SEO and content marketing are full of hard-to-answer questions. The depth of Google’s search ranking algorithm is vast, making it impossible to predict exactly how one change might affect a page’s ranking, and environmental factors, like the presence of competition or how your traffic behaves, could bear a substantial impact on your performance.
Still, I’d like to examine a question that will likely divide the SEO community, since both potential answers seem feasible. Which is more important for an SEO/content marketing campaign: on-site content or off-site content?
In case you’re unfamiliar, on-site content refers to all the content you’ll publish on your website directly, including your core pages and blog posts. These are intended to optimize your site for specific keywords, build authority and credibility for your site, and of course, attract readers to keep coming back to your blog.
Off-site content, on the other hand, is designed to support and promote your site. It consists of content published on external publications which references, cites, or otherwise raises awareness of your brand. Off-site content is the vehicle by which you obtain inbound links from other websites, and by building more links, you’ll increase your site’s authority and make it more likely to rank high in searches. Those same links can result in referral traffic and help you build a reputation for your brand.
Most optimizers recognize that both these strategies are necessary to see the best results, but which one is more important?
The Case for On-site Content
Let’s examine why some might make the argument for on-site content being superior:
· Foundation. Without on-site content, there will be nothing for your visitors to view. It’s that simple. On-site content provides a foundation for your site, giving search engine bots something to crawl and index. Without this on-site content, you won’t have material to become indexed in search engines, meaning your SEO campaign is useless without it.
· Keyword optimization. On top of that, on-site content is the foundation for optimizing your site for specific keyword phrases. You may be able to increase your pages’ relevance for certain keywords in other ways, but nothing is anywhere near as effective as developing pages and blog posts specifically optimized for targeted keywords.
· Conversions and retention. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, on-site content serves as your primary mode of communication with your customers and prospects who are close to being customers. When you cross the visibility threshold and attract an audience to your brand, your on-site content is what’s going to keep them around, coming back to your website to find new content periodically. Plus, on-site blog posts are your opportunity to pitch your brand’s products and services, building in conversion opportunities that represent a direct line to additional revenue. Off-site content, by comparison, can only bring users one step closer to that final goal — it takes on-site content to seal the deal.
The Case for Off-site Content
Now what about off-site content?
· PageRank. Contrary to popular belief, link building isn’t dangerous (unless you’re indiscriminately spamming links). In fact, links are necessary if you want to build authority. When Google evaluates the authority of a site, the most important factor it considers is the quality and quantity of links pointing to it; essentially, the more links you have pointing to your site, and the more trustworthy those referring domains are, the more trustworthy your site will be evaluated to be. Without off-site content to support that linking strategy, you’ll be relying on the kindness of your readers to link to you (which doesn’t happen very often), which can drag your SEO momentum to a slow crawl.
· Referral traffic. Traffic from your off-site content can be substantially more than the traffic you naturally generate from your on-site content. For example, despite a recent dip in daily traffic, Huffington Post still gets millions of views every day. One properly targeted post there could easily generate more referral traffic than even the best post on your own website could generate alone. For that reason, assuming you’re able to become featured as a guest contributor, off-site content is a faster way to generate inbound traffic (even if you exclude its SEO benefits).
· Reputation and audience building. Finally, off-site content may be considered superior in terms of establishing your reputation. Developing on-site content is kind of like a tree falling in the woods if no one’s around to hear it; most people won’t naturally discover your content, and instead will rely on you to promote it. Off-site content puts your name and your written material in front of more users, faster, which inherently makes your on-site content more visible (and your brand more recognizable). Off-site content is even more effective if you’re using multiple personal brands to promote it.
In a long-term framework, neither on-site content nor off-site content is superior to the other, as both are required if you want to see the best results. However, when you’re first starting out, you’ll need some on-site content before you start working on your off-site content strategy — meaning your on-site content should be your first priority.
Of course, this evaluation could be affected by a number of factors; if you’re developing personal brands or if you disproportionately rely on referral traffic, off-site content could become more important. If you’re more interested in building an ongoing readership and securing more conversions, on-site content could become more important. The more you know about both strategies, the better steps forward you can take.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!