How Long Does SEO Take, Really?
For the sake of a concrete answer, I’ll say that you can start to see the effects of a fully fledged SEO strategy within 6 months. You may see results sooner than this (some website owners claim to see results in as little as two weeks), or the process could take upwards of a year.
If you prioritize speed over sustainability, those tactics will end up hurting you in the long run. Google is automatically suspicious of any website that has a sudden increase in ranking, as it’s assumed black hat tactics are responsible.
You should note that there are a number of factors that can affect your SEO results for better or worse. The time it takes before seeing significant results depends on things like the age and authority of your site, any penalties hindering your ranking, and if you’re aiming for long- or short-term results.
HINT: For SEO success, you want to aim for long-term results. Your website will perform better and rank higher.
How to Measure SEO Success
Before you learn about what affects your SEO strategy, let’s talk about what you need to know about measuring your success.
To start, you’ll need to define your goals. What do you want your SEO work to achieve? Do you want to increase revenue to a set amount, increase your engagement, or see a rise in website traffic?
Once you have your goals set, it’s time to determine your KPIs or Key Performance Indicators.
For example, if your goal is to increase your audience engagement, your KPIs will include things like likes, followers, shares, and comments.
When it comes to website traffic, look at KPIs such as growth in organic traffic, growth in paid traffic, visibility, impressions, or your SERP ranking. Keep track of these things over time to see the ebb and flow of your SEO work.
Now that you know how to measure your success, let’s talk about the top ten issues that will answer “how long does it take for SEO to work?”
These 10 Factors Can Affect How Long Your SEO Strategy Takes
- Authority and Age of the Website
- Website Backlink Profile
- Errors, Hosting Issues, and Penalties
- SEO-Friendly Design, Structure, and Architecture
- Keyword Targeting
- Competitor Analysis
- Content Marketing Strategy
- On-Page and Off-Page SEO Strategies
- Core Web Vitals
- Local SEO vs. International SEO
Many website owners have unrealistic expectations about their SEO efforts, imagining instant results as soon as they start working on their strategy. But SEO takes time and a lot of energy.
And that effort never truly ends.
SEO is not a one-time deal. It’s an investment that requires maintenance and ongoing attention to see any sustainable results. There is a lot that plays into how long the SEO process takes, so let’s not waste another moment.
There’s no secret ingredient for SEO. It takes time, planning, and careful readjustment to achieve and maintain rankings, ROI, and traffic.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you a straight to how long SEO takes to work. A straight answer simply doesn’t exist.
So let’s dive into the factors at play when asking, “How long does SEO take?”
1. Authority and Age of a Website
Domain age is not a sizeable SEO ranking factor, but attributes associated with how long your website has been around are.
You can use online tools to check your page’s authority and domain ranking. This will give you an idea of your backlinks, authority, and how many websites link to yours.
Matt Cutts, a former Google Engineer, previously claimed that domain age has little to do with the ranking process stating, “The difference between a domain that’s six months old vs. one-year-old is really not that big at all. As long as you’ve been around for at least a couple of months, you should be able to make sure that you can show up in search results.”
Despite this claim, many more recent, conclusive case studies demonstrate older domains benefit from SEO efforts more quickly than newer domains.
This is because older websites tend to have more backlinks, making the website seem more trustworthy to search engines. If your website is new, you can combat this by acquiring backlinks quickly (but also honestly).
Links will occur naturally over time if you’re producing solid content and promoting it well, which often means the older and more authoritative your domain, the more backlinks it will generate with each passing year.
But it’s not just links that make a difference here. Older domains tend to have libraries of content built up, and likely earn more clicks on name recognition alone. Google sees all this and factors it in when ranking.
This shouldn’t discourage anyone by any means; just be aware that a few dues must be paid before a newer domain gains a competitive edge. The best way to do that is by applying and sticking to the ever-evolving SEO best practices.
2. Website Backlink Profile
Building quality backlinks to your site is a very time-consuming challenge. However, it’s an essential component of Google’s algorithm.
Avoid all black hat tactics when earning digital PR.
Black hat tactics will be penalized by Google, and are costly mistakes to fix. The best way to earn placements is to develop quality and engaging content regularly.
