Our clients often ask us how long it will take to see SEO results – a question to which there is no definitive answer.
Every website is different and no two verticals are the same – what works for one company won’t work for another so the answer depends on many different aspects, including:
- How authoritative/established your website is
- How far from meeting Google’s ranking criteria you currently are
- The vertical you are operating in
- The CMS your site is built on
- The budget you are willing/able to invest
How authoritative/established your website is
If you have two sites that are both optimised properly, targeting the same keywords, are technically sound and are roughly in the same place, it is (generally speaking) the site and pages on the site with the higher authority that will rank higher.
What dictates authority?
Authority comes from a number of elements, primarily the age of the site and its backlink profile.
The older a site, the more Google has crawled it, meaning you are more established in Google’s eyes.
The more established your site is in Google’s eyes, the higher Google is likely to rank the site. The higher your site ranks, the more likely people are to have linked to your site it if offers something worth linking to.
An Ahrefs study looked at the ages of the top 10 ranking pages of two million keyword searches:
As you can see above, to enter the top 10 (on average) your page has to be at least one year old and for those ranking #1, the average age is just below 3.
Notably, the study found that the majority of pages ranking in the top 10 were less than a year old. Just over 1% of pages ranking position 1 were produced within a year, meaning nearly 99% of all pages won’t be in position 1 for at least a year.
This goes to highlight how tough it is to get pages ranking quickly, however, there is a shortcut – effective SEO.
You can be sure only a tiny percentage of the billions of pages published on the internet each year have benefited from any SEO activity, yet it is with effective SEO work that your site can be one of the very few that reach the top 10 within one year of launch.
Site backlink profile
Effective SEO can help launch your pages to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) at a fairly rapid rate.
To achieve results, you need to ensure your website:
- Meets Google’s ranking criteria
- Is optimised properly
- Has a good amount of other websites linking to it
A ‘good amount’ is completely dependent on the industry you are in and the links your competitors’ sites have pointing at them, but if you want to rank highly and your site is in a similar shape to that of your rivals, you need to have a stronger backlink profile than them.
Another study from Ahrefs supports this claim, finding that although the number of referring domains a page has pointing to it is a strong a ranking factor, the quality of those domains is even more valuable.
Therefore if you want to rank highly and quickly, you need to be building lots of quality, topical and authoritative links from other websites to your own.
How far off from meeting Google’s ranking criteria you currently are
With any new client, the first steps to SEO success are ensuring the site is of a high enough standard to rank well. Without being technically sound, your site has no chance of ranking for any mid-high level competitive keywords.
If you imagine Google has a list of criteria for a site to adhere to in order to rank, such as:
- Unique content
- Non-duplicated metadata
- Canonicals on all pages
- Minimal redirects
- Correct Hreflang implementation across different country top level domains (TLDs)
- Mobile responsiveness
- Fast page speed
How far you are away from mastering every facet of technical SEO on the list dictates how long it will take your site to be in a position to start ranking.
The more of these criteria you can tick off, to sooner you will start moving up in SERPs for your target keywords. Google would not deliver a page that wasn’t responsive on a mobile device to someone searching on a mobile device. Similarly, your site would not rank highly if it was so slow, the user would leave before any content loaded.
Google’s aim is to satisfy the intent of the searcher as quickly as possible. To do so, it will only show the pages that are most deserving of ranking at the top of the SERPs, otherwise, it risks the searcher moving to a rival search engine.
The newer your site, the less chance of you having legacy technical problems. The fewer problems you have, the quicker your site will start to rank.
Issues occur when sites have:
- Had years of neglect
- Had poor SEO – either inadvertently or intentionally – as a short-term fix
- Been poorly built without SEO in mind then want to start ranking quickly
Sites with considerable issues take time to fix. Manpower is required, together with Googlebot hours. Once an issue is fixed, you then need to wait for Google to re-crawl the site and decide if the work carried out is acceptable. This is often an arduous, lengthy process.
