The SEO Pyramid: Foundational SEO Tactics to Boost Your Ranking

In this article, we'll:

  • Review specific tactics to help you increase your SEO, organized in levels
  • Tactics at the bottom of the pyramid are foundational to SEO efforts, while tactics at the top are the icing on the cake
  • Work your way up the pyramid to see better rankings and more organic traffic

Search engine optimization, or SEO, should be a key part of your digital marketing strategy. Google is the internet’s most visited website, and back in 2016, it accounted for 80% of all the internet’s traffic (we bet that number has only gone up since then). From a business standpoint, SEO has ~20X more traffic opportunity than PPC on both mobile and desktop.

On-Page, Off-Page, and Technical SEO

SEO is typically broken up into three buckets: on-page, off-page, and technical edits. On-page SEO refers to edits you can make on your website, like content, title tags, and image optimization. Off-page SEO refers to tactics off your website, like link building, directory listings, and increasing your domain authority. Technical SEO typically requires a developer to make changes since it is based in the code of the website and includes proper HTML, CSS, and Javascript, responsive design, and AMP.

White Hat vs Black Hat SEO

You’ll also hear another distinction of SEO: white hat and black hat SEO. Basically, search engines have rules, and white hat SEO refers to techniques that abide by those rules with a focus on bringing value to its users. White hat is writing good content, being honest, and trying to build SEO through natural channels. Black hat SEO, on the other hand, attempts to fool the search engine or the user. Websites that are caught using black hat techniques are at risk of being penalized or de-indexed by search engines. Long story short: do SEO the right way!

How Search Engines Determine Ranking

Search engines look at hundreds of factors when determining who ranks in the search engine results page (SERP).

Search engines have three functions:

  1. Crawl, or scour the internet for content.
  2. Index, or store and organize content found during the crawl.
  3. Rank pages in the SERP in order of which best answer a searcher’s query.

It’s important to keep in mind that search engines only make money when people use the engine, so the engine’s goal is to better serve its users, answer their questions, and keep them coming back for more searches. Overall, if your site is answering searcher’s queries better than other results, then you are likely to rank well.

Complex algorithms determine how a page ranks for a key term; rather, it’s a combination of on-page, off-page, and technical edits.

If you’re looking to boost your organic rankings, this article is for you. We’ve organized our SEO pyramid in four tiers, and each tier should be completed before working on the on the next for best results.

The SEO Pyramid

The foundation aspects are the SEO efforts that are, well, foundational and necessary to see any sort of positive movement in SEO ranking. Without having these properly completed, you will likely see a decrease in overall ranking.

The second tier includes SEO tactics that are standard best practices, but won’t be as detrimental as the foundational tactics if they’re not implemented.

The third tier includes tactics that many websites have benefitted from, but either they involve a little more time and/or technical know-how, or they won’t make as much of a difference as the foundation and tier two tactics. Tier three tactics will still give you a bang, just not the biggest bang for your buck.

The fourth tier is the icing on the cake, or tactics that don’t necessarily need to be implemented but add a little extra juice to your rankings.

Foundational SEO

We’ll start at the bottom of the SEO pyramid with what we call foundational SEO. These are basic SEO factors that search engines really care about. Without proper foundational SEO, you’re unlikely to rank for anything.

Keyword Research

Keyword research should be the start of any SEO strategy. When you’re researching potential keywords, look for options that are relevant to your business, have a high search volume (meaning a lot of people are searching for that term every period), and low competition (competition tells you how many other websites are trying to rank for that keyword).

The keywords you choose should also align your customers’ intent with your business goals. An easy way to do this is to type your keyword into Google and look at the top results – are those results similar to what you are trying to rank for? For example, if your company manufactures water pumps and you type “pumps” into Google, the search results show high-heeled shoes throughout the first page. This means that when searchers search for “pumps,” they aren’t searching for (and won’t click on) your product.

Original Content Around Keywords that Fulfills Users’ Intent

Keyword stuffing, or using the keyword as many times as possible, isn’t a smart SEO tactic anymore. Instead, content should fulfill the intent of its users. Does it answer the questions they are seeking? Are they getting what they need when they visit your site?

