This is by far the most common question asked by anyone interested in SEO work. It’s a great question. After all, SEO is a major investment and you want to know what to expect for an outcome. The problem with this question is that the only 100% correct answer is ”it depends.” SEO is a long term investment where results will vary greatly. Website authority, competition, algorithm changes and many other factors will alter the timeline.
Search engine optimization is a slow process that requires an abundance of patience both from the client and from the marketers performing the work. With the exception of news and viral social media, search results are not in real time and often require anywhere from 3 to 10 days for any changes produced from a website revision or backlinking work. Some techniques can take three weeks or more to show.
In this article, we take a look at a somewhat typical timeline for a medium competition keyword in a moderately sized market. These timelines are only estimates and will vary greatly between industries, geographical locations and existing competition.
Month 1 – A significant amount of work is required to begin each campaign. This work includes: market research and discovery, website audit, supplementary keyword determination, process planning, implementation strategy, content creation and online presence review. In most cases, there will not be any noticeable results or changes.
Month 2 – Website audits and initial revisions are generally finished except where a significant overhaul was required. Moving forward, minor revisions are completed as needed based on search results. Now that additional content has been created, the work to increase your internet presence can begin. For local businesses, this will include building citations, blogs and sourcing linking opportunities with related websites. For brand new websites, you may see some rankings begin to show on higher pages. Existing websites should see some ranking improvements for lower competition keywords in this month. There may be some indications of increased traffic but this will likely be low. We find that this is often the hardest month for clients as two months will feel like a long time with little to show.
Month 3 – The citations work will be finished and efforts will now shift to building authority to the newly created internet presence. Sometime into the third month, you may see some noticeable signs of increased traffic, improved rankings and new leads (e.g. calls, emails, form completions, etc). These results aren’t likely to bring you the pot of gold you’re after but should help to see the rainbow.
Month 4 – Continued work on sourcing link opportunities and building authority. By the end of month 4, you should see a significant increase in traffic, rankings and leads. The improvements should be enough that you will know SEO is working. For more competitive markets, the improvements should be noticeable but won’t necessarily be significant enough to see results for your business.
Month 5 – At this point, the website should be well established with a good foundation of blog posts, well optimized content and an understanding of what is working on the site for converting visitors to leads. This is a great time to look into additional sources for traffic such as press releases, social media ads and more. Ranking improvements will likely slow down for those keywords on page 1. Each upward movement is a big victory moving forward.
Month 6 – The specific activities can vary greatly depending on the type of business and target market. Regardless, this is a good time to review your progress and find additional opportunities for keywords that support and/or expand your services. For instance, if you are a car accident injury lawyer, you may start looking to target the motorcycle accident injury market.
Most credible SEO firms will say that it takes 4 to 6 months before you see results. For most local businesses, that’s an accurate timeline. Keep in mind that the time frame is for when you start to see results. At some point, you will likely see the results level off at which time the work may shift to maintaining the results rather than continuing to grow.
What are the SEO factors that can change the time for results?
There are several factors that will alter the timeline. The ranking position at the start of the campaign can be significant. Making a large jump from a position of 30+ into the 10 to 20 range may be easy whereas moving from say position 5 to a higher position may take a very long time.
The age of your domain and website can play a major role as well. If you have an established website with some authority that is poorly optimized, results may happen quickly. A brand new website has no authority, trust and is not indexed so the search engines must first learn that your website exists then, through SEO efforts, understand that your website has some authority over your competition.
What is the biggest pitfall of SEO Clients?
Many businesses underestimate the time, money and effort required to achieve success with SEO. Success for the majority of campaigns rarely happens within the first 3 months regardless of the budget for the work. Far too often businesses quit at or before 3 months because they “didn’t see the results they wanted and could no longer justify the expense.” Unfortunately these companies have essentially thrown away their money and are unlikely to ever see a return on their investment. It’s important for businesses to budget for at least 6 months of SEO. You must also understand that SEO is a long term relationship and not a push button money generator. With some patience and a reasonable budget, SEO as a marketing technique will produce one of the best return on investments of any marketing tactic available.