The Definitive Guide
This is a complete guide to off-page SEO in 2021.

In this new guide, you’ll learn exactly how to build the type of off-site signals that Google wants to see, including:

  • Backlinks
  • Social signals
  • E-A-T
  • Branded searches
  • Online reputation signals
  • Lots more
  • Let’s get started.


Off-Page SEO Fundamentals

Let’s start things off with a quick review of the basics.

Specifically, I’m going to share what off-page SEO is and why it’s important in 2021.

You’ll also learn the major differences between off-page SEO and on-page SEO

What Is Off-Page SEO?

Off-page SEO includes activities done off of a website to increase the site’s search engine rankings. Common off-page SEO actions include building backlinks, encouraging branded searches, and increasing engagement and shares on social media.

In other words: off-page SEO is all the stuff that you do off of your site to get Google and other search engines to see your website as trustworthy and authoritative.

Why Is Off-Page SEO Important?

Backlinks and other off-site signals still form the foundation of Google’s algorithm.

Our 2020 search engine ranking factors study found a clear correlation between total backlinks and Google rankings.

Top ranking pages have more backlinks than lower-ranking page
And Google has gone on the record saying that they still use PageRank.

Google still using PageRank

That said: links are only one part of off-page SEO. Google themselves states that they use other off-site SEO signals to size up your website.

Google uses other off-site SEO signals

For example, Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines largely rely on a site’s off-site reputation to figure out whether or not that site can be trusted.

(They call this “Reputation Research”).

“Reputation Research” includes looking at online reviews:

Google Guidelines on user reviews
Recommendations from experts:

Google Guidelines on expert sources
And mentions on authority news sites and Wikipedia.

Google Guidelines on authority sites
The bottom line? Links are by far the most important off-page SEO signal. But they’re one of many.

I’ll cover links and the other off-site factors that you need to know about in the rest of this guide.

But for now, it’s time to learn about…

On-Page SEO vs. Off-Page SEO

On-page SEO is everything that you can directly control on your website, including content, title tags, keyword usage, SEO-optimized URLs, internal links, and image alt text. Off-page SEO is actions that happen away from your website, like links and mentions on other websites.

For example, I published this complete list of SEO tools a few years back.

Backlinko – SEO tools post

And to optimize that page, I used my main keyword in my title tag, URL, and a handful of times in my content.

SEO Tools – Keyword in content

I also sprinkled in synonyms and LSI keywords to help Google understand the content of that page.

LSI Keyword “best SEO software” in post

Even though that page was “perfectly optimized”, I knew that my job was far from done.

My target keyword for that page has an Ahrefs keyword difficulty score of 81.

Ahrefs – SEO tools – Keyword difficulty

Which meant, if I wanted to rank that page on the first page of Google for that keyword, I needed some serious off-page SEO.

This is why I promoted that post on social media.

SEO Tools post – Promotion tweet

And used email outreach to build links directly to that page.

Because I combined on-page and off-page SEO, this page now ranks in the top 3 for that keyword.

SEO Tools – Google SERP

With that, let’s get into the strategies that you can use to improve your site’s off-page SEO.

Off-Page SEO

What is off-page SEO?

“Off-page SEO” (also called “off-site SEO”) refers to actions taken outside of your website to impact your rankings within search engine results pages (SERPs). Along with on-page SEO, these include several of the factors of basic SEO that help a site to rank.

Optimizing for off-site ranking factors involves improving search engine and user perception of a site’s popularity, relevance, trustworthiness, and authority. This is accomplished by other reputable places on the Internet (pages, sites, people, etc.) linking to or promoting your website, and effectively “vouching” for the quality of your content.

Why does off-page SEO matter?

While search algorithms and ranking factors are constantly changing, the consensus within the SEO community is that the relevance, trustworthiness, and authority that effective off-page SEO affords a website still play a major role in a page’s ability to rank.

Off-site SEO matters

While we don’t know the full algorithm Google uses to rank content, data from our Search Engine Ranking Factors study show that off-site SEO-related factors likely carry more than 50% of the ranking factor weight.

Links and off-page SEO

Building backlinks is at the heart of off-page SEO. Search engines use backlinks as indications of the linked-to content’s quality, so a site with many high-value backlinks will usually rank better than an otherwise equal site with fewer backlinks.

There are three main types of links, defined by how they were earned: natural links, manually built links, or self-created links.

Natural links are editorially given without any action on the part of a page owner. For example, a food blogger adding a link to a post that points toward their favorite produce farms is a natural link.

Manually built links are acquired through deliberate link-building activities. This includes things like getting customers to link to your website or asking influencers to share your content.

Self-created links are created by practices such as adding a backlink in an online directory, forum, blog comment signature, or press release with optimized anchor text. Some self-created link-building tactics tend toward black hat SEO and are frowned upon by search engines, so tread lightly here.

Regardless of how links were obtained, those that offer the greatest contribution to SEO efforts are generally those that pass the most equity. Many signals positively contribute to the equity passed, such as:

  • The linking site’s popularity
  • How related the linking site’s topic is to the site being linked to
  • The “freshness” of the link
  • The anchor text used on the linking site
  • The trustworthiness of the linking site
  • The number of other links on the linking page
  • Authority of the linking domain and page
  • Build links strategically with Moz Pro

With over 40 trillion links in our database, we’ve got SEO data on lock. Analyze your site’s anchor text, backlinks, and more with a free 30-day trial of Moz Pro:

Non-link-related off-site SEO

While earning links from external websites is the most commonly practiced off-page SEO strategy, almost any activity that a) occurs outside of your website and b) helps to improve your search ranking position could be thought of as “off-page SEO.” These include things like:

  • Social media marketing
  • Guest blogging
  • Linked and unlinked brand mentions
  • Influencer marketing

It’s important to note, though, that the net result of each of these activities is to somehow create a reference to your site from elsewhere on the web — be that reference a link, a mention of your brand or website, or otherwise. So, the concept of truly “non-link-related” off-page SEO is a bit of a misnomer!

A note on local off-page SEO:

Off-page SEO relies on human behavior (namely, that people only reference and share content they like). As such, it applies to both organic and local SEO. Even in a brick-and-mortar business, high-quality products get a lot of word-of-mouth referrals from current customers — the in-person equivalent of off-page SEO.

How to do off-page SEO

At a high level, improving the “off-page SEO” of a website involves improving the search engine and user perception of a site’s quality. This happens by getting links from other sites (especially those that are reputable and trustworthy themselves), mentions of your brand, shares of your content, and “votes of confidence” from sources outside of your website.

To learn more about doing off-page SEO, check out this chapter in the Beginner’s Guide to SEO Site:

To read on-page SEO, please visit on-page SEO.