How long does SEO take to make an impact and bring results

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SEO is a long-term investment that requires patience and perseverance. This is one of the first lessons we should learn about search engine optimization work, but it is also one of the hardest to remember and explain to others. Often, in fact, clients want “guarantees” on their investment and ask to quantify “how much time SEO needs,” while in other cases doubt assails the professionals themselves or even newbies, who are trying to understand how long it will take to see the results of the work they are about to start materialize. And so, assuming that there is no universal stopwatch for SEO, that is, unambiguous and precise time indications for all sites, there are some considerations that we can make to determine how long it will be necessary to wait to see the first concrete fruits of the activities, in terms of improvement and consolidation of the ranking on Google.

Timing of SEO, how long it takes to see results

The real answer to the question about the timing of SEO is “it depends,” because there is no single number to quantify how long SEO takes to work. There is no way to guarantee results in a definite and definitive range, simply because we have no control over all the possible variables of the work and, most importantly, Google is not under our power.

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There are clearly rough estimates that we can refer to, both to calibrate and verify the effects of our interventions and to reassure clients about the investments they are making, but these are predictive expectations that have no guarantee of materialization.

Let’s try to crunch some numbers: indicative timelines for SEO results

The truth is that SEO must be understood as an ongoing effort that will never be truly complete and involves a number of imponderable variables, including similar interventions by competitors. It is in these characteristics that lies the huge difference with SEA and broader SEM activities, which are instead designed to give feedback in immediate time. However, the patience required to grow the site is rewarded by the greater durability of the results obtained.

As Ann Smarty says, we must understand that there are no magic bullets for SEO or secret tactics and tricks that can perform the miracle: what we can do (and assure clients) is follow best practices to ensure gradual growth of the site and its pages.

In any case, we can try to quantify the time needed to achieve tangible results in SEO work by pointing to a rough range, ranging from four months to a year: according to experts, therefore, four months is the minimum amount of time needed for SEO work to show obvious and tangible results (such as increased quality organic traffic and conversions), although a 12-month period is more realistic.

More precisely, indicative timelines based on expert assessments tell us that it takes:

  • A few days/weeks for ranking low-competition keywords or basic on-page SEO optimizations.
  • 3-4 months to see first pages indexed and a slight increase in traffic in a new or to-be-launched project.
  • 4-8 months to rank a few pages for keywords with medium competition.
  • 7-12 months to reach top 10 for competitive keywords.
  • Over 12 months to achieve stable and lasting results.

As mentioned, values and effects can vary widely due to a myriad of factors: industry competitiveness, website quality, content strategy and changes in search engine algorithms, to name a few. But we can therefore venture a time window to refer to: beyond exceptional or insignificant cases, a tangible impact begins to be noticed between 4 and 6 months after the implementation of a well-planned SEO strategy, which therefore becomes a gradual process, where small changes add up to create a noticeable cumulative effect.

How to quantify the time needed for SEO interventions

For SEO beginners, consultants, and in any case anyone who wants to turn the “it depends” mentioned earlier into an inescapably more precise indication, we must first reason about some basic aspects of quantifying the time needed for our SEO strategy.

First of all, it is important to understand and adapt the client’s goals: what are they trying to achieve by investing in SEO activities?

Also, we should not forget that every site is different: some will benefit from active SEO work faster than others, even if we focus on gradual traffic growth and not on ranking for some specific keywords.

In light of this, it is still Smart to explain that SEO time depends mainly on:

  • Site size. It may be trite to say, but it is easier to achieve cumulative growth when the site is large and already has several possibilities.
  • Site history. If the site has experienced a slow but steady decline in ranking and organic visibility in recent years, it may be difficult to flatten that curve and eventually reverse it. Also, if a site has been affected by certain systems or updates, a subsequent algorithmic update may be necessary for all the work done to be reflected (or not) in the rankings. No SEO professional “can ever be sure when the next update will be rolled out, so this will have an impact on the effects of your SEO results,” not to mention that none of Google’s recent updates have a specific fix and we must therefore work through trial and error in hopes of reversing the slump (and sometimes it doesn’t happen).
  • Current backlink profile (and possible actions). Actions such as cleaning up backlinks may take some time before Google recognizes and reacts to the changes.
  • Age of the site. New sites generally need more time before Google definitively considers them as trustworthy.

Factors that impact the timing of SEO strategies

There are other factors that impact the timing of SEO and the speed with which results will come in, clearly, such as whether or not a site is already an entity or the current structure of the site, not least because restructuring a site can cause Google to take a long time to understand, even if we do everything right.

SEOs “are rarely lucky enough to get the keys from client sites so they can implement all the required changes in a few days,” Smart says, and more frequently there are several obstacles that can slow down the process.

One example (and aspect to consider) is “client turnaround: some companies require a lengthy approval process for any changes needed to make their sites more SEO-friendly, and so new and optimized content can take weeks or months before the legal review process is over.”

Other companies simply do not have development teams to help them with on-site work, so they rely on freelancers-this is another layer of back-and-forth process that slows us down, especially when progressive technical tasks are required. Finally, some CMSs are easier to manage, while others require more pronounced technical skills.

