance your Domain Authority (DA). Such backlinks act as effective endorsements and thus enhance your own DA – and rankings in the process.
What’s more, off-page SEO typically overlaps with on-page SEO and robust content marketing.
The skyscraper technique, for instance, hinges on producing impeccable content, which itself exhibits great on-page SEO qualities.
So which is more important: on-page or off-page SEO?
This overlap is where we may conclusively answer this dilemma.
Put simply, both are too valuable to ignore, and each complements the other.
To elaborate, let us cite FirstPageSage’s research to identify the weight of Google’s ranking factors:
As you can see, the top 5 are, in order:
- Consistent Publication of High-Quality Content
- Keywords in Meta Title Tags
- Niche Expertise
- User Engagement
What is crucial to note here is that both on-page and off-page SEO find ample room in those factors.
#1 Content quality (On-page)
Content quality is, by far, the most crucial SEO element to consider. Google’s express goal is to deliver valuable content to users, and it uses an array of factors to gauge value:
- Content length and depth
- Formatting and keyword density
- Media and media optimizations
- Outbound links to authoritative sources
- User engagement – a ranking factor in itself
All of these elements clearly belong to on-page SEO.
#2 Keywords (On-page)
Similarly, keywords are the proverbial fuel to robust SEO. They are what content ranks for, and they inform users and crawlers alike of your content’s subject.
A step further, Google values keywords in meta title tags specifically quite highly. By the same token, keywords in image titles and alt. tags can also generate traffic via image searches.
Keywords, too, belong to on-page SEO.
#3 Backlinks (off-page)
Backlinks, however, do not. Backlinks may have relatively fallen out of favor but remain the 3rd most important ranking factor.
What’s more, backlinks come with an array of benefits, as outlined above. They generate traffic and engagement and inform authoritativeness.
All of these directly benefit your overall SEO score and your content marketing strategies success.
Backlinks are the proverbial spearhead of off-page SEO.
#4 Authoritativeness (off-page)
Adjacent to backlinks comes authoritativeness. Google uses other signals, such as content quality and real-world information, to inform this metric, but backlinks remain a crucial component.
Similarly, Google derives authoritativeness from user engagement; for instance, pages with high bounce rates can’t be authoritative.
Authoritativeness too primarily belongs to off-page SEO, then, albeit less strongly than backlinks do.
#5 Engagement (On-page/Off-page)
Finally, user engagement is where all of the above converge. Core Web Vitals signals, Page Experience, authoritativeness and DA, keywords matching the users’ search intent – it all comes down to actual user engagement.
Evidently, Google does value user engagement quite highly. To them, it seems to be infallible proof of great content and an excellent page – and for good reason.
User engagement best exemplifies how the two subtypes culminate into one ultimate goal; user satisfaction. If users like your page and content, so will Google.
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So, which is more important: on-page or off-page SEO? There can be no clear-cut answer, as both are invaluable and mutually complementary.
Rather, you may best approach this question from a subjective standpoint; which is more important to you? Which is easier on your teams and budget and may yield more valuable results?
By consulting your analytics, you may deduce the answer that makes more sense for you.
Analyze your users’ behavior and feedback; perform an SEO audit to identify shortcomings; pinpoint and prioritize your business needs.
In turn, you may choose the route that holds more value for you and your business.
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Hello, I am Azad. I'm the man behind Growwpedia. I'm a Blogger, Affiliate Marketer and SEO expert.
Also I'm a student doing my B Tech in Computer Science from Mumbai University. I'm 19 years old guy.