Explore timelines, factors, and avoid pitfalls in our comprehensive guide to achieve efficient and effective SEO.
As a B2B SEO agency, we’re often asked the same question: how long does SEO take to work?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward answer – SEO timelines vary substantially depending on the objectives, outputs and other company-specific factors, such as the authoritativeness of your site, the level of competition, the quality of your content, technical issues, and the availability of web development support.
With all that in mind, it can take as little as two hours for a single blog post to rank; two weeks for a competitive landing page to rank; six months for a series of pages to rank, or over a year for a brand new site to see SEO traction. The generic ‘4-6 months’ answer is exactly that, generic. It’s like asking: ‘How long is a piece of string?’
SEO timelines: our answers to frequently asked questions
As with most marketing disciplines, the results of undertaking SEO work (outputs) and the effects of those results (outcomes), are very different. This means that SEO timelines should account for the distinction between quick outputs (like improved keyword rankings) and more gradual outcomes (such as enhanced brand trust and domain authority).
Let’s have a look at a few examples of the SEO timeline questions we get asked most frequently:
Question: How long does Google take to index a page?
Answer: Almost instantly – a matter of hours.
Explanation: It’s easy to go into Search Console (the free tool Google gives you to manage your website) and prompt Google (see image) to index a page of content (crawl it and add it to its search results pages). Given there are no underlying issues with your site preventing content indexing, you should see almost immediate success.
Question: How long does it take to build domain authority?
Answer: Instant to several months. It’s important to distinguish between the act of building links, which could be instant, and increasing your domain authority score, which is often the culmination of several months of doing stuff that ‘earns’ links, such as digital public relations (PR). Some of the best links we’ve ever generated have been a happy offshoot of a great PR campaign), otherwise, about a month.
Explanation: If you’re going to do linkbuilding the manual way, you’ve got a couple of options. One approach is to create a great piece of content and promote it to encourage third parties to use it as a point of reference. Alternatively, pitch thought leadership to publications you suspect will link back to your website in return for great editorial.
And no, we’re not talking about ‘guest blogging’, we’re talking about running an editorial session with your thought leaders to understand the prevalent issues in your industry, building interesting media pitches based on these conversations, researching relevant publications your target audience might be reading, pitching the journalists exclusive angles one by one, drafting the content once agreed with them and then submitting it for review. Anyone who tells me that’s ‘guest blogging’ is getting a passive aggressive email. We’re making the assumption that it’ll take you about a month or two to go through this process.
Question: How long does it take to rank #1 in Google for a target keyword?
Answer: One month to never.
Explanation: It’s important to note the word ‘target’. A target keyword is one that’s important to your business. A keyword or phrase that’ll result in you attracting the type of traffic to your site that you think will convert. Beware of the SEO agency that promises first place rankings on keywords that don’t matter. How do you know if they matter or not? Check what your competitors are ranking for and, if in doubt, test keywords in Google Ads. You’re paying for the traffic, but it’ll give you an indication of what kinds of words and phrases attract your best customers and convert.
The ‘one month’ timescale is because first place ranking may simply require you to create an outstanding piece of keyword optimised content that perfectly satisfies user intent. Oh and we say ‘never’ in the timescale section, because sometimes you’ll never be able to outrank the first place result. Think of an aggregator like TechRadar ranking first for ‘video conferencing software’ – it then becomes a case of ‘if you can beat ‘em, join ‘em’ (don’t beat yourself up; www.techradar.com’s got like 29.5 million inbound links, that’s a tough ask even for the most competent SEO…)
Question: How long does it take to increase organic traffic?
Answer: A few days to six months.
Explanation: Let’s assume your website doesn’t rank for you brand name (and you’ve got a distinguishable one and you haven’t named your company after an animal or a colour or something). Let’s also assume you’ve got prospects actively searching for you online. Make a few changes to the meta data on your homepage, optimise the content and resubmit for indexing, claim your Google Business Profile and boom – you start ranking and prospects can now quickly and easily find you. This is useful, as this type of traffic is likely to convert (they’re searching for you for a reason after all).
The longer end of this timescale (six months) is based on the assumption that the first month of any SEO project involves technical audits, keyword research, and other aspects of strategy planning. Month two has been spent drafting the first batch of content. And month three involves you (the client) signing it off and us publishing it. It may be that the first few pieces of content don’t perform that well organically (though we do have a lot of success given the SEO research and creation efforts we put in) and you need to build up a critical mass over six months before you start seeing decent rankings and increased volumes of organic traffic. We normally find we have a few early organic winners with our content efforts and that’s where the traffic increases come from.
Question: How long does it take to generate leads from SEO?
Answer: A few days to six to eight months.
Explanation: Once again, if we assume you don’t even rank for your brand name and prospects are searching for you online (if they’re not, then this is a separate challenge and will involve targeting the kinds of keywords and phrases they are actually searching for), then you could see some quick wins. If you’ve already exploited all the low hanging SEO fruit, then it’s a longer slog.
