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How Long Does SEO Take? A Complete Overview of Your SEO Timeline

You’ve invested time, resources and hard-earned capital into your web design, marketing campaign, and content strategy. Still, your online traffic isn’t where it needs to be and Google has yet to recognize or reward your efforts. 

While you could spin your wheels and drain your cash stores trying to boost your bottom line, the answer could be as simple as fine-tuning your Search Engine Marketing (SEO) approach. 

Yet, before you dive headfirst into this multifaceted project, it’s smart to set realistic expectations. Will you see results overnight? If not, how long does SEO take? 

Today, we’re sharing the answers to these questions and more. Join along as we explore the ultimate SEO timeline!

The Time-Centric Evolution of SEO

If it were possible to state exactly how long it takes for a successful SEO strategy takes to kick in, every business owner would be able to claim the coveted first page on Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

However, as it stands, only a fraction of those gunning for the top spot earn it. If you do find yourself among these ranks, you’ll join an elite (and high-earning) crowd. Research shows that websites on the first page of Google earn 71% of all search traffic clicks, with some reports putting the number closer to 90%. 

The overall success of your SEO campaign will hinge on a few specific factors, including:

  • The size of your projects
  • The core market you’re targeting
  • The state of your current SEO efforts
  • The age and authority of your site and online content
  • Any Google penalties currently affecting your ranking

While everyone wants to rank first, keep in mind that there are a few other factors that you should prioritize, as well. Other performance indicators to measure include:

  • Your level of qualified traffic
  • Your total number of conversions
  • Your revenue growth

Keep track of how these numbers grow during your SEO campaign to determine the real fruits of your efforts. 

Out with the Old, In with the New

In the past, there were myriad tricks and techniques that companies could use to see a near-immediate uptick in their online traffic. However, most of these, such as low-quality link building and keyword stuffing, are now considered cheap and underhanded. As such, relying on them to improve your visibility can usurp your efforts and damage your brand reputation. 

In addition to penalizing blackhat SEO, Google has also shifted its focus in recent years. In addition to measuring specific metrics such as keywords, backlinks, tags and more, the search engine giant is also focusing on the overall value that your site provides. What experience do you deliver to your users? Do you deliver relevant data to match searcher intent?

To keep up with this stringent analysis, forward-thinking brands are taking a more comprehensive, long-term approach to SEO. When you’re able to leverage a dynamic search experience and turn it into a valuable user experience, you’ve hit the jackpot. However, as is the case with most things in life, the best results take time. 

The Case Against Rushing

Especially if your financial stability or the future of your company depends on immediate business growth, it’s easy to demand quick results from your SEO strategy. However, if any internal team member or third-party SEO agency promises success overnight, consider this a major red flag.

In reality, SEO takes time. You might wait what feels like forever before the SEO work you’ve put in behind the scenes translates into tangible business growth. However, once it does, the return is more than worth the investment. As your organic website traffic increases over time, you’ll improve your opportunity for both connection and conversion. 

Any efforts to bypass the hard work and race straight to the finish line could be rendered useless. Why? Google automatically raises its virtual eyebrow at any company that experiences a sudden and steep increase in ranking, assuming that blackhat tactics must be responsible. 

Instead, it’s smart to think of SEO as a longstanding commitment. The growth you crave will require thoughtful planning, cooperation across departments and a results-driven strategy. No flash-in-the-pan tactic is a suitable substitute for dedication and focus. 

Once you do see your numbers grow in the right direction, it’s also important to understand the importance of staying the course. You’ll need to maintain your efforts and analyze your results to make sure they align with the best current SEO practices and Google algorithm updates. 

Factors that Affect Your SEO Timeline

There might not be a straight answer to the question, “How long does SEO take?” However, there are a few aforementioned factors that can help you gauge how long you’ll wait to see real results. Let’s take a look at a few of the most powerful ones.

The Age and Authority of Your Site

You could create a brand-new website, do everything by the book and follow white-hat SEO strategies to reach your core audience organically. Still, you’ll find that it takes longer for your site to gain visibility. This is because the site age plays into any SEO strategy.

In short, domains that have been around longer tend to out-perform those that are still in their infancy. This is mostly because these sites have more backlinks and content built into them, which makes them appear more credible and trustworthy to Google. While new sites could once get around this obstacle by paying for links, this is another tactic that’s now considered blackhat and deceptive. 

Your best defense and way forward, in this case, is to give it time. As you create more original content, your backlink profile will grow. It won’t take long before you see the results you expect. 

Your Current SEO Penalties and Site Errors

Most of us have heard the saying, “Do it right the first time or don’t do it at all.”

