Running an online marketing agency comes with myriad questions about how things work and one of the commonest question that comes up is “How long does SEO take to show results?” It’s a fair enough question to ask. You’re making a big investment in your digital market, you should know when that investment is going to start paying for itself and start producing results.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to give a definitive answer. Rough timetables and estimates are certainly possible, but even those will differ for every business. There are many factors at play here. But first, let’s first look at search engine optimisation has evolved into an intricate digital marketing task.
Long long ago (internet time) the strategy was to identify ranking keywords that were the most relevant to your business, received the most traffic, and were not too competitive. It used to be you would figure out 5-10 keywords that were your ‘’ and would bring in the majority of your traffic.
When someone comes to us and says “I need to be number one for some chosen keyword,” we know they’re stuck in some digital illusion. That keyword strategy is wrong, because with rarer and rarer exceptions, there is no one keyword, and no small group of keywords, that is going to drive a lot of traffic to your website—at least not compared to what you can get from the long tail of search. The bottom line is that if you’re focusing on a small group of generic keywords, you’re probably not being found by most of the people who are searching for you.
Google’s Rankbrain has changed the way people search which has seen SEO today being increasingly driven by natural language search, that is, people doing searches that are more like normal questions than two or three keywords.
This is because people are including more detail in their typed searches as they seek to find what they’re looking for faster. These keywords are much easier to rank for, because they’re not as competitive and therefore traffic from these keywords converts at a higher rate. And in aggregate, the number of searches in the long tail often adds up to many more searches than you would get from your “star keywords.”
Therefore the objective, when it comes to rankings, is not to rank for a few top keywords that remain the same over time, but to focus on a much larger number of natural language searches that is growing and changing rapidly.
To people unfamiliar with SEO, it often seems complicated, unpredictable, and questionable in value. SEO’s black-hat history and somewhat steep learning curve have led to countless business owners writing the search engine optimisation strategy off entirely. Those who have ventured into the waters of SEO without much foreknowledge on what it takes to run a successful campaign are often nervous or surprised when three months—a sufficient amount of time to test most marketing campaigns—passes and there are no results to show of or results are unimpressive.
Any SEO expert will tell you this isn’t a cause for concern; it takes time to see SEO results. But how long does it actually take, and what kind of results can you expect to see?
SEO is about increasing the chances your web pages will show up as high as possible in the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) when a user searches for a keyword related to your business. As your rankings increase to meaningful positions in SERPs, you’ll gain more traffic for your site, which means more brand visibility and sales. That’s what we mean by “SEO Results”.
Have you ever watched in awe as a juggler effortlessly keeps multiple balls in the air? Dexterous and agile, he tosses them high, flicks them around, even does fancy stuff with them and still, not one of them bounces on the ground. You come home and decide to try it.
But even with two balls, it doesn’t work the same way. You fail. And fail again. “Juggling is tough,” you tell yourself. But it isn’t. Not if you learn how to do it. And then practice doing it. SEO is like that, too. Without knowing how it works, you’ll fail spectacularly often.
The early stages of an SEO campaign usually require a significant investment with little payoff; your rankings will probably either fail to cross the threshold of the first page, or will only apply to non-competitive, low-traffic keywords.
For business owners or marketers unfamiliar with the SEO real estate, a first month that yields little or no traffic increase may seem like a failure, when in fact there are significant improvements happening across the board, hidden from plain view. This is why keyword research and rank tracking is so important for measuring the true progress of an SEO campaign. You’ve got to know what keywords to target and track, and you’ve got to track and graph them over time to get a realistic picture of your campaign’s progress.
Alright, after clearing the definition environment, let’s take a look at the six main variables that can influence how soon you see results from an SEO marketing campaign.
Keywords are words and phrases most often entered by users when doing searches online. The more often words are searched for, the more “competitive” Google considers them to be.
Have you looked at the metrics to figure out how much competition you’ll have on the targeted niche or keyword? If you have a strong competitor or many competitors dominating the rankings for the keywords you were hoping to target, it’ll probably take you longer to see results.
Picking a highly specific niche with few or no direct competitors should give you faster SEO results. An SEO competition analysis can help you understand who your competitors are, what the strengths of their campaigns are, and what sort of investment it will take to gun them down.
There are several strategic choices that will affect how quickly you see results—and how strong those results are. For example, will you start by targeting one pivotal keyword phrase, or hedge your bets among a number of different keywords? Will those keywords be high-traffic, high-competition, or low-traffic, low-competition? Proper keyword research at the very start of your campaign is absolutely crucial to its success.
