The question “how long does SEO take to work” itself is slightly misleading as it infers SEO will someday be “finished”.
The truth is, SEO is never “finished”. SEO is a long-term process that requires consistent upkeep to gain and maintain organic visibility ahead of your competitors.
In this article, read about what affects how long it will take for you to see results from your SEO efforts and what we recommend you do to help move the process along as quickly as possible.
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How long does it take to see the results of SEO?
It’s the age-old SEO answer that everyone hates – it can depend on several factors.
A lot of articles you could read on this subject will give an average answer of 6-12 months.
Whilst this is a fair period to expect results in if you are consistently working on your SEO over the 6-12 months, there are so many factors that could affect this.
How long it takes to see the results from an SEO campaign depends on:
- How much time you have to allocate to SEO
- What budget you have for SEO
- How quickly SEO work is implemented on site
- How consistently SEO work is implemented on site
- The capabilities of your dev team
- The capabilities of your CMS & hosting
- Whether there is a Google Algorithm update and what the update changes
- How quickly Google notices the changes you make to your site – including copy changes to existing pages and new pages that are created
- How competitive your niche is
This is why, unfortunately, with SEO, an accurate forecast is impossible. Whilst we can set targets and aim for a certain uplift, there is no guarantee of reaching this within a set time frame, due to the factors mentioned above.
To a degree, some results of SEO work can be seen almost immediately, such as keyword ranking movements. But if we’re talking about bigger metrics like overall organic revenue, this will take much longer to filter through, as this will increase as a result of all the other key metrics increasing.
Why does SEO take so long to work?
Sustainable SEO optimisation is the product of consistent and ongoing time and effort which is why it can feel like it takes so long to work in comparison with other channels such as PPC that offer much quicker visibility.
There are two main different variables that affect the speed at which SEO can work:
- How long it takes to implement SEO work
- How long it takes for Google to notice and reward SEO work
How long it takes to implement SEO work
Businesses often ask an agency for a full audit of their website which provides them with a list of 20+ major, strategical actions to set their site up to SEO best practice.
It’s important to implement these actions as soon as possible, as you will struggle to see any results from your SEO work in the first 6 months – which is generally agreed upon by the agency.
Getting SEO work implemented onto a website is a process which requires communication between all parties involved in the website’s upkeep. So, if your business uses an external SEO agency, this could include as many as the following:
- In-house SEO/web team
- Agency team
- Dev team – whether in-house or external
- CRO / UX teams – whether in-house or external
That’s a lot of different people with different views who have all got to agree on what gets implemented, when and how.
On the other hand, even if you are making a start on the recommendations straight away, some tasks end up taking longer than planned once you get into them. What can be thought of as a simple development task by an SEO might not be once your dev team have investigated the set-up of the back end of the site.
Working together as one joined-up team to create a sustainable roadmap to follow on an ongoing basis is the key to SEO success. As the actions will often require input from all parties, due to different access levels and sign-off processes, it’s better to plan for regular implementation of quality work at a sustainable pace than attempt to implement everything at once to an average standard.
How long it takes for Google to notice and reward SEO work
Google is much more advanced than it used to be, so tricking them no longer works – we’re talking old-school tactics like keyword stuffing and buying links. It now takes time for sites to earn a reputation as being a quality and authoritative source of information in Google’s eyes.
This is partly due to the millions of web pages Google has to crawl across the whole internet nowadays. We can’t expect immediate crawling whenever we make a small change on our one web page, which matters even more in competitive industries. Depending on the amount of competition for the keywords you’re trying to rank for, it will take more or less time for Google to
- Crawl all of your website and content
- Compare it all with the quality of the competitors’
Therefore, the more websites you’re competing against, the longer it will take you to climb up the rankings.
And the length of time it takes Google to trust your website is partly due to Google needing to see consistent effort from you before it will trust your site, in a similar way to how we take a while to trust a new person we meet. Sites can build this trust by providing consistent quality content and building a natural backlink profile over time, to a site which is set up to technical best practice.
Although not an official ranking factor, there’s no denying that domain age can also positively impact how quickly a site can rank. The longer a site has been around, the more chance it has had to build up this reputation, which again explains why it can take a while for Google to notice and reward a newer site’s SEO efforts, but it’s definitely not the be-all and end-all factor.
How soon can SEO work?
SEO can show some immediate results in as little as a couple of weeks or a month, but, as discussed, it will take longer for the overall site performance metrics to improve.
