How Long Does SEO Take?

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Understandably, all the customers we do Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for are keen to see results within a defined time frame. In a world where some digital advertising methods, such as PPC, can deliver quick and dramatic results, SEO – with its complexities and strategic approach – is an uncertain proposition. Marketing professionals urge patience with SEO, emphasising the long-term nature of the strategy; some being reluctant to give a figure at all. While it is undoubtedly true that SEO isn’t a quick fix, the question of how long it takes is still a valid one; and we will attempt to answer it in this article.

What Does SEO Involve?

It is helpful to start by explaining what activities constitute SEO. Search Engine Optimisation is an umbrella term that covers several different activities. Each of these takes different amounts of time to take effect.

Website Auditing and Keyword Research: This is the starting point of SEO. A website audit identifies the elements of your website that can be improved, such as keyword use, image tags, back links and Meta Tags. It benchmarks your performance against your competitors and illustrates what keywords are underused on your site. This opens the door to keyword research; the process of determining a list of productive search terms that you have the potential to rank highly for. This stage also establishes your traffic potential and how many hits you are likely to gain from each keyword. This stage is typically completed within the first month of a campaign, although auditing is an ongoing part of SEO and is used to measure results

Technical SEO covers all aspects of SEO apart from the written content. The goal is to make it easy for Search Engine spiders to crawl through your content and index your webpages. Nowadays there aren’t any real ways of manipulating Search Engines – the infamous ‘black hat’ techniques of the swashbuckling ‘noughties are now a thing of the past – but  there are still technical changes you can make to your website that Google will appreciate.

Improving your site speed and user experience are important technical SEO activities. Optimising and reducing your image size is another factor, as is cleaning up your code. For instance, you should avoid excessive use of CSS images (you should use sprites instead) and try not to use too many plug-ins. Technical SEO is usually carried out within the first couple of months of the campaign. Results are fast and are sometimes noticeable almost immediately. Learn more about website load speed with this great article - Website Load Speed Time – How to Give Your Website The Boost It Needs.

On-page SEO: On-page and off-page SEO are concerned with two main activities; content creation and link building. On-page SEO is all about your website and the content you use – especially your use of keywords – the relevance of your writing and the experience you provide your visitors.

Off-page SEO concentrates on acquiring inbound links to your website from other sources. These should be cultivated naturally from relevant websites. You should never try to purchase links or make use of so-called link farms. Google respects organic links as a sign of authority and relevance, and will boost your search rankings accordingly.

There is a flipside to this. Inbound links from dodgy sources will negatively affect your rankings, so link analysis is an important part of off-page SEO. This analysis not only identifies valuable potential link sources, but also lets you remove toxic links that may be affecting your search ranking. Find out more information about why it's important to check your backlinks with this article - Why Is It Important To Regularly Check Your Backlink Profile?

How to acquire these valuable links? The best way is to become a source of valuable content. Write blogs, create infographics, and publish videos. As people link back to your content or share it on social media, so your authority will grow. This is not an overnight process and it is difficult to put precise dates on when you might start to see results. There is normally a noticeable increase in inbound links within 6 to 9 months of a campaign.

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When Should You Start To See Results?

As you can see, SEO is a process that takes months or years, rather than days or weeks. This isn’t to say that you won’t see some results quite quickly. On-site tasks usually yield results within a month or two, so you might find yourself with a dramatic increase in search results for important keywords. This is a great confidence boost and proof that SEO does work, but subsequent gains are usually incremental.

Some people lose heart at this stage, but they shouldn’t do. Once the inbound links start coming in, we advise our clients that they will start seeing some permanent changes in rankings within the first three months. However, a campaign only reaches maturity within 6 to 12 months of onset; after which you should be on the front page of the Google search results for your important keywords.

This shouldn’t be a signal to take your foot off the accelerator. To maintain authority with Google, you need to be publishing a steady stream of new, relevant content, in order to keep your rankings. Losing momentum may see you slip back down again. Bear in mind that your competitors will also be engaging in SEO, and it is a competitive game for whose websites reach the top 10 results. There will also be occasional setbacks, either as a result of algorithm changes or the activity of competitors. These losses can normally be quickly made up and should not dishearten you, but they do underline the importance of SEO as a long-term business investment.

What Other Factors Affect Results?

A number of factors can affect this timeframe. If you work in a niche industry with comparatively little competition, you might see results quite quickly, whereas a company in a well populated market will need to work hard to attain the same visibility.

Internal factors also play a part; such as the quality and technical build of your website. Domain Authority also comes into play here. If you have a long established website domain, you will automatically have an authority boost that newer domains may not have. Finally, your keyword strategy will affect the speed of your results. Getting onto the Google first page for a highly competitive keyword will take longer time, and yield more inconsistent results, than for less competitive keywords. The key is to strike a balance in your keyword strategy between ‘fast yield’ keywords and longer term, super-competitive keywords. Learn how to choose the right keywords with this article - How To Choose the Right Keywords For SEO.

How To Evaluate Success

We have so far been referring to ‘results’ as if it were a single factor. In fact, there are different ways to measure the success of SEO; and the question of how long SEO takes also begs the answer ‘to do what?’

The old way of assessing SEO results was based on keyword rankings. Success or failure rested on how many of the target keywords ended up on the first page of Google search results. Of course, being on the front page means absolutely nothing if there is not an increase in website traffic, lead conversions and sales. In this sense traditional SEO was trying to measure the wrong thing.

Google page rankings are extremely important but they are part of the process and not the end goal itself. As content becomes far more specialised and personalisation ever more important, other measures of success become more relevant. A better marker of success in SEO would be a long term average increase in web traffic to specific landing pages, increased Social Media shares, a higher conversion rate, or increased overall revenue. Reductions in bounce rate and consistent keyword rankings over time are also markers of success with SEO. All of this is achievable with only a modest investment and within a year at most, although sustaining and consolidating these results is an ongoing process.

How Well Is Your Website Performing?

The ultimate goal of SEO is to make your website work harder for you; to generate leads and sales in a way that takes less time, less money and less energy. To help you with this, we have put together a free Website Conversion Rate Checklist as a resource you can use to assess your progress. Click here to claim your copy. For more information about our SEO services and how we can help, please contact one of our marketing specialists on 01332 343281.

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