Read the Series
Off-Site SEO Brief Overview
Welcome back to our 4-part series on SEO where we explain, in detail, “what is SEO,” and what it consists of.
Although on-site SEO is often the most talked about form of SEO, it isn’t necessarily the most beneficial (of course it’s always arguable). It’s well noted within the digital marketing community that off-site or off-page SEO holds the highest ranking signals with Google and other search engines when it comes to listing your site in a search engine results page (SERP).
But what exactly is off-site SEO? Fortunately, it isn’t necessarily as complicated as on-site SEO can be, however, it is one of the hardest aspects of search engine optimization to receive ranking signals from, despite it also bolstering the most powerful signals.
The good news is this post will be pretty understandable in terms of what you should do to help your off-site SEO ranking signals. The bad news is it requires a bit of work, arguably more than on-site SEO, although less technical.
Enough of the introduction, let’s jump in.
Jump to Section
- Directory & NAP Citations
- Backlinks to Your Site
- Review and Reputation Management
- Social Media and Social Signals
- How Do You Measure Off-Site SEO?
I want to jump into directory & NAP citations. Even though they may not really be the most influential signals, they’re some of the easiest ways to get online signals and links to your site.
But what the hell is a NAP citation?
NAP stands for Name, Address, and Phone number, although some people will tell you it simply stands for Name and Phone (which isn’t true).
So in turn, a NAP citation is any citation on the internet that lists your company’s name, its address, and the phone number. It’s even better when it links to your site, like this:
This constitutes as a NAP citation because the name, address, and phone number (Click to Call) are all featured on this page. To reiterate, just about any site you can list your company information on, constitutes as a NAP citation. This includes social media!
Directory citations are websites dedicated to being directories for different businesses like Houzz, Angi (formally Angie’s List), FourSquare and over 10,000 other online directories, including Facebook.
Before you go in and start adding your business info to a bunch of directories online, it’s important to know a few things.
First, only add your business name to directories that have relevance to your website. There’s no need to list your Ohio-based landscaping business on a directory dedicated to European landscaping contractors. In fact, it could potentially leave you with some negative ranking signals for Local SEO.
Second, be careful which directory sites you list your site on. You don’t want a backlink that search engines might see as spammy.
Third, and this one is critical, you MUST have your NAP information on your website, either in the header or the footer (I recommend both). It’s not good enough to put it on one page and be done with it. You want it on all of your pages and the best way to do that is by putting it in those headers and footers.
If you don’t have the NAP information on your site, you won’t get credit for the off-site NAP citation. Google will find that citation, but not know where to give the credit.
Just because you add a link to a directory citation that directs to your website, that does not mean you will get credit for that link. You might get credit for the citation, but that link may not count as a backlink. That’s because a lot of directory sites use rel=”nofollow” attributes on their links, which tells search engines not to pass ‘link equity’ onto the linked site.
This is about as technical as off-site SEO gets. But I cover “dofollow” versus “nofollow” links a bit more in, “How to Gain More Quality Backlinks“.
I’ve had marketers swear up and down that no directory out there that offers NAP citations also uses ‘dofollow’ links. That isn’t true. There are a decent amount of directories out there that you can gain not only a NAP citation, but a ‘dofollow’ backlink as well.
Here’s a list of 50 of them with high Domain Authorities. It also goes into exactly what a dofollow and nofollow link is and what they consist of.
In the Houzz example above, we can clearly see that the website link is a nofollow link, which means this company won’t receive link equity from their Houzz profile. Nevertheless, it is still a link from a quality site that receives a lot of traffic, so it’s not to simply be discounted just because it contains a nofollow tag.
Not all directories are free. Some are monthly and some are one time fees. Some are worth it and some are not, so it’s important to pay attention to the ones that are valuable and relevant to your industry as well as which ones are free and which ones are simply a sales pitch.
But being on the most directories isn’t what’s going to get your site to the number one search result in Google. Focus on quality.
Backlinks. Easily the most agreed upon, number one ranking signal for websites in search engines.
The concept of a backlink is pretty simple. Get a site to link to yours. That’s it.
Well, it sounds easy when you leave it at that, but it’s probably one of the hardest SEO practices to implement. This requires another site willingly placing a link on their site to link to yours… which basically eliminates any landscaper or lawn care provider in your area or possible expansion area.
But there are also rules you have to follow in order to not get penalized by Google. Such as:
- The site you get a link from must be relevant to your business, industry, or topic.
