How to nail on-site SEO

Don’t worry about backlinks & social proof until you have this down

I got one of my websites from 0 views to 10K views per month in under a year with no off-site SEO strategy at all.

That wasn’t even my goal. My goal was to publish 100 articles in eight seven months. I didn’t have time to do anything but write. By month eight the traffic was growing all by itself.

I began in September 2019. In March 2020 I had 1.3K views. By then end of April, I’ll have 10.2K.

For those of you that aren’t sure about the difference between on-site and off-site SEO, think of it like this:

On-site SEO is all the stuff you can do to improve your SEO from your website.

Off-site SEO is all the stuff that you need to get from external sources— backlinks, a big social media following.

I don’t do any of that. I just like the writing part.

Arguably, if you can nail off-site SEO, you don’t actually need to create a great site. Imagine you’re a plumber. The off-site SEO equivalent would be a friend or colleague recommending you as a plumber to their friends.

The quality of your plumbing skills isn’t actually up for debate here.

You’re being guaranteed by a trusted source. If you do a crap job, your friend’s in the firing line as much as you are. More even, because they seem dishonest.

In this analogy, get yourself a backlink from a trusted source, and Google will recommend you, however crap your content is.

(Btw, this is why guest posting is such a risky strategy. Unless you score a big authority website, you’re probably wasting your time)

If we go back to the plumber analogy, on-site SEO would be like a client picking you at random from a long list of sources.

Perhaps all the other plumbers were busy.

You don’t have any experience — it may even be your first job.

The equivalent to doing great on-site SEO as a plumber is doing the job you were hired to do exceptionally well — you know, turn up on time, clean up after themselves, don’t complain that you only have soy milk for the coffee.

And like plumbing, we can improve our SEO by going above and beyond what our client (or user, in our case) is expecting.

In other words, on-site SEO may take longer, but you’re 100% in control of it AND you’re opening yourself to off-site SEO without having to lift a finger.

The client that was stuck with you will recommend you to their friends because you solved their problem. That’s all there is to it.

So, how do we do on-site SEO?

I promise it’s not difficult once you understand how to cater to both search engines and humans.

Solve your users’ problem

In order to build traffic to a website without doing off-site SEO, you have to be creating content that people are looking for.

NOT content you want to write. The days of people giving a crap about what you had for your dinner are long gone.

You can invest in a fancy keyword analysis tool if you like, but I personally use Google’s autocompleting feature to see what people are looking for. Check out the keyword suggestions at the bottom of the SERP, and the ‘People also ask’ box.

Once I’ve found a keyword I think is fairly uncompetitive, I write the article.

To be perfectly honest, this is a process of trial and error, but once a couple of articles start to rank, Google will watch you more closely. This is why it’s so important to create a lot of content. Every article you write improves your chances of being discovered.

Create hyper-relevant content

It’s no secret that Google uses real humans to check your articles, but chances are, you’ll end up getting a bot.

You don’t need to write for bots in the body of your work — your audience will connect with you more if you write like a normal person. But you need to make sure that all your subheadings tell the bot that you’re staying on topic.

I usually write them as a question, just in case someone puts that exact query in Google, and you have the only article in your niche that has the exact same question.

If you have a few headings that aren’t super-relevant but work well in the article, try to leave them to the end of the post — keep the bot reading for as long as possible. As soon as the bot determines you’ve digressed from the relevant keyword, it’ll leave.

A word on latent semantic analysis

You don’t need to repeat your keyword. Google’s AI is advanced enough to know that you’re on track, even if you don’t use the exact same pattern of words every time.

Ignore the Yoast traffic light system — it’s leading you astray. Even the readability one. If I want to start three sentences with the same word, I will.

Niche waaaaay down

Ok, let’s go back to that plumbing analogy. If you were just starting out in the industry and you lived in a small town with a lot of other plumbers, how would you stand out?

It’s not as easy as saying ‘I’d simply be the best plumber ever’. You need to create demand. Pick a speciality. Servicing boilers, late-night call-outs, a particular brand of faucet, whatever.

You may have to pick the boring articles that no one else wants to write. As long as someone wants to read them, it doesn’t matter.

Use keywords in your subheadings

I know I already said this, but remember I said that if you have any paragraphs that aren’t hyper-relevant leave them to the end?

You can actually use the end of an article to rank for keywords that only require a few words to explain fully.

For example, if your niche is baking, you could have a subheading that’s something like: ‘can I replace an egg with applesauce?’

You probably couldn’t write a whole article on that, and ‘vegan egg replacer’ is a super competitive keyword, but you might get a hit on ‘can I replace an egg with applesauce?’


I know I always go on about stats but they can be a really easy way to get Google to like you. Numbers just really…make you seem like you know what you’re doing.

It’s not hard to create stats — if you have a lot of social media followers, create a poll. If not, join a Facebook group relevant to your niche and ask the admin if you can post a survey.

Don’t think that you can’t get enough people to create a relevant sample — I mean, look at the small print on shampoo ads.

If a huge multinational corporation is allowed to say 99 people is a representative sample of the entire human race, then you can too.

Unique content

Unique content is not hard to come up with — learn your niche inside out and read as many articles in that niche as you can.

I’d be surprised if there weren’t glaring holes in the information.


Well, in every niche there are conventions — stuff you do, stuff that just Isn’t Done unless you want to out yourself as a newbie. A bit like going to the Statue of Liberty, or the Tower of London — everyone knows you’re a tourist.

Guess what, there’s always gonna be newbies who don’t care about the Way Things Are Done.

The Tower of London is a really cool place.

I always make sure to include plants like spider plants and snake plants on my website because newbies like them. Also, I’m not trying to only entice plant collectors — I want to help some kid that’s trying to keep their grandma’s beloved peace lily alive.

So if you run a music site and you like Nickelback, own it. If you love playing the recorder or watching Big Bang Theory, or old re-runs of Days of our lives, there will be people actually LOOKING for you. There’s probably an underground network of people out there using Betamax.

You can only find your tribe if you put yourself out there. And stealing someone else’s tribe too much like hard work.

Real-life experience

Don’t pick a niche just because you think it can make you money. Pick a niche that you have a lot of experience in, good or bad.

There is so much bland content out there. Create articles that show that you’re a human. Connect with your audience over all the plants you killed, all the magazines that have rejected you, that time the TV you mounted crashed to the floor and ruined your mother’s birthday.

It’s stories like this that sending your average time on page through the roof, and Google LOVES that metric.

Oh, and it makes you seem more like a real person, and users might hunt down your socials. Get your on-site SEO sorted and the off-site takes care of itself.

So, are we clear?

If you’re just starting out creating your website, concentrate on on-site SEO.

  • Leave off-site stuff to other people
  • Create relevant content that people are searching for.
  • Use internal links designed to help your user, not direct them to a sales page. Do that later, when you have a more established audience.
  • Create useful outbound links. To build good traffic, you must put your user before yourself. You can always sell out later.
  • Explain even the most obvious terms — Google loves an over explainer — but keep it relevant.
  • Don’t fixate on word-count. Just make sure you’ve covered everything. If your word count is over 5,000 words, split the article into two (stand-alone articles) and add an internal link.

Writer, blogger. Rabbit parent to one. Plant parent to many. Occasional runner, jigsaw puzzle enthusiast.

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