How long does SEO take to start working? As a company that specializes in internet marketing services, this is probably the number one question we hear from prospective clients. Unfortunately with search engine optimization, there is no simple answer to that question.
SEO involves making changes to a company’s website design and content to make it more attractive to search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Each search engine uses complex, closely-guarded algorithms that determine which company gets listed for what and where (page ranking) based on what users are searching for. As such, a slew of factors impacts how companies rank for relevant keywords and phrases. Complicating everything is the fact that the Internet changes –– minute to minute, even second to second!
With your competitors constantly tweaking and adding to their own content strategies, SEO is not a one-time-and-done project. It’s an ongoing battle to claw your way up the rankings while fighting tooth-and-nail to remain on top for the targeted keywords you want to own.
Okay, that sounds awful (and super hard) but ranking using SEO isn’t a complete mystery, it’s certainly not impossible, and it’s really not that hard if you’re willing to put in the work. It just takes time. Which begs the question: is SEO/Content Marketing worth the effort?
Check out these stats:
So, yes. It can be extremely effective. But how long does it take and what can you do, marketing-wise, until it starts working?
In this article, we shed light on factors that impact and move the SEO needle while helping you better understand what to expect with regard to timing. We’ll also talk about some strategies that can help support your business-building efforts before your SEO efforts start to bear fruit.
Now, let’s dive in, starting with a baseline SEO timeline to shoot for.
How long does it take for SEO to work?
If you search the term “how long does it take for SEO to work?” on Google, the Featured Snippet provides a pretty solid answer –– 4 to 6 months. The Snippet goes on to qualify that answer by saying, “but bear in mind this is when you start seeing results”, emphasis added.
Our experience with certain client SEO projects bears this timeline out. For clients with brand-new domains with zero traffic, we first start seeing noticeable bumps in traffic at the six-month mark. This bump in traffic is the result of consistently posting custom content blogs at least once per week and promoting these blogs on their social media profiles. For clients with smaller budgets who posted blogs at a lower rate than once per week generally took longer for their SEO and content marketing campaigns to kick in.
Why does it take so long for SEO to become effective?
Almost without fail, immediately after answering the question, “How long does it take for SEO to work,” comes the follow-up question – Why does it take so long for SEO to become effective? All too many website owners have unrealistic expectations and are under the impression that SEO is a “one-and-done” exercise or expect on-site SEO to have immediate results. As we discussed earlier, SEO success is not that easy. SEO is an ongoing, long-term endeavor and is never actually “done.” As such, the sooner you get started on SEO, the better.
A recent SEO study by Ahewda.com analyzed data from 2 million random keywords to look at the top 10 ranking pages for each keyword phrase. Their findings, while not surprising, were quite disappointing for companies with newer websites. The average age of sites in the 10th position on page one of Google’s organic search results was around 650 days old. However, the average age of the websites that reached the top organic position on Google was around 940 days.
Another disappointing statistic for new websites showed that only 22% of pages that ranked in the top 10 of Google’s organic results were less than one year old. The percent of pages that attained the coveted number one organic position on Google that were less than one year old was a pitiful 1.25%.
Clearly, a page’s age is one of the reasons that SEO takes so long to become effective.
|In the following video, Google’s Maile Ohye discusses how long it takes for SEO to become effective and shares her advice for hiring an SEO.|
But… what if your site isn’t new?
Most clients come to us with existing websites. If you, too, have an existing site, can you expect a “quicker and easier path” to organic SEO results? Unfortunately, the answer is almost always a resounding “no.”
Most websites are not built from the ground-up to support SEO. To better gauge what we’re dealing with we ask these questions to help figure out a strategy for moving forward with getting you better rankings.
- What is the condition of your website? (Coding, load speed, menu structure, etc.)
- How much traffic does your website currently generate?
- Has any previous SEO been performed on your site?
- What are your target keywords? Do you know your target keywords?
- How much content is on your site and is it all industry related?
- What is the condition of your backlink profile? What’s a backlink profile?!?! (more on link building in a separate article)
These are only a few factors that impact your SEO timeline –– along with literally thousands of SEO ranking factors including those in Google’s algorithm that also need to be addressed.
- How aggressive are your competitors with their content strategies?
