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For many businesses, the time a company website requires to attract users may be the difference between sliding deeper into debt and finally turning a profit. Highly competitive industries may be particularly unforgiving, so the idea that one must simply be patient probably won’t be much solace. So it should come as little surprise that business ventures often find themselves wondering just how long it should take to see results from online marketing strategies like search engine optimization (SEO).

SEO timeframes are an especially hot topic because frequently asked questions thereabout often return a variety of different answers. We’ve surveyed a few of those answers to give you a better sense of what to expect when embarking upon a new SEO campaign.

If you’ve clicked on this piece, chances are you’re already familiar with basic SEO background. If not, it wouldn’t hurt to check out other articles on Adapting Online, several of which cover the basics of SEO with which you’ll need to be familiar when getting started.

Assuming you’ve already taken that first step (or will in short order), there’s a good chance you’re looking to learn more about when you’ll start seeing a return on your investment. Here’s what you need to know.

Asking the Right Question

Successful SEO strategies are increasingly about generating sales and leads rather than merely ranking highly in search results. Moreover, the traditional focus on a few select keywords has been replaced by an emphasis on quality content that will turn up amid the more sophisticated and detailed questions users are typing—or speaking—into search engines.

So the first step in establishing a timeframe for results is ensuring that you’re looking for the right kind of results and utilizing the right kind of strategy in pursuit thereof. Though focusing on keyword rankings may be a fairly straightforward metric, you ultimately want to get at the more nuanced question of whether your site is actually converting users into clients—or at least more frequent, repeat users.

A “Plausible Scenario”

Forbes’ Josh Steimle outlined a potential timeframe for SEO strategies last year, but he was quick to note that it was only one of many possible scenarios. When responding to the commonly asked question of how long SEO takes to produce real results, he begins with an honest—and admittedly unsatisfying—reality check.

“And the answer is…it depends,” he writes. “Frustrating, isn’t it? But it’s the truth. What does it depend on? It depends on how long your website has been around, how much SEO has been done on it previously, what shape the website is in, how much content is on it, its link profile, and many other SEO factors… No two websites are starting from the same place, even if they’re in the same industry and competing for the same customers.”

But Steimle nevertheless describes how the process might conceivably play out.

He assumes that the first two months of an SEO strategy may be spent conducting research, planning and either modifying or overhauling your website in a bid to make it more search-friendly. By the third month, with the focus shifting to content creation, there’s a chance that you’ll start seeing some modest results.

“You might start seeing some improvements in rankings by the end of this month,” Steimle explains. “If those rankings are translating into leads or sales then even better, but you wouldn’t necessarily expect them yet.”

By the fourth month, one, “could expect to see a marked increase in rankings, traffic, and lead generation.”

From this point onward, much depends on how aggressively you’re promoting the site through social media or other PR efforts. And as always, success is heavily dependent on the quality and volume of content itself. Given the wide range of important variables at work here, mileage will almost certainly vary.

Moreover, your may be able to determine whether your SEO strategies are gaining traction within several months, but the growth shouldn’t end there.

“Many SEO firms will tell you that it takes 4 to 6 months to start seeing results,” Steimle writes. “That’s generally accurate, but bear in mind this is when you start seeing results, and SEO results grow over time. Whatever results you’re getting at 6 months should be considerably less than what you’re getting at 12 months. At some point, you may see your results taper off, and then it may be a matter of maintaining results rather than growing them.”

To that end, companies should be willing to invest in long-term SEO strategies. You probably won’t be able to draw any meaningful conclusions about your efforts’ success after the first several months alone.

Seeking Honest Expertise

Though you might be able to form generalized expectations on the basis of a little digging, a more accurate sense of SEO timeframe will likely require you to consult with a trusted expert. That’s just one of the ways companies like Adapting Online can be especially useful at the outset of your project.

Without a direct investigation, many projections are based on little more than educated guesswork.