Use social media marketing to cross-promote the content and encourage audience engagement. To make the most of your time and effort, look for additional ways to repurpose the content into snippets and shorter posts, which will give you more time to focus on other areas and further increase your SEO success.
Remember, older, more established websites have an advantage here.
They naturally have a more extensive backlink profile, which is why it often takes time to rank over your competitors. Many try to find a quick solution to this problem with paid links, which at one time produced quick results, but these paid links are classified as a deceptive form of SEO.
Instead, marketers need to focus not just on the number of links, but the quality of those links. Links from disreputable, low-quality sites will do more harm than good and hinder your efforts to optimize.
Should you gain a significant number of links in a short time, Google will likely be wary and assume black hat SEO was at work. The legitimate way to establish a backlink profile takes time and effort before you’ll begin to see results.
3. Errors, Hosting Issues, and Penalties
Before suffering any headaches by wondering how it takes for SEO to take effect, consider fixing any damage that’s already done. SEO errors, unreliable website hosting, and Google penalties take longer amounts of time to recover from.
Depending on the number of 404 errors, broken links, 301 redirects, and inconsistent optimization, resolving these errors can show positive results in as little as two weeks.
However, be aware Google doesn’t index all the changes at once. You may see an increase quickly in some aspects, but not in all.
Keep in mind, that when you update or make changes to any pages, you have to rely on Google to find those changes and re-crawl the page. This doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes, takes a few crawls for the changes to register.
There are 5 really common errors that a lot of websites come into contact with include:
- HTTP Error 500 (Internal Server Error): This happens when there is an issue with your server. Oftentimes, it means that your server is overwhelmed.
- HTTP Error 400 (Bad Request): This error occurs when the web browser you’re using accessed the website incorrectly.
- HTTP Error 401 (Unauthorized): This happens when a web browser attempts to access a page that they aren’t authorized to access. This error pops up a lot when web developers forget to flip a website from private to public or when a link points to the wrong place.
- HTTP Error 404 (Not Found): Uh-oh! This error means that the website you’re trying to access doesn’t exist. This could mean you have a broken link, a misspelled link, or that you’re trying to access a deleted page.
- HTTP Error 403 (Forbidden): This error is similar to the 401 Error. The only difference is that with a 401 Error, you may be able to sign in at some point. With a 403 Error, it means that the login opportunity has expired and no longer exists.
Before you launch a new website or update an existing one with new information, check to be sure that none of these errors are popping up when traffic visits your page. If they do, fix them fast!
Hosting issues are fairly common and sometimes the host provider isn’t always where the problem originates. If your website is slow or full of errors, you’ll want to check in with your website host.
If there is anything you want to avoid in SEO, it’s anything that will get you hit with a Google penalty!
A penalty is a manual classification passed down from a member of Google’s Spam Team. If they feel as though your website, or a part of it, is spam, they will hit you with a penalty.
If you get hit with a penalty, it can take up to 6 months and 2 or 3 reconsideration requests before it is lifted. In those 6 months, you could be losing traffic and conversions.
To avoid getting hit with penalties, watch how many paid links are on your page, run a monthly audit of all of your digital PR, and be sure to only post quality content.
Other common SEO issues include fixing crawling and robots.txt issues, sitemaps, .htaccess, web.config files, and other components to your website’s architecture and linking structure.
Most of the time, you’ll begin to see results fairly quickly after resolving the issues, but not always.
For example, if you’ve updated a few links on a sitemap, you may see results within a week; however, if you’ve updated numerous links, it may take a few weeks. Older sites tend to update faster, especially when there are more inbound links than newer sites with fewer links.
4. SEO-Friendly Design, Structure, and Architecture
These factors can play a huge role in dragging down your page’s ranking. Stop that from happening by setting up your site’s architecture and URL structure in a way that supports optimization, not harms it.
Considering that more than half of internet searches originate from mobile devices, your website must be optimized for mobile viewing. This includes choosing a design that is responsive to the viewer’s device. More than 90% of internet users say that they use multiple devices to access the internet. A responsive design will ensure that your page is able to be viewed correctly on all of them.
Google also recently switched to a mobile-first initiative, meaning it will crawl mobile pages first when determining indexing and determining rank. If you have a poor mobile experience, that will more than likely translate to your position in the SERPs.
