How Long Does SEO take?
| August 14th 2023
One of the most common questions asked of us as SEO specialists is, “how long does SEO take to work?”
Whilst it’s understandable that you’re going to want a decisive answer as to when you’re going to start realising a return on your SEO investment, the fact is that there are numerous variables at play. This means SEO may take longer to work for some than it does for others.
It’s also important to bear in mind that SEO isn’t like PPC, where things start happening pretty much as soon as the ads are switched on. Organic SEO is more a slow burn-long term results strategy, which means it can take time to start seeing success. But how long does SEO take?
In this post, we’ll answer this question by showing you real life examples from our own clients, by sharing industry statistics, and by taking a look at the factors that influence how long it can take to see results once an SEO strategy is put in place.
But firstly, let’s attempt to define ‘SEO success’. Because if we’re going to answer how long does SEO take to see results, then we’ll need to know what ‘results’ actually mean in terms of an SEO campaign.
How do we actually define ‘SEO success’?
As a London SEO agency, we make sure that every one of our SEO campaigns starts with goal and KPI setting.
Goals are the ultimate outcome that our clients wish to realise. These will usually be something like an increase in sales or new clients or patients over a set period of time.
KPIs are metrics that show how we’re doing in terms of moving towards the goals. These will usually be things like search engine rankings, keyword positions, organic traffic and conversions.
Goals and KPIs are crucial measures of SEO success. But importantly, they need to be realistic. They will also be unique to each business.
It’s important to look at KPIs and goals individually when defining SEO success.
For example, a website may start to see a measureable increase in organic traffic and related conversions within 6-12 months of the campaign start. That’s what the majority of SEO experts generally agree as a reasonable timeframe for movement in the right direction.
So you may be starting to realise success in terms of KPIs within this time. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be achieving your goals this soon.
What it does mean is that things are starting to happen. And because SEO has a compound effect over time, when you continue investing, you should start to see more progress towards your ultimate goals.
Continual investment gives your campaign time to gather speed. It also allows for your SEO to be improved, which is a gradual thing, especially as Google is regularly updating its search algorithms and criteria for ranking websites.
Google’s mission is to provide its users with the best possible search results for any given query. It takes time to show Google that you deserve to be in those results. Ranking positions are earned through demonstrating site authority (Domain Rating), as well as by showing that your site can be trusted as an expert in its field.
What are the factors that typically affect how long SEO takes to work?
When posing the question, how long does it take for SEO to take effect, it’s essential to consider all the factors at play that can influence the answer.
There is rarely a level playing field or starting point. Some industries experience higher levels of competition than others. Some websites/domains are established and have a solid history, whereas others are new with no built-up authority.
Budget, expertise and resources are also key influencing factors. The more you are able to put in, the more you are likely to get out.
Website history, authority and quality
The age of the domain is always a major influencing factor when it comes to how long SEO takes.
A new domain will usually take longer to achieve success than one that’s been established for a while. This is because it takes time for new domains to build up authority (Domain Rating) and earn backlinks.
Quick insight… Domain Rating (DR) is a metric that’s used to predict how likely a domain, subdomain, or web page will rank in the search engine results pages (SERP). DR is determined on score basis, ranging from 1 to 100, with 1 being the lowest where all brand new websites begin. Scores between 40 and 50 are considered average, between 50 and 60 good, and above 60 excellent.
An established domain will usually have earned at least some authority and backlinks.
For this reason, the 6-12 months average for seeing results on the KPI front will usually increase to around 9-12 for a new domain.
However… just because a domain is established, doesn’t mean you’ll automatically see faster results. It could have been impacted by an algorithm update, a Google penalty or ‘black hat’ SEO tactics that have breached Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
This is why as a London SEO agency dedicated to our clients’ success, we always take a good look at a website’s history before getting started on any campaign. This allows us to see whether there’s an issue that needs resolving, as well as set realistic goals for the campaign’s success.
Any site with an established domain that has lost visibility will usually take more than 12 months to see any sort of results.
In terms of authority, it’s also important to look at ‘E-E-A-T factors’. Expertise, Experience, Authority and Trust will contribute to how long SEO might take, because they are factors used by Google in its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, the he benchmark employed by its human page reviewers whose role it is to decide how well the search results meet users’ needs.
Having a trustworthy and authoritative presence online helps to build confidence in your audience. On an SEO front, E-A-A-T is important because Google judges pages based on the credibility of the page, the author, and the website generally. Whilst it’s not a direct Google ranking factor, it remains a vital element when it comes to positive SEO results.
Finally, the quality of your website as it stands at the start of your campaign will also influence how long your route to SEO success will take.
A website that already has plenty of well-crafted, helpful content, that holds a good technical standing and that offers a positive user experience will offer better foundations for goal achievements. Far more so than a site that’s thin on content or filled with poorly written or spammy content, oversized images or video, has a confusing navigation or is littered with technical bugs.
It stands to reason that the more intense the competition (and the higher their budget and greater their resources), the longer it will take to see results. That goes for any type of marketing, not just SEO.
