How Long It Takes to See SEO Results
Posted by Emery Pearson on Feb 8, 2022 11:15:00 AM
So, you've started optimizing your site for search engines. Your big question is: how long will it take for my SEO efforts to show results? It's a valid question, but a tricky one.
The most common answer you'll find online is four to six months. In fact, google that question and Google itself will show you that answer in the knowledge panel. One version of this question for me showed me that answer in big ol' letters at the top of the search engine results page (SERP).
Read a few more of the results and you'll see some variation. Add "2021" to the query and the top results say to give it six months, but up to one year. Other articles claim up to two years—though that's usually for "full" results. Undoubtedly, these are unpopular answers for businesses looking to get organic results fast. It also begs the question, why do these guidelines vary so much? And why the heck does it take so long to see the impact from SEO work? Let's dive into these questions now.
How Long SEO Takes (According to Tribute Media)
First, to give a little context to where we're coming from, here's what we tell our marketing clients during our kickoff calls: While it depends on a number of factors, it takes about six months to start seeing changes from SEO efforts.
This number is based on both industry statistics and our own experience. One thing to note is that while it takes six months to start seeing results from your efforts—it can take even longer to get results like being on the first page for target keywords or getting traffic to key pages.
What We Mean by Results
As we just mentioned, early results aren't usually things like taking the top spot in your primary keywords, or even seeing a ton of relevant traffic to your site.
So what are "results?" Here's what we typically see by the six-month mark (permitting that SEO efforts have been ongoing the whole time):
- Pages indexed by Google
- Number of impressions increasing
- Some clicks (click-through rate tends to be on the low side at this point)
- Enough data to start making some informed decisions about next steps in content, optimizing, and topic research
Why Does SEO Take So Long?
The main reason why no one can tell you exactly how long it will take to see results for your website, and why it takes so long in general, is because there are too many factors at play. These factors affect both your website and everyone else's websites, in turn impacting the SERPs for every search at any given time. This is also why we preach about SEO being an ongoing, long-term strategy, rather than a one-and-done event.
Before we get into some specific considerations that can have an effect on your SEO, consider this: There are literally billions of websites. Roughly a half a million websites are launched every day. New businesses in your industry come and go every year. People initiate billions and billions of queries on Google each day, and the types of things we search for change all the time. Even without some of the more technical stuff that plays a role in your website's performance, the sheer amount of information both given and demanded is enough to make the mind boggle.
Rather than feel deflated or defeated with these reminders, remember that many—if not most—of these sites aren't putting a ton of time and effort into optimizing them properly. So, just by starting the process of implementing SEO, you're ahead of the game! Plus, it can be a helpful reminder that just because you're not seeing results exactly when you want them doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong—you're just living in a world where the internet is massive, everyone is plugged in, and search engines like Google are trying their best to get the right information to people when they ask.
Factors that Affect SEO
One of the biggest factors in SEO is search engines themselves. Google, for instance, isn't clear about what it's doing and why. Sure, we get updates about big algorithm updates or significant changes to how they assess or crawl websites, but most of the knowledge we have about the work they do or updates that happen come from speculation and anecdotes. So, if nothing else, remember that the purpose of SEO is to optimize for search engines based on...
A) what we DO know about how they work
B) general best practices in the industry (based on A as well as on evidence and testing)
C) what YOUR specific goals are
With all that in mind, let's turn to the other big considerations that impact your site and its organic performance.
In order for a website's page to be shown on Google's SERPs, it has to be indexed by Google. The length of time for that to happen, well, it's anyone's guess, really. There are best practices to help Google find and crawl your site, like submitting a sitemap or doing the things that Google suggests to help Google understand your site. SEO professionals have wide-ranging answers, including days to months, a few hours to a year, a couple of days to never.
I have not seen any common theme in the time it takes to index pages or whole sites, so we don't even have a set timeframe to offer. In most cases, we'll see some of a site indexed fairly quickly—as in, a few weeks—but some sites struggle with having multiple pages of their website indexed. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell why Google isn't indexing, unless it's duplicate content, an error, or if it has a redirect or a tag that tells Google not to index. There have even been reported issues on Google's end at times with indexing. The vagueness of these indexing issues may cause frustration but all you can do is continue to update your content with helpful and relevant content that follows Google's E-E-A-T guidelines.
This is one of the biggest unknowns when it comes to seeing results from your SEO efforts, and is one key reason why the length of time it takes for results is so hard to pin down—until Google decides to index your site, it will not show up on organic search.
