30 second summary:
- The only way to determine any time frames is to determine your client’s goals and embody a lot of “depends” before a commitment.
- There are many “depends” that you will need to clarify with your client before giving a time estimate
- Factors that can affect SEO duration include the age of the site, its previous history with SEO and Google, its size, CMS, and any business specifications that may slow you down.
- The minimum time required for SEO work to show noticeable results is 6 months (but a 12-month period is more realistic)
- There are some credible strategies that can produce faster results (if done right)
There is no way to guarantee SEO results within a definitive time frame, simply because we can never guarantee what we cannot control and Google is not in our power.
There may be rough estimates which should be clearly explained to the customer as they are, i.e. expectations which are not guaranteed.
Your client should understand that there are no magic bullets and you know no secrets. All you can do is follow best practices to ensure gradual growth. This is the key to manage customer expectations properly.
But back to the question: how long does SEO take to show results?
What are we trying to achieve?
First of all, it is important to understand and adapt your client’s goals. What do they look for when they invest in an SEO strategy?
Most customers would insist on improving rankings for keywords they already know they are targeting. In many cases, these are unrealistic keywords that could take years to reach.
This is where goal “setting” comes into play.
By expanding these keywords to make them longer and less competitive, you can be more confident of reaching your SEO goals in a realistic time frame. Make sure the customer is aware that:
- Long tail keywords it can actually bring organic traffic that converts much better – the more specific a search query is, the closer the searcher is to completing their buying journey.
- The keyword gap analysis helps to identify trade gaps which can help a company stand out and find its unique audience.
- Discovering new keywords and expanding existing keywords help diversify your organic traffic sources which, in turn, help maintain more consistent organic visibility. If you lose a position or two for a short tail search query with huge search volume, you risk losing 20 to 30 percent of your traffic. If you miss a few long-tail rankings here and there, your site will still drive roughly the same amount of organic traffic. Google SERPs are very dynamic and versatile – losing rankings is inevitable, so diversification is the key to stability.
Overall, the best way to properly set customer expectations is to set a goal for gradual growth in organic traffic (and conversion). This way you focus on the positive results that come from a large number of pages instead of stressing yourself out on tracking the rankings for a few key pages that could go up very slowly.
What are the “on which everything depends?”
Yet, the inevitable “it depends” will still come out.
Every site is different – some sites will benefit from active SEO work faster than others, even if you focus on gradually growing traffic, rather than just a few rankings.
The SEO period mainly depends on:
- The size of the site: It is easier to achieve cumulative growth when the site is large and already has some possibilities
- The history of the site: While the site has seen a slow but steady decline in rankings and organic visibility for a few years now, it may be difficult to flatten that curve and eventually reverse it. Also, if a site has been affected by certain updates (such as Product Review Update) then Google needs to rerun that update for all previous work to be reflected (or not) on the rankings. No SEO professional can ever be sure when the next update will happen, so this will impact SEO results to become obvious. And let’s not even talk about a rather unpopular fact that none of the recent updates from Google has an obvious remedy: you have to work on everything under the sun in the hope that it will help and sometimes not.
- Current backlink profile (and possible actions): Things like cleaning the backlink may take some time for Google to recognize and react to the changes
- The age of the site: New sites take longer before Google finally accepts that they can be trusted.
There are more factors, of course. Whether a site is already an entity is another factor that can affect how quickly results will arrive. The current site structure is another big thing that can be difficult – restructuring a site can make Google understand it for a while, even if you do everything right.
Of course, customer turnaround is another factor to discuss – some companies require a lengthy process of approving any changes needed to make their sites more SEO-friendly. New and optimized content may take weeks or months to complete the legal review process.
Other companies simply don’t have development teams to help them with on-site work, so they rely on freelancers. This is another level of back and forth process that slows them down, especially when technical tasks in progress are required. Also, some CMSs are easier to manage (these are Wix, WordPress, and a few others), while others require technical skills.
SEOs are rarely lucky enough to get keys from client sites, allowing them to make all required changes in real time within days.
So how long does SEO take?
With all of the above in mind, the minimum amount of time it takes SEO to start delivering tangible results (i.e. relevant traffic converting) is six months.
In most cases, you will need around 12 months to be proud report on results you managed to reach.
There are quick wins possible …
Of course, there are tricks to start delivering some results in a shorter period of time to keep your customers happy.
For instance, brand search optimization it’s something that can quickly help your customers see more traffic convert like magic (because people looking for a brand are very likely to convert once they manage to land on that site).
Internal links can quickly increase the performance of existing pages, especially if they are optimized for search queries with lower concurrency.
Rich snippet exploration opportunity and use structured markup (where it makes sense) it will likely improve click-through without having to wait for rankings to grow (which will happen more slowly).
Update old articles that currently rank on the first two pages of search results can also provide quick wins, if you do it right.
These are the first steps to take when starting an active SEO job.
It is actually an endless process
This is another thing to clarify when customers ask the inevitable question: How long will it take?
SEO actually never ends. You can’t just optimize a site and watch your organic traffic come in and convert. Google’s algorithm is Evolvingcurrent content becomes outdated (so it needs to be monitored, updated and re-optimized) and competitors continue to receive backlinks and other key enhancements.
You must always keep up with your SEO efforts, develop new and new content link generation asset and lead magnet, explore new research models… The list goes on and on.
An effective SEO service will also always include exploring new tactics, detailed competition monitoring (and learning from them), and continually investigating new SEO opportunities (such as new keywords, new rich snippet opportunities, and new media. ).
Ann Smarty is the founder of Viral Content Bee, Brand and Community manager of Internet Marketing Ninjas. It can be found on Twitter @seosmarty.
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