There are no shortcuts when it comes to SEO, it takes time and effort for SEO to work but once you get high rankings in Google the benefits worth more than the effort. How long will it take you to reach this point depends on a number of factors and this is what we will discuss below.
One of the most common questions I get from clients who hire me to work on their SEO has to do with how long it will take to get high google rankings for the keywords they target. This is a normal and an expected question to raise because when you invest in SEO you also want to see a return and in most cases you want it as fast as possible.
Unfortunately though, there is no straightforward answer to this since there are a lot of parameters that play a role and many things that you cannot control. Nevertheless there are some guidelines you can use to arrive at a realistic answer.
SEO has changed
Before trying to answer the ‘how long does it take’ question, it is necessary to understand that the last few years SEO has changed. It is still an important component of digital marketing and still works but it is no longer a matter of publishing content and generating links.
In the past SEO was about doing good keyword research to identify the keywords that are important for your business, creating pages targeting those keywords and generating links from article directories pointing to those pages.
Websites that did this successfully and on a large scale would experience an increase in rankings and traffic over a period of a couple of months.
Things have now changed. If you follow the model described above not only you will not achieve any good results but you risk in getting a penalty from Google and destroy your rankings and domain reputation.
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What you should do instead is:
- Publish high quality evergreen content on a regular basis
- Create and maintain not just any type of website but a great website
- Build your own web by interlinking your pages together
- Promote your website and content in social media
- Guest post in reputable websites not for the sole purpose of building incoming links to your website but for creating trust, authority and relationships with your website visitors.
What should you expect from SEO?
Another thing you should have clear in your mind is what to expect from SEO. There is no guarantee (and never believe anyone that says otherwise) that you can achieve high rankings for any highly competitive keywords in only a few months.
To get to the top positions for highly competitive keywords you need to work hard to bypass the thousands of websites competing for a place in the first page of the search results and this usually takes a lot more time and money.
What you should expect instead is improvement in your organic traffic and this usually can be achieved in a matter of a few months after you start consistent work on SEO.
I wanted to clarify this before we get into more details because it changes the answer to the given question:
How long does it take for SEO to work for competitive terms: a number of months or even years.
How long does it take for SEO to generate more organic traffic: this can be achieved in a few months.
Factors that play a role in the time needed for SEO to start working
Now that we are all in the same track, let’s see the factors affecting how much time is needed for SEO to work.
Website penalised by Google?
I will add this as the first factor because if your website is under a Google penalty then SEO will not work unless you get rid of the penalty. When a website is penalised by Google it looses it’s rankings (for all or some keywords) and in order to get back in the index you have to perform some actions. In a typical recovery scenario you will have to:
- Remove any artificially created links pointing to your website by either asking the webmasters to remove them or by disavowing the links using Google webmaster tools.
- Revise your website pages and remove or concatenate pages with thin content.
- Remove pages that have duplicate content.
- Add more pages with high quality relevant content.
- Work on your on-page SEO to ensure that Google can read and understand your page better.
- Submit a reconsideration request through webmaster tools (if you were hit by a manual penalty).
Once you do all the above you will have to wait for a number of months and until Google refreshes their algorithm to understand if you managed to recover or not. So in this case the answer how long does it take for SEO to start working depends on the severity of the penalty, how fast you took corrective actions, the type of actions you made and the time needed for Google to refresh their algorithm.
New or old websites
It is a fact that SEO works better for older than newer websites. Old websites are those that are online for at least ancouple of years while new websites are considered brand new domains that are less than 6 months old.
For the case of new websites don’t expect any considerable results in the first six months. If you start a new website and publish top quality content on a regular basis and do your social media promotion, you can expect to see some of your pages in the 2nd and 3rd page of Google in the first 3 months and then gradually some of your pages will move to page 1 after the 6th month.
This will probably not get you high amounts of traffic but it is a sign that what you are doing is in the right direction. If you keep pushing by getting more pages indexed and also a few natural links from trusted websites you will soon experience more and more organic traffic.
The rate of growth depends on the type of website, competition, type of content and other factors but as a rule of thumb six months is the minimum period until SEO for new websites will start to work.
In the case of older websites that have never been under a penalty things are different. Once you start doing SEO, especially if no SEO work has been performed on the site before, you will start seeing changes in ranking positions and traffic in a couple of months.
If you also start doing content marketing and a more aggressive social media promotion coupled with good off-page SEO you can turn things around and start receiving a reward for your efforts faster.
Number of pages in the Google index
Although rankings is not about having as many pages as possible indexed by Google, the number of pages you have in their index matters. There are several studies that show a direct relationship between the number of pages in index and ranking positions. The more high quality pages you have the better but don’t fall into the trap of creating pages for the sole purpose of increasing the index.
It is much better to have less pages that have valuable and useful content than a lot of pages with duplicate, incomplete or thin content.
The main point here is that SEO will work faster on websites with more than 100 quality pages in Google index compared to websites with less than 100 pages. This is somehow expected because it will take you some time to generate unique content to pass this threshold.
Quality and length of content
This is related to the above in the sense that you don’t just need any type of pages in the Google index but pages that:
- Have content that is unique and original
- Have content that is long – The average number of words in the first page of Google is 1500-2000 words.
- Have content that is SEO friendly and well presented
Type and number of incoming links
SEO work on Websites that already have a strong link profile can generate results faster than on websites with a weak profile. Incoming links are still an important SEO factor and if you already have this in place your work is much easier than waiting to get new links indexed and processed by Google.
A word of caution, don’t try to push things too much with incoming links. Even if you can get links by guest posting on highly reputable sites, don’t try and generate too many links fast since this will most probably raise some warning signals especially for websites that had very few links since their beginning.
You are not the only one doing SEO wishing to get better rankings for particular keywords. Almost in all niches there are hundreds or even thousands of websites competing for the same keywords you want to target.
It is thus normal and expected that for SEO to work you have to do more work than your competitors and due to the nature of Google and the way it ranks websites, it will also take more time to see results.
Targeting Local or Global SEO?
Lastly, a factor that impacts how much time is needed for SEO to work is the type of rankings you are targeting. If your objective is getting higher rankings for people searching with a location in their search query i.e local SEO then you can get results faster since the competition and difficulty is less than when trying to target users around the World i.e. global SEO.
For example if you do local SEO correctly for the query “SEO services long island” then you can get results faster than trying to rank for the general query “SEO services”.
SEO works, give it the time it needs
The bottom line and the takeaway from this post is that SEO works but you have to give it time.
Read how Neil managed to grow his blog to 100,000 visits per month, read my case study on how one of my blogs reached more than 250,000 visits per month or how Brian Dean managed to create one of the top marketing blogs; the list of success stories is endless and they all have something in common: Good SEO, top quality content, innovative online promotion techniques, a lot of patience and hard work.
If you doing SEO yourself keep your expectations low, start with an SEO audit, create a realistic plan and start monitoring your rankings always having in mind that what you are after is increase in your organic traffic and improvement of your rankings in general and not just for a group of ‘wish’ keywords which are usually highly competitive.
If you are outsourcing SEO to a company have in mind that effective SEO may cost you money in the beginning until you get any type of return from your investment. Don’t believe in shortcuts (they don’t exist) or in companies promising you high rankings in a couple of months but instead go with companies who have case studies to showcase, feedback from real clients and an SEO plan with realistic goals and timeframes.