You know that any successful content marketing strategy involves putting a lot of effort into SEO optimization.
But once you start taking SEO seriously, how long will it take for your efforts to pay off? When will you start to rank, and when will you hit the first page of the SERPs alongside your top competitors?
In this guide, we've answered the question, "How long does SEO take to work?"
- On average, it takes 4-6 months to see results from search engine optimization.
- How long SEO takes to work depends on factors including the quality of your content, the quality hand number of links you build for your website, your domain age and authority, and your site navigation & structure.
- You can speed up the time it takes for SEO to work by hiring a professional content writer and link builder, and speeding up the important processes in your SEO strategy.
How long does SEO take to see results?
For most websites, SEO takes about 4-6 months to work on search engines like Google.
That means, if you're employing an effective SEO strategy and staying consistent with your efforts, you should expect to see some payback for your work within the first half-year of implementation.
6 months sounds like quite a long time, but it typically takes this long for Google to decide that you're a trusted website, based on all the updates and improvements you've been making. Search engine algorithms are super sophisticated and take tens of factors into account when deciding where to place your website. These factors can often take a while to run through.
Stick at it, because once you start seeing SEO results, you'll usually see an upward trajectory in growth - as long as you continue to work on your SEO strategy and you don't get penalized by Google for spam content or another search engine no-no.
Why does SEO take so long to work?
The reason why SEO takes so long to work is that you're competing with so many other websites in your industry.
Let's say you've built an affiliate website on the subject of gardening. There are already tens of websites that are ranking on Google on this topic, and most are probably also actively working on their SEO efforts.
That means you'll have to produce a lot of content, build a lot of links, and sometimes simply wait for your website to get older, before you start to gain organic traffic and climb the SERPs.
It only gets more challenging to rank as more and more websites are being built. That's both disheartening and encouraging - it means that if you start this year, you'll have to put in a lot of work to catch up, but it'll still be easier to rank than it will be this time next year.
SEO also takes a long time to work because of budget restrictions. If you spent thousands of dollars per month on various SEO services, you'd likely rank a lot faster than you are right now.
But most people have budget constraints, especially if they're at the start of their SEO journey, which often means they're attempting to do everything themselves or putting less money into their content creation and link-building efforts.
It makes sense that your top competitor with a $10,000 monthly SEO spend will see quicker SEO results than you.
Plus, if that wasn't enough to slow you down, Google's algorithm is changing constantly, and this can have an effect on your page ranking. Your articles might have been perfectly optimized until Google released a new update that prioritizes writing techniques and content additions that you haven't previously used.
Updates shouldn't have a massive effect on your website ranking, but you might need to go back and amend some of your content, depending on the nature of the update.
What kind of results will you get from SEO?
You know how long it'll take for you to see results from SEO - but exactly what results should you expect to see?
Don't expect your website to instantly start ranking amongst all your biggest competitors on Google. It's incredibly rare for a website to suddenly launch to the top of page one on any of the search engines - organic growth is usually a lot slower and steadier.
So, when we talk about results from SEO, we're typically talking about the time it takes for certain web pages and articles on your website to start ranking.
The whole purpose of optimizing your content for search engines is to prove to Google that you're a reliable, knowledgeable source, and that you're worthy of ranking on the first page for specific search queries.
Your ultimate goal is probably to hit those top spots on page one - and increase your conversion rate as a result. But realistically, if you start doing all the right things to make your website search engine-friendly, you'll likely start by ranking in the easier-to-rank pages for low-to-moderately competitive keywords.
What factors affect SEO ranking time?
There are a few factors that affect how long it takes for SEO to work:
The quality of your content
One of the most important website ranking factors is content quality.
Now more than ever, Google prioritizes content that's genuinely helpful and meets the user's search intent (you can thank Google's helpful content update for that).
That means the articles at the top of the search results contain information that provides a direct, helpful answer to the user's search query - which usually means that it's well-written.
Of course, there's more that goes into it (see the below factors), but well-written content that serves a clear purpose is key for increasing our SEO ranking time. On the other hand, poorly-written content that rambles on or doesn't get to the point will have a negative effect on your SEO because it doesn't show Google that you're meeting the user's search intent.
Your domain age and authority
If you've just set up a new website, it'll take a while for SEO to work on that site because it doesn't yet have site authority.
What that means is that Google doesn't yet know whether or not it can trust your website to provide accurate, quality, and - above all - useful content.
Ranking a new website is particularly difficult if you're in a highly competitive niche. It may take up to 12 months for you to start seeing SEO results in this case. Most websites will start to rank organically after 4 months.
Your site navigation & structure
You might be doing all the right things to prove yourself as a credible source, but if your site navigation and structure are poor, it could be affecting how long it's taking to achieve SEO success.
The structure and navigation of your site is directly linked to user experience. Google takes the ease of site navigation into account when determining where your website should be placed in the SERPs, since a poorly-formatted or confusingly laid-out website is likely to reduce user engagement.