Considering Google’s recent communications and from our own researches, SEO is about more than on-site tricks and inbound links. To win Google algorithm’s attention in the current SEO environment, you need to have remarkable content pieces, a thriving social media presence and demonstrated user engagement on your site. If your website is a pain to users, you’re going to struggle to achieve any of these three factors, because consumers have developed a sixth sense for filtering out sites that are in it for the wrong reasons.
The total amount of money, time and effort you put into your SEO strategy will have a major bearing on the speed of your achieved results. Put simply, you get what you pay for. Investing more will help you see better results faster. It’s also worth noting that the amount your competitors are spending matters just as much. If you’re spending $1,000 per month on SEO and not seeing results, it could be because your competitors are spending $2,000 per month. SEO doesn’t happen in a vacuum; everything you do affects your competitors, and everything your competitors do affect you.
From Google’s perspective, domain authority is like your website’s reputation as a thought leader. The search engine uses your domain authority to make sure you can provide the highest-quality content about your specific subject matter. If you do, you’ll have good domain authority and Google will boost your content’s rankings. If you don’t, you’ll have bad domain authority and they won’t rank your content.
According to MOZ, to calculate a websites’ domain authority, you have to consider over 40 factors, like root domains and total number of inbound links. Websites with a large amount of high-quality inbound links, like Wikipedia, have the highest domain authority. New websites with little to no inbound links typically have a domain authority of one.
Now, the higher the DA, the faster you’ll be able to rank and see your SEO Results. If your domain is new, it’s going to be darn hard to get up there.
SEO is not a one-time solution. This is one of those things that’s hard to explain to newbies. SEO is an ongoing process. Misguided by the wild claims of inexperienced or unscrupulous selfmade experts who promise “rank #1,” quick-fix solutions, many decision-makers think about SEO as merely a sequence of steps to be taken once — and never repeated. That attitude condemns your SEO strategy to failure.
The biggest strength of SEO is that it becomes more effective over time as long as you continue to maintain and learn from your strategies. To abandon the effort will limit the extent of your success — after all, your competitors will never stop trying to beat you. SEO tactics that are implemented correctly will bring in results for weeks, months, and even years later… but only when you nurture your success continuously.
It’s also important to note that there’s a steep learning curve when it comes to SEO. If you’re just starting out, you’ll make mistakes, and it takes time to iron those errors out.
Alright, assuming we have an average value for an average client across the board, there would be some expectation of seeing some SEO results in a certain time.
Ahref’s research shows almost 95% of newly published pages don’t get to the Top10 within a year. And most of the “lucky” ones, which do manage to get there, do it in about 2–6 months.
“Actually, I shouldn’t be framing these pages as “lucky,” because the reason they got to the Top 10 in less than a year is most likely hard work and great knowledge of SEO, not luck.” says Tim Soulo from Hrefs.
So, if you’re starting from scratch, don’t expect to see significant SEO results within the first month. Instead, you can expect to start seeing measurable results between three and six months after you begin your seo campaign. Of course, your results will vary based on the variables I listed in the above section. But in general, this is about the timeframe where we see clients start to see measurable progress.
The thing is, what SEO results are you looking to get? Are you aiming for just traffic or converting traffic that reflects on ROI? Let’s assume you’re putting in the work and investing a regular amount of effort, you should begin to see early results at twelve months that will help you to break even. But from my professional experience, it takes a little longer than that to realise consistent positive Returns On Investment.
Again, not to put too fine a point on it, but within 1 to 2 years, I typically see clients start breaking even and seeing a positive ROI. For better and faster results, I recommend you keep adjusting the variables we talked about in the earlier text, read more and iterate to find something that works for you.
If your campaign is not yielding successful results within that time frame, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything’s wrong with your SEO campaign; it more likely means that your chosen SEO competitor landscape is more competitive than originally estimated, in which case you should re-evaluate your budget. This assumes, of course, that you have vetted your SEO vendor and are confident that they’re doing a good job.
Unfortunately, SEO is too multifaceted and too variable to accurately predict exactly when your campaign “should” start seeing results. Often, SEO requires trying different tactics, seeing what works, and what doesn’t. While the basic elements of SEO are the same for everyone, the many unknown factors that apply uniquely to your company—such as past SEO campaigns conducted, competitor activity, how new your website is, and many other factors–make it almost impossible to have an expectation that applies to everyone.
Try to remain patient throughout your SEO campaign; SEO is a long-term strategy with limited transparency, since nobody fully knows the search ranking algorithms, and they’re moving targets, changing daily. Without trust and confidence in your SEO team, you’ll be tempted to bail out. So be smart and stay focused on the ultimate outcome. Make adjustments, measure frequently, and stay the course–you’ll be glad you did. That’s how you’ll avoid failing at SEO.
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