The actions that bring the fastest results

Still staying within the realm of lawful best practices that conform to Google’s guidelines, there are, however, tricks (actually, first steps in active SEO work) to start delivering some results in a shorter period of time and make our clients happier more quickly.

For example, Smart continues, optimizing for branded searches can quickly help clients see more traffic that converts “like magic,” because people searching for a brand name are most likely to be inclined to take action when they manage to get to that site.

Also useful is internal link management, which can quickly boost the performance of existing pages, especially if they are optimized for search queries with lower competition.

Another suggestion is to explore opportunities to leverage rich snippets and use structured data markups to try to improve click-through without having to wait for rankings to grow (which happens more slowly).

Finally, updating old articles currently ranked on the second page of search results can “offer quick wins if done right,” because this is content in which Google has identified potential that it is up to us to take to the next level.

Timing of SEO, the weight of competitors and other variables

Jeremy Knauff proposes another point of view, according to which the definition of the possible time interval needed to see results “is based on three key variables that determine how long SEO will take,” namely:

  • Competitor.
  • Inbound link.
  • Contenuti.

In any case, despite having the data at the base of these variables, there is no formula to answer the question, because understand how long it takes the SEO “It first boils down to evaluating the data underlying these three variables, to starting work and evaluating the speed at which you begin to see the results, and then extrapolating these data to get an idea of how much time it might take to reach a particular position”.

SEO Competitors and work times

Who sells a product like “salmon breakfast cereals, probably will not face any competition”, ironically the author before clarifying that those who “sell products and services that real people will actually have to face varying degrees of competition based on demand”.

For example, a plumber who serves a small local market will face less competition than a real estate broker who serves a large city, which in turn has to face less competition than a national mortgage company.

It is easy to understand that “the more competing web pages you encounter, the more time it will take to get to the top of the search results”.

This situation follows a rather fixed pattern in which “it is easier and faster to overcome the bottom pages, but as you climb the search results each subsequent step will often require much more effort and time”.

Grafico sul rapporto tra difficoltà e competitor

This depends on both the volume of competitors and the fact that high-level pages tend to have experienced SEO professionals behind them: an often overlooked aspect of competition is in fact the “correlation between the volume of competition within a niche and the competence of SEO professionals behind the high-level web pages in that niche”.

Demand pushes companies into a niche, leading to more competition; such competition leads companies to offer more competitive deals, which means they have to gain more market share in order to remain profitable.

The environment thus created usually favours larger companies with larger portfolios, which can afford to hire the best SEO professionals in the industry; those faced with this situation, have a longer and harder fight ahead of them.

This means that we must not only assess all aspects of our competitors’ SEO, but also look beyond the point where they are today, namely to examine their activity in the previous months and then continue to monitor their activity in the future.

This is important because “to overcome your competitors you have to make a greater effort than theirs”.

The weight of inbound links for the measurement of SEO times

It is no secret that links still play a huge role in SEO, but their impact on the time it takes to improve rankings depends on several deeper factors.

The first is the volume of links to the website: in general, says Knauff, “more links will help you achieve SEO success faster, but it’s not just a numbers game”.

Other features also count, and for example “fewer high-quality links from relevant websites will have a much greater impact on results than a greater volume of low-quality links from unrelated websites”.

This is an important concept also because high quality backlinks are generally harder to earn, so they will be harder to replicate even for competitors; in addition, they tend to last longer, unlike links generated using automated methods.

But there are also other aspects to consider, especially the speed with which the site gains links and the speed with which it has gained links historically, which may be factors because, to simplify, “a sharp increase could indicate an unnatural attempt to manipulate the ranking”. Using methods that do not comply with the Google Webmaster Guidelines and getting a sharp increase in the number of backlinks can expose you to the risk of manual action and, in the worst cases, result in a Google penalty.

Speed in link building campaigns

The author also shows three sample charts to try to clarify when a backlink profile has a natural evolution over time.

Evoluzione naturale del profilo backlink

In the first case, the growth pattern is regular and rises over time – there should be no suspicious activity.

Un ritmo di acquisizione backlink che può essere naturale

In this second case, the evolution appears as less natural, but the peak may depend on other factors – such as increased media coverage, the launch of a new product or an extraordinary content marketing campaign – and therefore this line could also be completely natural.

Profilo backlink non naturale

The last graph “seems natural as a spray tan”: there are large peaks of incoming backlinks alternating with periods of sharp decline, a sign of an activity carried out in the shoulders in an unnatural and unwise way.

According to the article, the faster the site gains relevant and high quality links, the faster it will rank, but without neglecting one aspect: the speed of backlinks, the pace with which the site gains links, should have a relatively stable growth.

If link building tactics follow Google’s guidelines, this should happen naturally, while when using black hat SEO techniques you may notice unnatural patterns that could damage your progress.

The value of site content to SEO times

Inevitably, even the content posted on your website has a role in the speed with which you can see the results and the first thing to know is that quality matters a lot.

