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How Long does SEO Take?

Oct 30

How long it takes for SEO to work depends on three things

Find out what role competition, incoming links, and content play in this.

It's also one of the most frustrating questions because clients want a clear answer, but there's no way to give one because there are so many different factors.

This is because, in addition to all the factors that go into optimising your own website, you also have to look at all the same factors that go into optimising your competitors' websites.

This can make a question that was already hard to answer even harder.

There is an infamous phrase that all SEO Swindon conferences are filled with. 

"It Depends"

I can only give you a range of four to twenty four months.

This range is based on the three most important factors that affect how long your SEO will take:

Competition

Inbound links

Content

Even with the data behind these variables, there is no way to answer this question with a formula.

But there is a lot more to the answer than just guessing.

To figure out how long SEO will take, you need to look at the data behind these three variables, start the work, and see how quickly you start to see results. Then, you can extrapolate that information to get an idea of how long it might take to reach a certain position.

The Role of Competition in How Long SEO Takes

You probably won't have any competition if you sell something like salmon-flavored breakfast cereal.

But those of us who sell things that real people will actually buy will face different levels of competition based on how much demand there is.

For example, a plumber serving a small local market would have less competition than a real estate agency serving a large city, which would have less competition than a national mortgage company.

As you might expect, it will take you longer to get to the top of the search results if you have a lot of competition.

This will happen in a consistent way: it will be easier and faster to beat the lower-ranked pages, but as you move up the search results, each step will usually take a lot more work and time.

This is because there are so many competitors and because the top-ranking pages usually have SEO experts working for them.

A part of competition that is often overlooked is the link between how much competition there is in a niche and how good the SEO professionals are who run the top-ranked pages in that niche.

Think of it this way:

Companies find a niche based on what customers want, which makes the market more competitive.

Because of the competition, they have to offer better deals, which means they have to get a bigger share of the market to stay in business.

In this kind of business environment, bigger companies with more money tend to do better because they can hire the best SEO professionals.

If this happens to you, you have a longer and harder battle ahead of you.

So, we need to look at all of our competitors' SEO strategies, but we can't just look at where they are now. That's just the beginning.

We also have to look at what they've done in the past few months and keep track of what they do going forward.

This is important because if you want to rank higher than your competitors, you have to work harder than they are.

The Role of Inbound Links in How Long SEO Takes

Links still play a big role in SEO, which is not a secret, but how long it takes depends on a number of deeper things.

The first is how many other sites link to yours.

In general, having more links will help you get better at SEO faster, but it's not just about the number of links.

In general, a smaller number of high-quality links from relevant websites will have a much bigger effect on your results than a larger number of low-quality links from irrelevant websites.

This is also important because high-quality links are usually harder to get, so your competitors will have a harder time copying them.

And, unlike links that are made automatically, they tend to last longer.

But the rate at which you get links and the rate at which you have gotten links in the past can also be factors. This is because a sudden increase could be a sign that you are trying to manipulate your ranking in an unnatural way.

If you use techniques that don't follow Google's Webmaster Guidelines and your number of inbound links suddenly goes up, which triggers a manual review, you could get penalised.

This looks natural:

natural link growth pattern

This seems less natural, but it could be perfectly natural depending on other things, like recent media coverage, a new product launch, or an amazing content marketing campaign:

somewhat natural link growth pattern:

This doesn't look any more natural than a fake tan:

unnatural way for links to grow

So, in general, the faster you can get relevant, high-quality links, the faster you will move up in the rankings, but there is a catch.

Your link velocity, or how fast you get links, should grow in a fairly steady way.

If you follow Google's rules for building links, this should happen on its own.

Most of the time, you don't see strange patterns that could hurt your progress until you use "black hat" methods.

The Role of Content in How Long SEO Takes

How quickly you see results also depends on the content you put on your website. The first thing you need to know is that quality matters a lot.

Your ranking won't change if you spend days writing hundreds of 300-word articles that you ordered on Fiverr.

Now, don't take this to mean that every piece of content you publish needs to be 4,000 words long.

In fact, there is neither a minimum nor an ideal length. The content just needs to be long enough to solve the problem of the visitor.

There is a myth that you should put out new content slowly. This comes from the idea that putting out a lot of new content at once could look unnatural to Google, which could hurt your ranking.

It's easy to see why people would believe this myth, but Google has proven it to be false.

From an SEO point of view, there is no reason not to publish great content right away if it is ready to go.

The sooner you get it out there, the sooner it will help your ranking.

SEO will only take longer if you wait.

It's important to know that a website's ranking does depend on how long it's been around.

In other words, newer pages don't tend to rank as well as older pages, but that's because of other things, not because they are newer.

Having said that, I think it's better to keep a steady publishing schedule than to publish in spurts, for two reasons:

It shows Google that you are always adding new content to your website, which usually makes their spiders crawl it more often. This helps you move faster with SEO.

