How Long SEO Takes to Work - and How to Improve the Process
Many people hold the assumption that SEO can take months - or even years - to start working. And while there are a variety of factors that play a role in this process, there are things you can do to help your website get indexed and rank faster.
In fact, there is no hard rule as to how long SEO takes to work. However, below you’ll discover what influences the speed at which your website is indexed, and some tips for how to improve the process.
Here’s how long SEO takes and how to make it work for you.
How Long Does SEO Take? It Depends.
The length of time it takes for SEO to start working depends on a variety of factors, including how long your website has been around, how much content is on your site, how many backlinks you have, and a slew of other factors.
Even if you have two domains at the same age, serving the same industry and market, there’s no guarantee that these sites will rank at the same time or even in the same way. In short, search engines assess your site holistically to determine its indexation and rank.
Here is a breakdown of a few factors that influence your ranking:
How old your website is from when the domain first went live can play a role in SEO. An “old” domain may have had time to build authority, earn backlinks, post content, and more. Thus, how long your website has been around can influence how long it takes for SEO to take hold.
Some websites, just on the basis of having a great technical foundation and content, can rank on their own. But in most cases, it takes an intentional SEO strategy in order to really move the needle. If SEO was part of the strategy from the very beginning (versus later in the game), this can set a website up for success.
Quality and quantity of content
The quality and amount of content you have on your site certainly influences your SEO. Assuming your content is optimized and valuable for users, Google holds this in high regard. If your website has a great reputation for producing informative content, Google is more likely to take notice when you further optimize your site.
Backlinks from other websites can direct earned authority to your website and indicate to search engines that your website is valuable. Here, the quality, quantity, and relevance of the backlinks matter. If you have a robust backlink profile, this can influence your rankings as well.
For most industries, the competitive landscape is constantly changing. New businesses enter the market every day. This means your site may be competing with new domains, businesses, and blogs. In short, the SEO you implemented months or years ago may not necessarily keep you competitive. You will want to make sure your SEO strategy is fully up-to-date.
The localization (“local SEO”) of your website can narrow down your competition by allowing you to target a specific local market. With this edge, you are more likely to rank - compared to trying to compete at a national or international level. Implementing local SEO for your local business can help you get crawled, indexed, and ranked at a quicker pace. Local SEO is relevant enough that there’s a whole separate branch of Surfer dedicated to helping businesses rank higher locally! Learn more about Surfer Local here!
Site speed is an important user experience consideration and a known Google ranking factor. If your site is fast, this provides a positive user experience; if your site is slow, users are likely to look elsewhere. Optimize your site to load as quickly as possible and it makes it easier for Google to crawl and index your site.
Average Timeline for SEO
While an exact SEO timeline is impossible to pin down, here is a realistic scenario and what you might expect from your SEO efforts.
The first month of SEO work typically involves an audit of your existing website (if you have one), keyword research, and planning. During this time, you should access the existing structure and SEO of your website, or plan out the infrastructure of your new website. Technical SEO and implementation may also occur during this phase.
Since keyword research is fundamental in any SEO content strategy, Surfer offers several tools to help writers with the process. One is Keyword Surfer free Chrome extension which allows you to analyze data, do preliminary keyword research, and get suggested content guidelines without ever leaving Google!
Month 2 begins action on the technical and on-page SEO issues identified during your audit. Or, this phase may involve establishing your new site’s information architecture, URL structure, design, and development. Your site may even require a complete overhaul and/or redesign, which can take months. If this is the case, you won’t see the results of your SEO until the project is finished and the new site is made live.
If your SEO plan does not require an overhaul or redesign, then you’ll likely spend Month 3 implementing on-page SEO. For local businesses, this may also involve localization and build out of local listings. You may optimize existing content and create new content, like web pages and blog articles. You may begin seeing a rise in rankings from your SEO efforts at this stage.
Your 4th month of implementing SEO will likely involve technical optimization, content creation, localization (if applicable), and link building. If optimized effectively, your website will likely show an increase in rankings and organic traffic. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is a must at this stage if you want to turn that traffic into new leads or sales. Don’t lose steam here, but rather carry out SEO across the following months to see the best results.
By Month 5 you should have a clear idea of your SEO objectives for the coming months. This will be based on the results of your earlier audit, intermittent audits, keyword research, and competitor research. You can start incorporating social media with your website in order to drive more visibility for your brand. Continued content creation and link building will also influence your site’s traffic and performance. With CRO, your conversion rate should be improving as well.
At half a year into your SEO plan, you will have some insight into how your site is performing and what content users engage with most. Then, your strategy will mainly involve creating new content, promoting this content, and improving conversion on-site. Monthly analytics reports will help you keep track of keyword rankings, organic traffic, and goal completions (conversions).
The 1 Year mark is a great time to take inventory of what’s working well on your site and what can be improved. SEO audit tools will help you identify technical and on-page issues, so you can address these as part of your regular site maintenance. At this time, you may also expand your content strategy based on new, untapped keyword opportunities.
