If this is Captain Obvious stuff to you, forgive your peers… and remember, SEO folks, that most people don’t fully understand what ‘SEO’ means.

To wit (for the rest of you): ‘SEO’ is short for Search Engine Optimization, of course. Roughly translated, it means “setting up your webpages so they’ll play well with Google and rank higher in search results.” This matters because higher rank means more organic search traffic, and more traffic (generally) means more leads and sales.

This is all very complicated in its totality, as the SEO folks can attest—and some of SEO’s work is purely technical, nuts-and-bolts stuff. But at heart, Google just wants to make people happy, and one of the best rules of thumb for SEO is build good s**t and they will come via Google.

Here’s the million-dollar question for today: how does Google know whether or not a page contains the Good Stuff?

Google takes cues from two different places, and those are the essence of our clarification today.

On-Page SEO concerns what Google can understand just from your page’s content, by itself. This includes the body content, all of those keywords, all of the long-tail stuff assembled together; it also includes the metadata, anything you’ve included as “liner notes” to help Google understand what the viewers are seeing (things like title tags and meta descriptions and all that good stuff).

Off-Page SEO concerns what Google can understand about your page based on what other pages are doing around it. Google assumes, rightly, that it means something when other people “point to” your webpage by linking to it; sure enough, some of the most (in)credible resources on the internet are rightly at the top of Google searches, and mostly because they’ve been “endorsed” so many times by other web pages first.

We could say a whole lot more, but in a sentence: the whole genius of Google was figuring out not just how to interpret webpages, but how to infer a page’s quality and credibility using backlinks (i.e. other people linking to your page) as a rough approximation of social proof on the web.

So what do you do with all of this?

Well… if this has been educational for you, then probably nothing. You learned something and there you go. But if you’re getting into SEO and want to know where to focus your efforts, you should definitely learn a thing or two about the On-Page stuff first — for the simple and universal reason that it’s always best to start with the things you do control.

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