While I was doing my weekly learning, I stumbled upon this article by Jeremy Knauff on Search Engine Journal about How Long Does SEO Take? And pretty much like any other SEO specialists on the planet, I’ve been asked the same question by clients, especially those who are newbies in the digital world.
As much as I would love to pin down a definite timeline on when exactly SEO efforts will take effect, we simply can’t. Our knowledge, tools, and experience can only help us to a certain extent. And I kid you not, there are scenarios that even when we’ve tried everything in our power to optimize the site, including constant content updates, there are days when Google hits us pretty bad.
However, this doesn’t mean that all of our efforts have gone to waste. Technology is ever-changing, after all. And learning never ends in marketing (whether it’s traditional or digital). We need to adapt and be flexible to ensure that our clients’ sites are up to par with Google’s best practices.
Going back to the question, how long does it really take to see results for SEO? Usually, I tell clients that on-page site optimization can take 2 to 3 months depending on the amount of work we need to fix on your site and how much time we are given to work on it. External efforts (like link building, etc.) and blog article writing should be done religiously to keep your website on the right path.
As for those who ask me how long it will take to get a site to rank #1, I always try to go the ‘honesty’ route. “I simply can’t say.” It depends on the keyword difficulty, the amount of competition, and how aggressive you are in marketing your site. We have to push building links consistently and promotion should be done regularly.
Let’s take a look at the factors that affect your SEO performance.
Factors that Affect Your SEO Efforts
Several things influence your website’s performance on organic search.
First, and definitely the most crucial one, is Google’s ever-changing algorithm. If you’re not familiar with the word “algorithm”, it’s a set of rules that Google and other search engine use to determine which websites should come up in response to someone’s search.
The algorithm is constantly changing, and as a result, so is SEO. Unfortunately, what worked last year might not work this year, and what works today might not work next year. It can be challenging to keep up with these changes, but it’s important to try because if you don’t, your website will get left behind and miss out on potential traffic.
Google and other search engines have prioritized their users’ experience first – thus, the constantly updating algorithm. You think you’ve cracked it up now, wait until another update launches, and you’re back to the drawing board. Trying to guess what will be prioritized next is definitely a guessing game.
That’s why you need to constantly monitor your SEO health and change up your content strategy when you see a decline in rankings or traffic. Try not to get too comfortable with anyone’s strategy, because chances are it won’t work forever.
The amount and quality of your inbound links are probably the next strongest factor to monitor.
When I started in this industry, about 10 years ago, it was all about the numbers game. The more links you have going on your site, the more authoritative your site looks on search engines, thus, they give you a higher ranking for relevant keywords.
And then Penguin was introduced in 2012. This algorithm update targeted manipulative link-building tactics and moved SEOs to work on improving their inbound link strategies. Blog commenting and other low-quality link building strategies have been scrapped.
Inbound links are any links that come into your site from another source. So if you have a link on your website that goes to another website, that’s an inbound link.
There are two types of inbound links: dofollow and nofollow. Dofollow links are the ones that pass along “link juice” or “pagerank” to the linked website. Nofollow links don’t pass along link juice, but they’re still valuable because they can bring traffic to your site.
The more high-quality inbound links you have, the better your website will rank in search engine results pages (SERPs). That’s why it’s crucial to monitor the inbound links to your site and make sure they’re high quality. Most experts focused on acquiring higher quality links that usually can come from exchanging content with authoritative publishers (guest posting and content marketing), resource link building, link exchange, broken link building, and other outreach efforts.
A good way to check the quality of your inbound links is to use a tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer. This tool lets you see all the inbound links pointing to your website and information about each link, like the PageRank and domain authority of the linking site.
If you see a lot of low-quality links or links from spammy websites, you may want to disavow those links. Disavowing means telling Google that you don’t want those links to be counted when determining your website’s ranking. You can do this using Google’s disavow tool.
On-page Content Optimization
And since we’re already on the subject, your website’s content quality is another area to monitor.
Google’s E-A-T, or Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, is a set of quality guidelines that the search engine uses to evaluate websites. These guidelines aims to ensure that users find helpful and reliable information when they perform a search.
