Asking how long it takes SEO to work is a reasonable question with a difficult answer.
The short answer is “it’s different for everyone”.
Search Engine Optimization is the tortoise, not the hare. Overnight results are non-existent but with diligent work on your website through best practices put forth by Google, you’ll see your website improve over the course of months and years and you’ll be the one smiling in the end.
Why is it so different for everyone?
There are a multitude of factors that will influence how quickly you go from the dark ages to the first page of Google.
These factors vary and often factor in more than one issue of the list below:
- Content (quantity and quality)
- No. of errors on your site
- How long your site has been around
- Proper page titles + descriptions
- Number of backlinks
- Quality of backlinks
- Poor strategy
This isn’t an exhaustive list and each one of these items could take hours of work to fix.
So how do you get started?
Before you even decide to look at buying SEO services or evaluating your website, you should identify a goal. Look at the Google Analytics on your website and compare traffic as far back as you can.
Once you know where the traffic is coming from (paid, organic, direct, social) you can set goals for where you want your website to be 6 months from now, a year from now and three years from now in terms of traffic, time on site and bounce rate.
It’s highly likely your goals may change once you’ve had a professional audit completed of your website. They might also change as you get more information from professionals or research that provides further education for you.
Goals in hand, it’s now time to audit your website and see where you stand. The remainder of this article will be a step-by-step guide giving you the basics of how to start improving your website today.
Step 1: Get a website audit
How can you improve your website to rank in Google, Yahoo and Bing if you don’t know how it’s currently doing? A website audit gives you a baseline on where the current version of the website is and what you need to fix to start seeing results.
Any company worth their salt should offer a paid or free website audit for your company.
However, if you want to go the DIY route to audit your website you can navigate to SEMrush.com. It’s completely free to register.
- Register for an SEMrush account
- Select “Projects”
- Select “Add New Project”
- Select “Site Audit”
Within a few minutes you’ll see where your website stands. SEMrush gives you an audit score and identifies the errors on your site that you’ll need to fix to start speaking to the search engine algorithms correctly.
Step 2: Fix the errors
Once you’ve completed the site audit in SEMrush, you can go into the audit itself and see how many errors your website has.
Clicking into these errors and warnings will show you which website pages have broken links, which pages have duplicate content issues, how many pages couldn’t be crawled and more.
To the layperson this information can get overwhelming quite quickly and you may not know where to begin.
If the majority of the information you see here can’t be fixed by you, it’s time to talk to a professional about what it means and how to fix it.
Step 3: Use the right CMS + host provider
CMS stands for Content Management System. This is what your website is built on.
You may have heard website builders like Wordpress, Squarespace or Wix. These are CMS and some are better than others when it comes to ranking in Google.
Wix currently holds the highest percentage of market share among individual website builders.
However, the website builder that gets the best results on average is Wordpress. *Lower numbers are better here as they indicate Google Rank.
Source: Search Engine Land
Therefore, when it comes to the best platform to build your website for Google ranking, it’s Wordpress.
It’s also vital that your hosting provider can ensure quick page speeds. Websites that take too long to load will see potential customers leave before they even begin. It is expected that a website loads in less than 2 seconds on a desktop and less than 5 seconds on mobile.
In fact, of those who primarily search on mobile 49% said they would leave the website if it takes longer than 10 seconds to load.
Step 4: Check on the competition
When it comes to high quality SEO work, you’re trying to impress Google. But you don’t have to start from scratch to see how to do that.
Using SEMrush, you can look in on your competition and see what keywords they are ranking for and how their traffic is being dispersed.
By simply inputting your competitors website into the search bar, you’ll find some fantastic information.
In the report above, SEMrush shows how a Minneapolis law firm gets 95 out of 1900 total searches each month for the keyword “qrc”. This is 12% of their traffic each month to their website. You can also see where they are currently ranked in Google (6 means the sixth result on page one of Google).
Not only can you do this for your competitors’ websites, you can input your own as well and see how far behind or ahead you are for the keywords you want to be found for online.
Step 5: Choose a focused list of keyword phrases
Now your goals start to blend with your plan. If you set a target to double the traffic to the website, what keywords will help you get there?
With all you learned from SEMrush’s reports on your competition, identify 10-20 keywords you really want to rank for online.
