Offsite vs. Onsite SEO

Onsite SEO is about improving your content and technical SEO, and adding fresh, high quality content on a regular basis. Offsite SEO is about gaining high quality links to your website. So which will give the best results: offsite vs. onsite SEO?

In my early days with SEO I worked with lots of sites for which the owner had little control over the content. Often the sites were homemade and the owner had done the best he or she (or the nephew who volunteered) could do. Sometimes they were bought from somebody and the owner simply didn’t have access at all.

With clever linkbuilding, I was able to improve those sites’ rankings and traffic. However, at the same time I was working with good designers and developers and seeing the kinds of results a good, well optimized website could get.  It was sad to work for hours to move a poor quality site slowly up the SERPs while a well-built site zoomed up with the same amount of effort.

We just don’t even do that any more.

Offsite vs. onsite SEO is really an artificial choice, because doing both will always get you the best results. If you feel that you have to choose, though, read on. 

Can you skip onsite SEO?

Ideally, you should do both onsite optimization, such as improving your content and design, updating and cleaning up your code, and fixing problems with your navigation, and also offsite SEO like linkbuilding and content marketing. What if you don’t want to? When can you get away with just offsite SEO and leave your site as it is?

  • When you have no competition. If your site is about collecting antique bottles from disused outhouses, you can have a fairly poor quality site and still rank well for searches on the subject. Local search can often be successfully conquered with offsite SEO only if you have a narrow market niche.
  • When you have an old domain. Although the Google Panda update squashed a lot of these, sites from the 20th century can often get away with outdated code and design if they have good content. We’ve seen such excellent results when we redesign old domains that we would never recommend resting on your laurels, but it can be done.
  • When you’re prepared to be aggressive with social media. We have seen amazing results with social media. If you’ll take it on as a full time job or a serious hobby, you can parlay your personal networking skills into traffic and rankings even if your website is not well optimized.

When can you skip offsite SEO?

  • When your competitors have bad websites. There are some web neighborhoods in which the overall quality of the sites is so bad that any really good website could mop the floor with the competition. We normally recommend linkbuilding for every new site or redesign. Nonetheless, in the right competitive landscape, you can beat your competitors without it.
  • When you’re in no hurry. People who claim that SEO is unnecessary are often saying that a good, useful website will find its own audience and do well without any special efforts. That’s true in the long run. Truth to tell, we do very little offsite SEO for our own sites and still see nice steady improvements. We can speed it up if we want to at any time in the future.
  • When you have limited resources.  If you can only afford to do one or the other, optimize onsite first. A well built site with good content will get natural links and do better than a poor quality site that’s heavily advertised or promoted.

You’ll get best results with a combination of the two, no doubt, but I hope this helps you decide where to start.

2 thoughts on “Offsite vs. Onsite SEO

  1. Rebecca,

    You made some great points about on-site and off-site SEO. Sometimes it takes very little for a site to get to number one with the right niche keyword no matter how poorly its designed if the competition’s sites are just as poorly designed. With that said, what are the key areas you could point to when a small business should finally make the leap and get serious about both onsite and offsite SEO?

    • Get serious about onsite SEO when you build your site, and offsite SEO as soon as you launch it. Any small business that missed that window should get serious about both right now. However, we know there can be time and money tradeoffs, so this article suggests ways to prioritize.

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