One question that we get from clients all the time is “how long does it take for SEO to work?” With the high costs that can be associated with SEO, this is certainly a fair question to ask. Having an exact answer to this question isn’t always easy, but this article will help you to understand what you should expect.
Keyword Rankings Are Not As Important As You Think
When most people ask the question “how long does it take for SEO to work”, they are referring to keyword rankings and will generally say things like “I want to be position 1 for such and such keyword”. They then base the success or failure of an SEO strategy purely on keyword positions.
Although keyword rankings are important, they are only the means to get to the final outcome and it is this final outcome that needs to be the measurement of success. So, what is this final outcome? Conversions!
The definition of conversions will differ depending upon the business at hand. In the majority of cases, this will be leads and sales revenue. However, some businesses may have goals such as increasing subscribers or e-book downloads. Knowing your own individual goal for your SEO strategy is the first step to answering the question “how long does it take for SEO to work”.
How SEO Has Changed
It isn’t surprising that many people define the success or failure of an SEO strategy based on keyword rankings because if we go back 10 years or so, this was mainly what SEO was about.
Back in the day when Google’s algorithm wasn’t so advanced as it is today, the aim of SEO was to rank for head terms like “photographer London”. Ranking for such a keyword was relatively easy; all you had to do was stuff your content with these words and build loads of backlinks from any site that would give, or sell, you a link.
As long as you had more mentions of that keyword in your content and more backlinks to your site than your competitors, you would outrank them.
However, those days have long gone and search engines are far more advanced. Now, with the likes of Siri and Alexa for voice search, long-tail keywords are becoming more and more important.
In the photographer example, people are now more likely to search using actual questions like “where can I find a photographer in London”. Others may also word that query differently, such as “where can I find a London based photographer” or “where to hire a photographer in the London area”. As you can see, the number of different variations of these phrases could go on and on.
The Question You Should Be Asking
Due to the way SEO has evolved, ranking for a particular keyword on its own is no longer ideal because even if you did rank at position 1, you will still be missing out on the traffic that could be generated from all the other combinations of that same keyword or topic.
So, going back to the people who ask “I want to be position 1 for such and such keyword”. I would say that their understanding of SEO is outdated and they should be thinking more along the lines of “how can I get my content to rank well to enable me to reach the widest and most relevant audience possible, to maximise my conversions”.
How Long Does It Take For SEO To Work?
Now that we have cleared up the matter on what SEO ultimately aims to do, what can people expect in terms of getting a return from their SEO efforts or spend?
This is actually a very hard question to answer, due to the number of factors involved. When clients ask me “how long does it take for SEO to work”, I usually tell my clients that they have to give SEO a minimum of 6 months before they will start to see results. However, this is a very generalised statement and the time will vary from client to client.
To evaluate this properly on an individual basis, we need to look at factors such as:
- How long your website has been around
- How much SEO has been done on your website previously
- The amount of content your website has
- The quality of the content on your website
- The number and quality of backlinks pointing to your website
- The overall strength and authority of your brand
The thing to remember is no two websites ever start off in the same place when it comes to answering the question “how long does it take for SEO to work”. You need to have realistic expectations of what can be achieved by looking at where your own website is now, and where the other websites that are ranking highly are. The bigger the gap, the longer SEO will take.
Although I tell clients that they should expect to start seeing results after 6 months, this is only the start. For some businesses it can take 6 months, some 12 months and some can be 2 years before they start seeing big returns.
SEO is not a question of whether it will work…it is a question of how long it will take before it works. It is a long-term investment, so if you are looking for quick results, SEO is definitely not the route you should be taking.
However, if you have realistic expectations and have budgeted correctly for the long term, you will reap the benefits. The results you can expect from SEO continuously grows, so the returns you get in 6 months will be less than what you get in 12 months, which will be less than in 2 years, and so on. The longer the investment, the greater the returns.
What Can I Expect In The First 6 Months Of SEO?
You have decided that SEO is the right path for you and your business by choosing one of our SEO packages. So, what can you expect from your SEO specialist in those initial 6 months?
The breakdown below helps to explain the general process that any reputable SEO specialist will take, to get your strategy off on the right foot, helping answer the question “how long does it take for SEO to work”.
