Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Guide to SEO 2021: What is SEO and How it Works?

Want to know what is SEO and how it works?

Are you looking to learn about SEO and apply it to your business website?

In this simple guide, you will learn everything about SEO. This guide will help you understand the fundamentals of SEO and the importance of it in generating long-term results.

How do we get clients for Magnes Marketing?

By leveraging SEO strategies.

90% of our clients come from Google. 

If you’re just starting to build your online presence on the Internet, you might get intimidated by SEO. 

But you don’t have to worry about it. Once you get your foundation right, you just need to follow the process and generate the results you deserve for your business.

Although SEO is not simple, you can turn your simple understanding of SEO into effective systems and generate quality results in the long run. Even if you don’t have the budget to hire a digital marketing agency or hire an in-house digital marketing team, you can still put in the efforts that will help you improve your site’s ranking on search engines.

So, let’s get started. We will provide you the best answer to your question – what is SEO and how it works? 

SEO Definition and How SEO works

So, what is SEO, and how it works? 

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is a process of optimizing your online assets like websites and apps to get organic, free, unpaid traffic from search engines. As Google has 97% of search engine market share, we can tell that SEO is about getting organic traffic from Google. 

In other words, SEO is defined as tasks and efforts to make changes to your website’s design, content, and structure to make it relevant and attractive to both search engines and users. The main reason to implement SEO is for the search engine to display your website at the top of search result pages.

Although the SEO meaning sounds simple, the implementation of SEO can be complex due to constant algorithm updates which include various factors that influence your search rankings. The main reason for search engines like Google to improve their algorithms is to provide the best experience for their users. 

This means Google needs to rank web pages that are high in quality, relevant to user’s search queries, and of course, provide the best experience when they land on the site. 

In order to find the best site to rank on search result pages, search engines will deploy their crawling bots to crawl to understand what the site is about. This will help search engines to show the most relevant results for the keywords or topics their users are actively searching for.

Moreover, search engines also consider the user experience factor while crawling the site to determine whether the site is user-friendly and provides easy navigation and accessibility for users.

To put it simply, SEO is a process that businesses implement to make sure their site ranks high on search engines for the keywords and phrases related to their products and services. For example, let’s say you’re selling baby skincare products. 

You want your content to appear in front of your potential customers. So, you need to optimize your blog post related to baby skincare. This will help your site show up at the top of the search result page when your target audience searches for “baby skincare”.

There are tons of benefits to implementing search engine optimization for your website. When you focus on improving your SEO efforts, you can position your website on the top page of search results which increases your search visibility. When you start ranking high on search engines, you’ll be attracting more potential customers. 

Creating content that ranks high on search engines can increase your chances of generating quality organic traffic. 

You need to put in consistent SEO efforts to see the best results from search engines. It’s a game of patience.

Top Factors That Impacts SEO 2021

Now you know what SEO means and how it works. 

But, how to implement SEO strategies to your website? 

And how to make SEO work for my website?

The truth is SEO works only if you choose to implement the right strategies and put in consistent work. If you’re looking to rank quickly on search engines, it’s impossible and you can work on paid search ads instead.

In this section, we will look at the most important factors that impact SEO. Google has not revealed the exact algorithm they use to rank websites. However, with years of experience in optimizing websites for Google, we have a good understanding of the top factors that influence search rankings. These factors are something you should focus on in 2021.

The factors revolve around three aspects of SEO which are:

  • On-page SEO
  • Off-Page SEO
  • Technical SEO

Before getting deep into the factors, let’s get a simple understanding of On-page, Off-page, and Technical SEO.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is the process of optimizing elements of a web page to rank higher for relevant keywords and phrases. It focuses on optimizing the internal elements of a website. You will have complete control over the elements which can help your site have the edge to rank high on search results. 

