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It’s perhaps the most frequently asked question: How long does SEO take?

The question certainly deserves attention. Business owners want to be sure their investment for an SEO marketing campaign generates a return. Otherwise they would rather focus their efforts and spending elsewhere.

But unfortunately the answer isn’t so clear.

SEO is a multifaceted field that continues to evolve. Newer technologies and usage patterns (e.g. rise in smartphone usage) also force Google to adjust their ranking algorithms accordingly. Complicating matters even further is the fact that no two sites are the same.

One site might rank well immediately for a competitive keyword whereas another might take months or even years. Factors that influence search rankings include:

  • Domain authority
  • Content relevance
  • Keyword usage
  • Backlink quality
  • Brand mentions
  • Social metrics

Even visitor engagement affects rankings.

Another important factor that determines how long it takes to rank is the actual keyword you are aiming for. Extremely competitive keywords such as “credit cards” are dominated by major brands and require an enormous investment. A new site with zero authority stands little chance of ranking for such a keyword.

Consider the following graph:

Search Demand Curve

Shorter keywords (e.g. SEO companies) account for a great deal of traffic. But the reality is that long tail keywords (e.g. small business SEO services in Austin) make up 70% of all search traffic. The latter is also much more targeted and has higher conversions.

Looking Beyond Search Engine Rankings

Rankings matter.

But it doesn’t tell the whole picture. Because ranking for certain keywords is no guarantee it will generate traffic or sales. Rather than focusing on the time it ranks to rank, a better approach is to measure outcomes for SEO services.

Start by asking these questions:

  • How many visitors from search resulted in a sale or lead?
  • What impact has an SEO strategy had on revenue?
  • Are visitors engaging with other pages on the site?
  • What keywords are generating the best return?
  • What other marketing channels can be leveraged?
  • Is the site optimized for mobile devices?

Ranking for keywords is a great first step. But it pays to look beyond how well your site ranks to evaluate the metrics that matter. Examples of performance indicators to measure include qualified traffic and revenue growth.

So how Long Does SEO Take to Work?

It depends.

Despite what some SEO specialists claim, there is simply no real answer to this question. Results rarely if ever happen overnight not to mention that no two sites start from the same place. SEO is a long term strategy that requires careful planning and deliberate implementation.

While there is no clear answer, here is a basic timeline of what you can expect when working with a local SEO company and when you can start seeing results:

  • Month 1: The first month is typically spent on conducting a thorough SEO audit of the site to reveal potential problems (e.g. duplicate content, poor performance, etc.). Keyword research and content planning are also critical steps during this stage.
  • Month 2: Modifications are made to the site based on the audit results and to ensure adhere to all technical guidelines. Complete overhauls may be needed depending on the number of issues identified. Other activities that are typically done include content optimization and link building.
  • Month 3: Activities are focused more on content creation from the keyword research done previously as well as technical aspects of the site. This is also around the time you might start seeing improvements in keyword rankings and even an increase in sales.
  • Month 4: Content creation as well as technical optimization and links to the site continues. This also includes conducting a comprehensive link audit and removing any low quality links that could be negatively affecting rankings. You can expect to see an increase in rankings and traffic by this month.
  • Month 5: Everything from the previous steps including content creation and link building continues. By this month, you would have already implemented social media management to further drive traffic to your site. This leads to a healthier and more natural link profile.
  • Month 6: This is when you can expect marketing efforts such as content creation and link building from the previous steps to start paying off. You should also see a marked increase in rankings and targeted traffic as well as sales.

The actual results you get will ultimately vary. Consistency is perhaps one of the most important factors. If you continue to create relevant content and build quality links to your site, you can expect to see an increase in traffic and sales.


SEO is complex.

Numerous factors determine how well a campaign performs. Results typically vary and can take anywhere from four to six months to start seeing results.

The fact is that many business owners underestimate just how long it takes for an SEO marketing campaign to generate results. Some even stop too soon as they expected an immediate return. But the reality is that SEO requires a long term approach. Generally, the more time and effort you are able to commit to your site, the better results you can expect moving forward.

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