How Long Does it Take for SEO to Work?

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How Long Does it Take for SEO to Work?

So, you outsourced search engine optimization (SEO) to a reputable agency—or perhaps you gave the job to your in-house team.  You wait a few days and enter some relevant keywords into Google or another search engine and feel like you just hit a brick wall:  there’s no change in your rankings.  So, what happened?  Why aren’t you seeing the instantaneous improvements you anticipated from all the SEO efforts?


It Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Before you haul your people out on the carpet or start screaming at the agency you just paid, you need to understand a few facts about how SEO works.  Fact #1:  improved rankings from SEO don’t happen overnight, or even necessarily in a few weeks.  In fact, businesses which try to put their thumb on the scale to speed up SEO results could actually see their rankings go down (for example, if they do link building too quickly).

So, how long does SEO take (to work, that is), and why is it taking longer than you want it to?  The answer is (as is so often the case when processes are complex), “it depends.”  Let’s look at why.


The Three Pillars of Effective Optimization

Effectively optimizing your website rests upon multiple factors, but some are more important than others.  As Search Engine Journal explains, three are of particular importance:

“The truth is that how long it takes comes down to analyzing several variables for your own website compared to the same variables for your competitors’ websites.  There are three specific criteria that play a significant role on how long your SEO will take: competition, inbound links, and content.”

So, how do you ensure that each of these is done right?  Here are some basics:


Who Are You Competing with, and How Competitive Is What You’re Selling?

If you sell lace doilies or genuine Amish quilts in your local market, chances are you’re not going to have that much competition (meaning, that many competing websites).  If on the other hand you have a law firm with national reach, you’re going to have LOTS of competition.

In other words, the more companies there are selling what you sell, and the more websites there are featuring those products and services, the more competition you face, and the longer it’s going to take for you to see results from your SEO efforts.

There’s one more important caveat regarding the nature and extent of competition you face.  If your website is currently getting weak search engine rankings (for example, if you’re not even on the top three pages), you’ll see quicker upward movement than if you’re near the top.

The lower the ranking of a given website, the easier it will be to overtake it, this because lower-ranked sites, like yours, typically are not well optimized.  The higher your site climbs, the slower your upward movement will likely be.


How Many High-Quality Inbound Links Do You Have, and How Did You Build Them?

So, what’s a “high-quality” link?  It’s a link from a reputable website that many people visit and trust, and which provides accurate, useful information.  Said differently, an inbound link from the New York times is of higher quality than one from your local Penny Saver.  Although quantity and quality of inbound links are both important, quality trumps quantity every time.

In general, the larger the volume of high-quality inbound links to your site, the higher your search engine rankings will be.  There is, however, another caveat.  Sites which increase their volume of inbound links too quickly can suffer penalties, particularly if their link-building campaign violates a search engine’s guidelines (take a look at this Google article on “link schemes” to get an idea of how this works).


Is Your Site’s Content Valuable and Helpful to the Visitor?


Remember, the goal of search engines is to give users the best, most accurate and relevant information possible.  Most of that information comes in the form of posted content, from blogs to case studies, white papers and how-to articles.  If the content on your site is reliable and accurate, you’ll see higher rankings; if it’s second-rate or contains questionable assertions, you’ll get lower rankings.

So, what do you do if you have minimal useful content on your site, or lots of content that’s of low quality?  Here, there’s an important difference from link building.  Search engines don’t penalize websites that grow their storehouse of content quickly (again, assuming the content is good).

If you have a library of strong content ready for posting, post it.  It’s also appealing to search engines to post new content on a regular schedule, and over the long haul.



Admittedly, SEO can be a complicated business, typically not a DIY project.  If you’re serious about improving your site’s rankings and thereby increasing site traffic (and with it, quality leads, conversions and sales), take the time to find a reputable agency who can do the job for you, and do it right.

Need help with your SEO? Contact us today.

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