If we look at on-page SEO as the seed and soil of your harvest, then off-page SEO is the sun and rain. The magical part is that you can actually influence the weather in your favor.
There are many notions and topics to talk about when it comes to off-page optimization. In this post, I will focus on the more tangible aspects: backlinks, anchor text, and SEO tools.
What is Off-Page SEO?
Let’s imagine a business in a world without the internet. In that world you build a reputation through word of mouth about your services.
In the internet world about your business is generated through backlinks.
What are Backlinks?
When another website refers to your website using a hyperlink (clickable link) that is called a backlink. A long time ago, Google decided to recognize backlinks as votes or recommendations towards your site.
Backlinks can be either from relevant sites or from authoritative sites, or both.
For example, a backlink from a site about petting dogs to my digital marketing site would be an irrelevant backlink. But a backlink from a social media marketing site would be a relevant backlink.
How relevant a backlink is determined by the overall website content, by the words surrounding the clickable link, but also by the text itself in the clickable link – a.k.a anchor text.
What are Anchor Texts
The word embedded in the link itself is called anchor text. If I link to my homepage, the words “my homepage” is the anchor text of the backlink.
In the past, the anchor text was a strong relevancy signal. It was possible to have backlinks on irrelevant sites using relevant words in the anchor text to make Google believe the backlink comes from a relevant source.
As Google got smarter, using the main keyword in the backlink became more of a spam signal. Even if your backlinks come from relevant sites, using the same keyword as anchor text may trigger Google’s spam filters.
To achieve a natural-looking backlink profile you need to diversify the anchor texts within the backlinks. Here are the types of anchor and examples of each.
- Exact-match: the anchor text is your main ranking keyword.
- Partial-match: a variable of your main keyword.
- Branded anchor text: the name of your brand or your link spelled as words without the www. or .com.
- Naked link anchor text: the actual link of your website as you would copy it from the browser address bar.
- Generic anchor text: a generic word or phrase such as “Click here” or “Check this post”.
- Images: when an image is clickable, the alt tag of the image is taken as anchor text.
There used to be a preferable percentage between anchor texts. However, today Google is more dynamic and it is not about fixed numbers anymore.
AVOID Google Penalties
As with many things in digital marketing, SEO is not an exact science. There are over 200 ranking factors that impact how your site is ranked on google.
Many companies and individuals tried to trick the system in various ways and they still do. Sometimes it actually worked and people banked hard. But the perpetual updates in Google’s search algorithms hurt the businesses of many while others who played honestly benefited from the updates.
If you want to avoid being penalized in the future by Google’s algorithm updates, just be on Google’s side. Focus on the user experience more than anything else.
Types of Backlinks
Digging further into backlink we can differentiate them into three categories.
1. Topical Backlinks are inbound links from relevant sites within the same industry as you are.
2. High Authority backlinks are backlinks from highly authoritative sites such as news sites.
3. Authentic Backlinks are earned backlinks that have not been directly affected by you.
If a website is relevant to your industry then it’s worthwhile to try and generate a backlink from it to your site. But how do you know how authoritative a website is?
Well, their authority is based on their own backlink profile. On the quality and quantity of that digital word of mouth.
To have a clearer picture of how much authority a website carries marketers can use various metrics and tools.
Old Google’s PageRank
If you had a website in the 2000s Google’s PageRank Toolbar was your go-to SEO metric. As their search algorithm got more complex PageRank slowly became kind of obsolete. It was a good metric with a radically simplistic view from a scale of 1 to 10 of a website’s Rank.
The other non-Google metrics provide now a lot more in-depth information about the backlink profile. Here are some of the industry standards in terms of backlink analysis.
Moz’s DA & PA
As a digital marketer, one place to check your backlink profile is moz.com. Among other SEO tools, their Link Explorer offers information such as the number of total backlinks, or the number of unique domains referring back to your site. Based on many sub-metrics Moz displays a 1 to 100 scale for your Domain Authority and for the Page Authority.
While you can get a quick picture of the DA and PA of a website without any cost, full access to their web index is by no surprise at a price. The standard subscription starts at $99/mo.
For beginners, you can make use of their free Moz toolbar. Using it you have quick access to some basic but useful ranking insights straight in your search results.
Majestic’s Trust and Citation Flow
Similar to Moz, Majestic provides a link map and the relation between the backlinks of a website.
Their Citation Flow and Trust Flow are measured on a scale of 1 to 100. CF refers to the number of backlinks without considering the quality of them. TF measures the quality of the website based on the quality of the backlinks.
What makes Majestic stand out is its simple visual representation of the backlinks in relation to CF and TF.
Using the free version you are limited to 10 links per day and have very limited backlink analysis. The Majestic paid version starts from £39.99/mo and comes with 1 million analyzable backlinks.
If you are an experienced SEOer, Semrush might be your best choice. Whilst it offers 10 free link checks per day for free accounts, the cheapest Semrush pro version starts at 99$/m.
On the main dashboard for a free account you get some neat insights into any domain such as top organic and paid keywords, top organic, and paid competitors.
Although on the expensive end, Semrush is the swiss knife of SEO tools. They developed over 40 marketing tools to aid all of your digital marketing efforts.
Not specialized in any unique peripheral tools, ahrefs is another top choice of hardcore marketers. Besides carrying the trophy of the best backlink analysis tool, they also excel in keyword research and competitive audit.
The cheapest plan at $99 per month gives you access to a lot of valuable data such as 500 keywords trackings, 175 domain scannings per week, site audits, monthly alerts, and more.
If you are looking for the free stuff check the following free ahrefs tools:
- Free backlink checker that shows a detailed view of the top 100 backlinks of any website.
- Keyword generator for researching new keywords with low competition.
- Site checker for performing a quick but effective report on any website performance issues, technical errors, and even SEO errors.
- Free keyword rank checker for finding out the ranking position of any keyword for any domain or page.
If you are looking for more information in relation to which tool to choose, please check below for some top comparisons.
Although there are a lot more nuances to learn when it comes to off-page SEO the most important ranking factor is this: attract relevant backlinks from authoritative sites.