At Year 2, you’ve already gone through two annual cycles of your SEO strategy. You’ll be able to see Year Over Year (YoY) growth and traffic trends. Take these learnings and apply them to your future SEO strategy. Look at what your competitors are doing - both on-site and off - to find new opportunities to improve your SEO and content.
In our experience, most businesses tend to see SEO “working” at around 4 to 6 months. However, your traffic will likely increase over time. Low numbers at the beginning is very normal. If you see your traffic begin to taper off, this would be a good time to audit your site and conduct additional research.
That said, don’t be discouraged! There’s no one formula, nor are there any hard rules as to when a post will start showing results. This is a post from SEO Surfers, Surfer’s private interactive Facebook community!
If you haven’t joined the community yet, what are you waiting for!? Join SEO Surfers and start interacting with thousands of SEOs across the globe!
How Do I Know if My SEO is “Working”?
Many people assume that “rankings” are the primary indicator of SEO success. In reality, keyword rankings are only really valuable to a certain extent. What really matters to you is how much traffic you are generating from those rankings and how much new business you are earning from this traffic.
With this in mind, here are a few ways to tell that your SEO is paying off:
“Rankings” refer to your website’s visibility and position in the search engine results for the keywords you are targeting on your website. Ranking at the top 3 positions are the best way to capture the majority of the traffic share for your keywords. However, your rankings do not tell you how much traffic you are attracting to your website.
When it comes to SEO, it’s all about organic traffic. Free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console can tell you how much organic traffic is coming to your site, for which keywords, and over what timeframe. Additionally, Google Search Console provides information about your site’s indexation, click-through rate, ranking keywords, top landing pages, and more.
In order to rank in organic search, your site needs to be crawled and indexed. Google Search Console provides a report of how many of your live URLs have been indexed by Google. If you see a discrepancy between these two numbers, this means some of your pages have not been indexed and may require additional optimization. Connecting to GSC is one of the first steps we suggest you take when using Surfer to audit and optimize your content. Surfer can help you to do a domain-wide audit to find gaps in your content strategy and help your efforts go further.
Goal Completions / Conversions
Google Analytics allows you to “tag” certain actions on your website in order to track conversions. Every time a user fills out a form, adds an item to their cart, etc., this marks a “goal completion”. A high conversion rate here means you are converting a high percentage of your incoming visitors into new leads, customers, or subscribers.
Tools like SEMrush.com and Ahrefs.com offer backlink reports to see how many links and domains are referencing your website. Over time, your site may accrue more valuable backlinks and this number will increase, as will your Domain Authority. This can be another indication that your SEO is paying off.
Speed Up the Process of SEO (Really!)
The best way to speed up your SEO is to implement it correctly every step of the way. Mishaps in your SEO strategy can hinder Google crawling, indexing, and ranking your site.
One of the coolest Surfer features is the real-time metric which, if followed accordingly, will hopefully set you up for success even before you hit publish! It'll advise on structure, heading, NLP and terms to use!
Here are several tips for “doing SEO” right from the start.
Create a Sitemap
A sitemap is essentially a map or outline of the pages on your website. Creating and submitting a sitemap to Google Search Console can make it easier for Google to crawl your site. This should be one of the first steps you take once you’ve established your site’s page hierarchy.
Optimize Your Content
Content editing tools allow you to optimize your content in accordance with SEO best practices for the keywords you want to target. You want to make sure your existing and new content is all SEO friendly. This includes having an optimized title tag, URL, meta description, heading tags, images, and page content. Surfer's Audit tool is the perfect all-in-one space to help you check content length, keyword density, internal link opportunities and even page speed!
Pay Attention to Core Web Vitals
Google’s Core Web Vitals report provides insight into your website’s speed, interactivity, and user friendliness. Run your URL through the report and you’ll likely find some areas for improvement. Google provides some helpful recommendations, so follow these to improve your SEO.
Build Out Your Backlinks
Backlinks can increase your site’s authority and drive additional traffic to your website. PR efforts, outreach, guest posting, blogging, and content marketing are a few ways to earn backlinks. Make link building part of your SEO process to generate better results over time.
Keep Content Fresh
SEO goes far beyond simply optimizing your existing content; you should also create new content on a regular basis. This means exploring new keywords, diversifying your content, using video, and more. Search engines like to see that your site is active and creating valuable content for users. If you've been feeling a bit stuck r stagnant on your SEO journey, fear not! Surfer has just launched their SEO Writing Masterclass version 2.0!
4 modules, 20 videos, and free templates! It's 100% free and, according to the community it's proven extremely useful!
Localize Your Listings
Local SEO touches on your off-site listings as well. Google My Business, Yelp, and YellowPages are a few places to post your local business information and drive traffic. At the same time, try to generate positive customer reviews to bump up your visibility in Search.
Get the Most Out of SEO
SEO can take days, weeks, months, or years to show the results that you want. Like the story of The Tortoise and the Hare, “slow and steady wins the race”. You’ll want to implement SEO from the beginning and then stay consistent in order to see the best results.
Remember, there are many factors that play a role in how long SEO takes to “work” for your website. Don’t get discouraged, but rather follow the best practices outlined above as the best way to set your site up for success.
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