Take the time to run your site through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, and if needed, enlist the aid of a developer to get your mobile presence up to speed.
Once all of these issues are resolved, and your site is structurally sound, you’ll notice a slow but steady increase in ranking.
5. Keyword Targeting
Keyword stuffing is old news. It doesn’t work and it will get your page flagged as spam.
However, that doesn’t mean that keyword targeting is dead. When creating your content, think about the person who will be looking for it. What types of content and keywords will they be looking for? Once you have a few in mind, shape your content around those keywords.
This begs the question, “What does it mean to target keywords with content?” Essentially, it boils down to including it a certain amount of times in a way that fits with the content.
For instance, this article targets “How long does SEO take?” as its primary keyword. As you scroll through the article, you’ll notice how we place it in a way that makes sense within the context.
When asking why that is, it’s important to think about how Google’s search engine works. Google is constantly updating its search engine and we have to adjust our content to fit its demands.
Back in 2021, Google introduced the Multitask Unified Model update (AKA “MUM). It emphasizes meeting user intent in every search rather than spamming a keyword. Whenever you include your target keyword in your content, be sure to do it in a way that enriches the article.
6. Competitor Analysis
You can learn a lot by analyzing your competitors, especially if they dominate the search results.
While you can’t steal their secrets, you can learn valuable insights for your own SEO strategy, such as keywords, patterns, and new practices to try.
Analyzing your competitors will also help you target better keywords related to your industry.
This process does take time, but the good news is, it also saves some time in the long run. Emulating your competitors gives you insight into real strategies that get proven results, which means you aren’t starting from scratch.
Take SEMRush, for example. Simply fire up the site and select Domain Overview from the left-hand menu, and type in a competitor’s URL.
This will take you to a page that covers their top paid and organic keywords, backlinks overview, traffic numbers, etc. From there, you can investigate further into each.
But when we talk about competitors and SEO, it would be remiss not to mention that those very competitors do play a significant role in how it takes for SEO to work.
Unless you’re in an incredibly specific niche, it’s more than likely that you’ll be facing massive competition in the SERPs.
Think about a local veterinarian or dentist’s office. There are probably hundreds per city, each with a website trying to rank. The problem is, that only ten of those sites will rank on the first page of Google.
Because the competition is so fierce, it will likely take longer to see SEO results.
If you’re a local office like that, add local SEO tools into your toolbox to start seeing results a little bit faster. On the other hand, if you’re selling shirts made from recycled tin cans, you have a good shot at a high rank based on a lack of competition alone.
7. Content Marketing Strategy
According to Search Engine Land, consistent content creation helps websites see over 55% more visitors and 67% more leads. In fact, just a high ranking in an organic search will deliver 1,000% more traffic than social media. If that’s not a sign to put time and effort into your content marketing strategy, I don’t know what is!
We all know that quality content reigns king for producing SEO results; therefore, you need to spend a great deal of time creating a content strategy and implementing it effectively.
If your website doesn’t include relevant and authoritative content, you’re fighting a losing battle. Fix the content on your website and map a cohesive strategy for the future.
As you start to create more content, consider all of the ranking factors that Google uses when evaluating pages. Get a clear understanding of the Quality Rater Guidelines, keep up-to-date on all of its algorithm changes, and keep an eye on any new updates or developments.
Keep in mind that this is not an overnight fix and it will take some time to see the results but it will be worth it in the long run.
Meeting Search Intent
At the core of a successful content marketing strategy is writing for search intent.
“Search intent” describes the why behind every search. Why would someone search this particular keyword?
For example, look at the results for the term “laptops:”
The top results are all signaling transactional intent. People searching for “laptops” want to buy laptops, rather than just learn about them.
If you created an article targeting the keyword “laptops” and wrote about the history of laptops, you wouldn’t rank anywhere near the first page because you wouldn’t be meeting search intent.
Meeting search intent comes down to answering your audience’s implicit questions. In our above example, the top articles answer the question, “what are the best laptops right now?”
For another example, let’s imagine you wanted to rank for “how to start a blog.” To successfully meet search intent and answer your audience’s questions, you would need to provide a detailed overview of each step of starting a blog.
