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SEO Field Guide: On-Page and Off-Page SEO

February 10, 2021 | Northwoods Team, Your Trusted Digital Trail Guides

8 Minute Read

Websites differ in appearance, structure and business aims. It follows that the Search Engine Optimization strategies and tactics designed to bring productive traffic will be unique to any given site.

Still, every site must leverage both on-page SEO and off-page SEO to succeed. An understanding of how they differ, what they do and how they work will improve your site’s overall SEO performance.

What is On-Page SEO?

On-page SEO determines your ranking factors. On-page SEO comprises all the measures you can take within your website to help search engine bots, such as Google and Bing, interpret your webpages. On-page optimization is within your control. Here’s what you can do:

Fix Duplicate and Missing Title Tags and H1 Tags

The more duplicate page titles you have, the worse those pages will rank on the search engine results page. Duplicate title tags create more work for search engines and put them in charge of ranking those pages for you. Duplicate titles and content compete, in a way, with one another for search bot attention. This splits results and pushes both pieces of content down in search results.

Duplicate titles and H1 tags can also confuse users and thus degrade user experience. Each page on your site should have a title distinct from all your other pages, and the same goes for content.

Showing an example of using an H1 tag

Image Source: SEMRush

Find and Fix Duplicate and Missing Meta Descriptions

Meta description, though not a ranking factor, matters. Think of it as advertising copy for your webpages as they appear on search engine results pages. They give potential users a friendly, informative wave before users click on your site. Duplicate and missing meta descriptions squander that opportunity; furthermore, they make it harder for users to make sense of your site when several of your pages turn up on the same search engine results page. This can reduce click-through-rate (CTR), and poor CTR in turn reduces your rank.

Check Meta Tags

Meta tags, placed in the HTML code of your website, are a key factor for all search engines. The tags tell search engines what the page is about. Tags make your site’s first impression when it meets a search engine.

Google’s John Mueller: “Meta Tags can affect the way that users see your site in the search results and whether or not they actually click through to your site.”

These are some of the most important meta tags for on-page SEO:

  • Title tag
  • Heading tags
  • Canonical tag
  • Schema markup
  • Meta description
  • Alternative text
  • Social media meta tags (Open Graph)
  • Robots meta tag

URL Structure

The URL is one of the most important parts of a webpage. Good URL structure:

  1. Increases user experience
    • Well-structured and intuitive URLs help users understand the page content and its purpose, as well as helping them know where they are within your site.
  2. Helps search engines understand each page
    • Google wants to deliver results; it puts the user first. To do that, Google must know what each page in its index is about. It finds out by examining many aspects of the page, including the URL.
  3. Makes it easy to share 
    • A good URL structure makes it easy to share your URL on social media, emails and printed material. It is also easy to remember. Long, confusing URLs are hard to both share and remember.

For example, a good URL structure may look something like this:

The example above is a good URL structure because it is simple and easy to read. The user and search bots will know the page is about persona development.

Run a Content Audit

A content audit improves user experience and can increase traffic to your site. Audits help you find areas on your site that are not properly optimized for search engines.

A content audit also helps you keep up with SEO rules and best practices. Google rolls out updates (most having to do with reading user intent) all the time; it’s easy to fall behind. A content audit exposes any gaps.

Optimize Images

Without proper image optimization, neither Google nor users with disabilities will understand your site’s images. You’re essentially wasting a valuable SEO asset by not optimizing your images. Doing so:

  • Improves user experience
  • Reduces page load time
  • Creates ranking opportunities

Choosing the right format, compressing your images, including alt text, and having proper file names optimizes your visual content for both search engines and users.

Improve Internal Linking

A solid internal linking structure helps users navigate your site and helps Google understand the relative importance of the pages on your site – that is, your website’s structure.

Google will follow the links to discover content on the webpage and to rank this content in the search results. Good internal linking structure guides users and Google to your most important pages.

Find and Fix Keyword Cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages rank for the same keyword. This means you’re splitting click-through-rates (CTR), links, content, and conversions among more than one page.

Cannibalized keywords do not convey to Google the depth of your knowledge of a given topic. They do not improve the authority of your site for the specific search query. Instead, they force Google to weigh your site’s pages against one another and choose which page suits the matching keywords best.

When analyzing your URLs and their ranking keywords, it may look something like this:

URL Keyword Digital Advertising Digital Strategy Software Development Website Design

Each page has different ranking keywords. If all pages were ranking for the same keyword, would be keyword cannibalization.

