The line between off-page SEO and marketing communications has become so blurred that it’s hard to tell where an SEO specialist’s job starts and stops.
For example, since influencer marketing can increase brand mentions and backlinks, (both of which are known off-page ranking factors) does that mean an SEO specialist should take ownership of it?
Short answer: no. lo
If “off-page” means everything, then it means nothing.
In this article, we’re going to take a slight departure from the average off-page SEO article that lists every marketing communications tactic of the last decade as an “off-page technique.”
Instead, we’re going to explore the small group of direct and known off-page ranking factors that every SEO specialist should own, regardless of the methods you deploy to influence them.
Warning: this isn’t some shoddy SEO checklist either.
Off-page SEO requires a broader, more holistic approach to SEO that bleeds into every part of the marketing department, not just a one-time set of tactics.
Knowing where those boundaries lie can make or break your SEO strategy.
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What is off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO (or off-site SEO) refers to any search engine optimization strategies or tactics you deploy to improve your rankings but that take place outside of your domain.
Unlike on-page optimization that seeks to improve SERP rankings by optimizing the content within your website, off-page optimization seeks to improve your SERP rankings by optimizing factors outside of your domain.
Not just any factors; known factors that contribute to higher rankings like acquiring quality backlinks, increasing brand mentions, securing reviews, or optimizing your Google My Business page (all of which we’ll cover in a moment).
On-page SEO vs. off-page SEO?
Relevance vs. authority.
If on-page SEO helps to make your content easier to understand, crawl, and index, then off-page SEO helps to build your website into a topical authority in the subject matter your content explores.
Because Google wants to know two things definitively:
- Does the content on your web page satisfy the intent of the person who searches for it? (On-page/Relevance)
- Are you a credible source of information if we send visitors to you? (Off-page/Authority)
Not surprisingly, then, on-page and off-page require two distinct approaches with very different tactics.
Want to learn more about on-page SEO? We wrote an entire article on it here.
Why is off-page important to your SEO?
The greatest content in the world is unlikely to rank high on Google search if the website that publishes it has no trust or authority in the eyes of search algorithms. At least not if it’s competing against other websites with higher domain authority.
And domain authority (trustworthiness, relevance, authority) comes from off-page SEO.
In fact, according to a 2015 Moz survey that asked SEO expert how important certain tactics were to ranking, off-page SEO accounted for over 50% of total ranking factors.
Off-page ranking factors
There are off-page SEO ranking factors that the SEO community agrees reflect Google's actual ranking factors. Then there’s off-page SEO techniques that help you positively influence those ranking factors.
Too often SEO specialists conflate the two.
For example, social media marketing is not off-page SEO (nor are social shares a known ranking factor). But sharing content on social media can indirectly lead to improved rankings since more shares lead to more organic traffic which can lead to more backlinks.
So, like we mentioned in the intro, in this article, we’re going to explore the direct off-page ranking factors that every SEO manager or webmaster should own, not the infinite amount of tactics that influence those factors but that may or may not fall within the SEO department.
What are they?
- Brand signals
- Local SEO factors
Backlinks are links from someone else’s domain to yours (as opposed to internal links that link from one page to another within your domain). And search engines like Google use backlinks as votes of confidence: if a reputable website links to yours, then there’s a high likelihood you are reputable as well.
According Moz, domain-level links carry 21% of the ranking weight and page-level links carry 19.2% of the ranking weight. Together, backlinks make up 40% of ranking factors.
According to Whitespark (2020), who also surveyed a group of SEO experts to find out which ranking factors contributed the most to local SEO, off-page accounted for over 50% of total rankings too. Of that over 50%, backlinks represented 15% of total rankings for Local Pack results and 31% of total rankings for local organic results.
According to research from Brian Dean of Backlinko, websites with more backlinks rank higher than those with fewer. And #1 rankings have 3.5x as many backlinks as positions 2-10.
And according to Google, backlinks are a top-three ranking factor next to content and RankBrain.
Landslide victory for backlinks, eh? I’d say so.
Off-page contributes to rankings more than on-page, and backlinks are the most important off-page ranking factor.
But what exactly does a good backlink profile look like?
Number of linking root domains: simple, the more unique domains (linking root domains) that link to your website, the better.
