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The six disciplines of SEO

SEO isn’t a monolith. It can’t be painted with a broad brush as it’s sometimes portrayed. A truly comprehensive strategy will act like a flywheel and compound overtime results.

More SEO doesn’t necessarily lead to proportionally more results.

The 6 Disciplines of SEO is a framework that we created at 97th Floor to move SEOs from doing more SEO to doing holistic SEO.

 

SEO's History with Search

As Google’s algorithm has matured, there have been ground breaking updates which have improved overall user experience.

Much of how the industry views SEO today is because of these wide reaching (and sometimes earth-shattering) updates. For over a decade the theme has been Google making changes, and SEOs trying to intuit the signals with moderate success.

 Page Experience Workshop_Slides-01

Today, we see that Google is releasing frequent broad core updates aimed at improving the algorithm from a holistic perspective. Google has clarified that for each of these updates the advice they give comes down to making great content that is high quality, expertly written, trustworthy, unique, and valuable to the user.

We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.

While this advice is good, it isn’t enough. Optimizing for users over bots makes Google an ally rather than an enigma, as you both work towards the same goal: a better experience for the people behind the searches.

Enter the holistic strategy any SEO can adapt: The 6 Disciplines of SEO.

 

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6 Disciplines of SEO

  1. Compliability: Improving a website’s compliance with Google’s search guidelines
  2. Usability: Improving the site’s user experience
  3. Readability: Google’s ability to read and understand a site
  4. Linkability: Optimizing a website’s backlink profile
  5. Indexability: Google’s ability to crawl and index a site
  6. Trackability: Ensuring a website’s SEO performance is being tracked and measured with data

 

A note on our naming convention: we get that a lot of these words sound made up, but we chose to name the disciplines with a focus on the the ability derived from each. Yes, they are weird, but we remember weird.

Here are some examples of what execution can look like within each of these disciplines.

 

Compliability:

The SEO industry has a wide and comprehensive list of recommended best practices. And, luckily, Google has provided fairly explicit guidance on what websites can do to be compliant with their guidelines. In addition, we’ve executed internal strategies which have yielded results which challenge previous assumptions and best practices.

Armed with all of this knowledge, you can make sure your site is properly aligned and thereby maximize your SEO efforts.

  • Addressing Search Console errors in order to be more in compliance with Google’s search guidelines.
    • Enhancement errors
      • Page speed fixes
      • Mobile usability fixes
      • Any type of structured data or other on-page enhancement SC detects to have an error.
        • Product page structured data errors
        • Recipe page structured data errors
        • Etc.
    • Manual action penalty resolution
  • Understanding the latest updates made to Google’s Search Quality guidelines as they are released

 

Compliability’s Impact

One client came to 97th Floor with stalled SEO efforts, despite their best efforts. Some digging during our onboarding site audit uncovered that they were unaware a manual action penalty had been placed on their site. Google Search Console revealed that structured data was being misapplied to a specific segment of the site's blog pages.

In the past, this site’s posts had included a comments section. But over time the comments became too much to moderate and they ultimately decided to disable comments for the site. In doing this, however, they forgot to disable the structured data on the backend that called out the recently disabled blog comments.

Once this was discovered, it was imperative that all of the residual structured data was removed from those pages. Doing that reassured Google that the client’s site wasn’t claiming to have something on-page that they didn’t actually have. It was a relatively easy fix, but not an obvious find for the untrained eye.

Once those fixes were applied, the next step was to put together a reconsideration request and submit it to Google. Once the reconsideration request was filed, the penalty was lifted within a week and the site saw significant increases in organic traffic from that point on.

 

Usability:

Google isn’t outright about much of their algorithm. This is why the latest user-experience based algorithm update Page Experience, is getting so much attention. This update and the trends in recent updates pay particular attention to the Usability discipline, which ensures the overall SEO strategy is UX based.

Improved user experience is important to have baked into any SEO strategy from the beginning, because it has the potential to aid both your SEO-focused goals and your bottom line business goals like conversions.