It’ll involve you having a very careful discussion with your SEO agency regarding objectives. If the objective is to increase traffic by any means possible then they’re going to recommend high search volume long tail keywords – ones that are less competitive that you’re going to have a decent chance of ranking for if you produce great, user focused content. If that’s not the remit, however, and you make it clear you’re interested in bottom of funnel traffic (i.e., high conversion traffic) rather than quantity of traffic, then a couple of things are going to happen:
Your SEO provider will need to gain a good understanding of the types of keywords that prospects that are ready to convert are searching for.
They’ll then need to prioritise content (often in the form of landing pages on your main website for example) designed to rank for these keywords and designed to convert the traffic these pages receive.
Within Definition, for example, our SEO strategies will often focus on attracting bottom of funnel traffic in the opening six months before moving onto content designed for the research phase of a prospect’s journey.
Timelines for different SEO activities
Now let’s take a look at what’s involved in specific SEO activities to give you a better idea of how long each should take.
How long does keyword research take? It can take up to 30 hours depending on the scope of the project.
That’s because keyword research is a multi-step process that’ll involve your SEO agency talking to your sales team, doing industry research and reviewing your competitors’ websites (amongst quite a few other things). Then they need to create a matrix of target keywords, research search volumes, assess difficulty, and group them logically according to which ones belong on which pages on your website.
Directory structure planning
This is an exercise stemming from the keyword research. Your SEO provider will want to analyse the pages that currently exist on your site and consider whether they’re fit for purpose. It may involve reorganising the directory structure (moving pages to new locations), it may require adding new pages, or it may require edits to existing ones. It depends on the size of the site, but for an average site with a few hundred pages, it should take around five hours.
Technical onsite/offsite audit
Our technical audit includes over 100 factors. While some of these can be automated using the SEO software we have inhouse, many require manual review by trained professionals. Once again, depends on the size of the site, but for an average site with a few hundred pages it should take around five to ten hours.
Inbound link analysis
Inbound link analysis involves reviewing the hyperlinks pointing at your site from other websites. Your SEO provider needs to understand (amongst other things):
how many links there are
how many are followed links vs no follow links
the types of sites they’re on (are the sites spammy; are they contextually relevant?)
the pages they point at on your site
the anchor text of the links
what your link profile looks like versus your competitors’ link profiles.
The time required for inbound link analysis is entirely dependent on the volume of links to analyse, but budget up to five hours initially.
This session is required in order to develop interesting thought leadership angles that can be pitched to authoritative editorial publications in order to generate brand mentions and link opportunities. The SEO team will need to research your company (including an analysis of previous editorial coverage), your industry (hot topics etc.), and your competitors. They then need to conduct calls with your subject matter experts and turn the resulting information into PR angles ready for pitching. All in all, this could between 20 and 30 hours.
Tracking and goal setup
Adding agreed keywords to tracking software, setting up Google Analytics, Search Console, Tag Manager, and more. Time required: 2-3 hours.
The findings from all of the above research needs to be visualised in a month by month SEO strategy with rows pertaining to content, link/brand building, technical fixes etc. Time required: up to ten hours.
Factors that affect SEO timelines
These are the classic factors that affect how long it takes from starting an SEO campaign to seeing it result in leads and revenue.
How authoritative is your domain? This will often be dictated by the number and quality of links pointing at it. Once you understand this (and it’s easy to grasp), use Moz’s Domain Analysis tool to take a look at your DA score – then search for a few of the keywords you think you’ll want to target. Take a look at the DA scores of your online competitors – is yours better? Worse? Comparable? You’ll then have a better idea of how long it’ll take to compete organically.
As mentioned above, the competition will often have a big impact on how long SEO takes to work. Certain keywords will naturally return more competitive results, so if it looks like you can’t compete in the short to medium term, start thinking about the types of keyword you’re targeting. Maybe go after longer keywords (e.g., questions) that don’t return as competitive results.
How much do you have on your site? How much of it is designed to rank for your target keywords? Even if you have a site with a relatively low DA, you can still compete if you’re producing and publishing the best content possible that does a really good job of satisfying searcher intent.
You can use Moz’s free Domain Overview tool to give you a better idea of how healthy your site is from an SEO perspective. Classic issues we find include:
hreflang tag confusion
missing or contradictory canonicalisation
random no indexing tags carried over from staging sites
Getting most stuff fixed isn’t too taxing unless you have a big site with multiple stakeholders where making changes is difficult.
Once again, if you have a big site and your web development team has a lot other priorities, then your SEO changes may end up a long way down the list. Tools like Google Tag Manager can help collapse these timescales by allowing your SEO team to inject tags (snippets of code or tracking pixels) directly to pages without making changes to the code.
Working with an SEO agency
Collaborating with a specialist SEO agency can expedite the process by leveraging their expertise and resources. They bring industry insights, specialised tools, and a dedicated team, accelerating the implementation of effective strategies tailored to your goals.
