How Long Does SEO Take and When Can I Expect Results?
by Tony Shannon
“How long does SEO take to produce results?”
This is easily one of the most common questions that I am asked by prospects and clients here at RiseFuel. It’s a natural question to ask. You’re making a big investment in your digital presence. You want to know when that investment is going to start paying for itself and 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 that affect how quickly you are able to see results including:
- The search competitiveness of your industry.
- Your own site’s history and standing.
- Your budget and aggressiveness in relation to those factors.
The search engine optimization landscape has changed a lot in recent years. Even with new competition coming to market, Google still accounts for 70% of all search traffic on desktop.
To understand why providing a hard timetable for results through SEO is an impossible task, you first have to understand what SEO is and how it works.
What Is SEO? How Does It Work?
Google’s goal is to connect their users with useful information. Whether they are searching for information on tax laws or looking to buy a new pair of bright red high heels — Google wants to make sure that they are connecting users with high-quality content that answers their questions or gives them access to the information they want to find.
Websites are ranked in Google’s search engine by relevance, in relation to the intent of the searcher. There are many factors that play into where a site shows up in the search. We’ll go over these factors in-depth here in a bit. But generally, high-quality content from a trusted source takes precedence.
Google uses what are known as “crawlers,” which are bots that make their way around most of the websites on the Internet, analyzing the content of pages and reporting the results back to Google. Google’s algorithms then sort the millions of pages the crawlers access based on relevance for specific keywords and determine a ranking for those keywords.
If you want to see results (traffic and leads) from SEO, you have to create high-quality content that targets specific keywords that users search to find businesses like yours. Choosing the right keywords is just as important as creating quality content.
Factors that Impact the Expected Time
In answering "How long does SEO take to produce results," we have to look at the factors that affect the answer. There are many factors that impact the expected time for SEO to produce results. Here's a look at the weight of the factors that Moz produced a few years ago:
One of the reasons why it is difficult to give a specific estimate about how long SEO takes to begin producing results is the fact that there are many factors that affect how easily you can rank for specific keywords. No two situations are the same.
Some of these factors include:
- The keywords that you would like to target. Some keywords are more competitive than others. Longtail keywords are typically easier to obtain first-page rankings for than shorter keywords. “Red shoes” is more competitive than “Styles of red stiletto high heels,” for example. The keywords that we choose will depend on your overall budget and strategy.
- The relevance of your content. Does your content align with what searchers are looking for? Do you already have content that matches those needs, or will we need to create new content to do so?
- Your location. Local businesses that are located in more competitive cities can expect it to take longer to produce results. A dentist in New York City might have a tougher time improving his ranking for New York-related keywords than a dentist in the middle of nowhere would. However, more competitive keywords have a higher impact ceiling.
- The age of your website and domain. Google places more trust in websites that have been operational for a long time. New websites typically take longer to rank for competitive keywords than older websites.
- The experience of your users. Google measures usage statistics for users that visit your websites. Users that have a better experience tend to stick around on your page for longer than they do on competitors pages and interact with portions of your website. If your visitors are engaged, you improve your chances of ranking for competitive keywords.
- Incoming links. What websites are linking to yours? Google uses links from other websites as a vote of confidence in your brand. Not all links are created equal, either. A link from the New York Times, for instance, holds more weight than a link from some little known publisher. According to Andrew Lipattsev, the Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, high quality content and link building are the two most important signals Google uses to rank your website.
- Adherence to best practices. There are hundreds of small technical factors to consider when optimizing a website for search. Google publishes long lists of SEO best practices that should be followed. Depending on the current state of your optimization and the size of your website, it may take time to ensure that best practices are followed on every page.
These are just a few of the many factors that play a role in how quickly you can produce results through search engine optimization.
Many of the tasks required to make sure each of these factors are in good standing take time to execute, which you have to factor into the estimated time to begin producing results.
I always wait to evaluate these factors in full before I give any estimates on expected timeframes for results. Even with these factors in mind, Google has the power to change their algorithm at any time and throw a wrench into the best-laid plans.
So...How Long Does SEO Take to Produce Results?
Source: Matrix Group
Let’s defer to Google on this. Here’s a video that Google released about hiring an SEO consultant and the expected time frame that you can expect results within:
So, the official answer is 4 to 12 months.
While there are always outliers on either side of that estimate, that answer is consistent with the results that I have been able to produce for clients here at RiseFuel.
Companies that come to me with a solid SEO foundation see results more quickly than those that are starting from scratch. That’s just the nature of the business.
Typically we begin to see traffic start trickling in during the first few months as content starts to rank for low-volume, low-competition keywords.
In the 6-12 month range, based on the factors we discussed earlier, we begin to see larger surges of traffic and leads as your website begins to hit the first page for more competitive keywords with higher search volumes.
SEO is a long-term strategy that compounds over time. While it may take some time to begin producing measurable results through SEO, the real value in the early months comes from the foundation that you are laying for the future.
The foundation that you lay today will serve your business for years to come and lay the runway for reliable lead generation.
At RiseFuel, our SEO strategy is part of a broader inbound marketing strategy that will help your business to squeeze the most value possible out of every lead produced in those early months while we wait for our SEO changes to take effect.