How long does SEO Take? It’s the question that we get asked on pretty much every call when we’re first onboarding a client, and it’s not so easy to answer. I understand the frustration because how can you invest in something if you don’t know when you would expect an ROI?
To give you an example where I can relate, we have an agreement in my family. I sort out the IT/computers, they help me with cars. The last time my brother was fixing my brakes, I asked him how long it would take, to which I always get the same response. How long is a piece of string? The most helpful of answers.
So in this article, I’m going to tell you how long it takes
to change your brakes for SEO to start working. And I’m going to get a few people who I respect in the SEO space to give their opinions, even if they’re different from mine.
In reality, it depends on so many things, but I’m going to try and explain everything so you will have a much better idea of how long it will take for you. Ultimately this article isn’t personalised to your situation so we have to talk in general terms, but you should get a good idea of what to expect.
Here is what will influence how long it will take for you:
- Starting point – Are you an established website?
- Competition – How competitive is your market
- Age – Of your website, and competitors. – This often gets overlooked.
- Site structure & setup
- Current link equity
- Type of SEO – local, international, eCommerce and everything in between.
- How much SEO are you going to be doing? IE how aggressive will you be?
This again is something that depends on external factors, for example, if you’re starting out from scratch ranking for a local term is much more likely to happen quicker than if you’re looking to rank for high-value finance terms.
But, let’s continue. Below I’m going to give you a few examples of where we typically see websites that come to us for SEO help.
Where you start at least in terms of SEO changes the whole strategy, for example, if you’re a brand that’s well established on other channels and SEO has been neglected chances are you have demand for your brand (a big help), and have built a link profile already.
In the above example, you can expect results a lot quicker because you will have naturally built up a good foundation even if you hadn’t intended to do this. For example, you’ll have all your social profiles set up, people will be actively looking for your business. A good foundation for SEO is just by doing the best things for your business.
Brand new website.
This is where it’s really complicated to answer this question, even some of the least competitive terms can still take 3-6 months when you’re dealing with a brand-new website. We need to build out the foundational content, and foundational backlinks, and then we need to get all your content crawled, indexed, and then ranked.
And if you’re going after super competitive terms you aren’t likely to see substantial results for 12-18 months, which is understandably offputting. I will add, that most of you who will be reading this won’t likely be targeting these terms, most would fall in the medium to low competition terms.
Established ranking website.
If you already have a website and are bringing in organic traffic, you just want more (who doesn’t), this is going to be the quickest in terms of getting results. It’s not too out of the ordinary for businesses to get in touch with those who are just looking to get from page 2 to page 1, often times it’s a small tweak, or building a small number of links that can do that.
Realistically you could see results within a week, again it depends on the competition, the current setup of your site etc. It varies depending on what is actually holding you back.
So depending on where we’re starting from we’ve got a range from 1 week, all the way to 18 months. Not really that helpful is it? No, but let’s keep exploring, we’ll try to give you a better answer once we’ve gone through it all.
Competition: Who are we competing against in the SERPs?
Being able to properly analyse the competition is key to understanding what you’re up against. It’s going to be nearly impossible to go through all the checks, but we’ll cover the main ones in this article. But I’m going to try and go through the main parts, as well as add some things that often get overlooked in specific types of SEO, such as eCommerce and local.
Can we create content that fulfils the intent of the searcher, for example, if there are 7 videos on the first page for the term we’re targeting, can we create a video? Often video is far more expensive to produce, and if we can’t do that to the quality of our competition, we’re going to have a very hard time.
Are we competing with websites that are huge sites dedicated to our topic? Are they well-established? Have they been in the SERPs for a long time? These are all things we need to consider and dive into.
Backlinks, we can’t talk about how long SEO takes without talking about backlinks. This is potentially where it’s going to get complicated, pages can have 0 backlinks, whilst being propped up by domains that are heavily linked.
So we have to measure the strength of our competitors on a page level, and also a domain level. We can compete with large sites with robust link profiles, however, it certainly is harder than dealing with a bunch of new unlinked websites (this is the dream, but unlikely).
The “problem” with link building is it’s not as simple as having more than your competition, nor when your link profile is “stronger” than your competitors will you outrank them. There’s always a lag when it comes to link building, typically on average it takes between 2-10 weeks to see the benefits of any individual link being built.
So you can quickly see how it gets complicated when dealing with a competitive term whilst we’re trying to rank a site that has no history.
In our experience, there is a direct correlation between referring domains (unique backlinks) and the traffic a website receives.
**It’s worth noting, in all of these examples more content was posted along with more links. Because why wouldn’t we?**
Often overlooked, how long have the websites we’re competing with been in place? It can be frustrating to see websites seemingly outrank your website and you can’t understand why. It could be so many different things, but often people overlook at power of being an established/trusted brand within a certain vertical.
Site Structure & Technical Setup:
The technical side of things is often overlooked, but doing any work takes time. So if we’re having to make a lot of technical fixes to bring our website up to a good standard this is going to put things back. However, this part is difficult to give a flat answer to.
For example, fixing technical issues on a 20-page site is usually pretty quick and straightforward. But combing through 2000+ pages with a range of technical issues can take weeks if not months of work depending on the issues.