BONUS: Once you have your list, put each keyword into Google and see who is ranking on the first page for that phrase. Click on the first few results and start seeing what type of content is featured on these pages. Is it long form? Is it a video? Are there a lot of calls to action?
Step 6: Create a content strategy
Now that you have your list of keywords you want to rank for, you need to incorporate those keywords into your site.
This means inserting these keywords into page titles, descriptions, headers and body content on the pages of your site. CAUTION: Do not just insert these phrases on your site willy-nilly. Each phrase should make sense to the page it is placed on.
It’s also vital to not over-insert these phrases on your website. Doing so will cost you dearly as you run the risk of getting penalized by Google for blackhat tactics.
A properly formed content strategy will see you identify the assets your website currently possesses and dictate which pages and blog posts you may need to create from scratch. If you have to create new pages or blogs from scratch, use your competition and industry resources as inspiration as content for your own site. Just make sure it’s unique to you.
When building content that includes phrases you want to be found for you want to make sure there is enough meat on the bone for the algorithm to truly identify what the focus of each page on your site is. It also needs to be 100% unique to your website. Plagiarizing your competition or other sites online is also considered a blackhat tactic and can be disastrous for your website’s long term potential.
To learn more about SEO best practices and how to avoid blackhat tactics, consult our post “What Does SEO Mean and Why Is It Useful”.
Step 7: Linking
You’ve audited your site and fixed its errors and you’ve evaluated your competition, figured out what keywords you want to rank for and have written some high-quality content on your site focused around these keywords. All that’s left to do is watch the web traffic roll in, right? Wrong.
Think of your fantastic website as a New Year’s Eve party. It could be the biggest party on the block with the best music, food + drink and atmosphere. But if you don’t send out invitations to the party, nobody is going to show up.
Website’s don’t just rank in Google because they have good content. You need to tell Google about this content off of the website and link back to it.
Whether it’s guest posting on blogs, using social media, commenting on industry forums or other ways to link to your site, the more highly authoritative websites that link back to your company site, the more the search engines will start paying attention to it.
Websites with high domain and page authority are prime targets to build your online credibility.
You can check a website’s domain authority (including your own) by going to this link.
Here’s an example of two Chicago shoe stores compared side-by-side in the Moz Link Explorer tool.
Although they are only a mile apart from each other in Chicago, Fluevog is galaxies ahead of Born With Soul online. The biggest difference? The number of high-quality websites linking to fluevog.com.
Fluevog has worked hard to build their online presence and as a result, are ranking for over 2000 keywords in Google nationally, while Born With Soul can be considered irrelevant online.
The takeaway? If you’re a reseller of both of these company’s shoes, which one will be more beneficial to write a guest blog on? The answer is clear.
How to set realistic goals
If you’ve completed the step-by-step guide above then it’s time to reset your goals. When it comes to answering the question “How long does SEO take to work?” it completely depends on how authoritative your website is now, how authoritative your competitors are and how much time you’re willing to invest to improve.
Most often, the time investment is too much for companies and they hire digital marketing agencies to handle their SEO.
If you put your SEO in the hands of an SEO company, how do you know if they are doing a good job for you?
Talk through your goals with them. And know the following going into that conversation:
- SEO is a never ending process
- Ranking in Google organic results doesn’t happen overnight or even weeks most often
- Companies can’t guarantee results (If they guarantee you page one results, STEER CLEAR)
- They should offer a website audit and content strategy
These are baseline items. If a company balks when bringing up any of these, it’s best to look for another company.
So how long does it really take?
Just like it was said at the beginning of this post, it’s a difficult answer.
There are so many different factors to consider like what industry you’re in, how competitive it is, the health of your website today and so much more.
What’s important is to have realistic goals. Many people want to double their traffic and rank on page one for every keyword they choose. It’s simply not the reality, especially if you’ve never put work into SEO before.
What’s most important is steady growth. If your keywords continue to rise and your traffic continues to rise it’s a clear indicator that the search engines like the work you’re doing. And over time you’ll see more inquiries to your business and a better bottom line.
Here’s an example of a trajectory to expect in the first year of SEO.
So does it happen overnight? No.
Will you see results in weeks? Possibly.
Will you see drastic increases in your traffic in months? Potentially.
Will it take a focused strategy month over month? Certainly.