We know that there is no correlation between quality and SEO word count and that there is no minimum or even ideal length: the content “must simply be long enough to solve a visitor’s problem“, Knauff recalls.

Moreover, the theory that no new content should be published at the same time has also been officially denied, because there is no reason, from the SEO point of view, to do so, although it is probably more profitable to maintain a consistent publishing program, rather than condense publications into blocks.

For the author, there are at least two reasons that make this editorial calendar logic preferable:

  • It shows Google that new content is added regularly to the site, which typically encourages its spiders to scan it more frequently and, as a result, can accelerate SEO efforts.
  • It encourages users to return to the site more frequently, which can help send positive user experience signals to Google and, as a result, can accelerate SEO efforts.

However, it is not just about creating content.

Learning how to manage content and delete the non-performing one

Content work should not only focus on creating and publishing new articles and pages, because content deletion can also play a proactive role in the time it takes for the EES to work.

The key is to determine which content to maintain, which to improve and which to delete; in particular, deleting pages with insufficient performance can help to improve the overall performance of the site in search results (and to optimize the crawl budget) since they leave room only for original and useful content that solves the needs of the public, continuing to improve them continuously.

In practical terms, “long-term and higher-quality content tends to gain more links than low-quality and /or shorter content”: according to a study by Backlinko on 912 million blog posts, longer content gains on average 77,2% more links than short articles.

Therefore, in addition to playing a crucial role in itself, content can also influence the efforts in creating links, so optimizing this aspect is doubly important.

In conclusion, how long it takes for SEO to work?

The SEO work “is similar to the one of meteorologists: despite all our knowledge, experience and tools, we often make mistakes,” says Knauff in the conclusions, pointing out that usually “customers are frustrated when they don’t see the results of their SEO campaign as quickly as they want”.

Part of the job of an SEO professional is also to manage the expectations of customers, an area where many fail.

Perhaps the most critical aspect is that of the times to see the positive effects of work and investment (also because often there are those who tell customers only what they want to hear, generating unrealistic expectations), and as a result, many people think that it only takes a few weeks or a few months to get SEO results.

This is only partially true: you can start to see improvements in organic ranking and an increase in traffic for keyword topics with little competition in a few weeks, but these are not consolidated increases and only for particular niches. Usually, moderately competitive topics may take months, while highly competitive queries may take up to a year or more!

For instance, “my team has been able to place a website at the top spot for the marketing company query that has produced a steady stream of contacts for several years, but despite our capabilities, manpower and resources, It took about a year of constant work to achieve this goal”.


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Knauff himself recounts another episode: “A particular customer virtually devoid of digital presence came to us when a website had published some unflattering information about him, which had been completely out of context. Since he held the first position in Google for his name, this had cost him a considerable amount of business”.

Fortunately, the author says, “there was little competition for his name and that website did not have much authority, so we were able to fill the first several pages of the search results with pages we checked in a few weeks”.

Anyway, what we recommend is not to use tactics that violate the Instructions for Google webmasters in an attempt to accelerate the process: although this strategy can work in the short term, in the end “you’ll have to face a penalty and end up further back than where you started”.

SEO timing: what Google says

As anticipated, you have to consider waiting from several months to a year before seeing the results of SEO investments, but even in this case there are no certainties of being the overall winner.

To use Google’s words, “in most cases an SEO will need from 4 months to a year to help your business first implement improvements and then see the first benefits”: this is also confirmed by statistical analysis that report that only 5,7% of all newly published pages will arrive in Google’s top 10 within a year.

But even after reaching the first page is not the case to rest on your laurels “because your competitors – both current and new arrivals – will constantly try to take that position”.

In other words, the SEO is an ongoing effort that will never truly be complete.

SEO is a work of perseverance and patience

In conclusion, we cannot accurately predict how long SEO will take before it works, but we can make a highly plausible guess based on certain variables and, in this way, have a better idea of how long it will take us to emerge within a particular niche against actual competitors.

In reality, SEO-understood as the work of optimizing a site – never ends because the business environment and search engines never stop and are constantly evolving: algorithms progress and change, content that is current today soon becomes obsolete (and thus be monitored, updated, and optimized again), competitors continue to receive backlinks, and so on. At the same time, we cannot stop and wait for results to come, but continue to develop new content and new assets that generate links and lead magnets, explore new search patterns and tactics, discover unexplored SEO opportunities such as different keywords, rich snippet opportunities, and new media.

Concretely, we can refer to this mirror to see if our work is paying off in what we can call “average” time frames:

  • A few weeks: improvements in organic ranking and an increase in traffic for topics related to keywords with little competition.
  • A few months: concrete results for moderately competitive topics.
  • A year or more: improvement and consolidation of Google ranking for highly competitive queries.

If we have to give an answer to a client, on the other hand, the best way to meet his expectations is to set a goal of gradual growth in organic traffic and conversions, pushing him to focus on positive results coming from a large number of pages instead of focusing only on monitoring the ranking of a few key pages that might rise very slowly.

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