When it comes to planning a campaign, most marketers like to have an idea of two things: timings and cost.
That’s the only way to know if things are working.
So, it’s no surprise that when you set off on an SEO journey, you want to know how long does SEO take to start working, and how much you’ll need to invest to reach your goals.
Here’s the answer:
Okay, that might not be the answer you’re looking for, but stick with us.
In this article, we’ll explain the approximate times you can expect to see results from SEO, the different factors impacting what it takes for SEO to work, and how you can speed things up.
How long does SEO take to work?
The quick answer is this: SEO takes time. Most digital marketing experts agree that a website should start seeing first results from SEO within 6 to 12 months.
Google itself states it takes 4 to 12 months for a search engine optimization (SEO) consultant to achieve significant success in search.
But there are too many variables to make that a promise. When answering how long does SEO take, it's impossible to give a time period that applies to all websites, everywhere. That only serves to set unrealistic expectations.
The reality is there’s no magic SEO trickery that will see you soar straight to the top of page one. Don’t expect instant gratification – see SEO as a marathon, not a sprint.
Google and other search engines want to show the best result for a search query. That’s what they set out to do. It takes time for your website to earn its rank. You need to prove yourself.
But with the right strategy in place, that’s exactly what you can start to do within 6 to 12 months. When you start seeing the impact of your SEO efforts, you can justify your ongoing SEO investment in growth.
What do we mean by results?
What “good results” look like depends on your business, your website and unique digital marketing goals. Generally, SEO results mean a measurable increase in traffic, leads or conversions.
Any SEO guide will tell you there are lots of factors that can affect how long SEO takes to show a good ROI.
Here are a few of the most important factors for SEO to work:
Age and authority of a website
Errors, hosting issues, and penalties
SEO-friendly design, structure, and architecture
Keywords and competitors
Let’s delve deeper into these factors.
1. Age and authority of website
What is your website's history? How old is the domain?
Former Google engineer Matt Cutts previously claimed that domain age has little to do with the ranking process:
“The difference between a domain that’s six months old vs one-year-old is really not that big at all. As long as you’ve been around for at least a couple of months, you should be able to make sure that you can show up in search results.”
However, more recent case studies demonstrate this isn’t true and in fact older domains benefit from SEO efforts faster than newer domains.
Check out this study by Ahrefs:
They took 2 million random keywords and pulled data on the Top 10 ranking pages for each one.
As the graph shows, the average Top 10 ranking page is 2 or more years old.
Those that rank at position #1 are almost 3 years old on average.
On top of that, only 22% of pages that currently rank in the Top 10 were created within 1 year:
The SEO study also showed that only 5.7% of all studied pages ranked in the Top 10 search results within 1 year for at least one keyword.
That means almost 95% of newly published pages don’t get to the Top 10 within one year!
The reason is pretty simple: older websites tend to have more links, which is a factor Google looks at to see how trustworthy your website is (more on that later).
If your website is new, don’t panic!
Start an SEO strategy to acquire backlinks quickly and honestly.
This takes time, obviously. That’s why a new website should expect to see results within a long period of 9 to 12 months, rather than 6 to 12 months for older domains.
Backlinks are one of Google's top three ranking factors, along with content.
Think of backlinks as votes of confidence from external websites. They show Google your site is a trusted authority, and they can turbocharge your website up the search page.
The better your site’s backlink profile, the faster your SEO work will show results.
But here’s the important bit: you cannot rush the process.
There’s no shortcut to earning quality links. And if you take one, you’ll be penalised heavily and will wind up worse off than when you started.
It will take time and effort to earn link-backs, along with a great SEO content strategy. After all, for SEO to work, you need to create incredible content that other people want to link to.
Not all links are created equal. Higher quality links can drive rankings faster than lower quality links.
Don’t be tempted to speed up your SEO by buying links.
If you buy links, you may see a fast spike in your organic rankings and traffic, but it won't last long.