It gets people to come back to your website more often, which may help Google see that the user experience is good and speed up your SEO efforts.

But it's not just about making content.

Getting rid of content can also cut down on the time it takes to do SEO.

The key is to figure out what content to keep, what content to improve, and what content to get rid of.

Danny Goodwin held a webinar about this topic. In it, he talked about how Search Engine Journal used this method to get rid of some pages that weren't doing well, which helped the site do better overall in the search results.

In the end, the key is to create original, useful content that meets the needs of your audience and keeps getting better.

And if you needed another reason to do this, longer, higher-quality content tends to get more links than shorter, lower-quality content.

Brian Dean of Backlinko looked at 912 million blog posts and found that long-form content gets 77.2% more links on average than short articles.

So, content is important on its own, and it also affects your efforts to build links, so it's like getting two things for the price of one.

So, Is It All Just an Educated Guess?

We often make mistakes at work, just like meteorologists do, even though we have a lot of knowledge, experience, and tools.

And, just like I want to choke the local weatherman until he turns blue when the rain that he said wouldn't happen ruins my family plans, our clients often feel the same way when they don't see results from their SEO campaign as quickly as they would like.

Part of an SEO professional's job is to make sure that clients' needs are met.

In this area, many people fail.

Far too many professionals tell clients what they want to hear, so many clients today have unrealistic goals. Because of this, a lot of people think this only takes a few weeks or even months.

In just a few weeks, you might start to see your organic ranking go up and your traffic go up for keyword topics with little competition.

On the other hand, topics with a moderate amount of competition could take months, while phrases with a lot of competition could take a year or more.

For example, my team was able to put a website at the top of the search results for the term "marketing company." This brought in a steady stream of leads for several years.

Even though we had the skills, people, and resources to do it, it took us about a year of steady work to get there.

On the other hand, a client who had almost no online presence came to us because a website had published some unflattering information about him that was taken out of context.

Since it was at the top of Google when he searched for his own name, it cost him a lot of business.

We were lucky that there wasn't much competition for his own name, and that website didn't have much authority, so it only took us a few weeks to fill the first few pages of search results with pages we controlled.

I've also seen clients and even agencies try to speed up the process by doing things that go against Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

This might work in the short term, but in the long run, you will have to pay a fine and end up further behind where you started.

What are Google Saying?

You need to be ready to put in a few months to a year of work before you see results from SEO, and even then, you won't be the best.

Google had this to say about it:

Tim Soulo did a thorough statistical analysis and found that only 5.7% of newly published pages will make it to Google's top 10 within a year.

Even if you do get there, you won't be able to rest on your laurels because your competitors, both old and new, will always be trying to take your place.

In other words, this is an ongoing project that will never really be done.

Conclusion

You can't know for sure how long SEO will take until you start working on it.

But you can make a very good guess based on a number of factors. Then, as time goes on, you'll have a better idea of how long it might take in your niche compared to your competitors.

How quickly you see results also depends on the content you put on your website. The first thing you need to know is that quality matters a lot.

Your ranking won’t change if you spend days writing hundreds of 300-word articles that you ordered on Fiverr.

Now, don’t take this to mean that every piece of content you publish needs to be 4,000 words long.

In fact, there is neither a minimum nor an ideal length. The content just needs to be long enough to solve the problem of the visitor.

There is a myth that you should put out new content slowly. This comes from the idea that putting out a lot of new content at once could look unnatural to Google, which could hurt your ranking.

It’s easy to see why people would believe this myth, but Google has proven it to be false.

From an SEO point of view, there is no reason not to publish great content right away if it is ready to go.

The sooner you get it out there, the sooner it will help your ranking.

SEO will only take longer if you wait.

It’s important to know that a website’s ranking does depend on how long it’s been around.

In other words, newer pages don’t tend to rank as well as older pages, but that’s because of other things, not because they are newer.

Having said that, I think it’s better to keep a steady publishing schedule than to publish in spurts, for two reasons:

It shows Google that you are always adding new content to your website, which usually makes their spiders crawl it more often. This helps you move faster with SEO.

It gets people to come back to your website more often, which may help Google see that the user experience is good and speed up your SEO efforts.

But it’s not just about making content.

Getting rid of content can also cut down on the time it takes to do SEO.

The key is to figure out what content to keep, what content to improve, and what content to get rid of.

Danny Goodwin held a webinar about this topic. In it, he talked about how Search Engine Journal used this method to get rid of some pages that weren’t doing well, which helped the site do better overall in the search results.

In the end, the key is to create original, useful content that meets the needs of your audience and keeps getting better.

And if you needed another reason to do this, longer, higher-quality content tends to get more links than shorter, lower-quality content.

Brian Dean of Backlinko looked at 912 million blog posts and found that long-form content gets 77.2% more links on average than short articles.

So, content is important on its own, and it also affects your efforts to build links, so it’s like getting two things for the price of one.