How long does it take for SEO to kick in?

We often get asked the question: “How long does it take for SEO to kick in?” Unfortunately, the answer is different for every company and it depends on a lot of factors. In this article we take a look at the factors that determine how long your SEO strategy takes to kick in and give our best, rough estimate of when you should expect to see results.

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First, we have to make one thing clear: your measure of SEO success may not be the same as your competitors. You could be trying to achieve something far more ambitious than your business rivals, which probably requires more time and/or financial investment. Alternatively, you might be taking a more guerrilla approach, trying to pick off smaller, quick wins to gain early momentum.

Whatever approach you’re taking, it’s important to know what you’re targeting and have a realistic understanding of what’s required to achieve your goals.

From an analytics standpoint, you also need to know how to measure success. A lot of companies think of SEO as a strategy for generating traffic and they’ll measure success with metrics like these:

  • Ranking position
  • Traffic volume
  • Time on page
  • Pages visited
  • Bounce rate

These are all great metrics to track but do they really measure the success of your SEO strategy?

Unless you generate revenue directly from page visits, you probably need your SEO traffic to do something on your website (buy, download, subscribe, sign up, etc.). Which means you need an analytics system that also tracks these actions and attributes them to your SEO strategy. 

Make sure you know what your SEO goals are and how to measure them – otherwise, you’ll never see results.

Which factors influence how long it takes for SEO to work?

We can’t provide a complete list of factors that determine how long SEO takes to kick in because, again, this varies from one business to the next. However, the following seven factors are some of the most common variables that affect results for every company:

  1. How competitive your industry is: If you operate in highly competitive industries like finance, law or eCommerce, then it takes more work (and time) to climb above your rivals on the result pages.
  2. How many competitors you have: In general, it takes search engines longer to find a new website if there are a lot of similar sites already competing for the same keywords and audiences. By extension, it will also take search engines longer to recrawl your pages after you make updates.
  3. How competitive your keywords are: One of the biggest factors in search competition is how many domains are optimising for the same keywords as you – one reason it’s so important to have a diverse keyword strategy that includes less competitive queries, too.
  4. The technical health of your website: Technical SEO ensures users and search engines alike can access your website and pages. Without strong technical health, the impact of every optimisation strategy diminishes and these small losses add up to a serious deficiency against your rivals.
  5. The UX of your website: Google continues to incorporate UX signals into its algorithm and other search engines follow suit: loading times, mobile-friendliness, page responsiveness, layout stability, secure encryption and plenty of other UX signals already affect your search ranking – and the list is growing.
  6. How much valuable content you produce: You’ll constantly hear SEOs talk about creating more “quality content” but the more, more, more strategy is flawed. You need to produce as much valuable content as possible – content that motivates your audience towards your marketing goals – while improving or removing anything that fails to deliver.
  7. Your backlink profile: Even after all these years, backlinks are still one of the most important ranking factors for almost every query type. Relevant links from quality sources are always more valuable than multiple links from less relevant or lower-quality pages/domains. Don’t get caught up in trying to earn more links than your rivals; try to earn better links than them.

Unfortunately, the other big variable that determines how long it takes for SEO to kick in is budget. The more you can invest over a shorter time frame, the sooner you’ll see an impact. It’s not all about money, though. In fact, the biggest advantage a healthy SEO budget will buy you is resources: data analysts, tools, content writers, designers, professional SEOs, etc.

If resources are throttling your SEO strategy, you might want to speak to an agency that has the tools and personnel you need. A quality agency will already have invested money in the best tools and marketing talent – so you can tap into them for a fraction of the price.

Roughly, how long does SEO take to start getting results?

We can’t answer this question accurately without analysing each individual business. But this doesn’t help you if you’re completely new to SEO and you simply want a rough idea of what to expect.

So what’s a rough timeline that your average company could expect to see?

Well, most companies should start to see some results within the first 3-6 months – as long as your website doesn’t have issues holding it back (technical issues, search penalties, bad link profiles, malware, etc.). If any such issues need cleaning up, then it’s going to take longer to start seeing a positive impact.

However, a website with no major issues can reasonably expect to start seeing results from SEO after the first 3-6 months.

That’s not the end of the story, though. A lot of companies will see results fluctuate during the first year of their SEO strategy. If all goes well, you should have seen a positive impact by month six but several patterns can start to emerge at this point:

  • Steadily improvement: Results gradually improve and slowly move in a positive direction.
  • Improvement after a slow start: Results suddenly pick up after minimal impact for the first few months.
  • Slight decline after a positive start: After a relatively quick impact, results peak and drop slightly (before picking up again within the first 12 months).

The good news is, all three of these patterns (and many others) are all perfectly normal.

If you see steady improvement throughout the first 12 months of your SEO strategy, you’re probably dealing with one of those lucky companies that have consistent demand throughout the year.

Unfortunately, most companies see demand levels rise and fall throughout the calendar year. Not only that, but most companies have good and bad years where demand is comparatively higher or lower than normal. This fluctuation in demand will impact the speed and pattern of your SEO results.

When you’re first starting out with SEO, demand patterns can produce some unexpected results. For example, if you start during a period of relatively low demand, it might take longer than it usually would to start seeing results. In many cases, you’ll see results suddenly pick up as demand increases and all of the work you’ve been doing kicks in at once.

Conversely, if you start during a period of relatively high demand, you might see results pick up faster than they normally would. You’re thinking this is great, SEO is the best! until results start to slow as demand declines and you wonder what’s going on. In most cases, you’ll only see a minimal drop in growth before results level out and gradual improvement returns.

While some of these patterns can be confusing – and, sometimes, scary – they’re completely normal. Most companies will start to see some kind of positive impact within the first 3-6 months but the long-term results of your SEO strategy will only start to take shape once you pass the 12-month line.

Once SEO kicks in, it keeps kicking

While it takes a few months to start seeing results from SEO, this is one of the few marketing strategies that fuels its own growth.

With PPC, social media and other channels, you stop seeing results as soon as you pause ad spend or stop publishing posts. SEO, on the other hand, will continue driving traffic, even if you stop publishing for a week, month or quarter. More importantly, if you keep publishing and optimising, results continue to improve over time.

All of your previous work continues to drive traffic while everything you do in the short term increases visits further, targets new opportunities and ensures you’re making the most of traffic as it grows.

Need help with your SEO strategy?

Talk to our specialists today on 02392 830281 or submit your details below and we’ll be in touch. You can also explore our SEO services for more information.

Gemma Scarth profile picture
Gemma Scarth

Gemma joined Vertical Leap in March 2020 as an SEO Specialist after having worked in marketing for 7 years for both in-house and agency side, where she was involved with everything from social media management, through to content development and email marketing campaigns. As a member of the ESEO team, Gemma helps to deliver strategic SEO campaigns across a range of brands on a local, national and international level. Gemma is well travelled after exploring the world for almost two years and living down under for 12 months. She’s passionate about snowboarding, fitness and supports her local football team, Southampton FC! When she’s not at work doing SEO, you can often find her on her paddle board floating somewhere on the River Hamble or indulging in a snack or two.

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