How Long Does SEO Take to Work

The time frame for your business to see results from SEO can be anywhere from one week to a year depending on

  • What you are using to gauge your success,
  • The nature of the technical problems that might be impacting your site,
  • How long your site has been around and the
  • Competitiveness of your marketplace.

In short, it all depends on the context.

In this post, I’ll outline a couple of different scenarios to better help you understand what you can expect and when you can expect it.

Existing Website with Technical Problems

If you have an existing website that has been around for some time, has some good existing backlinks but is not getting found because of some technical issues or even because it’s poorly optimised, you might see rankings improvements within a week.

What I mean is that once you fix the technical issues and improve your site optimisations, your site might start ranking for relevant phrases.

Ranking anywhere is better than not ranking at all right?

Once Google knows what your site is about, once you remove the blocks to Google figuring that out, then your site is in the game.

  • Timeframe: Weeks
  • The measure of success: Your site is now ranking for relevant keyword phrases and is starting the steady climb up those rankings.  Those rankings may be way off page 1 but it’s a start.
  • Traffic Impact: Unless your rankings are for keyword phrases with high search volumes and you’re page 1,  you’ll see no real improvement in traffic at this point.
  • Analogy:  It’s like unplugging a dam.

Brand New Website

If you’re launching a brand new website, with no existing backlink profile, and no online presence at all,  it’s going to be a case of two steps forward, once step back. It might take three to six months before you start seeing real transactional traffic to your site.

What I mean is that if the site is completely new,  Google has no data on you at all and doesn’t know where you should be ranked.

Once you launch,  you start creating those “real business” internal and external signals to let Google (and others) know that you are in fact a real business, that you do x,y, and z, and you are open for trade.

These signals include:

  • Visibility in local and niche directories
  • Non-link citations and mentions of your business
  • Press links
  • Visibility in Google My Business
  • Optimised targeted pages and content on your website
  • Visibility in Google analytics and Google search console
  • Other links

What you typically see is your site will start ranking, but it will do so way off page 1.

And those rankings will fluctuate while Google starts to find those signals and your site starts getting graded and ranked against all of the other sites out there.

Your goal is to focus on activities that will build “real business” signals and acquire quality links and mentions of your business.

  • Timeframe: Months – Three to Six months for local or non-competitive rankings.  Twelve months or more to see page 1 or 2 rankings in competitive spaces.
  • The measure of success: Your site is ranking for the phrases you are targeting and shows a steady increase in organic traffic and conversions as your keywords start hitting page 1.
  • Traffic Impact: You will only see improved organic traffic if you hit page 1 for high volume keywords or for many low-volume, but very relevant keywords.  i.e. Long tail keywords.
  • Analogy:  It’s like running a 1/2 marathon.  It’s a long-term play, expect to see some setbacks along the way.

A large website with  thousands of pages

If you have a very large website with thousands of pages then you’re probably pretty familiar with SEO.  Whether you run a large e-commerce site, a business directory or a large content site, I’m guessing you’ve had a few agencies and consultants through the door in your time.

More often than not, SEO on sites like this focuses on the technical side, dealing with issues like content improvement, internal linking, architectural changes, know where this is going.

What this typically means is that any changes you make to your site take time to update in the Google index.

As a result,  you may see fluctuations in rankings, organic traffic, indexation rates and numbers as Google figures out what the heck is going on.

  • Timeframe: Months – Think in quarters rather than weeks.  For really big sites your goal is to try to make sure Google can find the changes you’ve made to your site and then react accordingly.
  • The measure of success:  Success here is measured in % changes in key metrics.  Indexation rates, # of pages in the Google index compared to # of pages in your sitemap, site load speed, # of organic landing pages and much more.
  • Traffic Impact:  The traffic impact of a successful SEO fix is typically slow at first but if it’s the right fix, it will have a greater impact over time as more and more “fixed pages” get indexed and ranked accordingly.
  • Organic traffic will increase as more of your content gets indexed and ranked.
  • Analogy:  Like turning a cruise liner.  There’s a lot happening beneath the water but it takes time to see the impact.

During this time though you should start looking at other parts of your online marketing.  

Relying on SEO alone is not a long-term strategy and you need to start thinking about how you can amplify your SEO and content activities with some paid media strategies.