To find keyword cannibalization, use an SEO tool such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz to create a keyword spreadsheet that lists all your URLs and their keyword rankings.

Fixing keyword cannibalization can be as easy as reorganizing content, or it may require you to use redirects or create new landing pages. Possible solutions:

  • Restructure your website
  • Create new landing pages
  • Consolidate your content
  • Find new keywords
  • Use 301 redirects

What is Off-Page SEO?

Off-page SEO, often known as link building, involves raising your site’s domain authority by attracting links from other websites. Domain authority measures your site’s level of  authority as compared to other websites.

The biggest off-page optimization factor is the number of quality backlinks to your site. Use software such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, or Moz to analyze your site’s backlinks and its domain authority.

What can you do to improve your site’s off-page SEO?

Analyze Your Competitors’ Link Profile

Analysis of competitor link profiles will lead you to relevant sources for links. You will be able to observe or infer their strategies for acquiring those valuable links. The analysis will help you:

  • Get to know who your true competitors are. You will know their strengths and weaknesses in terms of search engine rankings.
  • Gain knowledge about your niche. The more you understand your industry, the better you understand how to succeed.
  • Gain understanding of the links that drive your competitor’s growth.
  • Determine competitors’ link-building techniques. If they use one technique above all others, technique is probably effective in your industry.

Conduct a Link Intersect Analysis

A link intersect analysis will show you not only sites that link to your competitors, but also which of them are not linking to you. It will also give you ideas about which sites to include in your outreach strategy.

In short, this analysis helps you discover your missing links. If a site is linking to every competitor, it will probably link to yours, too, if asked. The Ahrefs Link Intersect tool, for example, show you sites that link to your competitors but not to you.

Turn Unlinked Mentions Into Links

Your brand name shows up in a positive remark in an industry blog. That’s good. The brand name in the post does not link to your site. That’s an unlinked mention. That’s bad. The same applies to

  • Product names
  • Brand mentions
  • Images
  • Social media mentions

The mention takes you halfway to earning a link. The author knows your brand and wrote of it, and so has given you the perfect excuse to reach out and simply ask the author or site owner for a link.

To find unlinked brand mentions, type into the Google search bar: intext: brand name

For example, I queried Google search for Northwoods:

Google search for Northwoods using the url for Northwoods website

From inserting the above text into Google’s search bar, these were the results:

Search results from adding direct urls in the Search bar

It is important to note when conducting this technique that it’s possible not all results are for your brand. There could be many companies with the same name. So, take a deeper look into each result. If it is your brand, reach out to the site owner for a link back to your site.

Beyond Google, you can use such common SEO tools as Ahrefs to find mentions on the web using their Content Explorer.

Find New Link Building Opportunities

Google considers link building as a ranking factor: “In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their site by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.” - Google.

Link building opportunities:

  • Find unlinked brand mentions
  • Fix broken links
    • The most common causes of broken links are renaming or moving a webpage and linking to deleted content (PDFs, videos, etc.).
  • Look for lost links
    • Lost links could be due to website changes from a redesign, removing pages, or a better resource provided by a competitor.
  • Email outreach
    • Find likely linkers and reach out via email. Write a personalized script to create a genuine connection that could lead to a link.
  • Move backlink targets
    • If you have backlinks on older resources, content, or products that you want to restructure to newer or more important pages on your website, you can contact the webmaster to use a new/updated link to your site.
  • Find sites that provide industry information
    • Sites that disseminate information on topics in your industry, such as  resource pages, offer great opportunity. Often, you will see these pages on .edu or .gov sites.
  • Build relationships
    • Develop genuine relationships with individuals within your industry. Reaching out and connecting with others in the same industry will help you build links, brainstorm ideas, build your audience.
  • Content creation
    • It’s no secret that content is the key that unlocks amazing backlinks. But simply publishing any old content won’t win links. Certain types of content work best for link building:
      • Visual assets
      • List posts
      • Original research and data
      • In-depth ultimate guides

Is On-Page SEO or Off-Page SEO More Important?

On-page SEO and off-page SEO work together to improve your site’s overall ranking. You need to revisit your on-page SEO from time to time and balance it, so your users and search engine bots can understand your website.

If you’re ready to take it a step further and learn how you can use these powerful link building techniques and digital marketing strategies to improve your digital presence, contact us today.

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