One of the most common questions we get when we talk about search engine optimization (SEO) is “how long does it take for SEO to work?”. The web is full of gurus with advice on how to improve your site’s rankings, but very few of them talk about how long the process can take.
The truth is, there’s no magic formula when it comes to SEO. Getting results takes time – and that’s assuming you’re following best practices (which change constantly). Still, a comprehensive SEO strategy will get you traffic, even if it’s not as much as you want.
In this article, we’ll talk about why SEO results aren’t instant and what factors play a role in this. Then, we’ll discuss how long it takes for SEO to work, sharing some examples from around the web.
Let’s get started!
Why SEO results aren’t instant
SEO is an ongoing process that involves optimizing a website’s content, architecture, and user experience to meet the requirements of search engines like Google. However, even if you do everything “perfectly,” you won’t see immediate results.
👉 This is because search engines take a lot of factors into consideration. What’s more, some of these considerations aren’t directly within your control. Let’s examine a few that might be holding you back:
- Website age. Newer websites typically take longer to achieve high rankings, as search engines need time to discover, index, and evaluate their content. Older, more established websites with a history of providing valuable content and a strong backlink profile are more likely to see faster SEO results.
- Competition. Websites in highly competitive niches will often require more time and effort to perform well in rankings compared to those in less competitive fields.
- Backlink profile. Backlinks are one of the most important signals for search engines when it comes to rankings. However, newer websites will likely have few backlinks from reputable sites. Building a backlink profile is a process that can take years if you simply wait for other sites to link to you spontaneously.
- On-page optimization. Properly optimizing your website’s content, metadata, URLs, and internal linking structure can help search engines rank it. On-page optimization improves your chances of ranking higher in search results.
- Algorithm updates. Search engine algorithms are constantly evolving. These changes can have a significant impact on site rankings. Therefore, it’s crucial to stay up-to-date with the latest SEO best practices and adapt your strategies accordingly.
A comprehensive and proactive SEO strategy increases the odds that your website will start getting decent traffic from search engines. On the contrary, if SEO is an afterthought, you’ll probably never see the kind of results that you want.
How off-page optimization affects SEO rankings
It’s easy to get stuck focusing on the more straightforward on-page SEO tasks, such as keyword strategies and internal linking. However, neglecting off-page optimization is one of the biggest mistakes website owners make.
While on-page SEO is critical, it needs to go hand in hand with off-page strategies if you want to see results. In a nutshell, off-page optimization involves improving your website’s reputation and authority via external factors.
👉 The two most critical off-page optimization tasks you’ll need to focus on are:
- Getting backlinks. High-quality, relevant backlinks from authoritative websites tell search engines that your content is valuable. Building a strong backlink profile (i.e., getting a lot of backlinks) can significantly improve your website’s ranking. If your site has fallen victim to spammers, your backlink strategy might also involve disavowing backlinks that can damage SEO.
- Social media signals. Social media shares, likes, and comments can indirectly influence your website’s ranking by increasing the visibility and credibility of your content. If you engage with your target audience on social media, it can help increase your website’s organic traffic. However, this also requires a commitment in terms of effort.
Building backlinks is one of the most important factors when it comes to getting your website to rank well in the search engine results pages (SERPs). But if you’re not aggressive in your tactics, this process can take years.
By aggressive, we mean employing a thorough collection of strategies. You’ll need to cover all your bases in order to succeed.
This might include guest posting, reaching out to other site owners, showcasing influencers, and writing top-tier content. Since backlinking can be slow-going, implementing multiple link-building strategies increases the chances that your site will get noticed faster.
Is there a timeline for SEO to work?
Now that you know a bit more about the most important SEO strategies, you’re still probably asking that burning question: how long does it take for SEO to work?
The truth is that it’s almost impossible to provide a timeline for how long it takes for SEO to work. However, assuming that you follow SEO best practices, that your content is relevant, and that you already have a decent backlink profile, some studies suggest it can take between three to six months to see improvements in rankings.
Keep in mind, though, that this does not apply to entire websites. Even the most successful websites typically only have a small percentage of top ranking pages for specific search results. That means you shouldn’t get discouraged if not all of your content rises to the top.
👉 To get a better idea of how long it takes for SEO to work, let’s discuss three case studies from popular websites:
- Case Study #1: Ahrefs
- Case study #2: Matthew Woodward
- Case study #3: Benjamin Crozat
Case Study #1: Ahrefs
Ahrefs offers a comprehensive suite of SEO tools you can use to improve your site’s performance in search results. It’s one of the most popular SEO services on the web and they regularly publish articles about SEO and how to get better rankings.
In 2017, Ahrefs conducted a study of their own content and found that it took an average of 61 to 182 days for their blog posts to reach their peak ranks. That translates to between two and six months, which is in line with most other similar case studies.
The main takeaway here is that Ahref’s an incredibly popular website with strong domain authority and a massive number of backlinks. Even so, the content they publish doesn’t automatically get to the top of the SERPs. This is because it takes time for search engines to evaluate and rank new content.
Case study #2: Matthew Woodward
Matthew Woodward is an SEO “guru” who regularly publishes case studies about ranking new websites and applying best practices to improve your results. One of his most interesting case studies focuses on how long it takes to get a website to achieve decent rankings in the competitive health supplements industry.
That case study found that it took the site eight months to see drastic improvements in organic search traffic. The most important factor that helped it compete with more established websites was a healthy backlink profile.
In this case, it took around six months to get 76 backlinks and two more months to see improvements in rankings afterwards. Unlike the previous case study, this was a website without established domain authority and existing backlinks. This is likely why it took longer to see results.
Case study #3: Benjamin Crozat
Benjamin Crozat is a developer who runs a blog about creating web applications. He is also the creator of an AI-powered assistant for Laravel Developers. Crozat’s blog has gained a lot of traction since it launched in 2022 and it’s now getting over 10,000 clicks per month.
That’s not a massive number when compared to the websites we’ve talked about so far. However, those are well-established sites that get millions of hits per year. If you’re launching a new website, getting to just 10,000 clicks per month will probably feel like climbing Mt. Everest.
Crozat’s SEO case study chronicles how much content he published on a monthly basis and what he did to get new backlinks. It shows that a comprehensive SEO strategy can start getting you traffic relatively fast, even if it takes a while before you start seeing consistent results from it.
The reason why it’s hard to figure out how long it takes for SEO to work is because it will vary depending on how you approach it.
For instance, if you prioritize on-page SEO but ignore backlink building and other off-page SEO tactics, your content might never rank. And that’s assuming that you’re doing everything else right, like targeting the right keywords and creating content that’s superior to your competition’s.
If you want to get results from SEO, it’s crucial to keep up with best practices. Moreover, you’ll need to focus on both on and off-page SEO since they go hand in hand. If you play your cards right, you might start to see improved traffic after three to six months.
Do you have any questions about how long it takes for SEO to work? Let’s talk about them in the comments section below!
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