SEO results will usually come faster in low competition sectors and with low competition search queries, compare to high competition ones.
Some target keywords will be so highly competitive, that they may take years to rank. Whereas others that are a lot narrower, or specific to a smaller, local area, could start showing results within half the average time for KPIs to start taking effect. So perhaps 3-6 months.
‘Keyword Difficulty’ is the crucial term here. Some people also call it ‘SEO difficulty’ or ‘keyword competition’.
Whatever its moniker, it’s all about evaluating how difficult it is to rank in Google’s organic search results for a specific term.
A keyword’s difficulty is based on various factors, including domain authority, page authority and content quality. The greater the difficulty, the longer it will take to show results.
This is where your SEO team will come into its own in identifying top opportunities for your website to rank in terms of potential keyword gaps that your competitors are missing, but that could net you valuable visibility and traffic.
But that’s not all for competition. You’ll also need to factor in how competitors have managed to achieve and maintain the rankings they’ve got. They may have a large budget for SEO, which means they are investing heavily in backlink acquisition, digital PR, content marketing, technical SEO and more.
Budget and resources
Something we just touched on was competitor budget and resources. Both are key influencers in terms of how long SEO will take. And both, unlike competition and website history, are in your control.
What you’re able to put into an SEO campaign really does impact on what you will potentially get out of it, and how long SEO will take to deliver results.
So, if you are investing more in SEO and therefore buying more time to spend on it, then the upshot should be that you will realise success faster. And if you are able to offer your own input too, perhaps by writing additional expert content in-house, then all the better.
An important point to consider though… it’s not just about how much you pay your SEO agency and how much time they spend on your campaign. It’s also about the expertise and experience, and the blend of skills behind the SEO team that’s taking care of your strategy.
An experienced SEO team will get far more out of an hour than an entry level freelancer, for example, especially if that team is specifically experienced in SEO for your individual industry sector or niche.
So do check the track record, credentials, reviews and case studies of your chosen SEO agency. Because what you get for your money is more important than how much you spend.
Our insights – how long do our clients typically wait to see SEO results?
Every client is different, and how long SEO takes varies on an individual basis for all the reasons we’ve explored above.
We do find that expectations often exceed reality, perhaps because there is sometimes a lack of understanding in terms of the slow burn nature of organic SEO, its compound effect over time, and the value of patience as the strategy gradually takes effect.
One of our clients in the financial services sector, for example, whose existing website we’d optimised, decided to downgrade their SEO campaign to an SEO maintenance plan, as they felt they weren’t getting the return on investment they’d expected.
Soon after the change, the results started to ramp up and the tactics we’d previously employed began to take effect.
Once the website visitor numbers started to increase, and the Google rankings began to significantly improve, the client realised the value of the campaign. They are now happily receiving a steady flow of new business leads through their website.
It’s so important to appreciate that there is often a time lapse, sometimes months, between doing the work, and the actions coming to fruition.
It stands to reason really, if you consider that Google’s top three pages received around 75% of traffic, which means as you achieve positions on those pages over time, your ultimate goals – the ones that actually impact your bottom line – will start to be realised.
Another of our clients, this time in the leisure industry, started with a brand new website and the lowest possible Domain Rating of 1 in January 2022. They experienced a hugely improved Domain Rating of 35 within 15 months.
Within 10 months, the site also saw a 450% increase in ranking keywords, including 51 Page One rankings, with 21 in the top three positions.
Also within 10 months, organic traffic had grown by 484%.
It’s important to note here, however, that the client was on one of our top SEO packages, which meant there was a LOT of technical and strategic resource allocation, high volumes of content being published and plenty of focus on backlink building. The client was also producing their own additional in-house content to further support the campaign.
You can read the full case study for this particular client here:
Industry insight – how long does SEO take on average?
According to 82% of SEO experts surveyed by Morningscore, SEO can take six months to show an increase in traffic on average, whilst the full results of good SEO strategies are visible after 12-24 months.
The majority of SEO experts interviewed agreed that 6-12 months is a reasonable timeframe for KPIs to start to be realised, which concurs with pretty much every article you read on the subject.
How long does SEO take to work – the final word
So, we’ve ascertained that there are various factors affecting how long SEO takes to work. And that patience is a virtue that’s wise to adopt when waiting to see results from your SEO campaign.
Something we haven’t mentioned, however, is the importance of monitoring SEO.
Search engine optimisation is in no way a one-and-done tactic. It needs regular checking and reporting to see how the campaign is performing, as well as tweaks to keep up with algorithm changes and core updates, bug fixes, and ongoing maintenance.
The better an SEO strategy is fine-tuned and monitored, the faster the results will come.
Looking for an SEO partner that delivers best value campaigns and knows how to get the results you need to achieve your goals?
Figment is a London SEO agency with a proven track record of success in achieving results for our clients.
If you’re looking to boost your online visibility and ultimately grow your sales or client base, we’d love to speak to you. Please get in touch to discuss how we can make a difference to your business.