When clients ask about our SEO services, the most common question we get is, “How long will SEO take to make my website rank?” It’s a fair question for a paying client to ask… and it’s also an unfair question because unfortunately, there is NO straightforward answer that applies to everyone. Many variables go into search rankings, and one factor that you can’t control is the strength of your competition.
Your chances of ranking, and the time it takes your website to get there, are largely dependent on what your competitors are doing to rank their websites. Competition strength varies immensely between different target keywords, industries, and cities/regions. That’s just part of the reason why it’s hard for us to estimate how long it will take you to rank without doing an extensive analysis of your current site, your competitors’ sites, and the search habits of your target market.
Before we get too caught up in search ranking factors, it’s important to think about why ranking matters to you and what outcomes you are hoping to achieve from search engine optimization.
Ranking matters, but is it the only goal of SEO?
Many business owners want to start doing SEO with the objective of ranking #1 for relevant search terms. While ranking certainly is a key goal of SEO and a metric that you want to improve, a #1 ranking doesn’t directly translate into sales and revenue.
Think about the outcomes of your efforts. What’s the real reason you’re doing SEO? It’s all about generating leads and gaining new business.
Beyond search rankings, these are some of the key metrics you should look at when you evaluate the results of your optimization efforts:
These are the SEO payoffs that you should make your priority objectives. Many SEO firms are selling the promise of a #1 Google ranking, but the trustworthy ones will focus on outcomes that produce a return on your investment more than they will focus on rankings. With that being said, the question still stands: “How long will it take for SEO to pay off?”
How long does SEO take to see the results you want?
The answer depends on several factors, but with some analysis, it is possible to get a ballpark idea of how long it will take to see your SEO strategy start working. These are the three biggest contributing factors:
1. The starting line (and your desired finish line) for your site.
For new websites or existing sites that aren’t ranking well, an effective SEO strategy typically takes around 4-6 months to start seeing a notable increase in page rankings, organic traffic & lead generation.
Your site’s current performance and your unique SEO goals play a big role in the length of time it takes to get from where you are to where you want to be. Taking a good site that already has decent content from the bottom of the first page to the top is much quicker than taking a poorly ranking site, or a brand-new site, to the top of page one. For new websites or existing sites that aren’t ranking well, an effective SEO strategy typically takes around 4-6 months to start seeing a notable increase in page rankings, organic traffic, and lead generation. For a site that already has some standing, adding content and making technical tweaks can yield noticeable results much faster.
2. The strength of the competition and SEO strategy of your competitors.
Competition strength can refer to several factors. For one, the number of competing businesses in your city or service area will play a role in your SEO timeline. How many sites do you have to beat to get to the top of local search results?
Other important factors to consider are the SEO efforts and general popularity of your competitors’ websites. If your competition isn’t getting much traffic and isn’t utilizing the right SEO strategies, you may find yourself ranking faster than expected. If you’re going up against companies with a well-established web presence and a knack for SEO, you may be in for a longer wait.
Also, what keywords are your competitors ranking for and attempting to rank for? Rather than target generic keywords with the highest search volume and competition strength, you should focus on longtail keywords that answer a specific search query. You will have an easier time ranking for these types of keywords and you’ll get more targeted traffic with specific intent. If you are going after the same keywords that everyone in your industry/local market are targeting, it will take more link building, more content, and ultimately more time to get to the top.
As an example of how competition strength contributes to ranking difficulty, consider how ranking for the keyword “plumber” in New York City would be much more difficult than ranking for “custom wood mailboxes” in Topeka, KS.
3. The time, budget, and work you and/or your SEO company can put into the project.
The preliminary phases of implementing an SEO strategy can take multiple months depending on how much time and work gets put in.
The SEO process always starts with a research and discovery phase that involves a site audit, competitor analysis, and keyword research. Depending on who you are working with (or if you are taking it on by yourself), this could take anywhere from a week to upwards of a month.
After that, making technical optimizations, building links and citations, and publishing tons of valuable content will likely take 3-4 months. Again, this depends on how much time and energy can be devoted to these tasks. After this phase, you will have to continue monitoring and updating your website based on performance. As your competitors continue updating and optimizing, you will have to do the same to stay ahead. SEO is never “done”.
These local ranking factors will help you bring quality traffic to your website
A website that wants to rank for certain keywords nationally or globally has a vastly different goal than a business that wants to generate leads and get calls from potential customers in their local area. According to Moz’s 2018 survey, Local Search Ranking Factors, these are the top 5 signals that make up over 80% of what Google’s algorithm is looking for when determining what to display in the local 3-pack.
Google My Business Signals (keywords used in your title and description, your selected categories, the proximity of your listed address to the searcher’s GPS location, etc.)
Link Signals (Inbound links from other sites to yours, the credibility and domain authority of the sites that link to yours, the number of domains that link to yours, etc.)
Review Signals (The number of reviews, your average star rating, the frequency at which you receive new reviews, reviews on third party sites like Yelp, etc.)
On-Page Signals (Your use of keywords on your website, the presence and consistency of your name/address/phone number on your site, etc.)
Citation Signals (The volume of citations on trusted business directories, the consistency of your name/address/phone number across citations, etc.)
As for the rest of the localized organic search results that appear below the 3-pack, the top 5 signals are Link Signals, On-Page Signals, Behavioral Signals (website click-through rate, mobile click-to-calls, etc.), and Google My Business Signals. Optimizing for these and other local search signals will surely speed up the time it takes for you to start generating new business online.
Get started today!
You can start optimizing your site for these local search signals today by following the steps listed in this post made by Google: Improve your local ranking on Google.
If you want professional help optimizing for local search, Olly Olly will provide you with a free audit and report on what needs improvement. Contact us today to request your free SEO audit. We also encourage you to get in touch if you have any questions or points to add. Thanks for reading!
Article by John Kennedy
Born and currently based in Lowell, Massachusetts, John is an impassioned copywriter and Olly Olly’s fearless Content Manager.
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