How fast does SEO implementation take to (actually) work?

Posted: 08 Sep 2021

It can take time to see good results from SEO – but how long does it actually take to work?

It will probably come as no surprise to know that “how fast does SEO work?” is one of the most commonly-asked questions from clients. Due to years of over-promising from certain parts of the internet, clients often expect instant results from SEO strategy and implementation, but in reality, it can take anything up to 12 months+ to see true, solid results of SEO work. But don’t be put off: that figure is not set in stone and experience shows that there could be some shorter-term signs of improvement. The key to succeeding at SEO implementation in the early stages is to manage your expectations and have a thorough plan in place (with data to back it up). 

SEO should be considered a long-term investment in your business – in the very same way you might do for marketing. You probably wouldn’t expect to post one leaflet through a door and expect to gain 1000 sales in a week. Generally, it will take more than one leaflet drop, over an extended period of time, to a certain target audience to realise the full return on investment (ROI) potential of the strategy. And if you do expect 1000 sales from just one leaflet, remember what we said about expectation management!  

But don’t some SEO experts promise immediate results? 

Unfortunately, yes. Even in 2021, business owners are being fed the lie that companies can get them at #1 in Google within days. For the most part, these companies are usually using paid ads to get more instant results on the search engine. Even done properly, by actual SEO experts, paid SEO as campaigns can be costly and don’t necessarily have longevity – especially for small to medium-sized businesses who are simply unable to compete with large corporations. Paid ads to improve SEO are better suited to time-sensitive campaigns, rather than a long-term strategy. 

Want to rank on page #1 on Google?

So does everybody else! If there is one thing that people get more preoccupied with than anything else in SEO, it’s ranking on page one of Google. It’s not surprising – sitting pretty at the top is a nice place to be, but any true measurement of SEO success has to come from what the corresponding analytics is saying and what results are coming from that page one placement. If you have 1000 visitors, for example, but only one sale, is being on the first page of Google really working for you? If you receive 20 visits, but five sales down on page three, that would be better revenue-wise. To improve both ranking and conversion, concentrate on improving your content over time by regularly referring back to what the analytical data is showing you and have a set series of end goals in mind for any SEO campaign. 

The long haul

In the early stages of looking to invest in SEO for your business, ROI is at the forefront of any business owner’s mind. A well-planned and properly executed SEO strategy should start to see results for low-competition keywords after about three-four months. Once these buds of progress are noticed, it is then that more improvements should be made, with additional well-written content added to the site. It can take a while for Google to recrawl a site with new content, but after 12 months, the SEO results should be even better. If you are dead-set on wanting to rank for high-competition keywords, you should be prepared to see results within two-three years – good SEO is a long haul project.

Why does SEO take so long? 

SEO takes time. There is simply no getting away from that fact. Over the years, Google has continually improved its algorithms and with every iteration, it has become more challenging to rank. Google puts quality content first and foremost, so that is bound to add to the time it takes for your website to rank, especially if you are not keeping your site fresh with relevant content. It also takes time for Google to both recognise your site and to assign it the authority it believes it deserves.   

To answer the question ‘why does SEO take so long?’ you should ask ‘so long to do what?’ In most cases the answer would be to ‘see results’, but results mean different things to different people – are you looking for increased traffic to your site or more revenue from search? Of course, you probably want to see both, but without a firm understanding of what ‘results’ mean to you and your business, your SEO strategy could suffer.  

Variables to consider for SEO

If the 12-month estimate above as enough to put you off trying SEO, it is worth you understanding some of the variables that your site is up against before seeing more 

sustainable web traffic and sales through search. 

SEO variables can include: 

  • ​​Keywords and topics relevant to you
  • The relevance of your content to those keywords
  • Your website design
  • Your competition 
  • The average user time spent on your site 
  • The perceived level of quality in the content

Each of these variables could impact the length of time it will take to start seeing results from your SEO campaign. So the next time you ask your trusty SEO expert, ‘Why does SEO take so long?’, know that there is a lot to take into consideration! 

Creating quality content

There’s a reason that people still utter the phrase ‘content is king’ when it comes to SEO. In fact, it’s ranked as the number one factor that can help your site to rank. But, in true Google style, the search giant must deem your content to have value. If you are adding low-quality content to your site, your SEO efforts are not going to achieve very much. Poor quality content can mean that it will take longer for you to see results, while high quality, relevant content that adds value can help your site to rank more quickly. 

To improve your SEO performance and build trust with Google and your users, you should combine quality content with relevant backlinks. Building backlinks can take time, as other sites have to want to link to yours, so it’s also worth looking at fixing any broken links on your site. Remember though that some links are considered lower value, so only prioritise higher value links when fixing.

SEO is a competition 

If you have invested – both mentally and monetarily – in SEO, chances are your competitors have too. They may have even invested considerably more, as competition often fierce. We live in an age where companies of all sizes better understand the importance of SEO and how it can benefit their businesses, so you have to look at SEO for what it is – a competition. Pay close attention to what content your competitors are pushing out; how can you beat them? Is it through volume of posts, the type of articles, or perhaps quality? If you are new to the world of SEO and are reluctant about investing in it, it’s worth remembering that your competition is producing content and building links to improve their ranking right now – you should be doing the same.

Don’t lose track of your budget 

Your SEO budget will have an impact on the speed of your SEO results, but no amount of money can guarantee a faster-ranking performance. So what does this mean? Simply that access to a higher budget will allow for more SEO experts to work on your campaigns, through research and content production. You can get more work done, more quickly compared with a lower budget. This is why it is so important to set your SEO goals early before starting a campaign – look past ‘I want to rank #1 for all my keywords’ and think strategically about increasing traffic and improving conversions instead – chances are, you will get a greater ROI in doing so.  

SEO never ends

If that subheading brings you out in a cold sweat, don’t worry! While we have looked at some of the variables to consider when starting an SEO campaign, the question ‘why does SEO take so long?’ still hangs in the air. But there is a glaring problem with this question: it suggests that SEO has an end. It generally doesn’t. While you can begin to see some results after three-four months, if you continue to invest in SEO over a longer period, the results can be even greater. You shouldn’t halt your SEO plans because you’ve seen those initial results – you should continue to invest in it further. 

The bottom line

Like all good investments, SEO doesn’t happen overnight, but the results can be hugely beneficial to your business. You should take into account multiple variables when embarking on an SEO strategy, set meaningful KPIs and produce consistent content. Because for as long as you want to keep improving your business online, SEO will always be important to your overall success. 

If you’re keen to further improve your website’s SEO and need some expert advice, please do get in touch.

You might also be interested in… 

Is it still worth fixing broken links for SEO?

What makes a good SEO backlink?