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Where Do We Even Begin With SEO For A Startup?

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Where Do We Even Begin With SEO For A Startup?

Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from Aswin from Silver Spring, USA, who asks:

“Hi, I am a beginner SEO with basic knowledge. I am doing SEO for a startup car rentals company.

I thought I should start with off-page SEO rather than on-page and started trying to acquire backlinks.

However because the company is a startup, they have limitations in services.

I am stuck and don’t know how to proceed further. Could you please give me a strategic plan that I should be following?

I did try registering the website with some website submission forums. I tried resource link building but there were not many resource pages for car rentals.

I tried broken link building but the competitors are tremendously big compared to a startup and hence has pages dedicated for them in referring websites.

The only method that may work now is HARO. Please provide your insight.”

Aswin, while backlinks are part of the ranking equation, that is not where I would start if I was doing SEO for a new website.

There are other things you should do first. But don’t worry, I will answer your link building question in a bit.

Here are the SEO items I would focus on first.

1. Set Up Your Local Listings

I am assuming the car rentals company will want to attract local business.

For that reason, make sure you have claimed, verified, and updated your Google Business Profile listing.

Fill out as much information as possible and be sure to add images and videos.

You can also add frequently asked questions in the Q&A area by posting a question and then answering it as the owner.

You should also claim, verify and update other local directory listings, such as Yelp, Apple Maps, and Bing Places, to name a few.

There are tools you can use to help you with local listings, including Whitespark and Yext.

Check out this article for a full list: 9 Essential Local SEO & Listings Management Tools.

If you have questions about local SEO, be sure to check out the ebook, Local SEO: The Definitive Guide to Improve Your Local Search Rankings.

Also, there are a lot of local SEO experts who answer questions on the Local Search Forum.

2. Conduct A Technical SEO Audit

This is one of the first things I do when working on a new SEO project – and I explain it using the analogy of a car.

The paint, body, and trim might look amazing.

The interior of the car might be immaculate.

However, if the engine isn’t tuned or something is broken, the car won’t run.

In this analogy, the engine is the technical part of your website.

You need to pop the hood and make sure everything is running as it should.

There are plenty of tools that can help you run an audit, including those built into Semrush, SE Ranking, and Ahrefs.

If any errors and/or issues are detected, you will want to manually confirm them.

Fix as much as you feel comfortable with and bring in a developer to help with the more advanced errors and issues (i.e. those involving the server or advanced coding skills).

I also have a checklist you can use to help you get going: A Technical SEO Checklist for the Non-Technical Marketer.

3. Optimize Your Pages

If you haven’t already, you need to do some keyword research.

There are plenty of resources available, including How to Do Keyword Research for SEO: The Ultimate Guide.

Once you have determined your keywords, map them out to your pages.

You might find during this process that you don’t have content to support some of your important keywords.

In that case, you should create a content calendar with all the pages you will need to develop.

When you start optimizing your pages, be sure to optimize the page titles, H1s, and body copy.

This article will provide you with even more guidance on what to optimize: How to Create Perfectly Optimized Content: 16 Essential Elements.

Attract Links To Your Website

Okay, now I will answer your original question of how to get backlinks.

I classify links into three categories: Easy, Moderately Easy, and Hard (i.e. time-consuming).

Begin with the easy links, such as unlinked brand mentions, which you can find by setting up Google Alerts or using a tool like Semrush.

If you see that your company has been mentioned on a website, and it is in a positive light, reach out to that website thanking them for the mention, and ask if they will link to your site.

Other easy links include local and industry directories. Phil Rozek, a local search expert, has an extensive list of local directories you should check out.

He also has a great link opportunities questionnaire that will help you brainstorm ideas.

Some of the moderately easy link building ideas include creating infographics, contests, and scholarships.

Once these items are developed, share them on social media and appropriate directories.

I would also look for any travel or local publications that accept guest authors.

Writing articles for high-authority publications is a fantastic way to get links.

The harder link building ideas, simply because they are time-consuming, include creating a guide, tool, industry report, or case study.

Getting interviewed on webinars and podcasts can also often generate backlinks to your website.

While these ideas take more time, they can really pay off.

Also, consider using a blog on your website to generate links.

You could post how-to guides, interviews, expert roundups, and other long-form content.

Be sure to check out Link Building for SEO: A Complete Guide for more advice.

Plan Out Your SEO Strategy

Finally, when it comes to SEO, you need to have a strategy and timeline in place.

While I gave you some things to focus on, there is more that goes into SEO.

Be sure to download the ebook, SEO Strategy: A Full Year Blueprint (+Template), because it is packed with information and templates to help you succeed with your SEO work.

More resources:


Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Olga Strel

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


Featured Image: Danishch/Shutterstock

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

There’s one thing standing between you and several days of SEO, socializing, and Singaporean sunshine: your boss (and their Q4 budget 😅).