E-A-T is based on three main pillars:
- Expertise: The content’s author should be an expert on the topic.
- Authoritativeness: The content should come from a known and respected source for its accuracy.
- Trustworthiness: The site should be reliable and provide accurate information.
This simply means that business owners and digital marketers to focus on creating high-quality content that is both accurate and helpful for users. In addition, they should ensure that their website is trustworthy and respected by others in their industry.
While Google’s E-A-T guidelines are not a ranking factor, they can influence your website’s visibility in the search engine results pages (SERPs). If your site is not seen as an expert or trustworthy source of information, it is unlikely to rank well.
Let’s take a look at a recent project I’ve handled where we’ve done some content optimization.
There are two main problems with this website:
- They have a separate landing page targeting the same set of keywords as their actual location page.
- The content for their location pages is copied across all locations. While they have done a little rewording, it’s not optimized for target keywords. The subheadings (content subsections) were pretty generic, and the actual content itself is obviously written for search engine ranking purposes and not for the users.
What was done:
With the help of the technical SEO expert, we’ve first decided to redirect the landing page to the actual location page to see if it will create an impact on the rankings and traffic. We’ve preferred to keep the location page vs. the landing page to maintain uniformity on the site. Both landing and location page didn’t perform due to keyword cannibalization issues.
After redirecting the page, I started with content optimization. I’ve reviewed the keywords the site is ranking for in Search Console and reviewed top-ranking pages related to the primary keyword.
I’ve given the page a content overhaul and ensured that all formatting is optimized and content substance adheres to user intent.
And the rest as they say is history. Just look at the difference it made in the screenshot below.
Writing and publishing blogs regularly is also another factor. However, you don’t need to publish articles every week. You’d want to focus on doing long-form content at least twice a month to keep things fresh on your site and provide relevance to your audience.
That’s the beauty of long-form content. You can target as many keywords as you want as you cover as many relevant topics as you can in that subject matter. Since your content is well researched, you are providing value to your audience and improving their user experience. It’s hitting two birds with one stone.
Plus, it’s easier to pitch to blog authors and other subject matter experts. Other websites are more likely to link to you if your content is substantial. I have a client who has invested his time in producing high-quality content. It may have taken him years to get the results he wanted, but it did pay off. Eventually, content marketers are linking to his content voluntarily.
Last but not least, consider your competition. If you’re already swamped with competition offline, expect the market to be the same online. Although, don’t get discouraged. With the right marketing strategy and a pinch of creativity, you can achieve your goals shorter than expected.
A competitive analysis allows you to check what strategies work for your competitors and what’s not. You can use this to learn from their mistakes and replicate their successes.
There are various ways to do a competitive analysis. Here’s a quick guide:
- Know your products
The first step is to know your product inside and out. This will help you determine your product’s unique selling proposition (USP).
- Know your competitors
Research your top competitors and learn about their products, pricing, marketing strategies, etc.
- Identify their strengths and weaknesses
Once you know your product and your competition, it’s time to compare and contrast. Then, list down the strengths and weaknesses of your product and your competitor’s products.
- Find your USP
Now that you have an insight of the strengths and weaknesses of both you and your competition, it’s time to find your unique selling proposition. This is what will make you stand out from the rest.
- Create a marketing strategy
Now that you know what works and what doesn’t, it’s time to create a marketing strategy to help you achieve your goals.
As the digital market continues to grow, it is important for businesses to understand the competition in order to make the most informed decisions about their internet marketing strategies.
If you want a higher turnaround for your investment, I would suggest tapping and using multiple marketing channels. Get data, check trends and find which ones effectively work for you and your customers.
So what’s the safest timeline to set for SEO?
Probably, the safest timeline we can come up with is about at least 3 to 6 months up to a year.
And that is if you’re super lucky – you have so many awesome content, you have a wide network of connections from authoritative sites (like news sites or major content publishers), and you have a massive following and you already have a brand. But if you are new in the industry, with a niche that’s super competitive, a year or more would be a good benchmark.
SEO caters to your long-term marketing goals. Just make sure to constantly pour your efforts into optimizing your site and improving user experience, network and build connections with content publishers, and make your presence known on social media. One day, you’ll be glad you did.