How Long Does SEO Take to Work and How to Rank on the First Page

How Long Does SEO Take to Work and How to Rank on the First Page

It’s a fairly known secret that SEO is a long term game.

The real question, then, is how long?

In fact, as a digital marketing agency, “How long will it take me to get ranked #1 for X keyword?”, “How long will it take for my site to get on the first page of Google?”, or similar ones are among the most common questions we get asked for.

The answer, however, is not that simple, and there is not a one-size-fits-all answer due to the many different variables involved in SEO.

In this guide, we will attempt to answer this question, discuss the different factors, and provide you with the right insights on the subject.

 

When Can We Expect Initial Results?

Typically, we can expect to start seeing the results of our SEO campaign in 4 to 6 months.

Keep in mind, however, that this is when we start seeing results, and as a long-term strategy, the results of SEO will grow gradually.

Also, there are a lot of different variables that can affect this: some sites might take longer than 6 months before we can see any results—for example, if it’s targeting really competitive keywords—.

On the other hand, some sites might show a really good start (i.e., climbed into the first page within 4 months), and some others might be slow starters (stayed in the 5th page after 6 months, for example).

In general, here are what we can typically expect within the first six months:

 

  • Month 1: the first month is typically about performing SEO Audit and planning the SEO strategy: evaluating the site’s current state, define the objectives of the SEO, planning the target keywords, and so on. Depending on the difficulty of the campaign, research and planning can last more than a month, while in other cases the optimization processes can start after just a week or two of research.
  • Month 2: generally this is where the optimizations and content development for SEO are implemented. In some cases, a complete website overhaul might be necessary, and this can take months to implement.
  • Month 3: the typical main focus in this third month is about content development, publication, and link building. If a lot of high-quality content is being published this month, it’s quite possible to see results by the end of this third month or at the start of the fourth. However, that’s usually the exception rather than the norm.
  • Month 4: the continuity of the content creation-publication processes, the site should start to get more backlinks (typically low-quality links first), and technical on-site optimizations should have been implemented by now. Due to the development of (healthy) link profile, we can expect increases in SERP ranking.
  • Month 5: If you’ve seen increases in ranking during the fourth month, in this month you should see a continual increase, as well as an increase in incoming traffic from organic search. You should focus on more content publication, as well as social media and PR outreach to get more inbound links.
  • Month 6: you should start seeing a significant source of monthly traffic coming from organic search (depending on the size of your business, your niche, and your target keyword, can reach 3,000-5,000 monthly visitors). It’s quite common to see a well-optimized page reach the first page of Google SERP by the sixth month.

 

Again, it’s important to note that SEO is a gradual process in which you should expect a gradual increase with each and every month. With that being said, whatever the result you are observing at month 6 should—and will—be substantially less than the results you’ll observe at month 12 or month 18. That is, unless there’s something wrong with your SEO campaign and your rank is decreasing instead of increasing.

 

Planning an SEO Timeline: 12-month SEO Plan Example

Since, as we have mentioned, there can be many different factors and variables affecting when you can start seeing SEO results, it is wise to create an SEO timeline together with the SEO strategy, especially if you opt into B2B SEO services from an expert or SEO agency.

This, is so both the client and the agency can be on the same page regarding what they should expect during the months, and evaluate the SEO agency’s performance on a monthly basis.

Below, we will discuss a 12-month SEO timeline as an example. Keep in mind that depending on your needs, SEO objectives, target keywords, the current state of your site, and other factors, you can expect different strategy implementations—and thus, different timeline—.

 

Month 0

Note: the campaign started when any optimizations are being implemented (typically technical on-site optimizations are the first to be implemented) planning, research, and preparations are considered month zero.

