#FreeAdvice is a monthly feature where we take your questions about search/analytics/etc and answer them here. The number of answers will vary based on length, complexity, our energy levels.
How long does it take for [SEO] results to show up?
This is one of the more commonly misunderstood aspects of SEO. The SEO industry is largely to blame for the idea that SEO is always slow. Thus many businesses (especially smaller ones) think of it as a luxury, something that will have to wait. If that were always true, that’s all the more reason to get started NOW so you’re not in the position of having to pay for every visit to your site years from now, but it’s also just not accurate. Plenty of things with SEO do take time. But it varies wildly. For the smallest of businesses, doing the very basics of SEO (getting a good listing on Google Business, creating/submitting a sitemap, etc.) can have a quick impact. For larger sites, there’s often wide scale technical issues limiting your potential.
But there’s also not a linear change in clickthrough rate based on keyword position. The jump in traffic going from position 2 in results to position 1 is exponential. Same with going from 20 to 5.
Going from 2 to 1 is often a long drawn out battle that can take months or years, depending on the term. Going from 20 to 5 is often much simpler and faster. Those are things that we can sometimes tackle in a matter of weeks or a few months. I think that’s the biggest misconception about the time required for SEO. Some folks like to call this “low hanging fruit”, but it’s really just strategic targeting.
There’s going to be some terms you don’t rank for at all that will take a long time to improve. There’s going to be some terms where you rank really well and that next spot higher in the results will also take a long time. But there’s also likely a chunk of terms where you rank on the 2nd-4th page. We always have to focus on those long-term battles, but at the same time we can work on the stuff where moving to page one is the difference between no traffic and a decent amount of traffic AND it can often happen decently fast.
To get even more nitty-gritty on details, we’re talking about seeing results. Ultimately that means revenue for pretty much everyone. But we should consider progress along with results. Pretty soon after implementing your first changes you can start seeing progress. For a site that’s never done SEO this may be in the form of a jump in your indexation rate followed by ranking (really poorly) for a handful of keywords. Improved rankings are followed by traffic, which is hopefully followed by revenue. There is a path toward the ultimate result that can be tracked from very early on.
And again, it’s not always this way, but the results can come FAST. Below is just one example from a blog that was active but had no attention paid to SEO. You can see after implementing our first major SEO improvements traffic shot up and leveled off for a while. I think people often expect more straight line growth that takes a while to get started. That can be the case, but more often it’s little surges, some peaks/valleys and maybe much further down the road you start getting into the slow/steady growth as the major opportunities have been largely accounted for.
In the end, SEO ends up fitting into the same kind of matrix as any other marketing channel. There’s effort on one axis, impact on the other. You can and often should start with the low effort / high impact items. They exist! It’s just a matter of uncovering them.