The first month is mainly spent doing all the setup and research work, and there will be a lot more work that you may initially think. The amount of work will vary from client to client, depending upon the services you are having, but may include:
- Setting up your website correctly in Google Analytics, Google Search Console & Google MyBusiness
- Setting the website up correctly in Bing Webmaster Tools and Bing Places
- Creating you an account in various rank tracking, auditing and reporting software
- Carrying out the market and keyword research to find the most profitable keywords
- Creating a keyword map for your website to define the strategy
Once all the setup work is done, the second month is typically spent getting the website itself in order. This will involve carrying out a full audit on the site to check for coding and crawling issues, which will help both search engines and visitors crawl and navigate your website better. At this stage, your SEO specialist may also suggest on-page improvements that can be made from a front-end perspective, to help with conversions.
Once the site as a whole has been improved, it will then be time to audit and optimise each page of the website individually, based on the keyword map. This can be a time-consuming process, especially if your website has many pages. On larger websites, this may roll over into the third month.
Depending upon the size of your website and how long the on-page improvements take, you may start to see the website move up the search results by month 3, although traffic increases may not occur yet.
The key here is patients. On-page changes can make a website move up the rankings, but it can also make it move down. So it is imperative that your SEO specialist records the changes made and tracks the rankings closely to see what improvements, if any, occur. Then, after a few weeks, you may find that your website needs further changes, based on the results.
In the third month, it is time to build upon your existing content by means of blogging. Your SEO specialist will plan out topics in an editorial calendar and will work with you to start getting that content written and added to the website.
It is around this time where social media promotion is usually introduced, as a way to promote your new content to encourage people to share and link to your website.
Towards the end of the third month, your SEO specialist should be in a position to start looking at link building and in most cases, this will start with building citations for local SEO. Your SEO specialist will start by doing a citation audit to see where your business has been listed online and will work with you to make sure all the details are correct.
Once the existing citations are looking healthy, they will start to build new citations and work with you to encourage your happy customers to leave reviews on your listings.
By month 4, the citations should start to have an effect and will help your website rank higher in the local search results. You may start to see an increase in visits from your local listing and even the odd phone call or driving direction request may start to come in.
It is around this time that your SEO specialist will start to look at the more advanced areas of link building. This will typically start with doing a competitor audit to see the amount and types of links your competitors have and putting a strategy in place to allow you to compete.
Now your website has some linkable content through the addition of blog articles, your SEO specialist will start doing outreach. This involves making a list of websites in your niche that can be approached to promote your content to directly. The aim here is that they will like what they read and therefore link to it from within their own content, as a valuable resource for their own readers.
By month 5, you should start to see some backlinks come in from the outreach and competitor link building activities. Although, search engines may not have picked up those links yet as part of their crawls.
However, search engines should have started to pick up more and more of the citations that are being built and you should be seeing further improvements in both local rankings and enquiries because of this.
Despite this, conversion rates may still be low as you will only be reaching a small, local audience. Only once your higher value links from the other link building activities kick in, will you be in a much stronger position to rank nationally.
By month 6, all services will be in full swing and search engines should start to pick up all aspects of the work being done.
The addition of high-value and natural links to your website will start to help increase your domain authority, which means you will be in a much stronger position to rank for more competitive and national type keywords (head keywords).
It is at this point that you should start to see larger increases in traffic, leading to a greater number of enquiries and a higher conversion rate.
From this point onwards, every website will be in a different position. Some websites may just need to keep everything going to slowly grow or maintain the conversions they are receiving. Whereas other websites may not be seeing any results yet and need more time, which may be down to them operating in a more competitive market.
Don’t Stop Too Soon
Unfortunately, I see many people invest in SEO and end up quitting after 6 months because they say they haven’t got the results to justify the costs. Again, this is a big sign that they have entered into SEO with unrealistic expectations and in most cases, quitting this early is like throwing all of that money spent down the drain.
My advice to all our clients on our SEO packages who ask “how long does it take for SEO to work” is to ensure you have 6 to 12 months worth of budget already in place. If you don’t, then you shouldn’t be investing in SEO. SEO is a long-term marketing tactic and should never be looked at as a quick way to increase sales.
However, if you do plan to invest in SEO with realistic expectations, a healthy budget and a lot of patience, it will offer one of the best returns on investment possible.
One thing final thing that I always try to remind clients of, is that the costs associated with SEO mainly go into the time required to make it a success. So, the more you spend, the more time your SEO specialist can afford to give to your strategy and the quicker the results you can expect.