Sniping Grizzlies: On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO

Sniping Grizzlies

What’s more important for ranking in Google, on-page or off-page optimization? On-page optimization is concerned with header tags, page titles and keyword density. Off-page optimization is concerned mainly with links pointing to your site and their anchor-text. You’ve probably encountered many opinions about which is more important. In today’s post, I want to introduce Grizzly Brears, a strong proponent of off-page optimization and George Brown, who’s product called Google Sniper is focused almost entirely around on-page optimization. Let’s see what we can get out of this little showdown.

The Bear and the Furniture Mover

Let me start off with a quick introduction of the two proponents I selected. On the one hand, you have Grizzly Brears, a very well known yet elusive online marketer who lives out in Alaska or somewhere like that. Off the map for most people, anyways. He has a blog, where he writes about how to make money online for beginners, and it’s definitely worth checking out. Grizz often emphasises how important it is to get backlinks to your site with optimized anchor texts. What this means is that if you want your website to rank well for the search-term “red fox video”, you want to get a lot of good backlinks that read red fox video.

To give you an example of his stance on SEO, here’s a quote from his blog:

To me SEO means just one thing – keyword targeted backlinks. That’s it. You don’t need to know another thing to rank well in the search engines.

There you go.

On the other side, we have George Brown, an 18-year old who allegedly went from being a furniture-mover to making a very comfortable full-time income from Internet marketing in a very short time. If he has a personal blog, I sure can’t find it, so I’ll just link to Google Sniper, which is his latest product. Google Sniper is an immensely successful info-product detailing George’s own method of building websites and monetizing them.

Here’s a snippet from the introduction in the Google Sniper manual:

…it means you won’t have to do any of the usual tedious work that’s associated with building SEO based sites. That’s right. You don’t need to do any link-building or endless content updating.

As you can see, that’s a pretty stark contrast right there. One says it’s all about backlinks, the other says you don’t need backlinks.

Examples (a.k.a. Proof)

Of course, there are examples that “prove” each of these standpoints. The one given by Griz is a great do-it-yourself one: Go to Google and type in “click here” as a search term. You’ll see that the number one ranked site for this keyword is Adobe (either the reader or the flash player download page). Now, go to that site and see if you can find any on-page optimization for the term “click here”.
You’ll see that it’s not in any title tags, it’s not in the page title and in fact, at the time of writing this, the words “click here” cannot be found anywhere at all on that page.

So clearly, those Adobe pages are not on-page optimized for the term “click here”. Yet they rank first out of millions of results. Why? Because from all around the web, people have links saying something like “if you can’t see this, click here to install the newest flash player”. Adobe’s pages are ranking number one and two in Google solely thanks to off-page factors.

What about the other philosophy, stating that on-page optimization matters a lot? Well, I can give you two examples showing how on-page optimization matters.

  1. Another do-it-yourself one: Go to Google and type “hkcMjRm” as a search term. You’ll see the top spots pointing to the SEO 2.0 blog, or more specifically the post about using Google as a URL-shortener on that blog.
    This is an extreme example, of course, since the letter combination hkcMjRm was specifically designed to be unique so that Google would always point to that post featuring it. Since the post became quite popular and people tweeted and wrote about it a lot, the SEO 2.0 post is no longer the only result, but it remains the top result. Analytics show that there are zero backlinks with the anchor-text “hkcMjRm”, however. In other words, the only thing Google goes by to rank that page is what it finds on-page.

    So much for “proving” that on-page elements matter. But what about ranking for a real search term?
  2. Let’s go back to that “click here” example and do a bit of a backlink analysis. Since I’m lazy, I had Keyword Elite 2 do the analysis for me. Here are the results:

First four positions (as of Dec. 12th 2009):

Rank: Domain: Page: Nr. of Backlinks:
1 get.adobe.com Adobe Reader (dl) 1’218’313
2 get.adobe.com Adobe Flash Player (dl) 9’859’075
3 clickhere.com Homepage 2’993
4 doubleclick.com Privacy Policy 1’954

So far, so good. Obviously, the Adobe pages are completely dominating here, with millions of backlinks to each of them. And most of these are high-quality backlinks too, since many reputable and high-pr sites are pointing to those download pages. A million links from some crappy link-farms wouldn’t have the same effect, of course.

But let’s take a look at the next few results and we’ll see something rather interesting:

Rank: Domain: Page: Nr. of Backlinks:
5 cnn.com Breaking News (Videos) 781’990
6 adobe.com Adobe Flash (info) 8’949’496
7 adobe.com Adobe Reader (info) 245’036
8 apple.com Quicktime Player (dl) 1’767’521

See what’s going on here? In positions three and four, we have two pages with a few thousand backlinks, while practically all the other page one entries have links in the millions or at least hudreds of thousands. How does a page with barely 3’000 backlinks outrank one with almost 9 Million backlinks? Again, this is an Adobe page with millions of links. Many of those are going to be coming in from very reputable sources and there’s no shady automated link-building or black hat business going on here. So, how is this possible?

Quite frankly, I don’t know, since I don’t work for Google’s algorithm programming team. What I do know is that www.clickhere.com does have some on-page optimization for the term “click here”. On the ranked page, it is featured in the page title, a couple of times in the text as well as in the meta keywords and meta description. No doubt this plays a part in where the page ends up in the results.

I’m not trying to make a case for either standpoint here, but I’m sure you can see that the above example could be used to make a strong case for on-page optimization. Just looking at the number of backlinks and on-page factors, one could argue that a little bit of on-page work has an equivalent effect to building millions of backlinks.

Don’t let anyone fool you with simple examples like this, however. It’s usually a bit more complicated than that.

Now What?

Simply put, we can clearly see that both on-page and off-page factors matter. And to be clear: No one really denies this. Grizz knows and admits that on-page factors can help and George Brown knows and clearly states that you can only rank for certain types of relatively non-competitive keywords without any backlinking whatsoever.

The big debate is generally about how much weight these factors should be given. At the end of the day, the question comes down to: “Should I spend my time optimizing the on-page factors or should I spend it building backlinks?”

You can’t do 100% of everything, so you have to set priorities. The purpose of this post is simply to untangle some of the confusion that can arise when you see how different the opinions of some of the SEO experts are.

The good thing about on-page optimization is that you can set most of it up just once (configure proper header and title-tags). When that’s all set, you can concentrate on the off-page optimization and you should get the best of both worlds. Bottom line is that building good, keyword targeted backlinks works. And so does the GSniper method, when it’s done right (more on that in an upcoming review).

I hope you enjoyed this post. All the best,


P.S.: I have also seen Brad Gosse using the “click here” example. I don’t know where it originated from, but Brad and Grizz aren’t the only prominent proponents of off-page SEO, just like George isn’t the first to suggest targeting low-competition keywords with good on-page optimization. But I had to pick someone, right?

EDIT: I managed to find George’s personal blog. See George’s Internet marketing blog right here.


I'm Shane Melaugh and I'm the guy writing most of the posts on this blog. My goal is to provide you with useful, straight-forward insights on how to grow your business by creating compelling offers, driving traffic and increasing conversions.

moon_h - December 15, 2009

Hi Shane,

Really well-laid out article here! I have often noticed that a site with less # of backlinks ranks higher than one with more. I’ve always wondered why; you’re educated guess of on-page optimization is probably correct. I guess a good balance of off-site and on-site optimization is necessary.

If you have a minute or two, check out my site :)

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