Following are some of the top on-page SEO factors that can help you improve your site’s search ranking:

Optimize your content/web page for search intent

Your content or web page should satisfy your potential customer’s intent. Whether they are looking for solutions to their problems or want to purchase your product, your page should help them make their decision. For example, when someone searches for “buy organic baby skincare product”, it’s obvious that they want to see a product page that they can purchase the intended product or an article with a list of products which they can click and buy. 

baby skin care products example for SEO

If you’re not sure about the search intent of the keyword you’re targeting, look at the top 5 results on Google. You will know what kind of content you should create for that keyword. That’s how you can win the game of search intent. Do not optimize your web page for the wrong search intent.

baby product informational search intent

The following resource will help you understand search intent and optimize your content properly:

Searcher Intent: The Overlooked “Ranking Factor” You Should Be Optimizing For

Focus on page loading speed

Have you ever got frustrated clicking on a search result in Google and had to wait for minutes to load?

If you’re like others, then you’ll probably hit the back button to the search result page and click on a different result. And the best part, Google understands the frustration of its users.

And that’s why it started to emphasize on page speed ever since 2010.

Ahrefs conducted a large scale on-page SEO study way back in 2016 and found that the correlation between page load time and rankings was significantly small.

 study on page loading speed

As the study was conducted in 2016, it is not a reliable study for 2021. This is because Google has rolled out mobile-first indexing and mobile page speed is considered as one of the most important ranking factors.

Let’s put aside all these ranking factors. When you visit a slow-loading sites, the user experience will be extremely bad. When you click on their navigation, you must wait until the pages load. Rather than waiting for the page to load, you will definitely click on the back button. Even if you rank number one for a specific keyword, people will not visit your site again if your page takes time to load. 

So, how can you improve your page speed?

The following resource will help you improve your page speed:

20 Ways to Speed Up Your Website and Improve Conversion in 2020

Place your primary keywords in the title, meta description, and headings

Many of you might wonder if this strategy actually works.

Yes. It does.

keyword on-page optimization example

This is one of the fundamental on-page SEO strategy that you should not ignore, Including your primary keyword strategically in title, meta description and headings has a small correlation between ranking. On the other hand, it shows your target audience that your result is relevant to their search query.

For example, you want to purchase a replacement battery for your scooter, and you search for “scooter battery”. Which of the results below will encourage you to click?

Title: Buy Scooter Battery | onlineshop

URL: onlineshop/scooter-battery

Meta Description: Looking to replace your scooter battery? We’ve got the scooter battery you need. We are the best scooter battery supplier. Please buy the scooter battery from us.



Title: Scooter Battery | Scooter | onlineshop

URL: onlineshop/battery/scooter-battery

Meta Description: Shop with us today for high quality and durable scooter battery. We offer free shipping and 2 years warranty.

We will choose the 2nd one. Although both have the primary keyword in the title, it looks more professionally crafted compared to the first one.

The only drawback is that when you choose to use your primary keyword on the title and meta description and looks spammy. That’s why you need to creatively write your title and meta description. Sometimes you can use synonyms in the meta description as it has close meaning to your primary keyword.

The RankBrain algorithm rolled out by Google is smart enough to understand your title and meta description. 

You might wonder how do we know about this?

Well, if you think your content ranks for only 1 or 2 keywords, you’re wrong. We have seen a single content rank for almost 100+ keywords. For example, one of the articles on Navenpillai.com is ranking for almost 35 keywords on the first page of Google.

Always remember to add your primary keyword in your title, meta description, headings, and wherever in your content naturally. Please avoid keyword stuffing as your content will not make sense for both users and search engines.

Create Short SEO Friendly URLs

Have you seen a URL like this?

“https://mymall2u.my/super_8_hair_treatment_set_155_1”

Do you have any idea what the page is about looking at the URL? 

Let’s look at another URL.

“https://www.navenpillai.com/digital-marketing-pricing/”

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to discover that the content is about digital marketing pricing. The URL is descriptive and right to the point and tells you directly what to expect from the page.