Significant to this list is what your competitors are doing. Your competitors are essentially vying for the same keywords and customers as your business which is also one of the reasons why SEO is an ongoing process. Just because you went through all the effort involved in achieving the top slot for your most sought after keyword phrase does not mean that you will keep that position indefinitely. Google may adjust their algorithm and you fall in the rankings or one of your competitors might hire an SEO company skilled enough to override your SEO efforts and knock your business from the top slot. According to Netcraft’s January 2019 Web Server Survey, there were 1,518,207,412 websites at the time, and that is a lot of competition.
These are only a few of the questions that need to be answered when developing an SEO timeline along with literally thousands of SEO ranking factors including those in Google’s algorithm that also need to be addressed. Therefore, since each business is unique and begins an SEO project at a different starting point, even businesses in the same industry, for the remainder of this exercise we will discuss the subject in general terms and using averages.
So, what is a truly realistic SEO timeline?
Six months marks the first major milestones of the typical SEO campaign. Continued SEO modifications to the site along with aggressive content development and promotion should begin yielding significant results at around the one-year mark. As the site ages and with continuous SEO improvement and healthy link building efforts, the site should continue to see higher positions in organic search engine results as well as increased traffic stemming from those results.
Here is a sample timeline for a typical SEO project:
- 1st Month – Keyword research, website analysis, competitor analysis, and strategy planning.
- 2nd Month – On-site structural modifications. Begin on-site SEO unless a site redesign is required.
- 3rd Month – On-site technical SEO, local SEO, off-site link building, and content development.
- 4th Month – Begin regular content posting and marketing, including social media channels.
- 5th Month – Continued content posting & marketing, off-site SEO, & social media posting.
- 6th Month – SEO campaign status analysis, leads &/or sales analysis, and strategy adjustments.
- 7th Through 12th Months – Continual process of on-site and off-site SEO, content development and marketing, and the continued building a healthy social media profile.
Digital Marketing Options
Can your business afford to wait for one to two years before your organic SEO campaign really kicks in and becomes effective in driving traffic, leads, and sales? The answer most likely is no. Businesses have bills to pay, salaries to keep up with, and plenty of expenses associated with keeping your business operations running smoothly and efficiently. So, what can you do in the meantime while your organic SEO strategy is being implemented?
Digital marketing has options and any marketing and SEO company worth its salt will develop a multi-faceted marketing strategy designed to acquire leads/sales during the interim it takes to get your organic SEO efforts producing effective results. In addition to your organic SEO campaign, a solid digital marketing strategy should include a mix of the following that best suits your business goals:
- Pay-per-Click Advertising (PPC)
- Google Ads (Formerly known as AdWords)
- Microsoft Advertising (Formerly known as Bing Ads)
- Bidvertiser.com (Direct Advertising Network)
- Social Media Advertising
- Facebook Ads and Boosted Posts
- TikTok Ads
- Instagram Advertising
- Twitter Ads
- LinkedIn Sponsored Ads
- Pinterest (Depending on company niche)
- SnapChat for Business
- YouTube Video Advertising
- Email Marketing
- Product Updates
- Coupon/Discount Codes
- Co-marketing emails
- Welcome and Follow-ups
- Banner Advertising Networks
- Google Display Network
- Local Directory Listings & Advertising
- Google My Business
Your digital marketing plan can be reversed engineered by starting with a goal in mind in the way of sales, conversions, or other metrics relevant to your industry. Determine your conversion rate based on historical data or you can use industry averages if you do not have the appropriate data (there are plenty of websites that publish average industry conversion rates). Then determine the required number of visitors to your site to reach that conversion number. Monitor your ad campaigns regularly, conduct A/B tests, and rotate your ads to determine which ads and platforms produce the desired results to reach your goals at the best ROI.
Organic SEO takes time, but that does not mean you should forego SEO, nor should you give up on it too early. A huge mistake would be to shell out the money for an SEO campaign, only to give up on it after two or three months because it was not getting the results you were hoping for. Nor does it mean that you should just sit on your hands and sweat out the time it takes for your SEO strategy to kick in.
A solid digital marketing campaign should be a multi-pronged approach using both paid and organic platforms. As your SEO strategy becomes more and more effective, you have the option of reducing your paid spend as your organic traffic takes its place. Take the time, spend the effort, and SEO should be one of the best investments you will ever make for the long-term success of your business.