25 July 2024, 11:52
By Martin Calvert Dec 07, 2023

Demystifying off-site SEO

The importance of customer-friendly content and a polished website ‘shop window’ to support search engine optimisation (SEO) is well understood by many furniture brands both large and small – but the discipline known as ‘off-site’ or ‘off-page’ SEO is significantly less so, explains Martin Calvert, marketing director at digital agency ICS-digital …  

With greater scope for sites to be damaged by the wrong strategy (or, more likely in 2023/24, simply a waste of investment), it’s worth taking a moment to digest the core principles behind off-site SEO.

Even among SEO professionals, there’s extensive (sometimes almost ideological) debate around the off-site SEO strategy that is most impactful. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that the breakdown in this article is based on my own years of experience, and the myriad of experiments carried out at the agency I work for. With that caveat, onwards!

What is off-site SEO?

For those unfamiliar, off-site SEO refers in a large part to how your site relates to other sites on the internet, primarily through how it is linked to by other domains.

To give an example, we’d expect an established, high-quality bed manufacturer’s site to be linked to by review sites, channel partners, stockists, perhaps the National Bed Federation, and so on. 

If the brand had a really significant presence, we’d also probably see mainstream media linking to products during seasonal events, or company news featuring in the industry press along with a relevant link to the site.

All of this may occur perfectly organically without anyone uttering the phrase “SEO”, but the cumulative impact should be this particular site being seen by Google and other search engines as a relevant site for searchers – and one that can be trusted. 

On an even more fundamental level, links between sites are how Google’s ‘crawlers’ find, index and categorise new and existing sites – so links are critical to being found and ranked by search engines, as well as being found and read by potential customers.

Why prioritise off-site SEO?

As with the above example, it’s potentially reassuring to learn that by being an active and trustworthy brand, you’re actually ‘doing’ SEO in a sense already. However, taking a closer look at off-site SEO means getting greater value from existing ‘on-site’ or ‘on-page’ efforts.

Even though you may already be ticking multiple boxes for search engines as a by-product of your marketing plan, taking a more deliberate and purposeful approach – particularly when you already invest in high-quality on-site content and website performance – makes sense. 

More than this, with a sensible and scalable strategy, it’s possible to reduce the reliance on paid advertising, aggregators and resellers (that so many in the industry have) and rebalance the strategy (where preferable) on organic customer acquisition and higher-margin direct sales.

What is the purpose of a deliberate off-site SEO strategy?

The most fundamental goal of an off-page or off-site SEO strategy is to increase the quality and quantity of links to your site – ideally to the pages that have the greatest potential to rank, and influence sales.

In furniture ecommerce, links to category pages or even individual products can be ideal, but the plan is best informed by keyword research and where the greatest financial benefit lies (a topic I covered in last month’s issue).

The challenge is to develop strategies that drive links to commercial pages – easier said than done when other brands may be more likely to simply link to your home page rather than push a particular product.

What methodologies are most effective in off-site SEO?

As a baseline, obtaining links from relevant industry partners, trade bodies and trade press is key. These links will reconfirm to search engines that you belong in the same ‘cluster’ as other furniture brands, so topical relevance of these sites is significant.

Once you’re in this cluster and viewed as one of many furniture manufacturers or retailers, the challenge is to be seen as the most relevant site for customer searches.

Of course, content is a huge part of that, and it’s essential to plan content around how different customer audiences search – but there’s an off-site SEO aspect of this too.

With furniture companies often sharing similar website structures and content around similar products at often similar price points, how does Google ‘pick a winner’ for top rankings? Sometimes this comes down to the expertise shown in content, as discussed, but the power of brand is key – and off-site SEO strategies can also boost your brand image.

Earning links from the mainstream media is great for brand awareness, but it also presents an image to search engines that your site is a trusted authority, worthy of the most authoritative media coverage. 

An unfair game?

This is in part why non-specialist retailers can end up ranking above industry experts – their brand footprint and brand trust is so high that search engines make the calculation that many users will (for example) click an Amazon search result rather than a niche furniture maker who is relatively unknown.

This may seem unfair, but it’s also an opportunity for those who take the time to craft creative PR campaigns and initiatives that increase brand visibility and earn links from mainstream publishers.

That means taking less of a product focus and tapping into larger, more general themes that may be part of the news agenda, seasonal trends, or some larger cultural conversation. For this type of campaign, it’s important to build in newsworthy hooks, so using your own exclusive data, surveys, analysis, expert comment and so on can increase the chances of earning coverage.

There are many other approaches to acquiring links – many are frowned on by Google, but this (to me) is less of a concern than the potential risk of simply wasting money.Paying for links on weak, irrelevant sites, or carrying out arcane strategies from strange ‘consultants’ is to be avoided. It’s important for non-specialists to trust their gut and interrogate anyone purporting to be an expert in SEO (including the author of this article!).

So, while a purposeful and impactful off-site SEO strategy is likely to be neither inexpensive or easy, it needn’t be confusing. More than this, for those who want to prioritise SEO, it’s worth looking into off-site SEO methodologies and differentiating in the eyes of search engines and customers.

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