  • Optimizing for core web vitals
  • Optimizing for mobile friendliness
  • Ensuring that the site does not contain intrusive interstitials
  • Ensuring the secure version of the site live and indexed by Google
  • Ensure that the best CTAs on page in order to provide the best user experience for visitors

Usability’s Impact

An ecommerce business came to 97th Floor with a dilemma: users were reaching their product pages, but not converting. Hypotheses were formed and ranked as to what site changes might have the greatest impact on UX, but even the most intuitive hypotheses aren’t a place to end.

Multi-variant testing showed which variations brought in the most conversions and new revenue. This was a luxury ecommerce business, even small upticks in conversion rates can show significant increases in revenue, which means they stood to gain quite a bit. In this case, almost every variant showed a positive increase in both conversions and revenue. Overall, implementing these changes led to a 29% increase in revenue over just a few weeks.

In prioritizing the usability, our client gained tangible and actionable information about what their customers like to see on their site, which in this case was removing the financing option from their checkout.

 

 

Readability:

Readability in this sense refers to the ease of reading your site for bots, not humans. Readability in this sense should not be confused with user-focused readability scores that measure the sophistication and ease of reading of your copy.

Cleaning up your site’s readability can play a significant role in its ability to rank, because metadata are an important way bots analyze the content on your pages.

Improving the metadata that adorn a site’s pages is an essential way to signal to Google the relevance of the on-page content to the target focus keyword.

The most critical ways to improve readability include:

  • Title tag optimization
  • H tag optimization
  • Structured data optimization
  • Copy augmentation
  • Featured snippet optimizations

 

Readability’s Impact

A new client approached us with hopes to increase their blog’s organic traffic. They had been blogging for years, but they weren’t seeing the traffic increases they were hoping for. An audit revealed that they were misusing H1 and H2 tags throughout their blog, at the fault of the customer template they were using. They’d chosen to use more H1 tags as H2 tags, effectively using multiple H1 tags per page. But that looked most attractive on their template, so they unknowingly were shooting their blog’s readability in the foot.

They had no idea they were defying Google’s guidelines. And while their use of H1 tags might have been easier on the eyes, it wasn’t helping them win Google’s favor. Once the H tag errors were resolved, our client saw an immediate jump in traffic. These simple readability changes brought in a golden age of SEO for their site that is still going strong.

 

 

 

Linkability

A healthy backlink profile has always been a major part of a site’s rankability. A healthy backlink profile requires various tactics to not only increase backlinks; including branded links, anchor text distribution, link velocity, and more. Not only external links, but internal linking structure is a critical (and often overlooked) part of the linkability of a site.

Here are a couple ways you can do this:

  • Spammy link removal
  • Backlink acquisition
  • Broken backlinks
  • Brand mention link building
  • New backlinks
  • Anchor text optimization
  • Follow/nofollow optimization
  • Internal link optimization

 

Linkability’s Impact

Our client was stalled ranking in position 5 on their chosen SERP, and needed to move up to gain the visibility they desired. An analysis of their site revealed they had several pages that all concerned the same topic, which can create confusion for Google. In addition, most of their pages were four links from the homepage, while few were just one or two links away.

By creating a map for Google’s bots using internal linking (using just 7 new links), the site jumped in ranking from position 5 to position 1.

This keyword had an average month search volume of 15,000 searches, which means moving from spot 5 to spot 1 generated an average of 3,300 additional clicks to the client’s webpage per month for just this keyword alone.

 

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Indexability:

Indexability is how well Google is able to crawl and index a site. Google indexes sites similar to how books are indexed in a library, collecting relevant information about your site and making it easier for users to find. So, it’s in your best interest to be sure Google can easily index your site, and that it’s getting the relevant information from your site that it needs.

While readability deals exclusively with metadata, indexability is a bigger umbrella that deals with the indexability of your entire site.

If Google can’t access and process your website’s content effectively, it won’t rank your site’s URLs very well. If part of your site is unindexed or poorly indexed, Google won’t know what your website is all about. This leads to missing pages, poor rankings, and overall less traffic. Once you discover symptoms of crawlability or indexability issues on your site, you’ll need to investigate further to uncover the source.

