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How Long Does It Take for SEO to Work?

“How long does SEO take to work?” It’s a question that’s heard often, and truthfully, professional marketers simply don’t know how to answer it. But instead of saying that, some marketers make vague promises as to when SEO will start to measurably pay off.

The truth is that there is no definitive answer. All time frames are estimates based on past experience, but experience also tells us that everything can be variable.

Think about it like being on a long roadtrip with the family. Everyone in the car wants to know how long it’ll be until they get to where they’re going. The driver want to give a definitive answer, but they can only make vague predictions. They could get stuck amongst tons of traffic, just like how high-volume keyword rankings are often dominated by high-traffic websites. Speeding things up only invites other risks. On the road, you could get a hefty ticket. Online, Google could penalize your site ranking or temporarily blacklist you, making the journey far longer.

The good news is we can ascribe averages and estimates. These averaged metrics help you anticipate when your SEO efforts will start leading to your site ascending the ranks. And, even if they end up being wrong, they still provide a benchmark to quell your anticipation.

So, to help you estimate when your SEO will start kicking in, here are a three main variables to consider that affect your rate of ranking ascendance.

Domain Age and Size

Google Engineers insist that the age of a domain doesn’t affect its ability to rank, but we’re not so sure. While it’s true that domain age without any sort of context won’t affect your ranking, how long a site has been around tends to correlate with how many established ranking factors that site has been able to develop.

For instance, a site with millions of monthly visitors will be more likely to be a few years old, will have earned dozens — if not hundreds — of backlink references, and will likely have a substantial amount of content to flesh out its contextual connections within keyword groups.

So, while the age of a domain isn’t what’s helping it rank, all the things the site took the time to cultivate will. 

Granted, this correlation assumes that the site in question is constantly updating and paying attention to best practices. Make sure you follow all of the basic SEO guidelines suggested in our recent checklist to develop your own site’s ranking authority over time.

SEO Mistakes and Google Penalties

SEO mistakes can twist all the hard work of creating great content and a great site into a poor end result. What are some common SEO issues that lead to ranking demotions?

As for Google penalties, you usually incur a Google penalty when you’ve been caught using black hat techniques to manipulate your search ranking. Examples include: keyword stuffing, buying backlinks wholesale, using long lists of keyword terms hidden in text, etc.

Google penalties manually adjust your ranking to lower by 10-100 positions or more. These penalties can affect individual pages, but if your domain as a whole is rife with SEO offenses, you could see your whole domain penalized or even — in rare instances — un-indexed. So play nice!

Content Quality Signals and Factors

Falling under the umbrella of penalties are how behavioral and contextual signals affect your rank. We’ve covered recently how quality content helps you rank through behavioral signals, so review the linked article for a refresher.

In a nutshell: things like a high click through rate (CTR) signal to Google algorithms that your content is popular, leading to a rank bump. However, a high bounce rate indicates that the page wasn’t as helpful/relevant/interesting to users as the algorithm thought, so that may result in a penalty.

Overall, just make sure your website content is informative, interesting, valuable and has contextual relevance. If you find you have a high bounce rate from search engine traffic, for instance, you may want to revise your headline and/or meta description so that search users have better expectations of what they’ll find when they click.

Contextual relevance for keyword groups also helps accelerate rankings. What we mean by that is that publishing one piece of content centered around a keyword like “DUI defenses” works better for helping ranking when uploaded next to related content covering search terms like “refuse breathalyzer” or “”DUI penalties in Georgia.”

As such, your keyword strategy matters a ton when it comes to creating a quality body of content. Aim to cover niche topics throughout a keyword group, so that your blog essentially becomes a “guide” to the overall subject over time. This focused group of content will help you rank faster.

So, Are We There Yet? When Will My SEO Start Working?

You may notice we haven’t answered the question yet of “how long does SEO take to start working?” That’s because it depends immensely on the above factors and how well your competitors are doing at them compared to you.

If you have low competition for a niche or highly localized keyword phrase, then your SEO can start working in as little as three to six weeks.

But for the vast majority of sites, it will take six months to a year or more before search engine traffic starts to pick up. That’s a slow burn, but take comfort in the fact that every bit of effort helps you make easier gains.

Think of it like starting a garden: you’re fertilizing the bed, setting up things like pest fences, and gaining experience. At first, you’ll have little to show for it, but then you’ll start to bear fruit. And, the garden gets easier to tend year after year thanks to the work and experience you’ve put in before.

In the meantime, you can plant a quick-sprouting PPC campaign to kickstart your garden while your SEO work is still maturing.

Get Help With Your SEO Ranking Strategy From a Digital Marketing Company in Atlanta

EverSpark Interactive can audit your current SEO practices, develop a strategy for future success, and then implement services like content writing and SEO maintenance to bring your vision to fruition.

Review our services using the links above, and then reach out to us today to get started or if you have any questions!