This is one of the most common questions circling around the SEO industry, and unfortunately, the answer is not so simple.
The success of your campaigns and the time it takes to see results can vary based on the size of your SEO projects, the market that you’re targeting, your current SEO efforts and other factors.
Over the past decade or so, SEO has evolved to accommodate a massive increase in keyword competition and many of the tricks that used to provide a quick turnaround, such as low-quality link building and keyword stuffing — common tactics of cheap SEO services to beware — can now damage your SEO and should be avoided at all costs. Google has also increased its focus on the user experience and searcher intent (heard of RankBrain?), even though it refuses to admit this outright. That means the on-site experience as well as the search experience, making a long-term strategy even more important. A reputable SEO agency knows this and knows the value of integrating efforts across services — SEO, content, paid search and more.
In addition, it has become much more difficult to reach the top of the rankings, which is another concern for many businesses interested in driving results from SEO.
Your search rankings are important, but ranking first should not be your only priority when implementing your SEO strategy. Instead, measure the success of your SEO with other performance indicators such as an increase in qualified traffic, an uptick in conversions or revenue growth throughout the course of your efforts.
SEO that generates results for your business isn’t a strategy that can come to fruition overnight, despite what many SEO specialists may claim (in fact, that’s a huge red flag in choosing a consultant or agency). In reality, to produce quality results, you should consider SEO as a long-term investment that requires thoughtful planning, cross-departmental cooperation and a results-driven approach.
You can get a better estimation of when you can start seeing results by evaluating what stage your SEO is currently in and how long each stage should take to perform effectively. Consider the following when determining how long it should take for your business to start seeing SEO results.
Initial Steps When Planning Your SEO Strategy (0-2 Months)
There are many tactics and factors to consider when creating an SEO strategy for your business and depending on the complexity of your project and your available resources this can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete.
For example, if you have a large e-commerce site that tackles several markets or niches, your keyword research will tend to take longer, whereas a smaller consultancy company targeting clients in Austin may only need a couple days to discover their target keyword needs.
When contracting with an SEO service provider or consultancy, the first month or two will be spent planning your SEO campaign, researching your targeted keywords and auditing your content and website in terms of value, user experience and technical efficiency. During this period, they may find that additional keywords should be targeted to create the best return for your SEO investment and this can lengthen your timeline, although this planning is worth the extra time and effort if it increases your opportunity for a better ROI. With Google continuing to adapt its search results based on its evolving understanding of how users actually search, ancillary and long-tail keywords may present a new opportunity, for instance.
When auditing your existing website, it is common to find technical concerns such as canonical errors, broken 301 redirects, 404 errors, and a messy sitemap, all of which can also take a considerable amount of time to correct. A top-notch SEO agency will know how to prioritize these tasks to get the best results in the quickest fashion, but there’s never one right answer.
In some cases, it may be smarter to completely overhaul your website and make the new adjustments as you rebuild. While in the planning stage, you should document these technical issues and consider the time it will take to fix the foundation of your website’s SEO before executing your strategy.
In the first few months of planning, it’s unlikely that you will begin achieving any noticeable results to your bottom line or your SEO rankings. If you are using an SEO service, they may be able to make a few quick improvements during the planning process, but any impactful results are built by implementing a variety of SEO tactics over the course of your strategy. Value-rich, foundational changes have the biggest, most lasting impact on your search visibility, but, of course, those also tend to take the longest to implement. And then you’ve still got to wait for Google to notice your updates.
Diving Into Your SEO Strategy Implementation (2+ Months)
After a month or two of planning and upon deciding on a strong course of action, it’s time to begin executing your SEO strategy. This stage has an open-ended timeline since SEO is an ever-evolving strategy that requires a consistent and dedicated approach to content creation, keyword research and competition analysis. As your SEO strategy matures, revisions and course corrections may be needed to accommodate for new opportunities. The best SEO agencies are always analyzing and reporting on their performance, then learning from these results and tweaking the plan as needed. It’s never enough to “set it and forget it” — rather, there’s always some sort of monitoring, learning and adjusting happening.
In the first few months of the implementation stage, any technical concerns should be addressed to make sure your SEO strategy will be on a solid foundation. Again, the time it takes to properly complete technical SEO fixes largely depends on the complexity of your current website and content configurations.
