On-page SEO vs Off-Page SEO – What’s the Big Difference?


Do you know the difference between on-page SEO vs off-page SEO?

Whether you’re new to digital marketing or an experienced marketer, you’ve probably heard both of these terms mentioned before. They’re both crucial parts of SEO as a whole and you’ll need to have a deep understanding of on-page SEO vs off-page SEO if you’re planning to compete for organic traffic on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Let’s dive right in and explore the difference between on-page SEO vs off-page SEO and how to use both types to execute your SEO strategies.

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What is SEO?

Before we can get into on-page vs off-page SEO, we want to be crystal clear about how we define SEO.

As you probably already know, SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization“.

Most of us should be very familiar with search engines. From a user perspective, search engines like Google and Bing connect us with content we’re searching for on the internet. We type in a search query and the search engine connects us with the content we’re looking for – that’s easy, right?

In fact, there’s a lot going on under the hood.

To function effectively, search engines must be able to discover web pages, analyze their contents and rank them by their relevancy for specific keywords. Google discovers new web pages using special Internet robots called crawlers, then determines their rank and relevancy using special algorithms that account for hundreds of different factors that are specific to each page.

These factors are formally known as Google Ranking Factors, and this is where the optimization part of SEO starts to become important.

Google has published relatively little information about how it ranks web pages in the SERPs, but after years of careful experimentation and analysis, digital marketers have a pretty good sense of what the ranking factors are and which ones are most important for pushing their content higher in the SERPs.

This knowledge means that digital marketers can design, create and promote content in a way that is specifically targeted to increase its performance with respect to one or more Google Ranking Factors.

And that’s pretty much the definition of SEO. If you’re working to understand search ranking factors and trying to optimize for them, you’re doing SEO.

On-Page SEO vs Off-Page SEO: What’s the Difference?

The key difference between on-page SEO and off-page SEO is that they deal with different Google Ranking Factors.

On-page SEO deals with the optimization of Google Ranking Factors that are measured on the web page itself. On-page SEO usually requires editing and optimizing the web page itself.

Off-page SEO deals with the optimization of Google Ranking Factors that are measured somewhere else. Off-page SEO usually means taking actions outside of your website to increase signals that impact your rankings in the SERPs.

You should also be aware that not at Google ranking factors fall neatly into either on-page SEO or off-page SEO.

For example, the age of your web domain is considered a mildly important factor that Google uses to assess the trustworthiness of your content. This ranking factor is domain-specific, not page-specific, so it’s usually considered neither an on-page or an off-page ranking factor.

There are also ranking factors that operate at the website level, including mobile responsiveness and whether your website has an SSL certificate.

Let’s take a deeper look at some examples of on-page SEO vs off-page SEO ranking factors so you get an idea for what belongs in each category.

On-Page SEO vs Off-Page SEO Examples

Below, we’re going to list some of the most common examples of on-page SEO ranking factors and off-page SEO ranking factors. As you read through each list, notice that all of the on-page factors can be measured on the web page itself, whereas off-page ranking factors are being measured by Google somewhere else.

On-Page SEO Ranking Factors

  1. Page Includes H1 Title Tag
  2. Target Keyword Appears in Title Tag
  3. Target Keyword Appears at Start of Title Tag
  4. Length or Amount of Content on the Page
  5. “Keyword Density” – How frequently the target keyword appears on the page.
  6. Presence of related keywords on the page
  7. Page loading speed
  8. Use of Images
  9. Keyword Relevancy of Image Metadata
  10. Recency of Last Content Update

Do you notice a pattern in this list of on-page SEO factors?

All of these factors can be measured by analyzing the page itself – there’s no need to draw data from elsewhere. This is the type of information that Google gathers using crawlers – those web robots we mentioned earlier whose job is to index all of the search-able content on the web.

Off-Page SEO Ranking Factors

  1. Number of linking root domains
  2. Age of linking domains
  3. Total number of pages linking to your page
  4. The anchor text that other websites use when linking to your page can influence search rankings
  5. Diversity of link types from other pages to yours
  6. Direct Traffic
  7. Number of Chrome Bookmarks
  8. Organic click-through rate
  9. Relevancy of inbound links
  10. Number of social shares

Again, do you notice a pattern?

Off-page SEO ranking factors like the ones on this list are measured by Google by collecting data from elsewhere on the Internet.

You won’t be able to improve your off-page SEO by making edits on your website – at least not directly.

In some cases, you actually can make changes to your website that impact off-page SEO factors. For example, adding social sharing buttons to your blog posts can encourage users to share your content on Facebook or Instagram. This increase in engagement can have a positive impact on your off-page SEO.

In most cases, however, off-page SEO factors are connected to how many people are visiting your page, how many other websites are linking to you (who they are matters as well) and how much engagement you’re driving on social media.

On-Page SEO vs Off-Page SEO: Which is More Important?

In practice, digital marketers need to learn about on-page SEO optimization and off-page SEO optimization to be successful.

If you produce content with great on-page optimization but don’t share it with others, your off-page ranking factors and signals are going to be very weak and you probably won’t see great results in the SERPs.

If your on-page optimization is sloppy, Google’s crawlers won’t be able to determine what your page is about. As a result, it won’t know what keywords you should rank for and your search rankings will tank – even if your content is very useful and you’re promoting it successfully to your audience.

Analysts at SEMRush did a study on the relative importance of on-page and off-page ranking factors, with the following results:

SEMRush google ranking factors chart

Image: SEMRush Ranking Factors

Through the Chrome Browser, Google can measure how often users visit a website directly from their browser without navigating through a search engine. As you can see, SEMRush determined that this metric was the most important factor used by Google to rank web pages in the SERPs.

Time on site, pages per session and bounce rate are also crucial ranking factors according to these findings.  Their inclusion at the top of this list reflects Google’s shift toward user experience metrics as a primary indicator of the relevancy and quality of a web page.


The main difference between on-page SEO vs off-page SEO is that on-page optimization takes place on the website itself, whereas off-page optimization happens outside of the website.

On-page optimization is usually focused on keywords and content while off-page SEO is usually focused on links and engagement.

The common element between effective on-page SEO and off-page SEO is high-quality content that is genuinely valuable for readers.

When you write content that is effectively optimized around a specific keyword (on-page SEO), readers have an easy time figuring out what your content is about and they’re more likely to stick around (increased time on site, lower bounce rate, positive user experience). If your article helps them, they’re more like to share it on social media or link to it on the Internet, which gets you more back-links (off-page SEO). When all of those effects stack up, you’re bound to see positive movement in the SERPs.

Thanks for reading our guide to on-page SEO vs off-page SEO!

Garrett Mehrguth is the CEO and co-founder of Directive Consulting – a global search marketing agency headquartered in Southern California specializing in comprehensive search marketing campaigns for B2B and enterprise companies.

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