Most of our audience who will be reading this will likely be under 500 pages which is where we’d consider them a small website. These don’t take long to fix issues on, usually, we aim to have technical issues fixed within the first 1-2 weeks.
Here’s typically what we look at as a priority:
- 404’s – any broken pages we need to fix?
- Broken Links – internal & external
- SSL issues – content loading with & without SSL?
- Website speed
- Page structure
- Indexing issues
- Sitemap creation
- Index bloat – pages indexed that are of no use
Current Link Equity:
How many quality backlinks does your website have? You can have a website that isn’t brand new, but starting from scratch when it comes to building authority (not to be confused with building DA) and whilst all the top tools have their own metric to measure this, they are flawed.
I won’t go into detail about what domain metrics mean, and whether we should trust them. If you want to learn more about this, I’ve written a piece all about domain metrics and how we use them here at Arken.
What we need to do to rank (at least in anything competitive) is at least some link equity. And if you have this already it makes it much easier/quicker to rank.
Type Of SEO:
What I mean by this is most campaigns can be put into a couple of different buckets, for example; Local, eCommerce, SaaS, B2B and many others. There are a lot more, but this is where most of our experience comes from, and they are all unique and present their own challenges.
Briefly, I’m going to touch on the categories we have experience with and share some insight.
Local SEO in our experience typically is the quickest to get results, mostly because we’re dealing with less competition. It makes sense, add a location modifier and you’re competing against far fewer companies.
But it’s more than that, we have more opportunities to rank in the SERPs. We have an extra search feature, the map pack. The single best place you can be as a local business.
eCommerce SEO like all types of SEO can be complex, but for a unique reason. So if we asked our clients in terms of priority what would you like us to focus on when it comes to ranking, it would look something like this:
Product > Category > Content
But from our experience in terms of driving traffic (that we can convert into customers or subscribers) it usually looks more like this:
Category > Content > Product
This isn’t always the case, it depends on the product/brand. For example, if you’re a brand where people are searching directly for your product the product would move higher up the priority list. As with a lot of SEO, it depends on the landscape we’re presented.
How much SEO are you going to be doing?
Whenever we undertake a new SEO project as part of the proposal stage we always present our potential clients a couple of different options. These could be called quick, quicker and quickest. Whenever we present an SEO proposal the work doesn’t change, it’s just how much of it are we going to do. This is probably the biggest influence on how long does SEO take.
How long is it going to take to implement?
The more content and links you build every month the quicker you’re going to see results, is what I would love to say. But in reality, there are so many factors that influence it. Backlinks aren’t created equal, the same with content. You can post all the content you want that doesn’t match the searchers intent, it won’t help you.
Want results quicker? Do more work. So this always needs to be kept in mind whenever you’re asking how long does SEO take.
So, how long does SEO take?
The honest answer? It depends. Whenever I’m on a call and somebody asks me this question here is my full answer:
Typically you will see “results” within 1-2 months, this can range from improved rankings, and improved visibility to increased leads and sales. More significant results come between months 3-6. However, to truly see night and day difference, it’s usually 6+ months.
But many factors would make this longer, and many reasons why it might also be shorter. SEO can be forecastable, but you can only do this accurately after time spent on the campaign to see how it reacts, there are so many reasons why something might take longer.
What do other SEOs think?
So of course, this article has been my experience in SEO. But Arken Digital doesn’t do the SEO for the whole world, so I asked a couple of people in the industry for their opinions.
Google is on record saying that you should expect an SEO campaign to be live for 4-12 months until you notice a significant impact. The time for SEO to kick in could be significantly shorter and, sometimes, significantly longer.
When all departments are aligned on strategy, optimizations, and accessible resources, you should notice an impact on efforts within 3 months of foundational optimizations.
If the market is a bit more competitive, that’s where equal, if not more, effort needs to be put into the campaign.
Jason Berkowitz – Break The Web
How long it takes to see results from SEO depends on a lot of factors. I’ve seen sites take years to rank and drive significant traffic, and I’ve seen sites rank within days. The biggest two factors in my opinion are the current state of the site prior to starting SEO work (its age, its content, its backlink profile) and the competitiveness of the keywords the site is targeting.
I recently helped a site (in a not-so competitive niche) rank for some big keywords within days, simply due to some on-page changes. The business hadn’t every prioritized SEO, but they had a decent foundation thanks to years of doing business (some decent backlinks, a big blog of content, etc…). On the other hand, even sites who have been around for years can take a long time to rank when they’re going after competitive keywords.
The other thing I’d say is that I do believe it’s taking longer and longer these days for brand new sites to establish trust with Google and start ranking. I’m seeing more and more clients stuck on page 2 for their primary keywords, while being beat out by competitors not doing much in way of SEO, but who have just been around for a long time – earning occasional backlinks, putting out content, and earning clicks. It’s taking more work and longer time to outrank these well-established sites – even if they aren’t necessarily doing much “SEO.”
Brooks Manley – Brooksmanley.com
We typically work with local businesses, so when we talk about results we typically focus on 2 main things:
- The Website / organic listing
- The GMB listing
There’s a good amount of overlap in terms of how both tend to help each other out with things like citations and on-page content helping both out. We’re usually able to see results for the GMB within 3 months and the organic listing usually around 6 months.
Icaac Hammelburger – Search Pros