- A proper backlink will either not contain a rel tag, or it will have a rel:”dofollow” tag.
- The backlink should NOT come from a potentially spammy site. Which means it’s best practice to not pay for backlinks!
Those are just the rules. Backlinks also include best practices as well, like:
- Try to get backlinks from sites that have a higher domain authority than yours.
- One link per page is fine. Do not get backlinks spammed to your site form a page.
- As mentioned above, do not pay for backlinks, this often leads to a link on your site from a site that participates in gray or blackhat SEO.
You can read more about avoiding low quality and bad links straight from Google here.
Of course, this is all just the tip of the iceberg for backlinks. So at this point, you may be asking yourself,
“How do I get more backlinks?”
Well, the concepts are simple, it’s the work you have to put in first. The number one way to get them is what Google recommends: simply writing engaging, natural content, suggesting that people will link to your content naturally. Although that may be true, I’m no Hemingway. I’m going to need to reach out to some publishers and ask to get my link on their site.
So here’s what you can do:
- List your business on relevant directory citation sites that utilize ‘dofollow’ linking.
- Find a website or blog post/article similar to the content on your site and reach out to the site owner and see if they would be willing to add a link to your recent post. This may require you to link to them as well.
- Find a site or page with broken links and reach out to the site owner to see if they would like to replace that broken link with a relevant article from you. This may require you to write an article that is relevant to the topic of that broken link. By the way, you don’t have to click on every single link to see if it’s broken or goes to a bad page. If you use Google Chrome, you can simply go to the Chrome store and download a broken link checker for free.
- Share your posts on social media. Part of receiving traffic and links is exposure. Get your word out there.
This just touches on how to get backlinks. If you want to learn more, I suggest checking out my piece, “How to Get More Quality Backlinks“.
Anyone would agree that your business’ reputation is extremely important, both online and offline. Google agrees as well. That means reviews online for your business matter. But it isn’t just how many stars you have that matters. It matters:
- What your overall review ratings are
- How many sites you are reviewed on
- What kind of sites you are reviewed on
- Whether you have duplicate reviews
So yes, getting online reviews is actually a ranking signal with search engines. The more you have and the more quality they are, the better. Part of off-site SEO is knowing how to get your business more positive reviews and where to have them reviewed.
The biggest things in terms of online reviews for ranking in search engines are how good your reviews are and what kind of sites you are reviewed on.
For instance, Google isn’t going to trust you if your overall review rating is 2 stars. They’ll most likely show a searcher a competitor without reviews over a company that has loads of bad ones.
The next most important one is what sites you’re reviewed on. Obviously, you’re going to want a few Google reviews. But this shouldn’t be the only place you get reviews from. You should also diversify and get reviews on Facebook, Angie’s List, BBB, Yellow Pages, and any other place you can tell Google where customers are finding you.
As a good rule of thumb, I suggest having your customer give you a review on the platform they discovered you on, that way you don’t have to do many delegations when asking your customers to leave you a review on a specific platform. Although you do want to focus on Google and Facebook primarily.
Getting more reviews isn’t really the reputation management aspect of this section, although it’s a part of it. The reputation management part comes in when you receive a negative review or any review for that matter.
It’s always best practice to respond to them in a professional manner to help deescalate the situation. Responding to reviews isn’t a ranking factor in itself, but it helps influence potential customers to not stray away due to one or a few complaints. It shows that your business is ready to deal and help with any issue and start a dialog with anyone that has a problem. It also shows how responsive your brand is.
Take Middletown Tractor for example. Their internal marketing coordinator did an excellent job of addressing a potentially fake review on their Facebook page. Although they couldn’t get the review removed or changed, they let the world know that they are willing to address all concerns no matter how bad it may make them look. This is reputation management at its finest.
You may be thinking, “what does this have to do with SEO?”
Valid question, it’s correct that maintaining a positive image while dealing with negative reviews doesn’t have any true ranking signals with Google (at least that we know of), but major on-site SEO ranking factors are on-site metrics. If someone has a negative perception of your business based on bad opinions, they may not interact with your site much, causing negative ranking signals.
Additionally, click-through-rates are an off-site ranking metric with Google. This means that Google takes into account how many people went to your website after seeing your result in their results pages. If your business has a lot of bad reviews and you haven’t been responding to them, this will most likely persuade people to not want to click on your website link. They don’t want to waste their time.
So does reputation management really impact SEO? Yes, yes it does. But not directly.