Finding Questions to Target
Critical to your content strategy is finding the right questions to target. Otherwise, you’ll be producing content aimlessly and achieving little results.
Before you hit a single key on your keyboard, it’s essential to get into the mindset of your average reader. What are their goals, and how can you help achieve them?
Empathizing with your readers allows you to create relevant content for their lifestyles. To this end, I recommend making a customer persona. These enable you to understand who your readers are on a fundamental level.
Also, several great tools can help you find questions real people are asking. For example, AnswerThePublic provides questions that people ask relating to a given keyword.
8. On-Page and Off-Page SEO
If you’re hoping to see some truly sustainable results a little faster, check your on-page optimization.
By making adjustments to your meta tags, header, anchor text, title, descriptions, and alt tags, you’ll often see results within a few days. This is usually one of the first items people address in SEO.
Get this done quickly, and it could shorten the time it takes to produce results from SEO.
Your off-page optimization takes a little bit more time to build, as you’ll need to link to authoritative websites. Consider blog commenting, high-end directories and citations, guest blogging, and social media sharing to further your off-page optimization. Be genuine in your efforts, or you’ll be considered spam.
The best way to build up your off-page SEO is to work on your digital PR, develop and nurture relationships with other businesses and content creators, and create consistent, high-quality content that people want to read.
For more on how to use off-page optimization for better search results, read my full guide here.
9. Core Web Vitals
As part of Google’s mission to improve search, Core Web Vitals became a ranking factor last year. This means you’ll need to calibrate your website to meet CWV’s three primary metrics:
- Largest Contextual Paint – Your page’s loading time; aim for less than three seconds.
- First Input Delay – The amount of time it takes for your website to become usable.
- Cumulative Layout Shift – How much your page moves around after loading. Pages with a high CLS are a poor user experience and Google will rank them less often.
To view your website’s core web vitals, visit Google Search Console and find your website’s overview. Then, navigate to Core Web Vitals on the far left side of the window, under Experience.
Or, you may view these same metrics with PageSpeed Insights.
Boosting Page Speed
If you don’t want your website to fall behind in rankings, you must take every measure to boost your page speed. Here are the fastest ways to do so:
- Optimize media assets – Oversized photo and video files are notorious contributors to slow loading times. Ensure all images exist in JPEG and/or WEBP file type. Also, use third-party streaming services for videos, such as Vimeo.
- Use caching – Caching your pages can dramatically increase your page loading times. If you’re on WordPress, installing plugins such as WPRocket will make this process easy.
- Have a good web host – If your hosting service is slow, your page will lag behind no matter how optimized it is. If your provider isn’t giving your the speed you need, it may be time to upgrade
- Use a content delivery network (CDN) – If you’re serving a worldwide audience, you’ll need to use a CDN to ensure your site loads fast for everyone. CDNs store site files on worldwide servers, so there are no distance latency issues.
While tuning your site, use tools like GTmetrix to test your loading times. If your page is loading slowly, there’s no point asking “How long do SEO results take?”
10. Local SEO vs. International SEO
Part of SEO is knowing where you want to pull your audience from. Some businesses, specifically brick-and-mortar stores and services, are more interested in attracting local audiences. After all, who cares if someone in Japan knows about your home cleaning services if you’re servicing areas of Ohio?
In this case, you’ll want to focus on local SEO. This distinct and strategic approach focuses more on what you can do to help local people find your business quickly. Understanding things like NAP, Google My Business, and more are important for local SEO. Learn more about crafting your strategy by checking out my local SEO tips.
On the other hand, international SEO is very different from local SEO. You’ll need to get familiar with terms such as hreflang tags, canonical tags, and the International Targeting report on your Google Search Console.
If International SEO is something that interests you, you can check out my tips and advice on how to improve your strategy here.
So, How Long Does It Take to See SEO Results?
When will I see the results of my SEO actions? How long does it take to rank in Google?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer for how long it takes for SEO to take effect, as search engines and requirements are always changing.
Every site is different. You simply can’t measure in hours, days, weeks, or months how long SEO will take, nor can you measure the number of hours you should spend working on it.
There is no quick fix for website rankings. You will need to spend a decent amount of time working on your SEO strategy, but I promise you, the effort will slowly but surely pay off.