If you’ve already established your web presence but can’t seem to get it off the ground, SEO penalties and mistakes could be to blame. 

First, take into account any Google penalties that are already against your domain. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Unnatural links (internal and external)
  • Using a Private Blog Network (PBN)
  • Low-quality links
  • Excessive reciprocal linking

Take the time to learn the specifics around each penalty and work to correct the infraction. Once those are clear, it’s time to take a closer look at your website’s performance. Your homepage might look great, but if you dig deeper, how do the rest of your pages look? 

Are there any links that lead to an error or a dead page? Work to fix any that result in the following messages:

  • 404 Error
  • 301 Redirect
  • Broken link
  • Robots.txt

You might also need to add other critical components to your website’s linking structure and overall architecture to make it as user-friendly as possible. For instance, you can add sitemaps, .htaccess, web.config files, and other features to facilitate easier navigation. 

In the same, user-centric vein, work to fix any inconsistencies in your site’s mobile optimization. It’s no secret that Google now officially rewards mobile-friendly sites. If yours still takes years to upload on a handheld device and results in fuzzy graphics and error-riddled videos, you’ll lose on-the-go followers. 

Crawl First, Soar Later

Endeavor to fix all of these errors and over time, you’ll notice the positive results of your hard work. However, remember that not all of your changes will index at the same time. You have to wait for Google bots to find your content, notice the updates, and recrawl your page. 

Thus, don’t be surprised to find that some of your performance aspects will improve at a quicker rate than others. In some cases, it might even take a few different crawls before all of your changes register. From there, restoring your rankings can take even longer.

In most cases, the length of time it takes to see results is congruent with the degree of updates you made. If you only swapped out a few links on your sitemap, you could see traffic grow in a few weeks or less. Yet, if you’ve undergone an extensive SEO revamp, it could be months or longer for the bots to identify and analyze all the changes. 

Your Current SEO Efforts

It goes without saying that if you’ve already invested in your SEO strategy, you’re one major step ahead of the game. To understand how much you’ll have to work (and how long you’ll have to wait) to see changes, consider where you stand on these campaign components.

Content Strategy

Relevant, timely and helpful content is one of your most powerful growth drivers. If you’ve already established a blog archive that’s filled with authoritative data, it won’t take you as long to build your SEO ranking. 

On the other hand, if you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to allow time to write, edit and publish fresh content. Begin by fixing any existing articles, whitepapers, or subpages on your site. Then, map out an approach to create and publish new content regularly. 

The changes won’t happen overnight, but compelling content can establish you as a thought leader in your field, and this recognition can have a lasting impact. 

On-Page SEO

Want to see your SEO work pay off a little faster? Take a look at your on-page optimization. 

Begin by making sure all of your critical SEO tags and descriptions are in place. These include your:

  • Meta tags 
  • Image alt tags
  • Headers
  • Titles
  • Descriptions
  • Anchor text

Making those simple tweaks can often deliver improvements in as little as a few days. This is especially true if the rest of your site is optimized for SEO. 

Off-Page SEO

At the same time, don’t neglect your off-page SEO efforts. Take into consideration the kinds of activities you engage in outside of your website to drive traffic back to it. 

In your desire to get your name out there and attract eyes on your content, don’t fall prey to spammy tactics. Commenting on authoritative blogs with a generic link request could result in an immediate ban, which would unravel your entire strategy. 

If you do engage in blog commenting, keep your comments relevant, personalized and interesting. Other SEO strategies that further your off-page optimization include:

  • Guest blogging
  • Social media sharing
  • Adding your domain to high-end directories
  • Earning a citation in an online industry publication

Keywords and Competitor Analysis

Wondering why your competitors always seem to dominate the search results? It might not be that their offerings are any better than yours. They might simply have the market cornered on relevant, targeted keywords. 

This is where it pays to do a little homework. While you can’t steal their tactics, you can learn which keywords they’re using and how they’re performing. Then, you can use these insights to help direct and improve your approach. 

The good news? Many online resources can make competitor analysis a breeze. With these, you can enter a competitor’s URL and immediately see key metrics including:

  • The overall number of keywords
  • Top paid keywords
  • Top organic keywords
  • Overview of backlinks
  • Traffic statistics

These tools can cut down the time it takes to perform initial keyword research and also allow you to gain a competitive advantage.

Link Building

In terms of SEO techniques that take time, link building can be one of the more labor-intensive ones. Yet, Google algorithms require it. As such, it’s easy to fall into the trap of relying on blackhat strategies to quicken your efforts.