As Google says, "Any links intended to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google's guidelines."
The result of Black Hat SEO is penalties.
Instead of buying links, aim for a long-term offsite SEO strategy where you earn high-quality links from authoritative domains. That means earning highly relevant links from other authoritative websites in your industry.
3. Errors, hosting issues, and penalties
Even if you have an established domain, you won’t automatically see quicker results from your SEO strategy.
The history of your website also plays a part.
Has your domain previously been affected by a penalty or a core algorithm update?
Have previous SEOs done work that goes against Google's webmaster guidelines?
Start building up a picture of your site's history.
There are two easy ways to see the history of your site:
If you can see that organic search visibility has dropped suddenly, you know there’s a problem that needs to be fixed.
What does this mean for how long SEO will take?
Be patient – it will likely take as long as 12 months or more to see the results you want from a new SEO strategy.
A lot of work will need to be done to get your website out of Google’s disgrace and increase authority, which means it will take a lot of time before you’ll be able to see any significant SEO success.
The other thing you need to look at is technical SEO issues.
Technical SEO is the practice of optimizing your website to help search engines properly crawl and index it more efficiently.
The bottom line, if Google can't properly crawl your site, you're going to be fighting a losing battle from the start.
Identify issues with your site using the SEMrush Site Audit Tool:
The most common technical SEO issues are:
Slow page speed
Poor internal linking and architecture
Broken links (404 errors)
Duplicates (www. and non-www. version)
Fix any issues before you worry about anything else. Depending on the number of issues, resolving these errors can show positive results and an increase in traffic in just two weeks, which is not long at all.
But be aware that Google won’t index all of the changes at once. You have to wait for Google to find those changes and re-crawl the page.
4. Search engine friendly design, structure, and architecture
The next factor that will impact the timeframe to reach your SEO results is your website’s design and structure.
The most important thing is this:
Put user experience first.
That’s what Google want you to do. It doesn’t want you to design for computers. Google makes no secret about wanting businesses to focus their attention on providing an amazing user experience.
That’s why Google’s algorithms are designed to reward those websites that provide a smooth and easy user experience.
You’ve guessed it – high rankings in search results.
Websites destined that rank highly in SEO are:
Easy to navigate – Make it easy for search engines to crawl and for your visitors to find what they want quickly.
Mobile-friendly – Google will increase the ranking of mobile-friendly websites, which decreases the visibility of non-responsive websites.
Fast – Sites that are quick to load. How long does your site take to load? Test the speed of your websites using the free Google PageSpeed Insights tool.
5. Keywords and competition
What keywords are you trying to rank for?
Not all keywords are made equal. Depending on which type of keywords you want to rank for, you can start ranking high relatively fast or wait for up to three years to see results. Now that's what we call the long game!
Some SEO keywords get thousands and even hundreds of thousands of monthly searches.
Others are more specific and are Googled around 30 times a month.
According to a study by Ahrefs, only 0.3% of websites rank among the top 10 results in year one for keywords with a monthly search volume of over 50,000.
Take the time to do proper keyword research, which will make sure you optimize your site for the keywords your customers are actually searching for.
One of the most important things that will determine how quickly you reach your SEO goals is your competition for these keywords.
It’s much easier to increase your keyword rank in searches against 100 competitors than 100,000.
How saturated is your business industry? How established are the competitive websites within that industry?
There may be lots of new sites among your competition, which means you have a better chance of outranking them with your keyword list.
But if there are lots of established competitive sites in your industry that have been dominating the search results for important keywords for a long time, it will take longer to outrank them and win their traffic.
Another consideration is whether you are local or global. Whether you target a local, national or international market will determine the size of your competition pool.
Businesses targeting the worldwide market will see the highest level of competition – you literally have thousands or even tens of thousands of websites from around the globe to battle for organic traffic.
6. Content Strategy
Content remains one of Google's top 3 ranking factors.
