You’ve optimized your page speed, written amazing keyword-rich product descriptions, and developed a smart navigational structure. However, you’re in control of all those elements; what about SEO signals you can’t control?
Today we’re going to look at important SEO factors that happen away from your site, and what you can do to influence them.
What is off-page SEO, and why is it important?
Off-page SEO involves any efforts you take to improve your ranking that doesn’t directly involve your website. This is in direct contrast to on-page SEO and technical SEO, where the actions you take do involve your website and you have full control over the actions you take. If you make changes to your site’s architecture to improve navigation and boost page experience, that’s on-page SEO. Whereas if you’re looking at how you can get an external site to link to your product pages, that’s off-page because it isn’t something that you can influence on your own site.
Its importance to your store’s SEO largely comes down to trust and reliability. Google uses a number of factors in ranking pages or listings for local search, and they especially want to know if a page or business is reliable and credible. If a user were to search for “best running shoes” and Google showed results for stores with poor reviews, the user won’t be satisfied. Off-page SEO signals such as backlinks show Google that your store is credible and can be trusted. It’s the same as reading an amazing product description, and then checking a review on an external site to verify that it’s as good as it sounds. Off-page SEO acts similarly, signalling to Google that your site’s content is worth ranking and showing to users.
Off-page SEO and ecommerce: What you need to know
There are fewer concepts to wrap your head around in off-page than on-page SEO, however they are also more difficult to optimize for. That largely comes down to the fact that you have control over on-page SEO, whereas you’re relying on external sources for off-page. It takes a lot more time and effort to optimize for off-page SEO, but understanding it and making strategizing where possible can reap huge benefits for your store on SERPs.
Content might be the most important part of on-page SEO, but backlinks to that content are at the heart of any off-page SEO strategy. Backlinks are any links to pages on your site from an external source, for example an article on a review blog that links to your product page.
Earning these from high quality, high authority external sites is the key to success. The more authoritative the external site linking to your content, the more trustworthy it looks to Google’s algorithm. It’s the difference, for example, between a major publication and a brand new unknown blog linking to your site. The blog isn’t necessarily poor quality, but the publication has higher traffic, is known to be knowledgeable on the subject matter, and thus has more authority. That quality is far better than quantity; having a few backlinks to your products from high-authority sites is much more convincing than having hundreds from lower quality sources.
Backlinks should also come from unique domains, and have topical relevance to your store. Unique domains are important, as if several high authority sources are linking to your page that shows Google that it’s worthwhile whereas several backlinks all from the same domain don’t show nearly the same level of trust. It would be like reading ten reviews for a product all from different people rather than ten reviews all written by one person. Topical relevance helps with authority and credibility, and thus whether or not your content will be a good fit for a user. For example if you sell camera accessories then you want to be linked to from sites related to cameras and photography.
It sometimes helps to categorize backlinks into three groups - natural, manually built, and self created.
- Natural links are those which are given to you without being prompted to do so. For example your product page links being included in an article about the best products for a specific niche.
- Manually built are those which you acquire through link-building activities such as asking influencers to share your link, or requesting an article to include a link to your store.
- Self-created links are those where you’ve posted them yourself in online directories, forums, or press releases.
This categorization can give you a better idea of how and where backlinks can be acquired. Natural links and manually built links are seen to be the most valuable, with self-created being less valuable and more susceptible to crossing the line into black-hat SEO. This is due to the fact that self-created links are essentially you are telling Google that you’re trustworthy, rather than an external source.
Earning backlinks and link building
Knowing what backlinks is the easy part, the hard part is earning them. Off-page SEO and link building are one of the most difficult parts of SEO, taking up a considerable amount of effort and time. However the hard work does pay off, as backlinks are also one of the valuable parts of SEO.
Link building starts with strategically planned content. Start by looking at where your target audiences spend their time online, paying attention to high-authority sites. Look at the sort of content they’re publishing, the topics they’re interested in, and the language and keywords they use. This will help you to identify the domains you’d ideally like to target, and the kind of content that they’d be interested in linking to.
