Why Does SEO Take So Long to Show Results?

Oct 20, 2021 | Business Advice, ES Version

Two of the most common questions that SEO professionals and digital marketing agencies get asked are “why does SEO take so long” and “how long does it take for SEO to work.”

When you’re about to invest in an SEO strategy, you would naturally want a realistic view of the ROI and the potential to get more leads and business out of it. Since SEO isn’t like paid media where you can instantly see results, it’s harder to understand its timeline and what affects it.

To help you better understand SEO and how long it takes to see results, we’ve compiled a thorough answer for all business owners interested in investing in SEO. Let’s dive in!

But First, What Does SEO Success Mean?

Before we assess the realistic timeline of SEO, it’s important to establish what SEO success looks like. For any strategy to work and be evaluated, it’s important to set out goals and KPIs. The goals are the result you want to achieve, while the KPIs are the metrics you will track to evaluate your progress towards your goals.

For example, this is how your goals and KPIs might look like for your SEO strategy:

  • Goal: increase your revenue by a set amount of money or specific percentages in the next 12 months
  • KPIs: Growth in impressions, rankings, organic traffic, visibility, social shares, etc.

The most important thing is to set realistic targets. Even if you manage to accomplish them before the deadline, it’s much easier to increase your goals once you’ve reached the old ones instead of wondering why you’re going nowhere near your desired results.

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When You Should Expect Results from SEO

Simply put, you should expect to see results within the first six to 12 months from launching your SEO strategy. However, that timeline will greatly depend on how intense your competition is and what your specific goals are. But, generally, SEO should start showing results and traction within that period. This means you should see a measurable increase in traffic and/or leads and conversions.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you have achieved your end goal at this point, but any business, big or small, that is investing in SEO should see some progress during that timeframe.

It’s impossible to give a time estimate that applies to all websites, but if you’re in talks with an SEO expert or a digital marketing agency, they should ideally be able to offer a realistic timeline of how long it will likely take for your SEO strategy to show results after analyzing your current website and online presence (if you have any).

There are no shortcuts in SEO. It takes time. Search engines like Google want to show the best results for search queries, which means it will take time for it to decide whether you are one of those best results and rank you at the top. Earning a spot at the top cannot, therefore, happen overnight.

Still, with the right SEO strategy in place, six to 12 months is a long enough timeline to start seeing the impact of your efforts and justify the need to keep going and investing in it.

Why Does SEO Take So Long: the Factors That Matter

To understand why SEO takes so long to show results, it’s important to understand the different factors that influence your performance and rankings. We’ll cover the main ones below.

1. Competition

There is competition in every industry. However, some markets are more competitive than others. Real estate and lawyer practices are some of the most competitive niches in SEO. On the other hand, industries like laser tattoo removal are less competitive, and getting among the top results in this category will be easier than ranking your real estate agency, for example.

When there are more websites trying to get to the first page of Google, there are more websites that you need to outdo in order to get there. Remember, you aren’t the only one doing SEO. Chances are, your competitors are doing it, too.

So, when assessing how long it would take to rank for your target keywords, you need to evaluate your competitors and analyze how they got to where they are. What are they doing to maintain their rankings or surpass you and yours? Are they targeting more beneficial keywords? Do they have a stronger backlink profile (more on that below)? Sit down with your marketing team or your SEO agency and take a close look at your competition. As you’re adjusting your strategy, so are they

2. Keyword Difficulty

As the name suggests, keyword difficulty is an SEO metric that estimates how difficult it is to rank a specific keyword in SERPs (search engine results pages). When more websites are competing to rank for a keyword with high monthly traffic, its keyword difficulty is generally higher. On the other hand, keywords that have lower monthly search volume are easier to rank for because there are generally fewer websites that are competing to rank in SERPs for those terms.

The important thing when choosing which keywords to rank for is to generally go for keywords that match the authority level of your website. If you’re just now setting up your website, your website authority will still be low, and the best course of action is to target keywords with lower monthly search volume and lower keyword difficulty. With the right SEO strategy, you will be able to rank for these terms within a month, sometimes even sooner.

On the other hand, if you’ve had your website for a long time and it already has a good authority in its niche, it will make more sense to optimize your content for keywords with higher monthly volume and keyword difficulty. The results won’t be quick, and you may need to wait for a couple of weeks or several months to start ranking depending on the competition, but your chances are much higher than websites with low domain authority.

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3. Inbound Links

Also known as backlinks, inbound links are links that come from other websites and lead to your web pages. In order for inbound links to work in your favor, they need to come from a site that is both a trusted source and has a relevant connection to your business.

Getting backlinks to your website takes time because authority websites don’t just link to anyone. You need to prove you’re worth linking to. This happens by posting quality content and having a stylish design on your website. Search engines like Google have a process in place that filters purchased and inauthentic backlinks. This means you can’t speed up the process of earning backlinks and boosting your SEO rankings.

By now you’re probably wondering why backlinks are so important to search engines like Google. They are essentially votes of confidence by a reputable website. It’s a way of signaling Google that you are trustworthy even though you haven’t been around for long. It’s just in real life — you are more likely to buy a product that was recommended to you by a friend. Backlinks are like those recommendations that make Google ‘think’ highly of you.

What Does Google Say About Seeing Results from SEO?

Of course, there are many other factors that play a part in how long it will take for your SEO efforts to pay off. According to Google representatives, it can take anywhere between four months to a year for you to start seeing results from your first SEO improvements and to then start seeing a potential, long-term benefit.

However, if you’re following best practices and are ideally working with a professional, you shouldn’t abandon your SEO strategy after the first year.

To put things into a perspective, we’ll turn to hard data. A study by Ahrefs set out to analyze how long it takes for SEO to work. They looked at 2 million random keywords and selected the top 10 ranking pages for each keyword. This is a brief summary of their findings:

As you can see, a really small portion of websites manage to rank at the top within the first year. Realistically, it takes much longer than that. Still, you should ideally be making progress within that first year.

Why Does SEO Take So Long: the Recap

When it comes to ranking your website, there are several factors that determine how soon you’ll start seeing results from your SEO efforts. The intensity of the competition and your competitors’ strategies can delay your success, especially if you’re not persistent with your SEO plan.

At the end of the day, SEO is a gradual climb where slow and steady wins the race. It takes long-term dedication and consistent work to build up your online presence and reap the benefits from your accumulated efforts. However, once you’ve finally built up and made it to the top results for your target keywords, your ROI won’t stop growing. Your online visibility will have a lasting impact on your business, and it will continue to generate leads for months and even years ahead.

Ready to get help with your SEO strategy? Contact us online or call us today at (855) 259-2908 to speak with our team about our SEO and digital marketing services!