There are three basic steps to creating valuable and SEO friendly content.

  1. Search for the keywords you want your content to rank for and identify which pages are ranking highly for those keywords.
  2. Analyze the quality content those pages possess that give them the #1 spot.
  3. Write content that’s better than that.

Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes one page rank over another. One of our favorite tools we use is SEMrush’s SEO Content Template. It reviews the top ten results and gives you a content template for how to reach the #1 position.

Select a Search Engine-Friendly CMS like WordPress

WordPress is one of the top choices for Content Management System (CMS) platforms when it comes to SEO. It is set up to make basic optimization simple and includes many valuable SEO plugins.

Submit a Sitemap to Google

A sitemap is just as it sounds: a map of your website. A sitemap submitted to Google helps the search engines determine the organization of your website and pages it needs to crawl for search engine results. Descriptive page URLs also help robots find the pages they are looking for. Use URLs like https://websurgenow.com/traffic/seo-search-engine-optimization/ that describe the page content.

Keyword-Rich Title, Header, and Alt Tags

Title and header tags determine the hierarchy of a page and describe the content that’s on it. In the backend of the website, these are called H1 (title) and H2 (header) tags. The main topic is introduced by the title and each subtopic is introduced using H2 tags.

Alt tags are attributed to images and help search engines decipher what the image is.

Site Speed and Load Time

Search engines prioritize user experience of a site. If a site takes too long to load, users will click back to the search engines and look for a different result, telling search engines that your site wasn’t providing them valuable information.

You can do a quick check of your site speed using PageSpeed Insights. We’d recommend a score of at least 80. Don’t forget to check your mobile site as well. It’s not uncommon to have the desktop and mobile version of your site load at different speeds.

If your site is very slow, there are a number of actions you can take to speed it up. A simple one is image optimization. Images or videos that are too large can significantly reduce site speed. Optimize images using a site like Tiny PNG that reduces the size of the image but keeps the quality.

Mobile Friendly Website

In 2018, Google rolled out mobile first indexing, which means that it will crawl the mobile version of a site to generate its search results. If your site isn’t mobile friendly, then it won’t appear on the search engine results page. Go through your website on your phone and make sure it looks and works as expected.

Site Security and SSL Certificates

In light of major recent breaches, it should come as no surprise that Google is penalizing sites that do not use any type of security. An SSL certificate protects your site and its users from malicious malware, viruses, and hackers, and it’s fairly simple to install.

Resolved Crawl/Indexing Issues

A crawl error is when a Googlebot tried to crawl a website and it’s unable to fully load a page. If Google is unable to crawl your website, it can’t index and rank pages. It can also negatively affect any rankings you currently have.

Make sure that you don’t have any errors, which can be detected in Google Search Console. The most common crawl errors are server errors (404 not found), disallowing robots.txt, and broken links.

Second Tier SEO

After you’ve implemented all of your foundational SEO tactics, it’s time to take a look at our next tier of SEO activities. If the second tier of SEO activities are not in place, your ranking will likely decrease.

Local SEO and Google My Business

Unsurprisingly, Google prioritizes its own other platforms in SEO. Google My Business is a way to manage your local listing. It will show users your address, phone number, business hours, photos, user reviews, questions, and social media posts.

Keeping this information updated is important; it shows Google that you are an engaged business owner who cares about your listing.

Google My Business also appears as a large and prominent search result when someone types your business name into Google. Many users opt to click on your Google My Business listing instead of your website when they are only looking to get in touch with you.

Local SEO and Google My Business

Google Ads

Google Ads are paid search results that appear in the top three positions of a SERP. Because of that, the ads are highly keyword based, and Google gives preferences to ads that best serve user intent. Like Google My Business, Google also gives more organic value to companies who are also using Google Ads.

Internal Linking

Internal linking, or linking to web pages within the same site, affects how Google finds and evaluates your pages and attributes authority to certain pages. It also helps users come across other relevant pieces of content, and if there’s anything that you’ve learned from this article so far, it should be that pleasing your users also pleases Google.

