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How Long Does SEO Take?

February 25, 2021
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If you landed on this page from Google, or another search engine, chances are you searched for something that more or less matched the keywords or keyword phrase used within this article. To peel back the curtain just a bit, most web pages and blog posts these days optimize their content for search engine optimization (or SEO).

An SEO strategy is an undeniably powerful tool—it led you here, for starters.

However, as more people learn about why is SEO important, they often set out to optimize their content strategy with unrealistic expectations. They want their posts to rank high and they want it now. In reality, it takes time and consistency to yield meaningful results. 

During the initial stages, many business owners can’t help but grow impatient, wondering: how long will it take for SEO to start working? 

The answer is—drumroll, please—that it depends. 

Okay, so that might not be the straightforward answer you were hoping for. Unfortunately, SEO ranking isn’t perfectly straightforward either. That’s what this article is all about. Let’s delve into the specifics about when you can expect to see results from your SEO work and efforts. 

How Long Does it Take For SEO to Work?

In the early days of digital marketing, SEO success was simple. After making a few tweaks here and there, a website could rise up Google’s rankings in a matter of weeks. However, that was then, and this is now. 

In the golden age of digitalization, SEO is significantly more competitive. With 1.8 billion websites and counting on the internet,1 competing for a first-page spot on Google takes hard work. The right SEO tactic can help you accomplish this goal, but it won’t magically happen overnight. 

In that way, it’s a lot like starting a new fitness regime. You sign up for one-on-one professional training, you sweat your heart out at the gym, then you wake up the next morning hoping to see a whole new person in the mirror and… nothing

Just like lifestyle changes, SEO results take time and consistency.

The Factors That Impact Your SEO Timeline

The specific amount of time it takes to see SEO results depends on several factors, including:

  • The age of your website – As they say, age before beauty. Older websites have an immediate advantage over new websites because they often have higher domain authority, more backlinks, and a baseline of website traffic. In other words, they’ve established themselves and their SEO foundation. 

In contrast, a brand-new website is like a fresh-faced college graduate entering the workforce. It can take time to establish their legitimacy, gain some experience, and join the ranks of an older website.

  • The SEO-friendliness of the web design – Even if your website has been live for a long time, it may not be SEO-friendly yet. Contributing factors include its initial web design, CMS system, and URL structure. Overhauling these elements to make your website SEO-ready could push your results back by a few months. 
  • The competitiveness of your keywords – The more competition you’re up against, the longer it can take to rank for your target keywords. After all, your competitors are most likely investing in SEO, too. 

Targeting search terms like “medical-grade computer-based rehabilitative equipment” versus “car insurance” can be the difference between graduating into a niche subfield of biomedical engineering and, let’s say, business. With less competition, you’ll likely secure a job offer—and rank higher on search engines—much faster.

  • The quality of your backlink profile – Backlinks are incoming links from another source to your website. Starting with a foundation of high-quality backlinks—from sites that Google deems “reputable”—can lead to quicker SEO results. In contrast, if you begin your SEO campaign with an abundance of “toxic” backlinks, it could set back your SEO. These are common seo mistakes. Cleaning up your backlink profile takes time.
  • The quality and consistency of your new content – Some websites publish new content weekly. Others follow a monthly or bi-weekly publishing schedule instead. Both the quality and consistency of your content impact how quickly you can move the needle on your SEO results. 

When you have a dedicated SEO consultant or team on your side, they can determine the optimal publishing frequency for your niche. They can also develop a data-driven content strategy to capture your target audience’s attention. By posting unique, useful and quality content, you’ll also be more likely to earn high-quality backlinks from other websites reposting or linking to your content as a source.

  • Whether or not you have penalties from Google – Dabbling in “black hat” SEO strategies or anything that goes against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines could earn you a penalty.2 Early on, people would buy spammy backlinks or stuff their webpages with unnatural keywords to manipulate the SEO ranking system—needless to say, it didn’t work, and actually had the adverse effect by causing strikes against you. Until you resolve the issues that got you this penalty, your SEO progress may hover at a standstill.
  • Whether or not you hire a professional SEO team – SEO professionals know how to achieve results and fast—or at least faster. Hiring an SEO consultant or team is like investing in a personal trainer. With their expertise and structured plan, you can reach your fitness goals faster than you could by yourself. Likewise, a professional SEO team will dedicate their workday to studying your competition, developing data-driven strategies, and updating your website accordingly. 

But Seriously, How Long Does SEO Take?

Okay, okay, we know the burning question is still on your mind. There’s still no such thing as a simple answer, but there are general timelines that may apply to your SEO efforts:

  • How long does it take to see initial results? — Within four to six months, you can expect to see a rise in your impressions (the number of times people see any of your web pages listed) as well as an uptick in traffic (actual interactions with your website). 
  • How long does it take to see more significant results? — Within nine months to a year, you can expect to see much larger results from your SEO investment. 

These estimates display another important feature of SEO: Like a snowball rolling down the mountainside, the impact of SEO tends to accelerate over time.

This tracks based on everything we know about SEO results:

  • With proper optimization, your web pages slowly start to rank higher in search engines
  • The higher they rank, the more people interact with them
  • The more people that interact with them, the higher they rank
  • And so on and so forth in an endless cycle, as long as you maintain your SEO efforts

While you can expect to see initial results as early as four months in, these results will pale in comparison to what you see during month 12 and beyond. 

An SEO Campaign Timeline: Month-by-Month

To give you some behind-the-scenes insight into why SEO takes a while to get going, let’s review what a typical campaign looks like during the first six months (while keeping in mind that every website’s timeline is slightly different):

  • Month 1 – The initial groundwork is laid. Your SEO team will do a thorough audit of your current website to pinpoint areas of improvement. They may also conduct a competitor analysis and keyword research. Based on their findings, they’ll create a structured timeline for all the tasks that need to be done in the coming months.
  • Month 2 – During the second month, your SEO team will start optimizing your technical SEO. If your website just needs some basic optimization, this process can be completed relatively quickly. If your website needs to be redone from the ground up, this process could last a few months. At this point, content creation and link building will also be put into action. These efforts will yield results down the line, but not right away. 
  • Month 3 – By the third month, content creation should be in full swing. As you publish blogs consistently and optimize your webpages for target keywords, the Google algorithm will start to take notice. In turn, you may see a slight increase in search rankings by the end of the month, but likely not a ton of new leads just yet. 
  • Month 4 – By month four, your SEO team will start fine-tuning their SEO strategies based on the influx of data they’ve been collecting. As they adjust their strategies,  you’ll start noticing more powerful results, like an increase in website traffic and lead generation.
  • Month 5 – During month five, optimization efforts will continue, resulting in more traffic and more qualified leads. Your SEO team should have enough data to start optimizing your conversion rate at this point. This will set you up to gain more customers down the line. 
  • Month 6 – After half a year, chances are that your SEO strategies will have yielded new customers, increased conversions, and a steady influx of traffic. These results should continue to improve over time but you’ll likely start to feel that your SEO efforts are “working” at this point. 

Search Engine Optimization is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

In a culture of immediate gratification, we’re conditioned to want and expect instant results. But just like fad diets and “miracle cures,” quick fixes don’t offer long-term solutions.

As with all healthy lifestyle changes, SEO takes time. 

By understanding the month-to-month process that goes into an effective SEO strategy, you can manage your expectations and stick with it long enough to experience the enduring results that will actually elevate your online presence.

Sources:

  1. Internet Live Stats. Total number of Websites.  https://www.internetlivestats.com/total-number-of-websites/
  2. Google. Webmaster Guidelines.  https://developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/guidelines/webmaster-guidelines

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