That’s right – content is still king.
Remember, Google's goal is to return the best results for a given search query. That means poor content marketing does not get rewarded with high rankings.
Your strategy must prioritize great SEO content. That is, content that is relevant to your keywords and matches a searcher's intent.
Take time to identify what is currently ranking and figure out how to create something better and fill the gaps your searchers are looking for.
If you settle for poor or average content, don’t expect to achieve fast SEO results. It takes a thoughtful and high-quality content marketing strategy to help your site to rank faster and bring quality organic traffic.
Wait, we’re not talking about Pay Per Click advertising, so why does budget impact your SEO results?
Because the more budget you can invest in your SEO campaign, the more tactics you can do that will accelerate your ROI.
Ultimately, you cannot control a site’s history, nor the competition, nor Google’s latest algorithm changes.
But you can control the resources that are allocated toward your SEO services.
With more resources, you’ll be able to produce more regular, higher quality content which gives you the opportunity to use more keywords, earn backlinks, and improve your rankings.
You’ll be able to throw more resources at SEO services like fixing errors and penalties, optimizing pages, and creating new content.
Unless you are willing to do your website SEO yourself (which we don’t recommend!), your SEO specialist will be the one working out the right strategy to make your site more rankable in the long term.
The faster your SEO team makes all the critical changes, the sooner you’ll see some good results. That's what it takes for SEO efforts to deliver long-term impact.
Consider your SEO budget and pricing before you get started. What are you willing to invest in SEO services for success?
What does SEO success look like?
The only way to work out whether you’ve achieved success is to set clear ROI goals from the outset.
Let's break this down.
Goals are the end outcome that you want to achieve
For example: To achieve an increase in revenue by $100,000 over a 12-month period.
KPIs are the metrics that demonstrate progress towards your goals e.g. 10% conversion rate
For example: Growth in organic traffic, conversion rate, visibility, and impressions
As with any business goals, you need to make sure your SEO marketing goals are SMART.
Put in place measurable yet realistic targets that can be tracked over a set period.
What can you do NOW to improve your SEO campaign results?
The most important thing is to start your SEO marketing off on the right track.
Focus on the following tactics:
1. Check your site on Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a crucial tool to help you see where your site is at, and how much work you need to do. Use it to:
Pinpoint and fix crawl errors and issues that could be preventing your site from being visible in search results pages.
Analyze your link profile to see all sites that link to your site.
Communicate data to Google so it can highlight information to your audiences in the most accurate ways.
Set up Google Search Console now, if you haven’t already.
Link building is one of the most powerful strategies, so focus on this early to keep your SEO progress moving.
Building authoritative links is important to your ranking because it shows Google that other high-authority websites trust your information enough to link to it.
3. Content marketing
Start creating high-quality content now. Focus on relevant content to satisfy search intent. For your content to rank, your website must feature content that satisfies user intent, not just utilizes the keyword.
The sooner this content appears on your website, the sooner Google can start indexing it and ranking it in organic SERPs.
You may start to see high-quality content rank, at least somewhere in SERPs, after a month or two. That's not long at all!
SEO doesn’t work alone. For SEO to work at its best, supercharge your results by combining your SEO campaign with other digital marketing strategies including pay per click advertising and social media advertising.
Over to you
Don’t give up at the first hurdle. Although SEO takes a long time to deliver impact, and it can be frustrating waiting for tangible results, once you’re up there, SEO delivers an incredible ROI over and over again. The important thing is to be patient and understand that SEO takes a long, sustained effort.
The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll see results.
Now for the good news:
You don't have to learn SEO to start seeing results. Getting started with your SEO is as easy as claiming your free $2000 SEO Audit and 6-month Game Plan. We just need some basics about your company and your domain, so we can understand where you’re at. Then we’ll send you a complete audit of your website, including an in-depth 6-month road map and timelines to skyrocket your success.