Next, identify where your brand or product may be a good fit for these sites and approach them. For building product links, give more detail about your brand and products, why you feel their audience would be interested, and ask if they’d consider including them in future content. You can also approach sites about guest blogging, which can be a great way to build your brand reputation and get some high-authority backlinks.
You should also identify unlinked brand mentions. These occur when an external site mentions your brand or products, but hasn’t linked to your store. The simplest method for reclaiming these links is simply to reach out and request your link be used. You should also look out for outdated or broken links that are being used on high-authority sites and request these links be updated.
While backlinks can help to build your site’s authority, there’s something else that can have a huge impact on your brand’s reputation - reviews. 95% of consumers read reviews before making a purchase, and 92% trust the reviews of fellow customers. This isn’t exclusive to ecommerce however, with 93% of consumers saying they look up reviews for local businesses to determine quality.
Reviews from previous customers give those considering making a purchase more confidence in your brand, store, and experience. They also have a big impact on how Google views your business. If your store has great reviews across several trusted third party review sites such as Trustpilot as well as on Google itself, this a great signal that your store is worth showing to users in SERPs.
Encourage customers to leave reviews on other platforms as well as your own site. You can set up email automations that request customers who have previously written a review to also consider submitting one to Google or another review site. You should also respond to reviews on external sites, especially if the review is negative. This demonstrates to search engines and potential customers that you’re proactive in engaging reviewers. This has the added benefit of boosting consumer trust in your brand, as 89% say they read replies to reviews and 71% said their opinion of a brand changed when they read responses.
NAP, GMB, Local Pack
Especially if you have a brick-and-mortar store, local SEO is a must for any Shopify merchant. 46% of all Google searches are related to a location, and 76% of people who conduct a local search on their smartphone visit a business within 24 hours. Best of all, optimizing for local SEO can be done both through on-page and off-page tactics.
Off-page local SEO focuses primarily on Google My Business, and maintaining up-to-date information across any directory and external sites that cite your business.
Google My Business
What better way to send local SEO signals to Google than using your Google My Business listing? Having a well optimized GMB listing can not only improve your store’s ranking in general, but also greatly increase your chances of appearing in the local pack in SERPs. To optimize, fill out as much of your profile as possible with all the relevant details a user may want to know when searching for your business.
- Keep your description a summary of your business, its products, and USP, and avoid using overly branded language or irrelevant information.
- Give details of all services you offer such as local pick-up and delivery.
- Keep your opening times accurate, updating them whenever there will be changes or temporary closures e.g. over the holidays.
- Enhance your listing with posts about upcoming events, sales, or business updates.
NAP - Name Address Phone
Consistency is key when it comes to optimizing for local off-page SEO. After all, if your site lists one address, Yelp has a different one, and Google’s is different again, this doesn’t look great to search engines or users. Which one should they trust? What if Google is correct, but you forgot to update your site? You can see why this may start to become confusing, and Google only wants to show results that are useful and relevant. Therefore it's important to ensure that your core details are correct and consistent anywhere that may list them. Check in especially on sites with higher authority such as Yelp and Tripadvisor, as well as any industry or region specific directories.
It’s worth noting that reviews also count towards local SEO especially if you have a physical location that users can visit and purchase from.
It’s important to note right away that social media cannot directly influence your store’s ranking, and it is not considered a ranking factor by Google. The reason for this is pretty simple - social media can be easily manipulated. If Google were to use follower count for example as a trust signal, then this could be manipulated simply by buying followers. The number of followers or likes a brand has doesn’t indicate whether or not it can be trusted as a website, therefore it isn’t considered when ranking that site.
That being said, it can still indirectly influence your store’s SEO. The primary way it does this is by increasing the visibility of your store’s content. Promoting your store’s content and products through social media as well as working with influencers can direct attention and traffic to your site. This in turn increases the engagement these pages see as well as traffic from a range of different sources, and this engagement can influence Google. Moreover, this added attention can increase the chances of earning backlinks and can help with domain authority.
Off-page SEO is a tricky area for any website. There are many elements outside of your control, but they're extremely valuable to your store's ranking with search engines. By understanding what it is and ways you can do more to encourage off-page SEO signals, the better prepared you'll be when creating content and optimizing your store.