How Long Does SEO Take? - Internet Marketing Mysteries

Pop quiz time.

How long does SEO take before it starts working?

a. A few days
b. A few weeks
c. A few months
d. A few years

Okay, pens down. Are you ready for the correct answer? Well, I'm going to make you wait a bit. Patience, young grasshopper.

First, let's go over a brief history of SEO. Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, began millions of years ago, back when the dinosaurs were in search of answers to their most frequently asked question...

Wait, no, that's not right. SEO pretty much started when search engines did, which was sometime after the internet started. Okay, let's just skip the history lesson. You didn't come here to find out all the details regarding how SEO came to evolve into what it is today. You just want to know how long it takes. Fine, I'll stop stalling. Let's get right down to it.

But before we get down to it, let's put some perspective on this question. After all, this has to be the single most frequently asked question regarding SEO. Every marketing professional has heard it dozens of times (more like dozens of times a week). Some business owners have personally asked it dozens of times. There are dozens of ways we can word it, but it all boils down to this one common question: "Just how long before the SEO starts working?"

Why do we ask this question so much? Maybe it's because we live in a society that expects instant results. Or maybe it's because we're just looking for the fastest solution. Or maybe it's because we hope hearing an answer will make it real.

Or, most likely, it's because:

Nobody knows the actual answer!

That's right. Nobody (not even the experts at Google) can provide a proven answer regarding how long SEO takes to work (or if it will even work at all for your website in your industry).

How Long People Say SEO Takes

Here are some answers you might receive if you ask this question (and, believe me, the exact response will vary widely depending on who you are asking):

1. It takes at least a few weeks before you start to see a noticeable gain in the search results.

2. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

3. With our patented, proprietary ranking technology, you'll rank fast, guaranteed!

4. SEO is an on-going process that needs constant attention in order to see true quantifiable and lasting results.

If you asked me to pick which one of those 4 responses is the most accurate, well, I think you already know I'm going to go with the last one.

How Long SEO Actually Takes

SEO doesn't have an exact timeline. How long SEO takes can depend on dozens of factors, including:

  • The current health of your site
  • The past SEO history of your site
  • The level of competition in your industry
  • The aggressiveness and budget of your SEO campaign
  • The techniques you are using and the techniques your competitors are using

And don't forget that we also have to contend with algorithm updates (which can happen daily).

Oh, and there's also the tiny, inconvenient detail that we don't actually know with 100% certainty exactly what Google's ranking factors are. Sure, we've conducted thousands of tests and studies that show the correlations between this and that. And we've even heard a few ranking factors straight from the horse's mouth. But, when it comes down to it, no one can say, "If you do these things exactly as I say, I guarantee you will rank #1 in Google for anything you want."

So How Long Does SEO Really Take?

That's all fine and dandy, but you didn't come here to find out what we don't know. So how long does this SEO stuff really take?

how long does seo take

It takes time. It requires patience. At least if you want it done right.

There's an initial phase of optimization that can take a few weeks to several months (depending on how big your site is and how bad off you were before). There's the process of Google detecting these "optimizations." There's a period of analyzing the data and making refinements to the optimization. Then you have to repeat steps 2 and 3 over and over. And when you are finally ranked #1 (if you ever get there), you continually have to analyze and refine your strategies. If you don't, your competitors will pass you. Algorithmic changes will knock you off your throne. The only way to stay on top in the SEO world is to keep optimizing and to keep providing a relevant product for the query.

So, once again, for the last time, how long does SEO take?

It's a question with good intentions, but it isn't necessarily the right question. Instead, you should be asking, "What can we do that will benefit my website both now and in the long-run?" Because you better believe this isn't just some waiting game. The internet evolves way too quickly to do nothing but sit and wait. Internet marketing isn't where you slap up some things on a website and wait until the SEO magic happens.

Or, if you don't like being patient, you can try paying some company $199 a month to blast your site with spammy backlinks that might get you ranked quickly for a month or two. What happens after that, well, that's anybody's guess.


This post is part of Internet Marketing Mysteries, a weekly column addressing actual client questions related to SEO, analytics, website best practices, and any other topic connected to internet marketing. Have a question you’d like to see tackled in a future post? Let us know in the comments.

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