How long does SEO take?

Before people start working with us on their SEO, they ask a completely reasonable question: “How long does SEO take to start working?”

I work with small businesses without content marketing departments. The business owners themselves have to plan, create, and optimize their content. This can be a huge time commitment.

We all want ROI on our marketing, so it’s logical to wonder how long it will take to start seeing results!

And the frustrating thing is that there is no clear one-size-fits-all answer for how long it takes to get organic traffic to your website. The industry standard answer is “It takes 4-12 months to start seeing results” … but even that isn’t true for every business!

SEO doesn’t have to take forever or be a lifetime commitment. One of my clients got a lead within a week of making SEO changes on her site! You can get results quickly, and the authority you build can last years without constant upkeep. (Some of my students are still getting leads from work they did 3 years ago!)

But just like all things in life: There are no guarantees, and where you are now makes a huge difference in how long it takes to get results. (It’s much easier to get to home base if you’re starting from 3rd than from the batter’s box!)

9 Factors that impact how long SEO takes in 2021

The amount of time it takes for you to start ranking on Google is dependent on many factors, such as:

  1. Domain history: How long you’ve owned your domain and how long your website has been published
  2. Existing keywords: What you’re already ranking for (sometimes we have sneaky keywords that we stumbled into unintentionally, which is great!)
  3. Update frequency: How much time you can put into working on your SEO
  4. Keyword research: How targeted your search terms are
  5. Location: Where you’re trying to rank
  6. Backlinks: High-quality links pointing to your website
  7. Technical SEO: Website load time, whether it’s mobile friendly, site security & other technical SEO factors
  8. Industry: How competitive your industry is
  9. Content specificity: How specific your topic is

Let’s talk about each of these factors, and how they could affect your SEO results timeline:

Domain history

Google trusts websites that have been around for longer … so a website that’s been around for 10 years typically picks up speed faster than a domain that was registered today. A good rule of thumb is that a website with a domain that was registered within the past year won’t start seeing much traffic for the first six months, whereas a more established website can start to see movement in 3-4 months.

What you’re already ranking for

Often my clients come to me and say, “I’ve been told that people are finding me on Google, but I have no idea what they’re looking for!” This is great news – it means that you already have some keywords that are getting clicks!

When we look into their Google Search Console, we often find keywords that we didn’t expect and can easily go into existing pages on the website and optimize them … and existing content tends to rank faster than new content! So if you already have some search traffic, we might be able to boost search traffic for specific keywords & popular posts in a month or two, whereas new content can take longer.

Update frequency

The more great content you create, the faster you’ll rank. 

If you are able to publish at a higher frequency (like weekly or even daily), you’ll have more that Google can share with people and therefore the speed at which you’ll generate traffic will be faster. 

If you only publish every month or quarter, there’s just not as much for Google to recommend, so the speed at which you’ll see SEO results will be longer.

Keyword research

Typically when people ask me, “How long will it take to show up #1 on Google?” I’ll answer, “For what search term?” One of the key tenets of keyword research is that more competitive the keyword, the longer it will take.

So as an SEO agency, if we wanted to rank #1 for “SEO,” it would take about 10 years of daily blogging to get this domain ahead of industry leaders … which isn’t a process I’m willing to commit to. But if we wanted to rank for more specific terms, like “SEO agency Rochester NY” or “SEO agency for interior designers” or “SEO for podcasters,” those would take a lot less time because they’re more specific and less competitive.

(And let’s be honest, we probably don’t want to rank for SEO, because it’s such a generic term and we have no idea what the average person searching for that already knows! 

It would be a much better use of our time to niche down into a specific geography, industry, or strategy and get really well known for that, than to try and be found for the most generic term.)

Location

If you’re running a local business (trying to get people in your community to find your business), some areas & industries are more competitive than others. There are a whole lot more coffee shops in New York City than there are in Clear Lake, Iowa, and in most areas there are a lot more wedding photographers than there are boudoir photographers. 

Backlinks

If your website has gotten a lot of media attention (like newspaper features, podcast interviews, guest blog posts, etc) then you probably already have many high-quality backlinks pointing to your website, which boost your domain authority. If you have a high DA, you’ll outperform your competition with lower DA. (Check your domain authority on Moz.)

Technical SEO

Google doesn’t want to send its users to websites that don’t look good on cell phones, take forever to load, or could potentially be hacked! Here are some tips to speed up your website.

Industry competition

Certain industries are more competitive than others: health and wellness, real estate, web design, car sales and travel companies come to mind as some of the more difficult areas to rank in … but as usual, the more general the topic, the harder it is to rank. 

Content specificity

The key to make your website rank faster on Google: get more specific!

The more general the topic, the harder it is to rank on Google. The more specific, the easier it is.

You can get specific about each of those industries in order to find less competitive topics … so instead of expecting to rank quickly for the first term, you might rank faster for …

  • Instead of “california real estate,” try to rank for “college housing near USC”
  • Instead of “wellness coach,” try for “ayurveda sleep tips”
  • Instead of “luxury travel,” try “best luxury long-term hotels in Maui”
  • Instead of “car sales,” try “used infiniti dealership Chicago”
  • Instead of “web design,” try “squarespace website design for visual artists”

Suddenly, even competitive industries can become less overwhelming or time-consuming!

If you’re trying to get your website to rank and you’re just not seeing traction, book a consulting call with me and we can take a look at what we can do to get your website moving on Google more quickly.