While there is a wealth of information between your Google Search Console, Google Search Central blog, and the Google discussion form, sometimes it’s simply easier to hand the reigns over to someone else. As Google notes, hiring a search engine optimizer could be the best idea you’ve had, or it could be the worst. Before you hand over the keys, be sure to check into their reputation and ensure that they won’t do anything to harm yours.
If you’re looking for a high-quality agency with a strong reputation in digital marketing, reach out to the Ignite Visibility team. Our experts are more than willing to help you take your business where you want to go next!
1. How long do SEO results take?
The answer to this question varies but you can expect to see the results of a solid SEO strategy within 6 months. Be prepared though, that it could take up to 12 months before you see results.
SEO can take longer in very competitive fields when targeting highly competitive terms. The less competition, the faster you might be able to see results based on your SEO efforts.
While some website owners have claimed to see results within 2 weeks, prioritizing speed over sustainability will hurt you in the long run as it could get your site flagged as spam by Google. Getting flagged as spam by Google is a tough position to come out of and should be avoided.
2. Why does SEO take so long?
Simply put, SEO takes so long because the search engine algorithms have gotten so sophisticated. You can no longer end up on the first page of a SERP just by keyword-stuffing your page. A solid SEO strategy now has many more aspects and factors that play into a page’s results and ranking.
Since trends and searches can change, a lot of time goes into creating a strategy, deciding on an audience to target, and doing the research to see what keywords and content your preferred audience is looking for.
Once a strategy is determined, next, you have to consider some of the aspects of a good SEO strategy: domain age, inbound links, and page authority. All of those factors take time to become established. They can not be faked or manipulated.
In order to establish authority and start receiving inbound links, a page is pretty reliant on user activity. It can take time for user activity to pick up and authority to be established and recognized by a search engine’s algorithm.
Once your pages are established, it will then take time for those pages to be crawled and indexed by Google.
3. How much does SEO cost?
On average, most SEO services in 2022 cost anywhere between $750–$2,000 per month.
The average SEO expert charges between $80 and $200 per hour.
A one-time project makes things more expensive, with the average costs between $5,000–$30,000.
4. Is it worth paying for SEO services?
Yes. No matter if you’re a single-person business, a startup, or a large corporate agency, SEO is a valuable investment.
If the scope of your SEO needs is small enough for one to perform on their own, then it may make sense to take that route, versus hiring an agency.
Your best bet is to weigh out what kind of SEO services you think you need, and budget what you can afford to decide if hiring an agency is the right choice for you.
5. Why is SEO important, and is it difficult to learn?
SEO is important because it helps get eyes on your content. Without SEO, you’re leaving traffic (and therefore conversions) on the table. For folks after local SEO, knowing that 78% of navigational searches lead to an offline conversion is enough proof. And even the process of refreshing old content can bump up your organic traffic by an amazing 111.3%.
Even with all its nuances, SEO is not difficult to learn. However, results often take time, so patience and a willingness to evolve with algorithmic updates are key.
6. Does my SEO strategy need to be reviewed or can I set it and forget it?
An SEO strategy is no different than any other aspect of digital marketing in that it is constantly evolving.
What keywords and content your audience is interested in is going to vary depending on trends and current events. That’s why it’s important to keep your SEO strategy growing and evolving, too.
You’ll also want to keep track of what is working and what isn’t. You’re wasting time if you continue to lean into an SEO strategy that is not giving you the types of results you want after a few months.
7. SEO sounds great but it still seems so overwhelming. Are there digital marketing firms that I can hire to take care of this for me?
Of course, there are! There are many digital marketing firms in the virtual space that live and breathe everything SEO. They keep up with all of the latest trends and know just where to look when it comes to finding keywords and doing research on your audience.
But even just finding a firm to help you can be an overwhelming task. Luckily, I found this comprehensive list full of great firms and consultants that can help you get your SEO strategy up and running.
8. What are the basic rules of SEO?
SEO seems complicated, and it can be, but if you stick the basics, you’ll stay out of hot water. Be sure to produce high-quality and interesting content that your audience wants to read, cultivate your audience’s trust, build your authority by showcasing your expertise, and avoid any schemes that seem too good to be true.