This one is somewhat of a tough one. Not because I don’t know how to answer it, but because there seems to be some debate on whether or not your business’ social media presence plays a significant, or any role, in search engine rankings.
Here’s where the discrepancy lies.
In 2010, the head of the webspam team at Google, Matt Cutts, created a video that said social media presence and activity does, in fact, carry SEO ranking signals. So every marketer and their brother hopped on the social media train and started incorporating it in their SEO strategy.
But here’s where it got weird, in 2014, the same guy released a video saying that Google does NOT recognize social signals as ranking factors. And then, even in 2016, Gary Illyes of Google was asked if social accounts were taken into consideration for SEO rankings. He simply retweeted the 2014 video of Matt Cutts and said, “the short version is, no, we don’t.”
So which is it?
Well, in short, it’s the latter. Google does NOT recognize social profiles and links as ranking factors for your website. They instead treat them like any other page on the internet, but not as specific ranking factors.
Much like reputation management above, it’s still incredibly important for your social profiles to be active and it can most definitely impact your SEO indirectly. Sharing your blog posts, specials on your site, and getting people to genuinely engage with your brand’s social media profiles can get loads of clicks, website visits, and even conversions.
Bing has been pretty transparent about this from the get-go and they haven’t flip-flopped like Google over the years.
Here’s what Bing had to say about social media as a ranking factor:
“We do look at the social authority of a user. We look at how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results.”
Since Bing is the 2nd most widely used search engine (aside from China’s Baidu), it’s definitely a good idea to optimize for their ranking signals as well. So even though social media isn’t a ranking signal for Google, it definitely is for Bing.
With that being said, it’s not to say that Google won’t use social media as a signal in the future, it just isn’t one now. So the best practice is to keep your social media profiles optimized and engaging.
Measuring on-site SEO is pretty simple. First off, on-site SEO can be seen right on your website. Anything from keyword updates to alt-text and file sizes. But how do you measure how well your off-site SEO is performing? Well to put it simply, this would require you to scan the internet for links to your page, directories to list your site on, and brand mentions both online and through social media.
Almost sounds impossible, doesn’t it?
Well, it’s not. This is the exact reason tons of SEO companies have come out of the woodwork to bring you software that can analyze all of this for you. The list of companies is endless so I’ll simply touch on a few:
BrightLocal is a European based local SEO software. It specializes in helping your business rank locally with their reputation management reports as well as their super handy directory citation reports. Directory citation campaigns aren’t exclusive to BrightLocal though, companies like Moz and SEMRush offer them as well. It’s just that BrightLocal seems to be the best, in my opinion, when it comes to pushing information to both data aggregates and directory sites that need to have information manually entered. Yes, BrightLocal manually enters in your info which makes it even better.
Moz is actually the creator of the metric “Domain Authority”. It isn’t a metric that’s used by Google. It’s more or less a good judgment of how Google might find authority in your site.
Moz has great tools for off-site SEO campaigns utilizing things like citation cleanup, backlink research and opportunity tools, including tracking your link building efforts. But what I get the most use out of Moz for is the Moz Toolbar for Chrome, which you can pick up for free in the Chrome store. It’ simply a toolbar in your browser that points out a website’s domain authority, meta-data, link metrics, spam score, and other on and off-site data.
I’m putting both of these down because they are pretty similar in terms of the core of what they offer. The main difference is at the end of the day, SEMRush offers more than SpyFu, but of course, it comes with a heftier price tag.
The core features of both programs are keywords, brand, and competitor analysis of your SEO and SEM efforts, but both software companies have expanded their services within the last few years. Some of the off-site reports and programs these offer are: backlinking campaigns, backlink audits, brand monitoring, and social media trackers.
I’d say that Raven Tools has one of the best backlinking and backlink monitoring tools on the market. For one, because they’re real with you on how to obtain backlinks. They understand you can’t just issue a backlink campaign and watch all the links pour in. That’s not how it works. You have to actually engage with people who are willing to add links on their site that reference yours.
For that reason, Raven Tools even includes a backlink CRM profile so you can keep up on all of your backlinking campaigns.
There isn’t a whole lot to off-site SEO. This was the meat and potatoes of it all. But it does get a lot more granular the more you dive into different types of social signals, backlinks, and reviews including on-site reviews utilizing schema markup.
There are a lot of links in this article in terms of off-site SEO, so if you’re willing to dive down the rabbit hole, expect to be there for a while because SEO, whether off-site or on-site, is seemingly never-ending in terms of what you can learn.