Your Website's Age, History, and Technical Stuff
Since we just talked about indexing, it's probably obvious that a brand-new site has a bit of a disadvantage compared to a site that's been around a while. An established site probably has at least a few pages that have been found by Google, so optimizing those pages could potentially have a faster impact than waiting for already-optimized pages to be indexed. Where older sites could have a disadvantage is if they have a checkered past—a history of black hat tactics, for example.
Making significant changes to your site can also affect SEO. One common example is a website changing to a new URL or rebranding. Moving to a new content management system (CMS) can also shake things up. Any sort of changes to your existing site can lengthen the amount of time it takes to see results or even negatively impact what traffic you are getting. That doesn't mean you shouldn't make those changes, but you should be aware of the short-term (and possibly long-term) effects.
Your site itself, the technical aspects, will likely have an impact on both the time it takes to see results and the type of results you'll see long-term. For example, some CMS platforms don't give users full control over aspects of the site. This is more common in industry-specific CMSs and some "user-friendly" types that you don't need a developer to use (great for the non-developers, but sometimes less great for SEO). And, with Google's emphasis on Core Web Vitals, Content Management Systems that negatively affect site speed can make SEO a little more difficult.
Who are you up against in the SERPs? Even if you are a local business, you probably have more competitors than just other local companies offering the same products or services as you. Google does a good job of helping searchers find what they are looking for near them, but not all queries are necessarily region-specific. Here's an example. You run an auto repair shop and you do oil changes. Someone near you types "oil change" into Google. They might see your shop, sure, but they'll also see those shops that just specialize in oil changes, they'll get basic informational results about what an oil change is, and they will probably get at least one DIY oil change result.
That's a simplistic example, but hopefully you see the point. Regardless of what your website is offering, you have a lot of competition. Competitor research is an important part of any SEO strategy, and it can help you understand what you're up against and what you can do better in order to beat out those competitors. But it also means that it's yet another factor that plays into your SEO results and when you'll see them. This factor is maybe a bit more stable than some of the other ones because you can actually see it, but it is still a bit of an unknown—you can really only guess why Google has chosen one particular site to rank first and there's no way to know exactly what it will take to knock off competitors.
Your Strategy and Tactics
The approaches you (or your team) take to optimize your site is another factor in seeing results. Everyone—even a professional—has to prioritize some things and set a strategy, and even if it's based on best practices, data, previous experience, or following Google's guidelines, there's no way to know for sure if it's the absolute best approach.
This isn't to say that there's one set way everyone should do things, or that certain SEO work is better than others. But it is worth understanding as a factor in how long things take. Budget allocation might be another way to look at it. If you're paying a smaller amount to an SEO team, they're doing less work overall than an SEO team who is paid twice as much. However, that doesn't guarantee that the higher-paying site will rank more quickly, but they will have more of the important stuff done quicker, and there is more time to do things like testing and trying new approaches once they gain some traction.
This might be a consideration in timeframes for seeing results, but also consider this: doing SEO work—no matter how much or how little—is far better than doing nothing.
The final factor we'll cover is one that can have the biggest impact on your SEO success, and it's one that no one but Google has any control over: the algorithm update. Google updates its algorithm constantly; some of those updates are big ones while others are barely noticeable. Google seldom gives a heads-up before doing the update, and even after—if they acknowledge it—they rarely explain what they did or why. Sometimes we get information about new aims that updates are focused on—E-E-A-T (which stands for experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness) and Core Web Vitals are some notable examples—but typically it's word-of-mouth by industry leaders or publications that give the most useful information about what verticals or sites were affected.
Truthfully, this isn't really one you should have to think about much when you begin your SEO efforts, as most algorithm updates are going to impact bigger, well-established sites more than they will yours, but it's still worth noting that it is yet another consideration in SEO—both in your early efforts and in your long-term success.
Planning for about six month's time to see results from SEO is a pretty good rule of thumb, but there are many things beyond your control that can impact that timeline. And, it can take even longer to see results that actually feel relevant to your business. Instead of being discouraged, consider the long-term benefit of having a solid stream of organic traffic coming to your site month over month. SEO is an ongoing strategy for your site, and it's an important one!
Written by Emery Pearson
Emery is the content strategist at Tribute Media. She has an MA in rhetoric and composition from Boise State University, and she is currently an MFA candidate in creative writing at Antioch University. She lives in southern California with a bunch of creatures and many plants.