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HOW SEO WORKS

On-page and off-page SEO

This is one of a series of pages on search engine optimisation, which also includes the following:

What is SEO?
What is a search engine?
Can I do SEO myself?
SEO prices

The content of these pages is also available to download as a single PDF file: A guide to search engine optimisation

How does SEO work?

The aim of SEO is to persuade Google and other search tools to display your website’s pages as high up the list of search results as possible.

To achieve that aim, the process of search engine optimisation focuses on a number of objectives related to both internal website issues and external factors – known in the jargon as on-page and off-page optimisation respectively.

Through a variety of activities, including monitoring the performance of your site’s pages, amending keywords, adding new content and promoting your site via social media and other channels, SEO works to convince Google that your web pages are the ones it should be showing when people search for relevant keywords.

It’s worth bearing in mind that, when Google is analysing your website, one of its most important considerations is trust; that is, the extent to which your pages are accurate, honest, safe, and reliable.

Page quality – and hence your ranking in relation to similar pages from other providers – is assessed using what Google terms E-E-A-T: Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust (also seen as EAT: Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness; for more information see Google’s Search Quality Rater guidelines [PDF] and the Search Engine Journal article Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines: A Guide for SEO Beginners).

What is on-page SEO?

The term on-page SEO, or on-page optimisation, refers to addressing issues on your website, in order to maximise the potential for pages to be found, indexed and ranked by search engines.

When looking at your website from an SEO perspective, it’s worth remembering that search engine crawlers only see text: there are no vibrant colours and stunning images, just words. Unless you provide content that a crawler can read, then however beautiful your site and its pages are, they’re likely to remain undiscovered by potential customers.

Activities associated with on-page SEO therefore include creating high quality, useful content that search engines can access, and making sure that keywords appear in relevant places, such as title tags, meta descriptions and image alt tags.

On-page optimisation also covers things like creating good URLs for pages and blog posts (and ensuring that words in URLs are separated by hyphens, not underscores or some other character that crawlers struggle to interpret), reducing the size of image files, and making sure that links (and the pages they point to) are accessible to search engines.

It’s also important to make sure that your website is responsive, so that people seeing it on mobile devices find it easy to view, navigate and read, so this is another area that on-page SEO addresses.

What is off-page SEO?

In contrast to on-page SEO, the aim of off-page optimisation is to increase awareness of your site and its contents by engaging in activities beyond its borders.

It is essentially a means of bringing your pages to the attention of other people and websites through activities such as social media marketing and posting in relevant online forums.

(If you’re dubious about the role of social media in search engine optimisation, see this Search Engine Journal article: How Social Media Helps SEO.)

Another objective of off-page SEO is to get other websites to link to your pages, through a process called link building. Known as ‘backlinks’, these are an important ranking factor for Google; the more backlinks you have from reputable sources, the more significant your site is considered to be.

Guest blogging is also cited as a good way of attracting attention to your site. If you can write blog posts for other quality sites in a related sector, then search engines take that as a sign that you have some expertise in the subject and they can reward your efforts by pushing you higher up the rankings.

To discuss how I can help improve your SEO and get your pages ranking higher on Google, please get in touch.