Frequently, technical SEO work will be carried out with no visible effect on traffic for 6-9 months, sometimes longer on enterprise sites. This does not mean the work wasn’t correct or valuable – it is simply a matter of how long these things can take.
The vertical you are operating in
Some sectors are traditionally more competitive online than others, such as insurance, financial services and marketing. This is a key factor in determining how long it will take to see the results of SEO
Two primary factors make a vertical competitive online:
- The quantity of websites operating in the sector. The more websites you are competing with, the more optimised websites you are competing against
- The quantity of domains the webpages and sites ranking for your ideal target keywords have linking to them. Even if you aren’t competing against many other businesses in your sector, that doesn’t mean there aren’t authoritative websites ranking for search terms you wish to be visible for
In some cases, you can rank highly for non-competitive keywords in a matter of weeks with nothing more than correct optimisation of a page.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you are looking to rank for keywords in competitive industries such as finance, insurance or marketing, it will take much longer as you will need to ensure your page and domain authorities are as good – if not better – than those already ranking. This is done by building links.
The process of building links takes time. If you are targeting a keyword where the barrier of entry into the top 10 is a high number of links or greater authority, that is where you will need to invest.
The CMS your site is built on
Nine times out of ten, this isn’t an issue. The majority of sites are hosted on WordPress which is very receptive to on-page and technical SEO implementation.
Issues arise when websites are built on custom CMS platforms that aren’t easy to work on, or even require a developer to implement simple changes. This is restrictive and hinders SEO progress. In some cases, a migration to a new CMS is required if the existing platform isn’t able to meet the demands of an ever-changing Google algorithm.
The budget you are willing/able to invest
Unsurprisingly, the more SEO activity you undertake, the quicker the results will be.
The current state of your website will determine how long it will be to start seeing results – it is not uncommon for heavy technical SEO work to take 6, 9, 12 months after completion before Google fully understands what has been actioned and starts to adjust your rankings accordingly.
That’s not to say there is no point in undertaking other SEO work in that time – there are, after all, four different facets of SEO:
If you have undertaken the technical work needed to bring a site up to Google’s standards but are waiting for Google to crawl and index the site again, you should ensure your site is optimised properly.
Optimising a site begins with keyword research to ensure you are targeting keywords that will send potentially converting traffic to your site. You then take these chosen keywords, map them to the relevant pages (creating new pages if needed) and optimise the meta data. Depending on the size of the site, this can be a lengthy process.
Just because a page is optimised for a certain keyword doesn’t necessarily mean Google will see it that way. If you have sufficient copy on the page (a minimum of 300 words) you won’t just rank for one keyword but many.
This is a crucial process as you can make tweaks to a page’s meta data (in particular the H2s) to help increase the rankings of secondary keywords, maximising a page’s visibility.
There are many other on-page strategies that can also be undertaken with the same aim – internal linking being one of the more important.
On-page optimisation is not something that is simply done once. It is an ongoing process and one that can leave you slipping down the SERPs if you don’t stay on top of it.
Link building is crucial in achieving SEO results– the more authoritative your site becomes the higher you are going to rank. The sooner you start link building, the sooner your site’s authority will increase.
Google won’t know what you are trying to achieve without sufficient content on your site. While optimised meta data is a signpost, Google likes to crawl through copy to get a better understanding of a page’s aims.
Every page on your site you would like to rank needs to feature at least 300 words of optimised, engaging copy. Without this content, Google will class the page as thin and thin pages never rank well.
Alongside optimised, valuable site copy, producing blog posts with the aim of answering questions your target audience is asking Google is a great strategy of making your brand visible to people who perhaps haven’t heard of you before.
The more copy on your site, the more keywords you can rank for. The more keywords you can rank for, the more traffic you can send to your site. That is the value of content.
The requirements of the four facets of SEO essentially mean your work is never done and you can’t really do too much. When Google makes a large update to one of its algorithms, more work will be needed!
Google can and often does change its guidelines on what it likes to see from a website so you need reactive SEO work to ensure your site’s visibility isn’t getting negatively impacted. Loss of visibility = loss of traffic = loss of leads/sales.