Depending on the size of your company and the complexity of your site’s technical SEO issues, this process could take a month or it could take several.
If your website needs a complete overhaul, it can further complicate your timeline because you may need to coordinate the services of multiple departments, such as IT, marketing, sales, creative specialists, etc. This can be further complicated if you’re outsourcing any of those tasks, such as to a web development or traditional marketing agency.
Depending on your available resources, it could take up to six months to launch an overhauled website that is properly built for SEO. Hiring an SEO agency to overhaul your website could potentially reduce the time needed by a couple months. SEO experts will know which technical updates are most pertinent and impactful.
Once technical concerns have been addressed, the next step is to begin executing a long-term content marketing strategy focused around your keyword research. A strong content strategy may be the most important element to include in your SEO efforts and can help drive your business to the top of your search rankings. In the best-case scenario, all of this will also integrate with documentation of your target audience, buyer personas and customer journey maps.
Content creation time varies depending on the type of content that you’re producing and your available resources. For example, a blog article could take anywhere from a couple hours to a few days to produce whereas an informative e-book or high-quality video may take two to six weeks. Remember, quality assurance and editing phases are essential, but they, too, will slow down your production timeline.
Regardless, a content strategy that drives your SEO results should always incorporate a mix of content elements focused around the needs of your audience and that targets the keywords that you selected during your research. Effective content should captivate your audience and provide value to your industry in order to increase the likelihood of earning inbound links, which can boost your SEO.
You may start seeing an increase in traffic within a few weeks of publishing great content, but remember that it’s an ongoing approach to this content that helps deliver results and increase your SEO performance in the long run. Don’t create content for the sole purpose of “gaming” SEO — it’s not going to work and may even have the opposite result. Content production should always focus first and foremost on providing value to your consumers.
Results are also dependent on how often a search engine crawls your site for new content. You may be able to expedite this process by developing a strong content distribution strategy and broadening your content’s reach to new networks, which can increase the likelihood of your content being noticed by the search engine crawlers. That means having a strategy for sharing your content on social media and via email marketing.
The Realistic Timeline for SEO Results (6-12 Months)
Expect to wait at least six to 12 months before you start experiencing any impactful results from your SEO efforts. Although your keywords will start performing better prior to six months, gaining enough traffic to make an impact on your bottom line will take some time. Anyone who promises you banner results in only a month or two is probably wrong and definitely can’t guarantee the quality of the traffic they’ll drive. As hard as it is to wait, SEO takes patience.
Some SEO specialists or service providers claim that they can accomplish overnight results, top rankings or a quick increase in traffic, but you should be wary of these promises. It may sound appealing at first, but there really aren’t any quick solutions to an effective SEO campaign.
Google and other search engines have matured to reward the best content publishers, earning the best quality links, the highest search rankings and these algorithms cannot be easily, or safely, tricked to provide immediate results. With all of the keyword and content competition, search engines have begun weighing a website’s reputation more heavily, an indication that they are looking for a history of great content and fluid user experience.
You’ll need to realize that building this reputation and achieving sustainable results will take an ongoing, dedicated effort of creating and distributing effective content. There is no quick fix.
The Best & Quickest Route to SEO Success
Should you build an in-house team or hire an agency? While there aren’t any true shortcuts for SEO, you may be able to speed up your results by contracting with an experienced SEO firm.
The best SEO companies can save you months of research and technical implementation time by leveraging their industry experience and past successes across verticals. Often they will have worked with a comparable client and can use this knowledge to drive better results for your business.
In addition, they can help manage your expectations on when you should start seeing results because they have often worked similar SEO campaigns before.
To better ensure that you hire the correct SEO service, you should consider the wants and needs of your business and research how successful their past campaigns have been. Ask the SEO agency a variety of questions as they relate to your business goals; again, you should be looking for a proven track record of success rather than a promise of quick results.
Overall, you should consider SEO as both a financial and time investment for your business. As with many investment opportunities, it can take a fair amount of time before you begin receiving a notable return. Generally, the more time and effort that you commit to establishing a site with high-performing SEO, the more opportunity your business can generate to grow revenue moving forward. And remember — SEO is always changing, so it takes an expert to develop a strategy that lasts and remains flexible to evolutions in search.
Originally published on June 2, 2015. Updated July 11, 2019.