Doing so means taking one step forward and five massive steps backward. Any efficiencies you gain that way are immediately erased when you’re slapped with a Google penalty, and you’ll find yourself even further behind than before. 

Though it might frustrate impatient site managers, the only way to achieve a successful link-building strategy is to create high-quality content. Over time, the right people will reach it, share it, and link to it. 

Yet, this doesn’t mean you have to sit back and wait aimlessly. You do have the power to make your content as visible and accessible as possible. 

Reimagine long-form content into a series of shorter blog posts. Share your content on social media. Ask your online community which topics they’re most interested in, and use this data to guide your strategy.

Starting From Scratch: A Month-By-Month Timeline

So far, we’ve discussed ways that businesses with an existing SEO strategy can measure their timeline for success. Yet, what if your website is new? How long will it take you to reach the level of your established peers?

Let’s take a quick look at how you can optimize your site now to rank as high as possible down the road.

The Initial Planning Stage: Zero to Two Months

Rather than diving straight into your SEO plan, set aside one or two months to plan it all out, first. 

Take into account your specific SEO goals, your internal resources and whether or not you plan to utilize an outside strategist to help achieve those aims. A few of the key steps involved in SEO planning include:

  • Setting a budget
  • Assigning team roles and responsibilities
  • Researching your targeted, ancillary and long-tail keywords 
  • Auditing your existing site content for value, user-friendliness and technical efficiency

Don’t assume that every stage will take the same amount of time, or that your timeline will be the same as the company’s next door. If you’re a large e-commerce company with several niches under your umbrella, your keyword research phase will take longer than that of a smaller consultancy with a more targeted market. 

In the first few months of planning, don’t expect a major, noticeable jump in traffic, profits or your online ranking. However, stay the course! If you implement value-rich foundational changes, you’ll see results over time.

Official SEO Implementation: Two or More Months

With the planning stage complete, you’re ready to begin officially executing your SEO strategy. 

We purposefully left this timeline open-ended because SEO is in a constant state of evolution. If you partner with an outside agency, this team will work with you to constantly tweak and update your approach over time in response to industry trends and new opportunities. The best agencies are always looking for ways they can analyze and improve your performance, adjusting the approach as needed.

During these first initial months, take the time to address any technical concerns your site is experiencing. If your website doesn’t function properly, the best SEO strategy in the world will fall flat. Depending on the size of your company, the scale of your website and the complexity of the issues, these changes could take anywhere between a few days and a few weeks. 

Overall, expect to spend a maximum of six months or so fully getting your site up to SEO speed. This is true whether you’re starting from scratch or completely overhauling an existing site that was beyond patchwork repair. If you team with a dedicated SEO agency, you’ll likely be able to shorten that timeline by a few months!

Your results timeline is also dependent on how often search engine crawlers find your site. One way to expedite this process is to get your content in front of as many eyes as possible. 

Establish a strong content distribution approach and help your content reach new networks! From social media platforms to email, there’s a bevy of channels to try.

Establishing a Long-Term Content Strategy: Six Months and Beyond

Technical issues resolved you’re ready to settle into the routine of monitoring, analyzing and updating your SEO strategy. You should center your approach around content creation, with keyword research at the core.

All other factors aside, a keyword-rich content strategy can be the most effective way to see real SEO results. The time you’ll dedicate to this task will differ depending on the kind of content you’re creating. A 500-word blog post will be shorter than a six-part web course, for example. 

Once you have a solid content strategy in place you might see more traffic in as soon as a few weeks. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll only establish regular, engaged visitors if you tackle this effort on an ongoing basis. Don’t create a great post just to raise your SEO for the month and neglect the blog the other 30 days. Your regular readers will see right through that exercise, reversing its intended effect.

How Long Does SEO Take? Partnerships Make the Difference

Your SEO strategy isn’t a slow cooker. You’ll never see the changes you want if you simply set it and forget it. You’ll also never get there by emulating a tired toddler in the middle of a road trip, asking “Are we there yet?” every few minutes. 

The only way to drive organic traffic to your site, boost your bottom line, and improve brand visibility is to take a constant, proactive approach to your SERPs ranking. Around every corner, look for ways you can maximize your SEO approach, build relationships, optimize keywords and stand apart from the pack. 

Need a little help achieving the growth you want? Still wondering, “How long does SEO take?” That’s where we come in.

We’re SEO experts dedicated to helping you make the most of your corner of the internet. We can leverage our industry expertise and past successes to save you months of researching, strategizing, and analyzing. Then, we’ll partner with you throughout the journey, explaining each step so never have to wonder what you’re working toward.

Contact us today to see how we can help you win the race on your own time.