Typical activities this month:

  • Defining key SEO objectives—thorough discussion between the client and the SEO agency to define goals and assign KPIs—
  • SEO Audit
    • Checking keywords the site is ranking at the moment (if any)
    • Check keyword rankings of the site’s closest competitors and find keyword/content gaps
    • Check for technical issues on the site
      • Indexability/crawl errors
      • Broken links
      • SSL certificate
      • Site’s mobile-responsiveness
      • Structured-data markup (if any)
      • Load speed
    • Check for user-experience metrics (bounce rate, dwell time, reach, engagement, etc).
  • Keyword Research—defining target keywords based on the SEO audit results and campaign objectives
  • Strategic planning

What can we expect this month:

An agreement between the client and the agency of a well-planned strategy and timeline with the following elements:

  • A list of agreed target keyword
  • SEO competitor’s analysis results
  • SEO audit results, and list of possible improvements for the website (will be used to evaluate the SEO company)
  • Current link profile and analysis
  • Content/editorial calendar

No significant results should be expected.

 

Month 1

Typical activities this month:

  • Implementing site-wide technical optimizations
    • Improving the site’s load speed
    • Optimizing mobile-responsiveness
    • Ensuring indexability
    • Fixing crawl errors
    • Finding and fixing broken links
  • Content development and publication—the SEO agency might develop the content, or if you have an in-house content development team, the SEO company will typically support your in-house team.
  • Link building efforts
  • Complete website overhaul (if necessary)

What can we expect this month:

  • Published high-quality content (quantity depends)
  • Optimized website—for technical factors—
  • Increase in high-quality inbound links

It typically takes around two to three weeks before Google can reindex the newly optimized pages and update the rankings. So, in most cases, you won’t see any improvements in rankings (and organic traffic).

In cases where the website requires a complete redesign and overhaul, it will take longer to achieve results.

 

Month 2

Typical activities this month:

  • Continuity of technical SEO optimizations (as discussed in month 1)
  • For cases when there’s a complete overhaul, the process is continued here
  • More content development and publication
  • Continued link building efforts
  • Review of the existing content’s performance

What can we expect this month:

  • Improved website speed and overall website performance
  • Published content
  • Additional SEO reports and analysis based on last month’s performance
  • More increase in high-quality inbound links
  • Increase in organic traffic

By the end of this second month, we should start seeing increases both in SERP ranking and in organic traffic. For brand new content, typically we’ll see the content climb to page 6-8 of the SERP according to the target keywords. The increase in organic traffic will be relatively small, but we should start monitoring the changes in organic traffic (increase and possible decrease).

 

Month 3-12

Typical activities these months:

After the second month, typically the required technical on-site optimizations are already implemented, and so the main focus will shift to:

  • Content creation
  • Conversion rate optimization to generate leads from organic traffic to the content
  • Link building activities

Other processes like:

  • Technical optimizations
  • Evaluation of website performance and SEO results analysis
  • Website maintenance to maintain performance

Will be ongoing activities with much less focus. Depending on the results generated within this months, additional activities might be executed:

  • Additional content development to target new keywords—especially in cases of new keyword gaps—, or when there’s a new trend that can be capitalized
  • Sudden decrease in ranking and traffic, the site might be penalized so the necessary steps are taken accordingly
  • When there are (significant) changes in Google algorithm, additional optimizations might be necessary to accommodate the site for these changes

What can we expect these months:

  • SEO reports and analysis depending on monthly results
    • Link profile (internal links, external links, inbound links/backlinks)
    • Technical SEO analysis
    • User experience analysis
    • Suggested changes
  • New published content (optimized for SEO)
  • Consistent link building efforts
  • Website maintenance to implement technical optimizations and maintain optimal performance

By the end of the third month—as we have discussed above—, we should see positive improvements in SERP ranking for the target keywords, as well as significant increases in organic search traffic.

These should continue to improve months over months, and typically with consistent implementation, we can reach the first page of Google SERP within 4 to 6 months. Climbing from the first page to the top 5 or top 3 spots is a significantly more difficult process, and we may see the results taper off during months 7-12. We will analyze the situation and decide on future optimizations on a case-by-case basis:

  • If it’s deemed possible for a page to climb higher to the top 3 spot—or #1—, extra link building activities and extra optimizations will be taken.
  • If not, we can try to find new keywords and publish new content. We’ll try to find new opportunities to generate more organic traffic to the site

 

How Can We Speed Up SEO Results

The number one thing that can boost SERP ranking is a significant increase in high-quality backlinks.