When you search for a particular keyword in Google, it shows up the result with the URL which looks like a breadcrumb. Look at the screenshot below. 

bread crumb example on SERPs

It provides a clear indication of what your page is about. This will encourage your target audience to click on your results as it perfectly matches their search query.

Other than that, you can include your primary keyword in the URL. If you choose a wrong URL structure with dates and symbols, it might look weird and you won’t be able to add your primary keyword.

However, Google has mentioned that URL structure is a small ranking factor. If you have a large website and fail to change the keyword structure from the beginning, it’s not worth your time to change restructure your URLs.

If you’ll be spending a lot of time doing it, you can leave it as it is. If you’re starting a new website and using WordPress, you can get to Setting and then Permalinks. Choose Post name. 

Permalink example of WordPress

The next thing you want to focus on keeping your URLs as short as possible. According to research conducted by Backlinko, there is a slight correlation between URL length and rankings. So, there is a slight ranking advantage for sites with short URLs to rank higher than the ones with long URLs.

Short URLs ranks better screenshot

Moreover, long URLs tend to get truncated in the search results page if it’s too long.

Although there is only a small correlation between URLs and rankings, keep your URLs short and descriptive. This will help your site URL look good on SERPs and encourage your potential customers to click on your results if you’re able to include your target keyword strategically. 

Optimize image file name and include alt tags

Image optimization is important to notify search engine bots about your image. And most importantly, alt tag is useful for vision-impaired individuals who rely on a screen reader.

You might wonder how it is related to alt tags of images.

Alt tags are words used to describe your images. Have you ever encountered text showing up if your image fails to load? That’s alt tag.

When your visitor is using a screen reader, it shows the HTML syntax of your image (alt tags)

For example, <img src=”/bird-cage.png” alt=” A picture of self-made birdcage.”/>

You should focus on providing the most accurate description for the images you’re using. Do not ignore the image file name as well. It is better if you’re able to add your primary keyword to it. But, don’t cannibalize your keywords by inserting them on every single image.

Google’s Joe Muller had mentioned that Alt text for images is extremely helpful for Google Images. If you want your image to rank on Google images result page, make sure to add alt text.

If you’ve integrated Google Search Console with your website, you can change your search type under the “Performance” tab to check how many people clicked on image search results. Look at the screenshot below.

Image SERPs in Google Search Console

When you search for “digital marketing price”, you can see the image of our post is published along with the excerpt in the featured snippets. This image has the following attributes:

Filename: digital-marketing-price.png

 Alt-Tag: Digital marketing pricing in Malaysia

This is called an “image pack”. Image pack is any image in content that appears in organic SERPs especially in featured snippets for desktops. In mobile result pages, they usually appear as a thumbnail like the screenshot above.

Optimizing image file names and adding descriptive alt-tags are often overlooked by website owners. Even it has a small impact on search rankings, it still adds value to your overall optimization efforts.

Build Internal Linking Structure 

Internal linking is one of the top on-page SEO elements that has a huge impact on your overall SEO efforts.

When you do it right, you’ll be able to pass through the link juice from high authority pages on your site to low authority pages which helps in increasing rankings. When we wanted to improve the ranking for the keyword “digital marketing agency Malaysia” for one of the articles published on Navenpillai.com, we added internal links from other top rankings content on the site.

And the best examples of internal links are Wikipedia pages. Each page on Wikipedia is linked to various pages which makes them a highly resourceful website.

Wikipedia example page

Other than building internal links to high ranking pages, you should also consider linking to high converting pages. Some pages on your site might rank high, but their performance is poor in terms of conversion. Your main goal is to convert visitors into paying customers.

If you haven’t set up conversion goals, then you’ll be having a hard time identifying the pages that are converting. Conversion can be anything from purchasing products or services to sending enquiries using a contact form. 

You can learn how to set up conversion goals in Google Analytics from the following resources. It’s slightly technical but not impossible to do it. Just follow the step by step guide from the resources.

These resources will work for Universal Analytics. In October 2020, Google has rolled out Google Analytics 4 which we haven’t explored. If you’ve integrated Google Analytics 4 to your site, then you should use the following resources to set up your goals:

Following are some of the best practices of internal link building you can add to your on-page SEO efforts:

  1. Add links to sections of content that will encourage your readers to click.
  2. Link new to old content and old to new content. Make it work vice versa.
  3. Make sure your money pages (product pages) have clear CTAs (Call to Action).
  4. Find broken internal links and fix them.
  5. Don’t overdo your internal links. If you choose to overdo it, there will be no value for internal linking.

Create the best content in your industry

Google wants to show the searchers content that offers valuable information. It’s all about giving EVERYTHING the users want. 

That’s why you need to create the best content in your industry. You can breakdown a big topic and publish a blog post for each subtopic. But Google prefers if your post covers an entire topic and has a higher chance of ranking high on search engines.

For example, Our article on “digital marketing price” covers pricing for each digital marketing channel in a single blog post. The content is almost 3,000 words long and covers every aspect of digital marketing pricing. 

Word count vs ranking on search engine

Most SEO experts will ask you to focus on LSI keywords. When you write long-form content, you don’t have to focus on LSI keywords as it will occur naturally. You don’t have to go nuts thinking about LSI keywords. 

LSI keywords are keywords that are closely related to your primary keywords. But if you want to make sure that you’ve added LSI keywords to your content, insert your keyword in Google search bar and scroll to the bottom of the search result page which shows related searches. 

digital marketing Malaysia related keywords

Don’t simply throw in LSI keywords to your content. Put your potential customers in mind when creating content. 

Here are a few tips on how you can make your content valuable for both search engines and your target audience:

  • Make your content interactive: Use images, screenshots, stats, and videos to make your content exciting. 
  • Focus on Strong copywriting: Increase your content engagement rate by creating a unique tone for your brand. Don’t copy and follow others. 
  • Update old content: Update your old content with the latest information. Some things might have changed in your industry and you need to update them with your existing old content.
  • Get content written by experts: Rather than outsourcing your content to freelance writers, get them written by experts. Content from experts is more valuable from content mills.
  • Focus on search intent: Informational intent and transactional intent are the most important search intent. Create content for these search intents to convert your visitors into paying customers.

These are the top on-page SEO factors you can implement right away to your website.

Let’s move on to the next section

Off-Page SEO 

The most important factor in off-page SEO is backlinks.

Off-page SEO is activities that take place outside of your website with the focus on increasing the site’s search engine rankings. Off-page SEO is what determines the authority and relevance of your website to the world. 

A high quality and valuable website most likely mentioned by other sites. Moreover, the website is more likely to have their brand mentioned in various social media sites and community forums. 

The signals from these sources shows trust and authority. This is recognized by search engines to position the site high on search result pages. 

In other words, off-page SEO is everything you do off your website to get search engines to see your site as an authority within your niche.

Why off-page SEO matter in 2021?

When you get your site or content on your site mentioned by other authority sites, it shows that you’re having a serious business and offering great value for people with your products and services. Moreover, the off-page elements are considered tiebreakers for competitive niches. 

For example, if we look at two digital marketing service providers with similar high-quality content, which site would Google rank?

Let’s assume that both sites have implemented on-page SEO strategies perfectly. Off-page SEO signals are the ones that determine which site ranks high in SERPs

If one of the digital marketing service providers is mentioned on a reputable website, while the other received mentions from low-quality sites, the site with high-quality links will rank higher.

You need to understand that a website without off-page SEO efforts is like a retail clothing shop without a signboard. It’ll become unknown.

As mentioned earlier, that link building is one of the top off-page SEO techniques. Following are the most significant off-page SEO techniques you should know:

We will start with Link Building.

Link building is one of the most effective off-page SEO techniques. You want to get as many “votes” as possible from reputable websites to rank better than your competitors. For example, our content on top digital marketing agencies in Malaysia was mentioned in Cradle Fund. 

Cradle Fund offers early stage funding for promising startups in Malaysia which positions them as an authority in the technology and startups industry. When they mention our content, it tells Google that this page mentioned by Cradle should have good information. And that’s one of the reasons for the content to rank for 14 different keywords with an average monthly search volume of 4,000+.

Over the years, Link Building experts used various methods in acquiring high-quality links. 90% of them were unethical. That’s why Google has added more rules to their algorithm to get rid of unethical link building methods and differentiates good and bad links.

The following links are considered low quality in the eyes of Google:

  • Blog comments (not talking about genuine comments, comments focused on building links)
  • Article directories
  • Link Exchange 
  • Social Bookmarking
  • Low-Quality PBNs

These link building techniques still works to a certain extent. But it’s not worth the time and resources to work on them. Moreover, there are great possibilities for sites still using these methods to get penalized or lose their high search rankings.

Want to know the best way to build links for your website?

Check out the following resources on the best link building methods:

Ultimate Guide to Link Building – Ways to Build Links

Social Media marketing

We understand that you’re surprised to see social media marketing as one of the off-page SEO techniques. 

Google has indicated many times that they do not consider likes, comments, and shares from social media networks when they rank sites. This is because social media networks can be easily manipulated with various methods to increase their metrics. 

Moreover, the links from social media networks are “no-follow” which means the sites inform the search engines not to count the link as a trust signal.

If you choose the get likes for your content on social media networks with paid advertising, it will not add any value in terms of SEO. But, if your content has great value and naturally attracts more people to read, it will have an indirect impact to search ranking.

When your post becomes popular, it gets in front of thousands of people and there might be bloggers who find your content valuable and use it as a reference for their new blog post. 

You need to learn how to leverage social media networks to acquire high-quality links.

Rather than having your content appear in front of a general audience, you can find Facebook groups that have your target audience and people in your industry. For example, the content that we publish on Magnes Marketing is shared on Facebook groups like Digital Marketing Malaysia and Entrepreneurs and Startups Malaysia. 

When you do it right, social media networks can indirectly help you with off-page SEO efforts.

Brand Mentions

If you’re not in the SEO industry, you might not have heard of E-A-T. It stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. Search engines like Google provides more priority to brands. It loves to rank branded websites higher on search results. This is where EAT plays a crucial role.

As part of the off-page SEO technique, brand mention is different from link building and social media marketing. A website that mentions your brand doesn’t have to link to your site. It can be a simple mention on sites, reviews, forums, community networks, or even social media networks.

Even if the brand mention is not linked, it still offers great value in helping your site rank high on search engines.

Off-page SEO is as important as On-Page SEO. If you want your SEO efforts to be successful and generate great results, you need to combine and implement both.

If you’re focusing on building links don’t think about the easy way to acquire links. Work hard on getting links from sites that are extremely hard to get. And this is how you can beat your competition and dominate the SERPs for years to come.

Now, let’s move on to the last part of SEO strategies, technical SEO.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is the optimization process of the technical part of a website which revolves around server optimization, search engine bots crawling, indexing, and many more. Technical SEO is often included in On-Page SEO. But we choose to show it separately for better understanding. It focuses more on the health of your website.

Before checking the technical aspect of your website, you need to integrate your site with Google Search Console (GSC). If you haven’t added your site to GCS, the following guide will help you do it right away.

How To Add Your Site to Google Search Console in 2021

In terms of Technical SEO, we want to make sure there are no technical issues for your website when it comes to crawling and indexing and make sure your web pages show up on search engines.

Create Robots.txt

It’s a text file that is generated automatically to provide instruction to crawling bots on how they should crawl the website. Sometimes, you don’t want everything on your site indexed to show up on the search results. 

When you have Robots.txt you can create instructions to restrict bots from crawling and indexing certain pages on your website. 

Although it is slightly technical, you can do it using the following tutorial:

How To Create the Perfect Robots.txt?

Create XML Sitemap

XML sitemap is what search engine bots crawl to understand about your website. They do not crawl the way people view your website. They only follow HTML syntax to understand your pages, images, and videos. These elements are organized and listed in a sitemap.

Although there is no evidence that sitemap provides benefits in terms of SEO, it is good to have an organized sitemap to show and acknowledge search engines about the elements on your website.

Once you’ve created a sitemap, submit them to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

You can use the following guide on creating a sitemap for your website:

How to Create a Sitemap

How to Create an XML Sitemap (and Submit to Google)

Use SSL

We still see a lot of websites without SSL. 

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a security technology that creates an encrypted link between the website’s servicer and browser (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox).

Sites without SSL will show as “Not Secured” and the website URL starts with http:// instead of https://.

Google has announced that they want all the sites to install SSL certs. It also indicated that SSL will be used as a ranking signal in positioning websites high on search engines. 

It’s not only for security purposes between web server and browser, but also to encourage people to purchase products or services from a secured website.

You can install an SSL certificate on your website by contacting your hosting provider. If you have access to your site’s hosting, you can actually install Lets Encrypt SSL which is Free. And most web hosting providers are offering SSL by default.

Implement Structured Data Markup

Structured data markup allows search engines to better understand the type of content your site is publishing. For example, if you’re publishing a product, then you need the search engine to show you the product page on their result page with reviews and pricing. To do that, you need to implement structured data markup.

Pricing and reviews that show up as with the result in the search result page is called “rich snippets”. Once your results are visually appealing and provide important information to the search engine users, it can improve the CTR and generate more organic traffic to your site.

Do some research about structured data markup and see how it can help your content appeal in front of your potential customers. It’s worth to spend time adding structured data to your site.

Include Hreflang tags for multilingual website

Does your website target visitors from different countries using different languages?

Then you should focus on including hreflang tags. You want your content to show up in different languages depending on the country. For example, if someone is searching for something in Spanish but the search result shows an English page. But the page is available in Spanish as well. In this scenario, you want Google to show the Spanish page for the Spanish user.

This is where Hreflang tags works like a charm. It is a method used to mark up pages and content that are similar in meaning but focused on different languages. It also helps to avoid duplicate content when it is in the same language for different countries. For example, the US, UK, and Australia use English. If you choose not to mark the site with hreflang, Google will have difficulties to determine the content is meant for different regions and see them as duplicate content.

You can learn more about Hreflang from the following resource:

Hreflang: The Ultimate Guide

Technical SEO is something you should not ignore. If you don’t get them right, you might face difficulties in having pages in your site to appear on search engines. It can also impact the ranking of your web pages.

Final Takeaway on what is SEO and how it works in 2021

Now you should have basic knowledge about SEO and how it works. You can start making the required changes to your site and improve your search rankings.

Remember, SEO only works with the right strategy and consistent implementation. If you think of doing it for some time and leave it, it’s better not to do it at all. It takes time to work. Think about how you started your business in the first place. Your business did not achieve overnight success. So, you can’t expect SEO to produce results fast. It takes months to enjoy the results from your hard work in doing the right SEO tasks.

You also need to focus on creating valuable content and integrate SEO best practices. At the end of the day, humans are your visitors from search engines. Focus on helping them by providing the best solution to their problems. When you start doing that, you’ll be building a sustainable online business that will continuously generate high-quality organic traffic.

Even if you don’t have the budget to hire a freelancer or digital agency now, you can get started by implementing the basic things we’ve showed you in this article.

Looking to learn more about SEO, you can check out some of the top SEO guides in the industry:

How To Learn SEO in 2021

 SEO Guide: Everything a Beginner Need to Know (in 2021)

 24 Expert SEO Tips & Advice to Boost Your Traffic in 2021

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