These areas of investigation often include:

  • 404 pages
  • XML sitemaps
  • Redirect chains
  • Href lang tags
  • Robots.txt
  • Meta robots
  • Log file analysis

 

Indexabiliy’s Impact

In a technical site audit for a client, we discovered some irregularities in their indexation. Further digging uncovered pages missing from the overall coverage of the site, which is a common symptom of an indexability error.

The execution of a log file analysis directed our efforts in improving indexability. The analysis revealed several actions that could be taken to fix the indexing issues the site was experiencing, including: clearing a number of redundant subfiles that Google was crawling, broken pages that needed to be redirected, and other folders Google was crawling that didn’t play a role in the overall SEO strategy.

A strategic clean up of the site’s indexability issues resulted in not only immediately more traffic, but an increase in organic revenue for our client. In the 30 days immediately following the rollout of these changes, Google organic transactions increased by 25.86%.

 

 

Trackability:

At 97th Floor we have about a dozen platforms to track our campaign’s performance but most commonly we use Ahrefs, Google Analytics, and Stat. You can decide what platforms and strategies are most effective for your company, however, no matter what platforms you decide to use, it’s important that you’re accurately tracking the progress of your campaigns.

The most crucial part of this data mix is making sure that the deployment and configuration of Google Analytics is not only correct but that it’s tracking the right conversions as they relate to our SEO strategy and client business goals.

Below are some ways that we do this:

  • Google Analytics audit
    • Tracking Set Up
      • Consistent tracking code deployment across all pages
      • Top pages breaking overtime
      • Traffic source verification
    • Conversions review
      • eCommerce tracking setup
      • Goal and event tracking setup
    • Data Connected
      • Audience demographics enabled
      • Google Search Console connected
      • Site search & category search enabled
    • Filters Set Up
      • Unfiltered data + filtered data view set up
      • IP referral exclusion
  • Stat
    • Archived SERP changes over time
    • Realtime rank monitoring
    • Aggregate keyword ranking trends
  • Ahrefs
    • Organic keyword increases
    • Backlinks acquisition progress
    • New keyword targeting opportunities
    • Organic competitor baseliness

 

Trackability’s Impact

You can’t make informed decisions if you aren’t tracking relevant data. Our teams consistently identify goals and values for clients in order to better track the impact of the ongoing SEO strategy in place for them.

As we continue to iterate on what is driving the most conversions to the site, we’re able to focus the strategy efforts into the parts of the site that are making the most difference for the client’s bottom line.

 

Blog_The 6 Disciplines of SEO_Traffic Chart

 

Why the 6 Disciplines Matter

Each of these six disciplines are aimed at taking into account the various aspects of an SEO strategy. When built and executed properly, these six disciplines will positively impact the bottom line and delight your visitors.

Knowing when to reexamine each of these 6 areas of SEO will come down to knowing the symptoms of issues relating to each discipline. This goes beyond just seeing a decline in ranking or traffic. In fact, it’s knowing the specific symptoms and how to treat them that can make your SEO strategy powerful.

 

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Creating and Adapting the SEO Strategy

As you grow to understand each of these 6 realms you’ll be able to build effective campaigns and combat the ever-changing SEO landscape. In my experience, you will get more out of strategies that are flexible and produce the greatest yields long-term.

As more time is spent with a website, additional areas of improvement become apparent. From there you can prioritize these areas based on what will best reach your business objectives and improve the overall SEO health of your site.

The strategy could be mixed and matched on execution depending on the needs that arise, because this system allows for your SEO work to become a living, breathing strategy that takes into account all the ups and downs that come with working in the digital industry.

 

SEO Going Forward

So long as you remember that SEO starts and ends with users — real people — and execute SEO tactics based on the six discipline model, your site will continue to earn rankings, traffic, and conversions.

If every site strives to best serve the human need and do it in a way that is compliant with Google's recommendations, then we’ll all witness SEO increases and the internet will be a better place for it.

This blog post has a good list of what will make an effective holistic SEO strategy encompassing each of the six Disciplines. To help those looking to have an easy to reference framework, I’ve created this checklist that gives the most important items under each discipline.

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Joe Robledo

Joe is the VP of SEO at 97th Floor. He loves digging into the weeds of all realms of SEO. He has a strong passion for continual-improvement and efficiency in SEO and all other aspects of life. He loves being with his family and adventuring outdoors.

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