Site speed and mobile adaptability are other ranking factors relating to your website appearance and layout that you should be aware of. If your website is slow-loading and not compatible for mobile screens, you'll probably see SEO results at a much slower rate, regardless of the quality of the content you're producing.
Quality & number of backlinks
Links can seem like a complex topic for folks who are new to SEO - but there really isn't much to it.
Essentially, the more backlinks pointing back to your website, the more of a trusted source Google thinks that you are.
Links out of your website are also important, but getting links into your website is the tricky part. Many website owners pay for link building, which is a service that puts links to your website on different existing websites online. It's important that this link placement is natural and non-spammy in order for you to see success with link-building.
If you build links for your website at a steady rate, you're likely to see faster SEO results than if you neglect link-building and only focus on your content marketing strategy.
How to know if SEO is working
How do you know if SEO is working? After all, you need to know whether your SEO strategy is a good one, which means knowing the signs of a successful strategy.
These are several signs to look out for:
Your website traffic is on the rise
The most obvious sign that SEO is working is that your website traffic is increasing.
To get website traffic stats, use a tool like Google Analytics or Semrush.
A good tool will show you a graph that documents your website traffic over a set period of time. You can adjust this time frame to see your traffic in the last month, the last year, and so on.
If you're starting to see a steady incline in your website visitors, it's a great sign that your SEO strategy is working and you're starting to rank organically.
It's normal to have peaks and dips in your web traffic as new search engine updates roll in. So, look for an upward trend. As long as you have, on average, more page visitors than you did 6 months ago, you're doing something right.
You can also use a web analytics tool to see which of your web pages are attracting the most click-throughs, so you can focus your efforts on producing more content on this topic going forward.
Visitors are spending longer on your website
Another positive sign that your SEO strategy is paying off is if your average page visit times are on the rise.
When visitors spend longer on your website, it tells Google that you're providing valuable information that gives people a reason to stick around.
If you see an increase in the time readers are spending on your pages, it means that you're likely offering quality content - and Google rewards this by boosting your position in the search results pages.
Again, Google Analytics is a good tool to use to see your average time on page.
Your conversions are increasing
It's one thing getting more visitors on your website - but a truly successful SEO strategy should also boost your conversions.
The whole purpose of your SEO efforts is to encourage customers to buy your product or service, after all. So if your conversion rate is on the rise, it means your SEO strategy is working.
A boost in conversions suggests that you've increased website traffic and time on page, and decreased your bounce rate, which is a winning combination for ranking organically.
How long does it take for a new website to rank on Google?
Ranking a new website is tricker than dedicating time to an SEO strategy for a website that has existed for a few years.
New websites are more difficult to rank because they don't yet have any authority, which means that Google has no evidence that their content provides value to its users.
So, how long does SEO take for a new website?
On average, it takes a brand-new website 6-12 months to start ranking on Google, but this is affected by factors including:
- The quality of the content it publishes
- The backlinks it receives
- The level of competition in the niche
Don't be surprised if you don't see your website ranking at all within the first 12 months of its existence.
During this time, new websites are usually placed in the "Google sandbox", which prevents the website from ranking high on the SERPs to reduce the potential for scamming customers and cheating the algorithm.
How can I rank faster on Google?
Ultimately, there's no cheat sheet to ranking faster on Google. Most of the time, if you're not ranking but your SEO efforts are consistent, you probably just need to wait it out.
With that said, there are few things you can do to increase your likelihood of ranking faster on the search results pages:
Hire a professional SEO content writer
Since quality content is such an important ranking factor, you should be able to speed up the time it takes to see SEO results by hiring a professional SEO content writer.
An expert writer with good knowledge of SEO should know exactly how to increase your organic traffic by providing content that users are searching for.
Professional content writers can also use tools that automate a lot of the content planning processes for them, including keyword research and word count estimating, which means they can use more accurate data to produce articles that are better optimized for Google.
Relevant and consistent content creation is key to a successful SEO strategy. If you don't have the time to build out your blog, a professional writer can handle every stage of the process - from planning to article creation - for you.
Hire a link-builder
Content and links go hand-in-hand in an effective digital marketing strategy. So, once you've hired a professional SEO content writer, don't forget about hiring a link builder.
You could choose to build links yourself, but it's not a good use of your time. Sourcing websites, contacting publishing teams, producing content for the links to be added to, and analyzing competing websites for links are all taxing jobs - and that's not even including the time it takes for you to start seeing changes in your site's visibility once the links are built.
A link-building agency or freelancer will take the time and effort of building links off your hands.
Hire a digital marketing strategist
If you've been employing all the right SEO methods for over a year and you still haven't seen significant results, consider hiring a digital marketing or SEO strategist (otherwise called an SEO consultant).
An expert in this area will likely be able to spot an issue with your website or content that's affecting your ability to get organic traffic, which could easily be overlooked by you.
The right SEO consultant should offer a catered range of services to help your website to grow, whether that's making tweaks to your website, sorting out your technical SEO, or implementing a long-term digital marketing strategy for your business.
