How Long Does Search Engine Optimization Take? A Month-By-Month Outline

By Matt Bertram, CEO at EWR Digital in Houston and co-host of the popular SEO podcast “The Unknown Secrets of Internet Marketing.”

Before most prospective clients engage in online marketing talk, the typical question is, “How long does SEO take?”

When I start explaining search engine optimization (SEO) is a long-term play, unlike the short-term but complementary pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, many are ready to commit. But others refuse, mostly due to hearing answers from unreputable agencies or online publications. Sometimes these businesses have heard they can achieve top page rankings within a month. Many are told two weeks!

That’s absurd.

Many of these prospects are led to believe that a few keyword changes and a massive amount of links from other websites will do the trick. Unfortunately, they are wrong.

Let’s focus on Google, which controls over 85% of the search market. Google’s algorithm calculates over 200 factors before ranking a website, including the domain age, links from relevant websites, authoritative and engaging content, how niche you are versus your competition and that thing Google calls E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness), to name a few. It goes without saying that to get to the top of the first page, including the top five positions that hold over 70% of rankings, you must have a well-rounded SEO strategy. And those changes don’t happen overnight (or in a month, for that matter).

I’ll dig deeper, but first, let me answer the big question.

How long does SEO take? When will I see results?

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From experience with hundreds of clients, and from what other SEO experts have said, SEO takes on average four to six months before the results begin. Some of my clients who have been online for a long time, collecting domain strength, have observed strong keyword rankings within as little as four weeks. Others, typically newer websites or those with messy technical platforms, took as long as six months before any positive ranking reports.

The answer is not straightforward and involves many factors.

On average, four to six months is when you’ll start to see results. This doesn’t mean you’ll rank on page one for every keyword you have targeted. In fact, the trusted Ahrefs reports that only 5.7% of all newly published pages will hit Google’s top 10 within a year!

SEO Factors That Affect Rankings

Every year, it seems, Google provides us with a new ranking factor. For example, in 2014, it was all about security and the use of HTTPS. In 2015, the focus was on mobile usability. Then RankBrain surfaced, using machine learning in search, helping Google better understand a search query’s intent.

Again, Google considers over 200 factors when ranking a website. Besides the one mentioned above, a few must-haves are:

Quality Content: We’re talking about the perfect blend of high quality for both readers and search engines. Quality content involves strong keyword research and on-page SEO elements, such as proper header tags, internal links and title tags. Content should also be optimized for voice search and featured snippets (those answer boxes at the top of Google results that immediately answer questions).

Strong Technical SEO: This is all about your website being completely recognized by search engines and as fast as possible. Speed is critical nowadays. The quicker a site loads, the better the user’s experience, and the better the ranking factor — especially on mobile!

Relevant and Authoritative Backlinks: When another website links to your content, those links act like “votes.” The quantity doesn’t matter over the quality of links. The more trusted the source, the stronger your overall rankings will be.

Outline Of A Typical SEO Campaign

Every business has different needs, from target clients to types of products/services to customer service. Due to these factors, there are no cookie-cutter SEO services. The overall strategy — reach more converting prospects and create loyalty with existing customers — will typically be the same. But the tactics to get there may be different.

One client can be drastically different from another, especially if one needs to focus on a local SEO strategy (say a restaurant chain in Houston) versus a national strategy (corporate lawyer consultation).

With that said, though, the very basics of a standard six-month SEO campaign look like this:

Month 1: Discovery of client’s digital marketing landscape, baseline reports, competitive analysis, keyword research, analytics audit, content audit and technical SEO audit, which includes current state and actionable solutions to resolve issues with site speed, indexing, image compression, sitemaps, crawlability and more.

Month 2: Implementation of technical SEO audit and optimization of all website content, from pages to blogs. This includes optimized title tags, meta descriptions, header tags, internal links, etc. Also, begin optimizing for local search, including Google My Business page.

Month 3: Continued website content creation (blog, FAQ, location pages, white papers, infographics, etc.), along with kicking off-page SEO into gear, which includes public relations outreach and building links back to the business website from reputable and authoritative sources.

Month 4 and on: Continued content creation and link building, typically through website blogging based around an SEO/brand authority growth strategy and guest blogging on other relevant websites, and a sharp focus on website conversion optimization, which helps convert prospects into clients. The website is audited weekly for tech issues, and weekly reporting is established to track progress and any threats or opportunities.

Nobody can predict the exact amount of time SEO takes. But if they do, and it’s a short period (I’d argue anything under three months), flee quickly. Through experience, I can estimate that the average time to begin seeing results from quality SEO is four to six months.

Again, these changes won’t be jumps to the first page, though we’d hope to see that. But with long-term thinking and focus on SEO done correctly, your organic rankings will improve. And nothing quite tells a prospective customer that you’re serious about your product or service than a strong organic result. Strong SEO is a must for strong revenue, but don’t let anyone tell you it can happen overnight.

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