“Any trustworthy estimate is based on in-depth research,” explains local online marketing gurus Yeah! Local. “The more research, the more reliable the estimate will be. So, if you ask your local SEO ‘expert’ how long it will take to see results with them and they respond with something like ‘6 months minimum’—or higher—from the beginning, proceed with caution. Indeed, a much better answer might be ‘There’s no telling, but…’”

Such is the intricacy of a constantly-evolving set of strategies that can differ significantly depending on your website and industry.

“There’s really no way around it,” adds Yeah! Local. “If anyone in SEO tries to give you a timeline without looking at your website first, be on guard. Either they are a rookie or a shyster. In the world of search engine optimization, every site is different. Ranking for a specific keyword may take anywhere from 24 hours to 2 years depending on your site’s history, your location, and the industry. Plus, Google may let another animal out of it’s zoo at any given moment. Before top-notch SEO consultants quote anything, they do keyword research, site audits, competitor analysis, etc.”

Though your company-specific projections may not follow a generic template, it’s still worth pursuing a better understanding of the longview. You’ll develop a grasp of how much to invest, where to invest it and when you should expect to see some returns on that investment. The one common denominator is that SEO typically isn’t an overnight phenomena. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be closely monitoring results and adapting accordingly in the near-term.

Oversight and adjustment are virtues in SEO, even if they don’t seem to be yielding immediate dividends.

Factors Impacting Your Timeframe

As the initial scenario suggested, your rate of growth will depend initially on how long it takes to get things off the ground. That in turn depends on your available resources and whether you’re starting from scratch. At minimum, it will likely take you a month or two before you’re even thinking about traffic.

It isn’t unusual for some projects to require even more initial legwork, though.

“If your website needs a complete overhaul, it can further complicate your timeline because you may need to coordinate the services of multiple departments, such as, IT, marketing, sales, creative specialists, etc.,” writes Digital Current’s Brian Honigman. “Depending on your available resources, it could take up to six months to launch an overhauled website that is properly built for SEO. Hiring an SEO agency to overhaul your website could potentially reduce the time needed by a couple months.”

Once the site’s up and running, there are still plenty of variables that will collectively determine how quickly—and to what extent—you notice results. For example, resource limitations may constrain how much content you’re able to produce in the early stages of your site. Whereas those who can afford large initial investments may be able to roll out a robust content strategy from the outset, smaller businesses may be forced to start small and gradually publish more content as permitted by finances.

The kind of content you’re producing is also worth considering. Articles that are original, unique and somewhat lengthy will help your cause.

Competition will affect your bottom line, too. Just as crowded markets may creates barriers to entry for a new business, vying for prime search engine real estate will be more difficult if there’s already a wealth of sites producing content that’s similar to yours.

The age of your site is another important consideration.

“It is a fact that SEO works better for older than newer websites,” argues Digital Marketing Pro’s Alex Chris. “Old websites are those that are online for at least a couple of years while new websites are considered brand new domains that are less than 6 months old. For the case of new websites don’t expect any considerable results in the first six months. If you start a new website and publish top quality content on a regular basis and do your social media promotion, you can expect to see some of your pages in the 2nd and 3rd page of Google in the first 3 months and then gradually some of your pages will move to page 1 after the 6th month.”

The Big Takeaway

Unfortunately, there’s no crystal ball that can guarantee SEO results by a certain deadline. You can certainly develop some realistic projections with the help of an expert who conducts some rigorous research into your site and strategy. Short of that consultation, making any predictions is a far less scientific endeavor.

That said, there’s at least some consensus in terms of how effective SEO strategies can be if all other things are equal. Honigman seems to largely agree with Steimle’s assessment.

“Expect to wait at least six to 12 months before you start experiencing any impactful results from your SEO efforts,” he suggests. “Although your keywords will start performing better prior to six months, gaining enough traffic to make an impact on your bottom line will take some time.”

It goes without saying that your final assessment will also depend on what you mean by “results.” Making that determination inevitably goes beyond SEO factors and includes considerations of how much you’re investing and how patient you can afford to be.

But resources permitting, patience is certainly a virtue. If you remain committed to incorporating SEO best practices and revising your approach when needed, this can be an incredibly cost-effective approach to attracting clientele. For many businesses, that possibility is well worth the wait—however long that wait may be.

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