On-site & Off-site SEO: What’s the difference?

Not sure what the difference is between on-site and off-site SEO? No problem. After reading this article, everyone in your office will consider you an SEO guru. Probably.

We’ll focus on answering the above question in the context of SMEs (read: we understand you can’t throw zillions at your SEO campaign, so we’ll explore the costs as we go).

For your website to perform well, you need both on-site and off-site elements to be fully optimised and working in harmony.

If you’re pressed for time you can also check out our recent blog detailing the 5 things you can do today to improve your SEO.

On-site SEO

On-site SEO is the process of optimising aspects of your actual website: things like your text, code, images, and internal links.

On-site SEO is the process of optimising aspects of your actual website: things like your text, code, images, and internal links.

Keyword research

Before you go about modifying your on-page factors, you need to carry out keyword research to find out what words people are using to find your products in Google and other search engines.

Main on-site elements

Title tags

Each website page has a title tag. It’s the first line of text that appears in Google (in blue) and you’ll see it if you hover over the tab in your browser. This is the first piece of information Google (and other search engines) read – so it’s very, very important. This is where you put your main target keywords. However, it should also be enticing enough that people click on it. It should be no more than 60 characters long and should contain your brand.

Meta descriptions

This is the snippet that appears under your title tag in Google. It should explain more about the page and how it can help the user. It should also contain your main keywords, alongside other ‘long tail’ keywords, branding and a call to action (e.g. “Buy Now”). It should be readable, not spammy. The character limit is now 160 (from December 2017 it was 320 characters, but was reverted back to 160 in May 2018).

Header tags (H1, H2, H3 etc.)

Header tags are simply headings on your page (as you would find in a paper essay or report), and contain important keywords and information – often defining sections of content. The H1 is the most important of the header tags, and in most cases should contain your main target keyword(s), but should ideally differ from the title tag. Use H1s sensibly and sparingly.

H2 tags contain keywords and information of secondary importance to the H1. The same goes for H3 tags compared to H2 tags.

Header tags help both search engines and users understand your content.

Content/body text

This is the main body of your content. It should contain important keywords. Limit keyword density to around 2 per cent. Remember that the content is not only a block of text to put your keywords in – it must be as engaging and useful to the reader as possible. The length of time spent on-page affects rankings, so compelling copy is crucial.

The more content the better (Google likes long-form copy) – although it’s important not to bulk up a page with useless or waffling copy. Add images, videos, infographics and other components to enhance the user experience (and put a smile on Google’s face).


Your URLs should reflect the page subject and should feature important key-terms. Avoid meaningless strings at the end of your URLs, like yourwebsite.com/36364334-3. URLs should be clean and logical.

Internal Linking

How your pages link up – via hyperlinks – is also very important. You may have a top menu navigation, but you may also add links to important pages in the body text. For example, you might link from your homepage text to your ‘latest products’ pages. Internal linking is good for users, because they can click through other relevant content on the site easily. It also makes it easy for Google to crawl and index your site, and passes ‘authority’ or ‘link juice’ from one page to another.

Anchor text relevance

This relates to linking. It is the word on which the link is placed – e.g. the term ‘blue sprockets’ may link to yourwebsite.com/blue-sprockets. This makes it clear to both Google and your users that the target page is about blue sprockets. Anchor text should be as relevant as possible, without being spammy.

Other important factors:

  • Image filenames and alt text containing target keywords (and the latter not left blank)
  • Page load speed
  • Mobile optimisation (does your site look good on a smartphone?)

On-site SEO: cost considerations

Good quality keyword research and content costs money, but should pay off big dividends in the future. For medium and small businesses it might be difficult to see such investments as prudent, but if they are not done well (or at all), you could be missing out on tons of traffic.


Off-site SEO


Backlinks are hyperlinks from other websites to yours. They are like a vote of confidence that your site has some value or relevance to their readership. Building a large and diverse backlink profile remains the most important off-site activity. It usually takes a long time and is not easy.

If a particular website is deemed popular, relevant, trustworty, and authoritative by Google, and it links to your website, then some of those positive attributes will brush off, boosting your rankings and traffic.

The three kinds of backlink:

Natural links: these are links that you acquire without any effort. People find your content and link to it because they find it useful or engaging. Natural links are the gold-dust of SEO.

Manually-built links: these are links built by you. Getting clients to link to your site, or asking successful websites to link to you fall under this category.

Self-created links: these include links you have posted yourself on forums, directories, in blog comments or in press releases written by yourself. Some self-created links are frowned upon by search engines, and may be regarded as ‘Black hat SEO’ – the practice of using techniques regarded as underhand by Google and other search engines. 

Superb content

Writing excellent, engaging, useful content is a crucial on-site factor – but it’s also an essential off-site factor. If your content is useful and compelling, people are going to link to it. If it isn’t, they won’t.

Other off-site factors

The tactics listed below also impact your search rankings:

  • Social media marketing
  • Guest blogging
  • Linked and unlinked mentions of your brand or site
  • Influencer marketing

Off-site SEO: cost considerations

As you might have guessed by now, content is crucial for off-site and well as on-site SEO. Good content costs money – whether it’s the written word, images, videos or infographics. When it comes to small business SEO, it can be challenging to see such an investment as wise – but over the medium and long term, SEO can deliver a great return on investment and so may be extremely cost-effective (when done well).

Additionally, if you engage in activities like guest blogging and buying links (not recommended) your off-site SEO invoices will soon pile up. If you’re looking to do a hold-me-over job for the time being and have just launched or relaunched a Website then make sure you do these 7 things at least.

One of the most cost-effective ways to build links is to enlist the help of an experienced SEO company (ahem).