A Minimalist Guide to SEO: Get It Done in 6 Simple Steps

Everyone’s crazy about search engine optimization.

You need to learn it. You have to have it. You have to do it.

The problem is that you really aren’t sure where to get started, and you can drive yourself nuts trying to "get it right." Keyword densities, back links, trustrank, neighborhoods, link architecture — who has time to do it all?

You’re a marketer, not an SEO specialist. Don’t you have better things to do than get it perfect?

Of course you do. And besides, let’s be honest: without dedicating a significant amount of time, money, and energy to it, you probably don’t have a prayer of ranking for any keywords with serious traffic.

Take a look at what Wikipedia says. While not always the best source of accurate data, it still gives you a good idea of what you’re up against:

"As of March 2009[update], the indexable web contains at least 25.21 billion pages.[72] On July 25, 2008, Google software engineers Jesse Alpert and Nissan Hajaj announced that Google Search had discovered one trillion unique URLs.[73] As of May 2009[update], over 109.5 million websites operated.[74]

Wow. One site versus one trillion. Let’s just say the odds of ranking well and getting relevant traffic aren’t in your favor.

Want to know a secret, though?

You can get away with minimal SEO – and you can get results from it, too. Potential leads. Possible customers. Interested people.

Yes, SEO does work, despite the odds. If your website is small, you can even be finished in less than an hour.

Here’s how:

1. Target People Who Are Looking for You

While you might not be able to rank for a super popular keyword, you can show up at the top of the search results for people who are actively looking for you.

Maybe they heard about your company, and they’d like to contact you. Or maybe they met you at a conference, and they’d like to follow up, but they lost your business card. Or maybe they are thinking about buying one of your products and they want some more information.

In any of those cases, they’ll probably do a search in Google, and not for general keywords. They’ll be looking for you, your company, or your product — all of which are substantially more unique keywords.

If you’re a realtor, for instance, you might not be able to rank for "Charlotte real estate," but you could easily get a first page ranking for terms like, "Hugh Patterson, Charlotte, NC" "Hugh Patterson Realty, LLC," and so on. They’re much more unique.

So, how do you make sure you’re not targeting a term with a ton of competition?

It only takes a few seconds to check. Let’s talk about how.

2. Do Some Bare-Bones Keyword Research

SEO specialists use powerful and expensive tools for helping them choose and analyze the perfect keywords, but with this strategy, we’re not worried about perfection. We’re just trying to help people find us.

So, here’s what you do. If there is a term you think people might type into Google looking specifically for you, go ahead and type it into Google yourself and see what comes up.

For popular terms like "Charlotte real estate," you’ll see listings with "Charlotte real estate" in the title. They’re targeting that specific phrase, and because it’s so competitive, they probably worked really hard to get to the top of the search results.

But for less competitive phrases, it looks completely different. Type in, "Hugh Patterson Realty, LLC," and none of the listings have those keywords in the title. That means no one is targeting those keywords.

They’re ripe for the picking. Chances are, all you have to do to rank for them is make a few simple tweaks to your website.

3. Optimize Your Title Tags

What are title tags?

They’re the title of the page. You can see them at the very top of your browser, up in the blue area. And while they may seem unimportant, they are actually one of the most important factors for SEO.

The simplest way to handle title tags is to include one keyword and a few descriptive phrases to tell the visitor what the page is about. For example:

  • For your homepage, you might put, "Hugh Patterson Realty, LLC: Specializing in Serving Buyers in Charlotte, NC"
  • For your bio, you could use, "Hugh Patterson: Serving Clients in Charlotte, NC for 15 years"
  • For a listing, you might put, "1234 Sharon Road, Charlotte, NC: Three Bedroom, Two Bath House with Two Car Garage"

Are you going to get a lot of traffic from those keywords?

No, but you have a good chance at showing up for people searching for those specific terms. You might be the only website optimizing for them.

Here are some more resources on title tags to help you get started:

Understanding the HTML Title Tag

Best Practices for Title Tags

4. Optimize Your File Names

Search engines don’t just look at your title tags. They also pay close attention to the file names of your webpages and images.

