SEO basics

How Long Does SEO Take to Work? It Depends.

Want to know how long it will take for SEO to work? Like with anything: it will depend. Here are five variables that can have an impact on initial results.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get, which is also one of the hardest to answer, is how long it takes for SEO to work.

It’s almost like asking a relationship expert how long they think it will take for you to find your soulmate. Or a fitness expert when you’ll get back to your desired weight.

Like with anything: it will depend. I know that’s a frustrating answer. Some have claimed it may take 6 months. Others say between 4-12 months.

However, there is no exact answer as to how long it takes for SEO to start working. I’ve seen SEO results after a few days for one business, while it has taken several months and longer for another.

Let’s explore some commonly asked questions that clients often have when getting started. 

Why Does SEO Take So Long?

There are so many variables that will have an impact on the timing of results. Here are five:

  • Competition: Depending on your industry, product, and service, it’s a good idea to research who you are up against. Conduct a number of searches for targeted keywords to see who pops up. Even if they’re not a direct competitor, consider them a competitor to consider since they are sharing in the search engine landscape.

    Also, consider how well-known the company is and if they’re a household name. For example, if you’re a jewelry company, you are going to be up against other jewelry retailers, as well as stores including Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Zales.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t stand a fighting chance; it means you need to be realistic about your odds of ranking prominently. That rings especially true if you’re going after extremely competitive keywords in the short term.

  • Keyword Selection: Some businesses want to own top rankings on Google for broad keyword phrases. These are searches that are 1-2 keywords long. The belief there is that it will reach a wide audience. However, I usually always recommend going after long-tail keywords. These are queries that are 3+ keywords long.

    Think about your own search engine behavior in this example. When a person types a broad keyword phrase into Google, they’ll get a variety of results. That may or may not be relevant to what they’re looking for. Can you guess what ends up happening next? They go back to the search box and add more keywords so the results are more targeted. That’s when you want to appear.

  • Content Integrity: There is no shortage of content on Google. The issue I’ve observed and experienced is that some of the top-ranking listings are duplicative of each other. Sometimes, you can even tell when the content was written strictly for SEO purposes, which is crap.

    Over the years, Google has emphasized the importance of website owners crafting content that exemplifies E-E-A-T. This stands for experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Each letter has a longer description, but to summarize, it essentially asks “are you a reliable source of information.”

    To layer on top of that, search engines are always running testing on search results (e.g., infinite scroll on desktop), as well as continuously rolling out algorithm updates. And just because you’re ranking on Google today, doesn’t mean you will rank tomorrow.

  • Technical Hindrances: This relates to items such as page speed and crawling issues that may be preventing your website from reaching its fullest potential. You can have the greatest content in the world, but it can be problematic if search crawlers have issues accessing the content.

    You need to remember that Google wants to provide a great experience for its users. If your website doesn’t provide that great experience, you run the risk of being displaced and not ranking prominently.

  • Links: Quality inbound links help to tell search engines that your website is so valuable that people are willing to link back to it. Generating relevant inbound links takes thoughtful consideration, relationship building, and time.

    This obviously means that your content needs to be great. Other strategies for generating links include PR efforts or guest blogging. Here’s an example of my guest blog on The Importance of Social Media in SEO.

What if I Want to See Results Now?

Trust me, so do I. If it worked this way, I would be retired on a beach somewhere. But you know the saying: if it were easy, everyone would be doing it – and poorly at that.

In order for SEO to stand a chance of being successful, be sure to dedicate resources that can implement the top-priority recommendations. Annotate the changes to correlate performance metrics shifts, then amplify what’s working and make additional tweaks to what’s not.

Why Are My Competitors Ranking Higher on Google?

Don’t be disheartened when you see competitors rank higher in search results. With the right SEO strategy, you can increase your chances of sharing and owning the search engine landscape.

There are a variety of reasons why competitors can be outperforming you on Google. Here are three:

  • Quality content: It’s not enough to have content for content’s sake. Your content needs to be relevant and provide value to visitors. Quality content helps to keep visitors on the website for longer as it can keep them engaged. It can also help lower your bounce rate and generate more backlinks.

    Since content is so important for SEO, an SEO content audit can help in outlining what to remove, tweak, add, and merge. This can also help in identifying strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities.

  • Technical soundness: As I mentioned before, Google is all about the user experience. If your competitors are providing a better experience, Google may reward them with higher rankings.

    But don’t just do this for Google. Having a technically sound website helps to provide a more positive user experience. This includes fast page load speeds, a mobile-friendly design, clear navigation, and easy-to-read content.

    There are also on-page SEO factors to consider. This includes meta titles and descriptions, headings, anchor text, alt text for images, and internal links. All of this can help ensure that your content is read by both users and search engine crawlers. 

  • Active follower base: When brands have a large, active follower base on social media, that can indirectly and positively impact SEO. It can be an easy way for your followers to amplify your message with their social networks.

    Wondering what you can do to grow your social media followers? Here are a few considerations:

    • Have a consistent brand message and post regularly.
    • Share content that is relevant to your business
    • Use messaging that speaks directly to your target audience.
    • Interact with your followers and relevant influencers to create conversations and engagement.

What Can Increase the Chances of SEO Success?

There are a few factors that can impact how long it will take to see results. Here are two:

  • Work with an expert: I previously talked about what an SEO consultant does since working with one could save you money, time, and frustration in the long run. An SEO specialist will help you set realistic goals and create a strategic plan. They can help increase the chances that you will rank on Google and get found by your customers.

    Google is always updating its algorithm and keeps many of its formulas for how they rank websites a secret. It takes a lot of time to learn SEO best practices and keep up to date in this ever-changing and highly competitive field.

    It’s possible to do search engine optimization yourself and it might make sense if you own a small business. But if you’re company is growing and thriving, then discover how to find a good SEO consultant. Let an SEO professional help map out appropriate next steps that make sense for your business.

  • Set a budget: When you make SEO a consistent line in your budget, you’re investing in the long-term success of your business. As any savvy businessperson knows, success takes time and effort. The world has changed, and your online presence matters.

    SEO continues to be one of the most important digital marketing strategies you can use. It helps to increase website traffic and attract new customers. Quality SEO and content marketing campaigns will help your business thrive now and into the future.

    How much SEO services costs vary because different businesses and websites have different needs. If you’re curious about how to set a budget for SEO, I previously wrote about how much SEO costs for a small business to help give you an idea.

Final Thoughts

Investing in SEO is like investing in a 401k. Your efforts will compound over time and gradually deliver greater returns the more you put into it.

It’s a long-term operation. It takes time to conduct keyword research, review competitors, analyze data, and optimize content. But the results are worth it!

I’m happy to walk you through the process of a high-quality SEO campaign for your company. With over 14+ years of SEO experience, I’m a results-driven SEO consultant with proven success.

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