It’s important to note that these inbound links must be high-quality (according to Google’s E-A-T principle) and must be relevant to your target keyword (i.e. if you are a sports site with “football 2020” as your target keyword, then getting a backlink from Huffington Post, for example, won’t bring any value).

If you can get more of these high-quality backlinks, you will get a quicker SEO result. However, there are other factors that might affect the speed of SEO performance:

  • If your site is brand new (with a new domain name and no previous business history), it will obviously take longer for this site to be indexed and get ranked
  • Changes in Google algorithms can either benefit our site or hurt our SERP ranking
  • Social signal is an indirect ranking factor. If you get a lot of social shares, you’ll indirectly gain more backlinks. This will also allow Google to recognize your online presence faster.

 

End Words

So, how long will it take me to get ranked #1 for X keyword?

As we can see, the answer will vary depending on many different factors. Yet, in general, we can expect to see SEO results within the first 4-6 months. When the optimizations are implemented correctly, we can experience the “tipping point” or “the bump” —a drastic increase in ranking and organic traffic—, usually after 6 months.

Consistency is key for any SEO activities: stick to the initial SEO plan based on the results of your SEO audit. It’s normal to not see any noticeable results during the first four months, continue with the consistency, and you will see the desired results with time.


I'm an SEO Consultant with over 10 years' experience, including both SEO agency-side and in-house SEO expert. I work predominantly with B2B, startups, SAAS, IT, technology and software companies who are looking to acquire new customers and add zeros to the revenue with SEO and content marketing. If you are looking for someone who is results orientated and has experience in growth marketing and sales pipelines, then connect with me on LinkedIn and schedule a free SEO and content marketing session!

Comments

  1. Andrew Thomas : January 2, 2020 at 4:25 am

    Pretty late in joining the SEO boat (would you say it’s too late?), and I think you are one of the more honest sites in telling us that SEO is not a get-rich-quick scheme, but a long-term game.

    My question is since as a startup I definitely need to generate traffic and sales as soon as I can, is SEO not the right approach? Should I wait a little bit later before investing in SEO?

    Thanks in advance.

    • The short answer is yes, I’d always advise in investing in SEO as early as possible if you plan to grow your company long-term. Why? Because, the longer you wait to implement SEO, the more difficult (and expensive) it will be.

      So, how can we tackle the timeframe issue?

      To really answer this, I think I’d need to explain that in anything digital marketing can be boiled down into two main ‘types’: organic (unpaid) and paid, and in all marketing channels there are always these types. For example, in social media marketing, there’s the paid ‘type’, that is, social media ads, boost your posts, and influencer marketing. There’s also the organic ‘type’, growing your followers and posting your content regularly to generate organic engagement.

      Organic and paid traffic is always the case of cost vs time. Organic ‘type’ is free (or at least, very affordable), but you will need to invest a significant amount of time before you see significant results. Paid ‘type’, on the other hand, should guarantee short-term of even instant results but can be very expensive.

      SEO, in this case, is an organic type in search marketing, with paid search ads (or PPC ads), as the paid type. The idea here is to find the right balance between the two: invest in PPC ads to get your short-term organic traffic, but at the same time build your SEO campaign to balance out the cost.

      Hope that helps!

      • Wow, this is an interesting insight, never thought about the paid vs organic dichotomy before. Thanks. Also, great post!

      • Andrew Thomas : January 4, 2020 at 5:28 am

        Ah, that is an interesting point. One more question, though, should I start SEO and PPC ads at the same time or?

        • My advice is to invest in SEO first, at the very least, publish some good content on your site, and then go for your PPC ads. This way, when you bring traffic to your site through the paid ads, you can test some keywords and landing pages.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *