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How Long Does SEO Take To Work?

Wondering how long SEO takes to work? Read our comprehensive guide on the topic and dispel all myths and doubts you might be harbouring about SEO timelines.

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Kristi Ray
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It’s no secret that without appropriate Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), no website can hope to rake in visitors and convert them into paying customers.

However, the one question that bothers most SEO practitioners and business owners is this: how long does SEO take to work? While you’ll find many experts claiming success within a few weeks or a month, the generally accepted time frame is within six months to a year.

How Long Does Seo Take

The trouble is, Search Engine Optimisation is not a standardised process yet, and there’s no concrete answer to how long does SEO take to work. SEO takes time and depends on several components coming together in just the proper manner.

So, how long would you really need to wait before your site ranking increases? We’ll try to explore this very question in the following sections. Along the way, we’ll also take a look at the different factors that impact SEO timelines and explore some common mistakes to avoid during the process.

Why Does SEO Take So Long?

When you ask anyone, “How long does SEO take?” they’re bound to return the answer in terms of time. However, if you ask us, the question itself is incorrect and based on a notion of search engine operation that is no longer relevant in the present times.

True, there was a time when SEO strategy revolved mostly around keyword research. All you had to do was to search for keywords relevant to your industry or niche, target the ones with the most traffic, and you would be off to the races. Back then, targeting a handful of suitable keywords gave rapidly visible results on Google within a few weeks.

But as you can surely understand from the above, that was the case back then. SEO strategy has evolved and ranking on Google is no longer as easy a peppering your content with the target keywords and expecting to see results. Today, there’s no magic term or even target keyword groups that can yield definite outcomes.

The Evolution Of Seo Graphic

SEO today depends on a mix of many factors that determine its time frame. As getting all of these factors to come together in sync is time-consuming, SEO itself becomes a process that takes considerable time to yield marketing dividends.

Does SEO Still Work In 2021?

Long story short: it definitely does. While that itself is a separate topic that should be discussed in its own right, suffice to say that SEO today is more dependent on user experience and content credibility. Keywords still play an essential part in the mix, but they’re not as vital as they used to be.

Speaking of keywords, modern SEO strategy dictates that instead of targeting a few popular, high-competition keywords, you should instead target low competition long-tail keywords. That’s because the very nature of search as we know it has changed.

For one, we no longer rely on desktops (or even laptops) for search; the smartphone has replaced both. For another, consumers today rely more and more on voice search instead of typing in queries. As the type of searches users perform changes, so does the answer to whether SEO is still important and how long does SEO take to work.

Seo Statistics Graphic Findings

How Do I Know If SEO Is Working?

As we talk about how long SEO takes to work, the natural question arises: how do we know when SEO starts working? What does it even mean for SEO to work? Most commoners (and even some experts) would tell you that a top rank on Google is the epitome of success when it comes to SEO.

Breakdown Of How Seo Works

Experience, however, tells otherwise; just ranking high on the SERPs and driving a massive amount of traffic isn’t the end goal (unless the sheer volume of visitors drives your business). What you want from SEO are conversions that drive visitors to become customers. And unfortunately, that takes more time than most companies are willing to put in.

3 Steps To Conversion Infographic

Factors That Determine Your SEO Timeline

For any credible SEO to work, you need to treat each campaign as a process that will potentially never end. How fast you get the desired results from your SEO campaign will depend on your website’s age, strategy implementation consistency, competition’s response and backlink profile, among other things.

In the next sections, we’re going to look at some of these factors that determine your SEO campaign’s timeline. Once we’ve gone through them, you’ll know why SEO is considered a long-term game and why it’s tough to put a particular time limit on getting results from any SEO campaign.

1. The Competition

There used to be a time when SEO was a slightly esoteric topic and most businesses didn’t take search engine optimisation seriously. Even businesses that were implementing SEO restricted their efforts to targeting niche keywords and ranking higher on the SERPs’ first page. Truth be told, it was an easy enough task as there were less competition and results came faster.

Today, no business can hope to succeed without effective search engine optimisation. Over 60% of digital marketers now depend on SEO in order to improve their organic reach. However, with everyone from large conglomerates to the local hardware shop vying for SERP real-estate, competition has increased exponentially.

Efomi Seo Facts Worth Knowing

Today, businesses are investing heavily in SEO, with larger companies deploying in-house SEO teams. If you think you’re investing enough in your SEO efforts, then you can be sure that your competition is investing a comparable amount, if not more.

Naturally, the more competition you’re fighting against, the longer it will take for your SEO tactics to bear tangible results. If experiences are anything to go by, then the higher you’re trying to climb, the harder and more time-consuming your path to SEO success.

Another aspect to take into account is the competency of the SEO experts you’ve hired. Naturally, in any industry, the players with deeper pockets tend to hire better talent. The better the human mind(s) working behind your SEO campaign, the faster it will start working.

Key Takeaway

However, that doesn’t mean small and medium businesses on a budget can’t see results faster. There are SEO services that offer excellent SEO competence at affordable rates.

2. The Number Of Inbound/Outbound Links

It’s an open secret that links play an essential role in improving your organic SEO performance. But the extent to which link building helps fast-track your SEO depends on several factors. The volume of backlinks is an important one of these, but the correlation isn’t as direct as you might imagine.

In general, the more the number of inbound links to your site, the better your SEO profile. But just bumping up the number of links can often do more harm to your site’s ranking than good. The method and sources you’re using for link building are extremely important.

A smaller number of links from high-quality and authoritative sources will do more to boost your rankings than a large volume of links from low-quality sites. Also, as high-quality links are harder to earn, you’re sure to stay ahead of your competition once you garner a few high-authority links.

But be warned: never resort to Black Hat link-building techniques such as buying bulk links from low authority domains. Google considers such acts as a severe breach of its SEO guidelines, and trying to rank too high too fast can invite penalties such as blacklisting.

While we are talking about links, it’s wise to spend some time speaking about internal links. Unlike getting an external link, your internal link structure is one of the few ranking factors you have complete control over. A well-structured internal linking profile can go a long way towards helping search engines understand your site structure and index it better and faster.

Key Takeaway

The key takeaway here is this: internal and external links/backlinks significantly contribute to how long SEO takes to show results. But it takes time and effort to build quality backlinks, and there’s no shortcut to success on this road. It can take several months to see your SEO start working.

Relationship Between Strong Backlinks

3. Content Quality

Next, we need to spend some time looking at how content quality impacts the SEO timeline. The content that you’re putting out on your website plays a significant role in determining how long it takes for your SEO to take effect.

Here, we’d like to debunk a common myth that usually makes the rounds when it comes to content length. There’s no ideal content length that can help boost SEO. It really doesn’t matter if you’re putting out a 5000-word article or a 500 word one. As long as it’s relevant and helps your audience solve a problem, it’ll contribute towards improving your SEO.

For getting consistent results, we recommend you post content consistently at regular intervals. This way, you’re telling Google your website puts out new content regularly. As a result, Google spiders will be encouraged to crawl your site more frequently, leading to faster SEO dividends.

Another way that posting content regularly can help is that doing so keeps visitors coming back to your website for more. This sends out positive signals to search engines and speeds up the time taken for climbing up the SERPs.

Just as the content’s length doesn’t matter (and the frequency does), it’s important to focus on the content quality. During the early days of SEO, you could pump your content choke-full of keywords and it would soon be up there. Today, things have become a lot tougher.

Key Takeaway

As we’ve already mentioned, Google’s (and other search engine’s) algorithms no longer rely on keywords alone. Using AI-based models, algorithms such as RankBrain rate content based on many quality factors such as relevancy, uniqueness, and even content type. So, a dedicated content marketing strategy is essential to determining how long does SEO take to work.

4. Website’s Age and History

When it comes to how long it takes for SEO to take effect, one of the crucial factors is your website’s domain, its age and how long it’s been around. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect a new domain to take more time to show up on the SERPs than one that’s already established.

The reason is obvious: since an established domain has been active for a longer time, it’s bound to have built up better authority. It should also have a sizeable number of backlinks from important sites pointing to it.

If you’re overhauling an already established website for better SEO performance, you can expect to see results within the first 6 months. On the other hand, for a brand new site, 6 months is an overly optimistic timeline; here, you should expect that time to stretch into 9 to 12 months.

We’d like to mention here that working with an older domain doesn’t necessarily translate to SEO success within 3 months or less. Such unrealistic expectations can derail your SEO project by causing you to abandon the efforts right before you overcome the required threshold.

Along with the website’s age, its past matters as well, especially the history with Google. In case your site has been affected by a Google penalty or violated any of Google’s webmaster guidelines, then you might just take a bit more time to recover. Algorithms updates can also affect your site’s ranking and how long it takes for it to regain its original spot.

Key Takeaway

Considering the above, it’s only prudent to obtain a complete history of the website before commencing SEO work on it. You can get a fair idea of this from Google Search Console and other similar tools.

Screenshot Of Google Search Console 2021

5. Resource Availability

While competition and website history do play a significant role in how fast you can rank, these aren’t factors you can completely control. SEO results will always take a certain amount of time to come, and having unrealistic expectations isn’t going to help you get there faster.

However, the one thing you can control in this mix is the amount of time and other resources you put into your SEO project. The resources you allocate towards your SEO play a vital role in determining how fast you can see SEO results.

In general, the more resources you can put into your SEO project, the faster results you can hope to see. SEO tactics, particularly those dealing with technical SEO and organic traffic could benefit from a copious resource investment.

Key Takeaway

When talking about resources, it can be misleading to think that money is the one thing that matters most here. Experts in the SEO industry unanimously agree that along with time and money, proper domain knowledge is essential for successful search engine rankings. So, the best strategy would be to employ an experienced professional or SEO service to deliver faster results.

Common Mistakes That Can Delay Your SEO Results

Despite roping in the best talent and incorporating the most applicable industry practices, it could take months, if not years, for you to start seeing results. This is usually due to a few common mistakes that even experienced professionals often make. In this section, we will detail these so that you don’t fall into the same pits.

1. Inadequate Keyword Research

We’ve already seen that the days when keyword stuffing could yield fast results are now obsolete. Today, you have to be more strategic with your keyword research to start seeing results. The trouble is, in a hurry to increase their rankings faster, SEO experts often ignore the importance of proper keyword research.

Indeed, keywords don’t play as direct a role as they used to in determining SEO ranking. But it’s an essential ranking factor even today. The only thing that’s changed is that instead of directly focusing on the keyword terms, you need to focus more on creating content that targets the intent behind those keywords.

This is precisely where many businesses slip up. By relying solely on keyword research tools and sorting by search volume, they ignore why a user is searching for that keyword. This leads to the creation of irrelevant content that doesn’t yield the desired results.

To avoid this mistake, we recommend focusing less on the high competition keywords and paying attention to long-tail terms. These will allow you to focus your SEO tactics and reach out to customers through their common questions and query terms instead of a few disparate, highly competitive keywords.

Longtail Vs Shorttail Keywords Mangools

2. Unrealistic Timelines And Upper Management Pressure

The desire to see results as fast as possible is natural. However, we must remember that everything takes time to mature and you have to wait at least 4 months to 6 months before you can see results from your SEO campaigns. For significant gains in Google rankings, 12 months is a realistic estimate.

Upper management pressure often forces SEO teams to hurry and chase unrealistic timelines. Usually, after the first four months of SEO, the marketing team abandons the efforts altogether and tries other avenues of increasing leads and sales.

This is a grave mistake, as month 4 is the time when you can expect to see your rankings nudge upwards. Any search engine takes 4-6 months to properly index a new website, and that is the least amount of time clients need to wait for their campaign to take effect.

3. Not Paying Enough Attention To Site Structure

Just look at your site’s main menu; how long it is will give you an idea of your site’s complexity and internal linking structure. We’ve already established that internal linking is as important as external links for SEO rankings to increase. Sadly, many marketing experts fail to create a proper site structure as they focus on the more technical SEO concepts.

A well-crafted website structure is vital to ensure that your website is properly crawled and indexed. After all, if Google can’t see your website structure clearly, you can’t really expect your rank and hence traffic to increase now, can you?

4. Blindly Following The Competition

The importance of competition research can’t be ignored when it comes to increasing search rankings. However, in recent times, this has turned into a vicious cycle of blindly copying the competition’s SEO efforts.

Now, we get it: your closest competition is hogging all the traffic and you feel compelled to replicate their efforts. But it would be best if you remembered that every business is different and so should be their SEO and content strategy.

You should study your competition, identify any content gaps and start creating strategies to fill those gaps. It’s true that reinventing the wheel isn’t a wise idea, but you do need to change the tyres to suit the road you’re travelling on.

Know Your Competitors Graphic

5. Inability To Think Outside The Box

When you’re just a newbie and are trying to learn SEO, you’re bound to come across many “tried-and-tested” SEO tactics. While many of these are legitimate, it’s more probable that they are no longer applicable to the present times.

It’s always best to take SEO concepts and put your own spin on them. Digital marketing professionals often fail to think outside the box when it comes to SEO. This leads them to start exactly where others do and rank how others rank, which is below the fold of customer noticeability.

How Much Time Will It Take To Learn SEO?

Before wrapping up this conversation, we’d like to talk about a common question that newbies starting an SEO campaign have: how much time does it take to learn SEO? Well, the general consensus is that it usually takes anywhere between 1 month to 3 months for learning the basics of SEO.

For more advanced concepts you need to spend at least a year and get hands-on experience in the matter. In case you’re looking to learn more about SEO, take a look at this article by Backlinko’s Brian Dean.

SEO Timeline Conclusion

One thing must be understood when it comes to Google rankings: they can drop overnight but don’t rise as fast. It takes consistent and coherent effort to start seeing an increase in ranks and even longer to get better traffic to flock to your site.

Even if you gain that coveted top spot on the SERPs, this is akin to getting a target painted on your back. Pretty soon, the competition is going to come out with all guns blazing for dethroning you. And unless you’re continuing your SEO efforts, it won’t be long before your pushed off the pedestal.

At the end of the day, the only answer to the question “How long does SEO take to work?” is this: it takes as long as it needs to. This can be anything from four months to a year or more and you have to keep at it to ensure steady traffic.

Even after you’ve reached your target, the work doesn’t end; if anything, the task becomes more challenging as you have to work harder to maintain that position. But with consistent marketing strategies and honest effort, you can be sure to stay ahead in the digital marketing game.


Photo of Kristi Ray

Kristi Ray

Kristi is head of content production and editing at sitecentre and joined the team in early 2021 based out of our Sunshine Coast office to deliver higher-quality content to our partners. Kristi has a vast knowledge of copywriting styles and experience to accelerate the production of SEO friendly content at the highest levels.

Find them on their website: sitecentre and LinkedIn.

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