Integrating AI technologies into your SEO efforts can significantly speed up tasks such as keyword research, content optimisation, and reporting and analysis. While AI shouldn’t be used as a substitute for a dedicated SEO team, these tools can automate a lot of manual work and enhance decision making, ultimately shortening the time needed to see measurable results.
How long does it take for SEO to show results?
Let’s assume you’ve done all of the above: how long before you see measurable results?
It’s important to consider micro and macro measurements to ensure you get a clear picture, as soon as possible, of whether you’re making progress with your SEO efforts.
Here are a few common measurements our SEO team uses to measure success.
As soon as you publish a piece of content, you can log into your Search Console account and ask Google to index it.
If this piece of content then shows up in Google – success! You’re well on your way to generating more organic traffic and leads. Use search operators to search for content in Google’s index. If you own the domain example.com and you write a blog about blue widgets that resides at the following URL example.com/blog/best-blue-widgets then type the following into Google: site:example.com inurl:blog/best-blue-widgets.
If it’s been crawled and indexed by Google, the page will show up in the Googles search results.
Time to measure results: a matter of hours.
There are loads of different types of keyword tracking software out there. Fundamentally, they tell you where your website appears in the non-paid results for the keywords you’re interested in.
Of course, until you have content designed to rank for said keywords, you probably won’t rank anywhere for any of them, but once you’ve drafted content and published it you’ll be on your way. We normally find with every new project there are a few nice surprises where a client will rank well (somewhere on page one potentially) as soon as the new content goes live.
Be aware: new sites in particular will often enjoy a ranking spike, especially if there’s a lot of PR and link building activity taking place at the same time as the new content going live. Rankings will then settle.
Time to measure results: not factoring in the time taken for content creation, almost instantly. As long as it takes for the content to be indexed. However, this may result in a ranking on page five of the search results, which is no good to you. The time taken to reach a page one ranking depends on your marketing resource and the competition in front of you on the search engine result pages.
Organic impressions and clicks
Impressions are how many times a user saw a link to your site in the organic search results. Clicks are how many times users clicked on those results. It was supported with a rigorous programme of keyword research, content creation, PR (and as a consequence, link/brand building).
Time to measure results: with a well-planned SEO strategy behind it, it only takes days to start seeing an increase in impressions and clicks.
The below image shows the last 16 months of organic impressions for one of our SEO clients. t was supported with a rigorous programme of keyword research, content creation, PR (and as a consequence – link/brand building).
This is the good stuff! The outcome of improved keyword rankings is increases in organic traffic resulting from users finding your content online and clicking through to your site.
Time to measure results: days – as soon as the content starts ranking, you’ll see a gradual increase in organic traffic. The faster you get great content live, the faster you’ll generate more organic traffic.
This is the ultimate objective of your SEO efforts. The beauty of SEO is it helps you target prospects at every stage of the funnel, including when they’re actually ready to buy.
Time to measure results: six to twelve months, depending on the existing authority of your site versus your online competitors. Given roughly equal levels of website authority, we’d anticipate lead generation to occur from around the six month mark, though it could take a lot longer if you’re working with a new domain. Either way, the SEOs you employ should be able to give you an estimation based on the research they initially conduct. Expect to have to pay for this research – it will be a significant undertaking.
Mistakes to avoid
Ready to embark on your SEO strategy? Here are some key mistakes to avoid:
Assuming AdWords spend influences organic rankings and speeds up results: it doesn’t. Period.
Expecting overnight results: the impact of SEO can be huge and the return on investment incredible. However, it’s not an overnight fix. In the age of agile growth hacking, SEO still has its place, but it’s a long term strategy that needs to be maintained in perpetuity if you want to keep benefiting from those organic clicks.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail: you can jump in feet first but success will be limited. Plan, plan, and plan some more. Come up with a strategy broken down into tactics – on and offsite content, technical fixes, link and brand building etc., and then prioritise them according to your unique situation. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Getting what you pay for: would you expect someone who can help you generate hundreds, if not thousands, of qualified leads every year to charge you a thousand pounds a month for the privilege? No, neither would we. Yet we still regularly field calls from prospects with a budget in the hundreds of pounds a month. We currently bill £140 an hour and most of our SEO strategies will start at 40 hours a month.
Hiring an old school agency: the agencies that are telling you it’ll cost hundreds a month are the same agencies that price it low because they use spammy, outdated, cookie cutter tactics (they usually own a link network and charge by the keyword). Want to hire the right agency for your company? Check out Google’s advice on hiring an SEO agency.
Search engine optimisation is a fantastic investment for a lot of businesses but it’s exactly that, an investment.
Key performance indicators will move in order: keyword rankings improving, organic traffic increasing, leads and qualified leads rising.
But the answer to how long SEO takes is almost entirely dependent on your objectives, what success looks like to you, and the competition you’re facing.