Last month I received a call from a prospective client – “Our rankings have dropped out completely so we’re looking for a new SEO agency to perform our off page optimisation. I know the on-page factors are fine because they’ve barely changed in years, so the links must be the problem. Have a look at the market and send me a quote”.
I stopped him there “Actually, I’m looking at your site now and I’m afraid the links are the least of your worries. Not only is the copy thin and repetitive but the design and user experience is really weak.” (I’m guessing it hadn’t been looked at for at least 5 years) “The entire site needs reviewing and, more than likely, redesigning.”
The phone call came to an abrupt end.
It wasn’t the feedback he was looking for. And I quite understand why. I can absolutely appreciate why he’d rather spend a few hundred pounds each month sticking plasters over the cracks than thousands actually fixing the problem. Unfortunately for sites of this nature, gone are the days of artificially inflating rankings through a plethora of imaginative but spammy off-page means. In late 2012, before you worry about how much traffic your website is receiving, you need to worry about how much traffic your website deserves.
How does Google decide how much traffic to send you?
Let’s consider the signals Google are likely to use in determining where you should rank. It’s a matter of opinion which of these currently have the greatest impact but I believe we can expect all of them to play a significant role in 2013:
Relevance– the broader the relevance of your page the greater the chance that you are able to satisfy the user with the right content. Hence why big pages with loads of great content and links to other related pages often rank so well.
Links and citations – legitimate links are probably still the single most important factor in determining your sites authority.
Social – it is widely accepted that the shortcomings of links are now supplemented by social signals.
Engagement – whether we’re talking about stats taken from Google Analytics or just plain old dwell time, it stands to reason that the degree to which users interact with your website would play its part in determining how Google perceives your user experience.
Click through rates – if Google can see that you consistently attract an unusually high click through rate (relative to your ranking) then that is a massive signal that people trust your brand when they see it appearing in the SERPS.
Brand traffic – A signal not much discussed in the SEO community but I just feel it must be vital. After all, if people love your stuff so much that they search for your brand directly and then return to it over and over again, what better indicator could there be that your website deserves to be seen by others?
And the common theme….
It’s all determined by your on page!
Let’s just remind ourselves what we mean by on page optimisation – “On-Page factors are the aspects of a given web page that influence search engine ranking” – SEOMoz
To illustrate the point, here are a bunch of on-page factors that will impact one or more of these signals:
– Tools and functionality – links, brand traffic, social and engagement signals
– Creative sales copy – engagement signals (not to mention the impact on conversions!)
– Substantial landing pages – relevance and engagement signals
– Resources – links, brand traffic, social and engagement signals
– Fast loading, mobile responsive and well coded design – brand traffic and engagement signals
– Blogs/news – links, brand traffic, social and engagement signals
– Schema mark-up and video sitemaps – click through rate signals
– Beautiful design – engagement, links, social and brand traffic signals
– Absolutely anything else that adds or reduces value to the user experience
So where does that leave off page optimisation?
With all this emphasis on the content of a website, it begs the question whether or not there is even a role left for off-page optimisation?
Of course there is. Off page optimisation is far from dead but it has been demoted heavily. Rather than a standalone activity (the good old days of reciprocal linking, link farms, guest posting, etc), it now exists primarily to leverage your on page efforts.
Even the strategies that on the surface seem totally separate from the website (such as press releases) are going to be a hell of a lot more effective at attracting links, citations and social signals when the person referencing your business actually thinks there might be something on your site worth seeing.
Focusing on the real issue in 2013
Off page optimisation may still have an important role to play but it is no longer a strategy. Not even close. In fact, it’s a piece of terminology that I feel will be used much less in 2013 as increasingly we concentrate on the website itself, secure in the knowledge that if we get the many on-page factors right, the off page signals, rankings and traffic will all be an inevitable bi-product.
So, to sum up, always ask yourself the question – that ranking you’re so determined to secure by building links …. do you really deserve it? If the answer is no then you’re focusing on the wrong problem.