Quality links: not just any links, but links from high domain authority (DA) websites. For example, a link from YouTube (DA 100) is going to help you rank higher than a link from RandomLink (DA 14).
Anchor text: anchor text is the text part of the hyperlink (e.g. this is anchor text). Google has stated that it uses anchor text to understand the relevance and context of the page it links to. You can’t always control this, but keywords in anchor text may increase the value of a link.
Links that send qualified traffic: backlinks aren’t all about rankings. Always consider links that send referral traffic to your website. Also, there’s evidence that links with referral traffic might hold more value in the eyes of Google.
Relevance: if you’re a veterinarian, a link from a pet food website is worth more than a link from an automotive repair website.
Dofollow: links are naturally “dofollow,” which means search engines can follow them and pass along link juice. However, some links are “nofollow,” which means search engines don’t follow them or pass along link juice. You want dofollow.
2. Brand mentions
Brand mentions are linkless instances of your brand name mentioned online, whether in an article, a case study, on social media, within a forum, or somewhere else.
For example, here’s a common brand mention about us:
How much do brand mentions contribute to rankings?
It’s hard to tell for certain, but we know they do.
Between Google patents, Google’s Search Quality Guidelines, and both Google’s Gary Illyes and former Bing’s Duane Forrester confirming that search engines can monitor mentions, analyze their sentiment, and use them to influence rankings, we know that unlinked mentions matter.
Bad news: you have little control over who mentions you or when, and brand metrics are hard to track.
So how do you grow brand mentions?
Reviews, social media, influencer outreach, guest posting, high-quality content…these are all great tactics that can help you grow brand mentions. But how many of those actually fall within the SEO department?
It depends, obviously.
It could be all of the above, or it could be none of the above depending on the business.
Either way, here’s what every SEO should bring to the brand-building conversation:
No matter what off-page tactics you deploy, if you want to increase brand mentions at an effective rate, you need more people to know you exist. Which means doing things that maximize reach. Prioritize opportunities that will put you and your point of view in front of the most people.
Spheres of influence
To grow brand mentions, you need other influencers in your industry talking about you. Customers can only do so much (e.g. leave reviews). Every SEO should have a role in building out a sphere of influencers from your industry, whether individuals, bloggers, disruptors, thought leaders, or businesses.
Your sphere of influence needs something valuable to share with their audience. It doesn't matter how you do it, whether with articles, thought leadership, podcasts, a video series, or something else, but every brand building program needs a universal message that resonates with buyers, non-buyers, future buyers, and influencers alike. And SEO should absolutely have a say in developing that message.
3. Local SEO factors
Local SEO refers to search engine optimization for local businesses.
When it comes to local SEO, three things differ from regular SEO in regard to off-page optimization:
- Google My Business (GMB)
According to Whitespark, GMB, reviews, and citations make up 56% of total ranking factors for Local Pack results and 19% of total ranking factors for localized organic results.
Let’s explore each.
Google My Business
Google My Business is Google’s business hub for local businesses.
As long as you make in-person contact with customers, Google will give you a free business profile that you can edit and update so your business information appears accurate within search results.
For queries with local intent (i.e. “dentist near me”), Google shows GMB listings in three places:
- Map results
- Knowledge Panel
- Local Pack results (AKA “Snack Pack”)
According to Whitespark’s industry survey, local SEO experts believe an optimized GMB listing accounts for 33% of rankings for Local Pack results and 15% of rankings for local organic results.
How do you optimize a GMB page?
The factors most critical to GMB success (in no particular order) include:
Completeness of GMB profile
Every field filled out (images, business hours, business category, about, etc.). All of it.
Keywords in GMB title
Unfortunately, you have little control over this. Your title should be your business name, whether or not it’s keyword rich. However, try including your category descriptor in your name if you can (e.g. “KlientBoost SEO Agency”)
Primary category of GMB profile
Categories aren’t perfect; they may not have your exact category. But find the one that’s closest.
Secondary categories of GMB profile
List as many related categories as available.
Verified/claimed GMB listing
Verify and claim your GMB page, always. When you verify, you can update information and manage your page.