301 Redirects

When pages are deleted or go missing on a website, the result is a broken link, or a URL that leads nowhere. Broken links on a website are like a GPS leading drivers to a road with a dead end. A 301 redirect fixes broken links and redirects the broken URL to another relevant (and working) page.

Citation Signals

A citation is an online reference to your business’ name, address, and phone number, usually found on industry directories or websites.

The importance of citations has decreased over the past few years, but they’re still used by Google to understand how prominent your business is in relation to its industry.

Website Engagement Metrics

Usually found in Google Analytics, engagement metrics like visits from search, time on page, bounce rate, or clicking straight back to user results impact your ranking. Positive signals are sent to Google when users click to your site and stay on it, reading about their initial query or visiting other pages.

According to Google’s former Chief of Search Quality, Udi Manber, “the ranking itself is affected by the click data. If we discover that, for a particular query, 80% of people click on #2 and only 10% click on #1, after a while we figure out probably #2 is the one people want, so we’ll switch it.”

Robots File

This is a piece of your technical SEO strategy that your developers will be able to help you with. The robots file tells Google webmasters which pages on your site to crawl. The robots file comes in handy when you have certain pages on your site, like a customer portal, that you don’t want search engines to show on the results page.

Traffic

Google assumes that the more traffic a page gets, the more value it has, and the more value it has in Google’s eyes, the higher it will rise in its organic result.

Once you have your foundational SEO set, driving traffic to key pages will send positive signals to Google that your page is popular and provides valuable information, giving it a boost in the search results.

Third Tier SEO

Third tier SEO tactics are great if you can get to them, but won’t necessarily hurt your ranking if they aren’t in place.

Authority Building and Backlinks

You can think of backlinks as “votes” from other websites. If you are getting a lot of “votes” from reputable, well-trafficked sites, it sends a positive signal to Google that you are a valuable player in that particular area of thought.

On the other hand, if you are building links from dubious sources, Google looks at that like you’re getting not-so-great votes from not-so-great sources. So when you are earning backlinks, be sure to do it the natural way: write great content that will benefit users, and other websites will want to link to your content.

Purposeful Website Updates

A catchphrase we hear in marketing is “Google likes fresh content.” As your business, industry, products, or services change, so should your website; keeping web content up-to-date and relevant can help boost ranking. While it’s not necessarily important to make frequent updates to the site, it is important to not let the content get stale.

User Reviews

User reviews not only help increase organic rankings, but they also significantly increase conversions. Encourage users to leave keywords when they review you by mentioning the particular product or service they are pleased with. Also, be sure you’re responding to reviews, both good and bad.

SEO Pyramid User Reviews

Readable Text

Google recommends 16+ point font to minimize the need for zooming on mobile. Remember, the longer we can keep a visitor on the page, the better, and they won’t stay on the page if the text is too small or formatted in a way that makes it difficult to read.

Fourth Tier SEO

Finally, our last tier of SEO. Like the third tier, your rankings won’t be hurt if you don’t have these, but they can give you that extra boost to rank a few positions higher.

Social Media Signals

Social media used to hold a fair amount of weight when it came to SEO, but that has been dwindling in recent years.

Now, social media is more frequently used in SEO for traffic purposes. The more traffic that goes to a page, the higher the likelihood of that page increasing its ranking.

Featured Snippets

Featured snippets are the “no-click” information boxes that appear above other organic search results in Google. Headers, bullet points, paragraph breaks, and clear, concise language will help structure your content for a featured snippet.

Snippets are not something you can buy or code for. Google has to determine that your information is the best, so you’re more likely to achieve a featured snippet if you are already ranking on page one in a top position.

SEO Pyramid Featured Snippets

Believe it or not, even this article oversimplifies the SEO algorithm. There’s way more that goes into it than just the factors we outlined (if you want to know them all, check out this free report that analyzes over 500 different factors that contribute to ranking), but these tactics are a great start to get your SEO headed in the right direction.

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Michael Agnello

Strategy Director
Michael lives for marketing, golf, and his son, Mikey. He's often neck-deep in spreadsheets, analytics, and metrics. He doesn't settle for good; he’ll only work for perfection.

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