In any SEO strategy there should be a mix of short- and long-term actions which allows you to make a start on some of the quicker-to-implement actions straight away to see some initial uplift, but also begin work on the higher priority actions that will take longer to roll out in full or require continuous improvement.
Quick-win actions bring quick, unsustainable results
On-page optimisations such as updating title tags and implementing keyword-optimised header tags can often bring some fairly immediate progress in terms of moving the rankings for those keywords used. These are often referred to as quick wins but without supporting work to follow up this initial optimisation, can often result in an initial boost, followed by a drop
Some technical actions from an initial audit can also be rolled out as a “quick win”. But, even if you fix all of the technical issues that come from this initial audit and are happy that you’ve seen an uplift, the technical set-up of a site is something that requires ongoing monitoring.
As new pages are added to a website over time, pages are removed, or the business expands into new countries, this can all affect the technical set-up of the site which can result in more technical items to fix at a later date. Ongoing monitoring enables you to continuously clean these up over time rather than have to do a full overhaul audit again in a couple of years’ time.
Unfortunately, however, quick wins will be just that if not followed up with sustainable, ongoing work and any results gained will likely not be maintained.
Long-term strategies bring slower, but sustainable results
Long-term SEO tactics are needed on a regular, ongoing basis to help build the website’s reputation over time.
Creating a long-term content plan to answer related search queries around your initial on-page optimisations will help to maintain positions gained and boost them further. As this supporting content is built up over time to form a cluster around the target page, this will position you as an authority on that topic as you’re able to provide plenty of information around it. This doesn’t happen overnight though, quality content takes time to be carefully planned out, researched and written.
Once all the initial technical foundation work is out of the way and you have built up some quality content on-site, a long-term and always-on link-building plan will help to increase the site’s overall authority. But, again, this is not something you can expect to build overnight. A sudden increase in the number of links pointing to a website is likely to flag as unnatural activity and may result in Google penalising the site for a deliberate attempt to manipulate search results, as domain authority increases as a result of sustained, natural link building over time.
Therefore, rolling out these long-term strategies consistently is the only way you can expect to see long-term SEO success.
How do I know if SEO is working?
SEO efforts can be tracked using a number of tools together to give a full picture of whether your SEO strategy is working or not.
We’d recommend setting up SEO tracking as soon as you start so that you have a benchmark of where you were before any work was started.
Keyword tracking software
Setting up a keyword rank tracking project for the core keywords you’re trying to improve your visibility for will allow you to keep an eye on how your position for these moves over time.
You can expect to see progress here before you see progress in any overall metrics.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console will allow you to monitor metrics such as:
- Average Position
As your positions increase for the keywords your site ranks for, you should start to see your Search Console metrics going up.
As your rankings increase and you’re in higher positions for more keywords your impressions should improve as your site is being served more.
As your impressions increase, your clicks should increase – more users are seeing you so there’s more chance that more of these users will click through from the SERPs to your site.
This is where you can accurately track overall performance metrics such as organic sessions in comparison with other channels, as well as revenue generated by organic search.
As a result of more users clicking through to your site, your organic sessions will increase. There is therefore a higher chance of users converting through organic and thus increasing your organic revenue.
When reporting on your SEO efforts, our best advice is to educate those that you’re reporting into on the need to be patient and make sure you’re looking in the right places to see progress depending on what you’ve been working on. You can’t expect to see organic revenue increase as soon as you’ve updated one title tag! But, you can expect to see your position for target keywords used in it to see an initial uplift.
I’m number 1, can I stop SEO now?
Once you do get to the top of your game – you’ve made it and reached the number 1 spot for your big money keyword – what now, does the SEO work stop?
Of course not!
Circling back to what we said at the beginning of the article, SEO is never finished. If you reach the top spot and pause all your efforts there, your competitors working consistently on their own SEO to try to catch you up will soon be able to overtake you.
Even without the worry of competitors, it’s important to constantly monitor your site and Google’s algorithm changes to ensure that:
- Pages are correctly managed ongoing – be that the addition of new pages or the removal of old pages.
- Google’s Algorithm changes don’t conflict with something you’re doing on your site – over the past 10 years, Google’s Algorithm has changed immensely through frequent updates, so something that was once ok may now not be.
Before embarking on a costly SEO retainer with an agency, consider whether you are willing to put the time and effort into the SEO strategy that it needs to succeed. If not, we can predict that you will give up after six months of not seeing any progress and think all the money invested has been wasted.
If you’re ready to start your SEO journey or need some help along the way, get in touch with our SEO experts who can help you execute it.