But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Here are 5 arguments (and an example message) you can use to persuade your boss to send you to Ahrefs Evolve.

About Ahrefs Evolve

  • 2 days in sunny Singapore (Oct 24–25)
  • 500 digital marketing enthusiasts
  • 18 top speakers from around the world

Learn more and buy tickets.

SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. Between AI Overviews, Google’s rolling update schedule, their huge API leak, and all the documents released during their antitrust trial, it’s hard to keep up. What works in SEO today?

You could watch a YouTube video or two, maybe even attend an hour-long webinar. Or, much more effective: you could spend two full days learning from a panel of 18 international SEO experts, discussing your takeaways live with other attendees.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve speakers from around the world.

Our world-class speakers are tackling the hardest problems and best opportunities in SEO today. The talk agenda covers topics like:

  • Responding to AI Overviews: Amanda King will teach you how to respond to AI Overviews, Google Gemini, and other AI search functions.
  • Surviving (and thriving) Google’s algo updates: Lily Ray will talk through Google’s recent updates, and share data-driven recommendations for what’s working in search today.
  • Planning for the future of SEO: Bernard Huang will talk through the failures of AI content and the path to better results.

(And attendees will get video recordings of each session, so you can share the knowledge with your teammates too.)

View the full talk agenda here.

There’s no substitute for meeting with influencers, peers, and partners in real life. 

Conferences create serendipity: chance encounters and conversations that can have a huge positive impact on you and your business. By way of example, these are some of the real benefits that have come my way from attending conferences:

  • Conversations that lead to new customers for our business,
  • Invitations to speak at events,
  • New business partnerships and co-marketing opportunities, and
  • Meeting people that we went on to hire.

There’s a “halo” effect that lingers long after the event is over: the people you meet will remember you for longer, think more highly of you, and be more likely to help you out, should you ask.

(And let’s not forget: there’s a lot of information, particularly in SEO, that only gets shared in person.)

The “international” part of Evolve matters too. Evolve is a different crowd to your local run-of-the-mill conference. It’s a chance to meet with people from markets you wouldn’t normally meet—from Australia to Indonesia and beyond.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve attendees by home country.

If you’re an Ahrefs customer (thank you!), you’ll learn tons of tips, tricks and workflow improvements from attending Evolve. You’ll have opportunities to:

  • Attend talks from the Ahrefs team, showcasing advanced features and strategies that you can use in your own business.
  • Pick our brains at the Ahrefs booth, where we’ll offer informal 1:1 coaching sessions and previews of up-coming releases (like our new content optimization tool 🤫).
  • Join dedicated Ahrefs training workshops, hosted by the Ahrefs team and Ahrefs power users (tickets for these workshops will sold separately).

As a manager myself, there are two questions I need answered when approving expenses:

  • Is this a reasonable cost?
  • Will we see a return on this investment?

To answer those questions: early bird tickets for Evolve start at $570. For context, “super early bird” tickets for MozCon (another popular SEO conference) this year were almost twice as much: $999.

There’s a lot included in the ticket price too:

  • World-class international speakers,
  • 5-star hotel venue,
  • 5-star hotel food (two tea breaks with snacks & lunch),
  • Networking afterparty, and
  • Full talk recordings to later share with your team.

SEO is a crucial growth channel for most businesses. If you can improve your company’s SEO performance after attending Evolve (and we think you will), you’ll very easily see a positive return on the investment.

Traveling to tropical Singapore (and eating tons of satay) is great for you, but it’s also great for your team. Attending Evolve is a chance to break with routine, reignite your passion for marketing, and come back to your job reinvigorated.

This would be true for any international conference, but it goes double for Singapore. It’s a truly unique place: an ultra-safe, high-tech city that brings together dozens of different cultures.

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Little India in Singapore

You’ll discover different beliefs, working practices, and ways of business—and if you’re anything like me, come back a richer, wiser person for the experience.

If you’re nervous about pitching your boss on attending Evolve, remember: the worst that can happen is a polite “not this time”, and you’ll find yourself in the same position you are now.

So here goes: take this message template, tweak it to your liking, and send it to your boss over email or Slack… and I’ll see you in Singapore 😉

Email template

Hi [your boss’ name],

Our SEO tool provider, Ahrefs, is holding an SEO and digital marketing conference in Singapore in October. I’d like to attend, and I think it’s in the company’s interest:

  • The talks will help us respond to all the changes happening in SEO today. I’m particularly interested in the talks about AI and recent Google updates. 
  • I can network with my peers. I can discover what’s working at other companies, and explore opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing.
  • I can learn how we can use Ahrefs better across the organization.
  • I’ll come back reinvigorated with new ideas and motivation, and I can share my top takeaways and talk recordings with my team after the event.

Early bird tickets are $570. Given how important SEO is to the growth of our business, I think we’ll easily see a return from the spend.

Can we set up time to chat in more detail? Thanks!

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