If you're not seeing the results you expected and you're starting to lose motivation, an SEO strategist could be exactly what you need. But, in most scenarios, we only recommend using this type of professional in the short-term, since the extra expense isn't usually necessary once you start organically ranking.
Speed Up & Scale Your Processes
A website can only rank as fast as new content is being released and new links are being built.
So, you're likely to see results from SEO at a faster rate if you produce content and build links at a faster rate.
Let's say you hire a professional copywriter to produce 10 pages of quality content for your blog per year. Your opportunities to rank for your target keywords are less than if you aimed for 100 pieces of content per year. So, your growth would be slower, and it'd take longer on average for you to see significant results.
The same goes for building links: the fewer links you build for your site, the fewer "votes of confidence" Google will see, and the slower you'll grow.
Of course, doing anything too quickly may look spammy - which will slow your growth - so if you're unsure what's best for your current position, ask the experts you're working with.
Remember, a good SEO strategy incorporates a range of different methods to increase organic traffic. So, the time it takes for SEO to work on your website depends on how many of these practices you're incorporating - and how effectively you're incorporating them.
How many hours per week should you spend on SEO?
We know how long SEO takes to work - but how many hours should you put into your SEO strategies per week?
Our minimum recommended time for working on an SEO campaign is 12 hours/week. However, that's just the time that your business should aim for - it doesn't mean that you have to spend your own time doing anything.
For instance, you could hire out an SEO agency for copywriting, link-building, or indirect strategies like social media marketing, and pay for 12 hours of work per week.
This may work better for you since it means you can spend your own time focusing on more valuable business tasks, such as liaising with clients and managing your team.
We do recommend monitoring your site performance by keeping an eye on your impressions on tools like Google Search Console. While you don't have to put in the hard work of SEO strategizing yourself, it's important that you monitor your growth and ensure that the money you've invested in outsourced help is worth it.
Should you always spend 12 hours per week on your SEO campaign? Not necessarily. This is just an average figure, and you might spend more or less time on your SEO efforts, depending on your available free time, your website's current state, and your desired results.
You'll spend more time per week on SEO when you're just starting out, because you're building your SEO from scratch. Once you have an established website, your SEO efforts can be reduced because you'll only be adding to (or amending) what's already there.
Ultimately, it's difficult to directly answer the question, "How long does SEO take to work?"
There are so many factors that affect your outcome, including your competition, your site's age and authority, and how much time per week you put into your SEO efforts.
It's tempting to try and cheat the algorithm and take shortcuts to rank faster, but we strongly advise against doing anything that could result in a Google penalty - the worst outcome for your SEO.
Remember that your rankings won't improve overnight, and have patience. You don't have to do it all yourself. A professional copywriting agency can take the bulk of the initial SEO process off your hands, producing results more quickly than you could yourself without breaking the rules.
Does SEO work instantly?
No, SEO doesn't work instantly. It's normal for a minimum of 3 months to pass before you start to see any results from your SEO efforts. The reason for this is that you have to first prove to Google that you're a trusted, reliable source, which takes time. Plus, in most industries, you'll be competing with tens (maybe even hundreds) of other website, many of which will already be ranking highly in your area of expertise.
How many hours should I spend on SEO?
You should aim to spend around 12 hours per week on your website's SEO, depending on the nature of your website and how quickly you want to see results. It's not always the case, however, that spending more time equals better and faster results. Make sure you're using your available time as effectively as possible, and consider outsourcing the tasks that somebody else could do better.
How long will it take to see increases in traffic with SEO?
On average, you will see an increase in site traffic within 4-6 months of implementing SEO tactics. The exact time depends on the extent of your SEO efforts, your competition, your audience size, and the age and authority of your website. If competition in your industry is high, it may take up to 4 years for you to start ranking alongside the other top-competing websites on the search results.
How can I get SEO results fast?
You can get faster SEO results by investing in experts who can help you with content creation, link-building, and other technical SEO work. However, there are no shortcuts for fast ranking - SEO takes time, and it's better to be patient and rank organically than go in too hard and get penalized for looking spammy.
How often does Google SEO update?
There is no set period of time after which Google makes an SEO update (so, for example, there's not a scheduled update once a year or once a quarter). Instead, Google makes periodic updates every few months, and some of these updates are much bigger than others. The best way to keep up with Google SEO updates is to follow a blogger or YouTuber in the digital marketing industry, who should be the first to share the latest news when it happens.
Does SEO still work in 2023?
Yes, while Google continues to exist in its current format, SEO will continue to be relevant in 2023 and all the preceding years. The only difference is that search engine optimization is now getting harder because the number of websites on search egnines continues to grow, meaning that there's now more competition than ever before. That doesn't mean that SEO no longer works - it just means that you have to put more effort into your SEO strategy to see results.
What's the earliest you can see results from SEO?
The earliest you can expect to see results from SEO is within 1-2 months. However, you'll usually only see results this early if you've been able to spend a lot of money upfront on your initial content, link-building, and technical SEO strategies, and if the competition in your industry is relatively low. Getting early results from SEO doesn't mean you're any more successful - it might just mean that you aren't competing with many big sites.