The best way optimize them is to identify a theme or focus for each particular page. For instance, if you’re optimizing for people searching for an employee of your company (say, Hugh Patterson), then you might name the page "hugh-patterson.html" and have a photo named "hugh-patterson.jpg".

Keep it short, though. A file named "hugh-patterson-realty-charlotte-north-carolina-homes.HTML" might be old tri-specific, but it dilutes SEO potential, looks silly to readers, and becomes next to impossible for anyone to remember.

Oh, and about those hyphens? Definitely use them. They’re the friendliest of separators for the words in file names, much better than smashing all the words together in one big run-on or using underscores.

5. Optimize Your Content

Now that you’ve chosen a title tag and file name, add the same words throughout the content of the page.

Don’t go crazy, though. Yes, you might capture Google’s attention, but you’ll lose the interest of real people. They’ll be turned off by awkward phrasing and heavy-handed SEO strategies. It’s better to work them in as part of the natural language of your page and make sure everything reads well.

Good locations to add keywords include headlines and sub-headers, and you can sprinkle a few more relevant words around the rest of your copy.

6. Add Your Meta Tags

The last step is adding meta tags to your site.

Why does this step come last? Meta tags don’t carry much weight with search engines anymore. They’re good to have, yes, but they won’t get you ranked any higher.

They can have an effect on your traffic though, especially if you craft a compelling meta description. Your meta description is the little blurb of text that appears below your link when people receive the results of their search.

It should be written for people, not search engines, because it’s your very first contact with potential visitors. To encourage people to visit your site, this mini-pitch has to be interesting, unique, and all about the reader. Add keywords if you can, but try to write a benefit-rich text that gets people thinking, "Yes! This is exactly what I want!"

You’ll be limited as to how much meta description you can write: roughly, 150 characters or so. Work hard to create maximum impact with just a handful of words that perk up interest – even if they have no SEO phrases within them.

More resources:

How to Use HTML Meta Tags

Meta Tag Generator

And after meta tags, you have to…

Oh, wait. You’re done.

Isn’t There More to SEO Than This?

Yes. A lot more.

Do a search on Google, and you’ll find entire books, classes, and home study courses dedicated to SEO. Between them, there are hundreds of different strategies you can employ to get your site search engine traffic, and if you have the time and money, you should consider looking into them.

But if you’re just getting started, and you need to get a website up fast so people can find you, this is where you should start. By completing these six easy steps, you can optimize your site in only about 5 to 15 minutes per page, with no crazy, frustrating SEO learning curve.

No, minimal SEO won’t bring you tons of business, but you will help people find you when they’re actively looking.

And that’s pretty darned important.

About the Author: James Chartrand is the owner of the leading copywriting and web design agency, Men with Pens.

  1. Robin Dickinson Aug 11, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    James, this is very useful. Thank you.

    Robin :)

    Helping you succeed in business.

  2. Pamela Wilson Aug 12, 2010 at 3:17 am

    James, I wish I’d had this article a year ago. I looked all over for a resource that would spell out the basics for me, and it didn’t seem to exist.

    Thanks for putting this together: I’m sure lots of people starting out will find it very useful. You’ve done your good deed for the week!

  3. That is good advice. Most small biz would do a lot better by engaging in these basic best practices.

    On meta tags, consensus seems to be growing that a site is better off with no meta keywords or meta description than with duplicate (usually a default setting).

  4. Great post James,

    Although on-page factors account for 20% of the Search Results game in my book they can seriously damage your chances of success if not done right.

    I agree with you that before you get cracking on networking and getting those all important in-links, you gotta have a solid foundation (on-page seo, content architecture etc.) to work on.

  5. I work in the jewelry industry, and it is just amazing how many people deploy the “if you build it, they will come” method behind building their websites. This is a must read!.

  6. Excellent. SEO is a daunting field but this is a fantastic guide to keeping it simple and getting you started.

  7. Great post James,

    This is a great list. I’m a marketer, so SEO is essential in my business and deploying these tactics will definitely get you started down the right path.

    Again, great post!

  8. Thanks for this, I’m VERY novice and it’s great to get some simple straight forward advice that I can understand and implement. I have used Weebly with the help of some friends to build the site, it seems quite easy to take action on all these points straight away!

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