Keywords in GMB landing page title
The landing page in this case is likely your homepage or location page. Ensure it’s optimized for your city + service + brand name.
Page authority of GMB landing page URL
You can link your GMB page to any page on your website. But consider your homepage since it likely has the highest page authority of any page on your site.
Local area code on GMB profile
Google uses proximity to service local results, and an area code helps them determine a GMB listings location.
Quality and authority of inbound links to GMB landing page
Links rule the world, even for your GMB rankings.
Quantity of GMB reviews
Get more native Google reviews.
Citations (NAP consistency)
A local citation is a mention of your name, address, and phone number (NAP) somewhere on the web, like on a local business directory, an industry-specific website, social media, or an app.
For example, this is a citation for a plastic surgeon in Newport Beach, CA on a niche business directory called RealSelf.
Citations can also include links, email address, star reviews, calls-to-actions, links to your website, or something else.
According to Whitespark’s 2020 survey, citation information accounts for 7% of Local Pack rankings and 6% of localized organic results.
And according to Moz’s 2018 Local Ranking Factors report, citations were the fifth most important ranking factor for Local Pack and localized organic results.
When it comes to citations, three things matter most:
It’s critical that your name, address, and phone number (NAP) appear consistently across all your citations. Search engines use NAP consistency as a trust signal when ranking local businesses. If your business information is inconsistent, they’ll think you might have moved or closed, which can result in poor local rankings. Not to mention inaccurate business information can confuse customers too.
Like backlinks, not all citations are created equal either. For example, a citation on a website like Google or Facebook or Yelp is more valuable than a citation on a random website with low domain authority. Just like an industry-specific citation will hold more weight than a non-specific citation.
Last, volume of citations. In the same way backlink quantity builds trust with Google, citation quantity builds trust too. The more instances of accurate NAP, the more certain Google will feel about your business.
How do you build and clean up citations?
You can do it manually. But it’s tedious.
Thankfully, dozens of tools and services provide NAP citation building and cleanup at an affordable price.
Some of our favorites:
- Yext: Yext has direct integrations with dozens of the most popular business directories online. All from a single dashboard you can add or clean up citations in minutes.
- Whitespark: Whitespark has a Yext-like service. But they also have a service that builds new listings for you starting at $199 for 25 listings. Great for building quantity.
- BrightLocal: BrightLocal offers citation building for as little as $2 a citation.
Note: Citations have seen a dip in effectiveness over the last three years, as well as a dip in how much time SEOs spend building them.
According to Whitespark, reviews are the second most important ranking factor for Local Pack results, and the fourth most important factor for localized organic results.
No to mention respondents said a high numerical Google review ratings (e.g. 4-5) had the biggest impact on conversion from GMB pages.
But think about reviews holistically when acquiring more:
- Review sentiment. Just like positive sentiment can help rankings, negative sentiment can hurt rankings
- Review quantity. More is more, as long as reviews are between 4-5 stars
- Review diversity. Google isn’t the only review platform, even if it’s the most important
- Review velocity. Are you acquiring 100 reviews in a month then never getting another review until next year? Shoot for consistency
- Domain authority of the review site. More reputable sites will have more reputable review ratings
Off-page SEO tactics
Now that you know which off-page ranking factors matter the most, you can start to see how every corner of marketing communications can influence them.
Some of the most common off-page tactics include:
- Content marketing and distribution
- Social media marketing
- Influencer marketing
- Guest blogging
- Press releases distribution (meh)
- Link building (broken link building, linkable assets, etc.)
- Brand building
- Content syndication
And many more.
As the SEO manager or specialist, it’s not your job to execute all of these tactics just because they might influence a small group of metrics in your wheelhouse. But it is your job to communicate off-page ranking factors to anyone who might inadvertently play a role in affecting them.
The fact that off-page SEO can be influenced by virtually every marketing communications tactic proves that, today, sound SEO is just a byproduct of good marketing, not necessarily a checklist of tactics you perform in a silo.
But where does SEO start and stop?
If every marketing communications tactic influences off-page, what should SEO own?
Hopefully this article made one thing clear: no matter which tactics you deploy to influence direct and known off-page ranking factors, it’s the SEO specialist’s job to champion those factors for the entire marketing department.