How Long Does SEO Take to See Results?
January 5, 2021 | by Timothy Wier
Among all the digital marketing channels, search engines offer a uniquely powerful return on investment.
Once you create and publish SEO content, you can just leave it there and it’ll continue to work for you. Some content will generate traffic and leads for months, even years.
This is a benefit that you won’t see from PPC, social media, or even email marketing.
But how long does SEO take to see results like this? Depending on the specifics of your SEO strategy, it can take anywhere from six months to two years before you see the full returns.
I know, that seems like forever.
Keep in mind that I’m painting with broad brush strokes here. There are many variables that can impact the speed of your SEO success:
- How frequently you publish content
- The quality of your content
- How consistently you publish content
- Your target keywords
- Conversion rate optimization
- How often you monitor your metrics and make real-time adjustments
So what can you do to speed up your SEO results? Because, let’s face it, two years is too long to wait.
This article will walk you through exactly how to make that happen.
Let go of unrealistic expectations.
Why does SEO success require such a long-term commitment?
It all has to do with how search engines prioritize the content they serve.
Years ago, webpages with the highest concentration of a certain keyword would rank highest on the search engine result (SERP) pages.
But all that has changed.
In an effort to better match content with user intent, search engines focus more on a website’s authority on a certain topic. You build that authority by consistently publishing high quality, engaging content over a long period of time.
There are a number of factors that impact your website’s authority. Here are a few:
- Website age
- Content quantity
- Content quality
- Competitor quality
- User experience
Let’s dive into each of these in detail.
With 380 websites being created every minute, search engines have to separate the best information from the noise. One way to do that is by looking at how long a particular website has been publishing content.
After all, who would you trust more? A site that’s been around for years? Or a site that was launched two months ago and has no name recognition?
The longer your website is active, the more opportunities you have to prove your authority, both to your audience and to search engines.
By increasing the amount of content on your website, you’re demonstrating that you can provide a wide breadth of information on the topics relevant to your business (this is where the topic cluster model comes in).
The more topics you’re addressing in a helpful, human manner, the higher your website authority will be.
Search engines match content to the intent of a user’s query. The more value you provide, the more likely your content will rank high for search terms.
Content quality can be broken down into two categories: the subjective helpfulness to your audience, and the objective on-page optimization to help search engines pick up your keywords and topics (headers, slug, alt-text, title, meta description, etc.).
SEO is a game of alternatives. To rank high for a search term, your content not only has to be great, it must also be better than anything else on the internet (no pressure).
If you’re targeting a broad search term that puts you up against well-established brands, you’ll be less successful than if you focus on a specific niche with lower-authority competitors.
Backlinks are the currency of search engine marketing.
Each new backlink not only means more traffic, but search engines see backlinks as a sign of website authority, which will only improve your ability to rank.
If you want users to positively engage with your website, you need to create a stellar user experience. Here are some specific ways to do that:
- Reduce load speed
- Add images
- Use white space
- Clearly display navigation menus
- Offer compelling conversion offers
Speed up your SEO campaigns with higher content output.
Technically, SEO doesn’t have a set amount of time before it starts working.
It all depends on how quickly you can build up your website authority and consistently generate content that your audience finds valuable.
This means that there’s a major variable of SEO success within your control: content output.
The more content you can produce within a given timeframe, the faster you’ll be able to build your authority and drive highly relevant traffic to your site.
But what about content quality? How do you increase your production output while also keeping the quality the same?
It’s a good question, and one I hear all the time. But, contrary to what a lot of people think, quantity vs. quality is a false dichotomy.
Content quality really only comes down to one thing: the value you provide to your audience.
If you’re providing value, the content is high quality.
If not, then it’s not.
Production values (design, copywriting, layout, etc.) are important, especially when you have a big brand to maintain.
But you’d be surprised at how forgiving people are of production “mistakes” when the content they receive is wildly helpful to their lives and work.
Plus, there’s the “10,000 hours” phenomenon. The more content you produce, the better you’ll get at it.
So if content quality concerns you as you step up your production, sit down and ask yourself: am I providing value with the words I’m writing?
If the answer is yes, then keep going.
If not, then stop and reconsider.
Here are some things to keep in mind when speeding up your content output:
- Focus more on producing and shipping, rather than “getting it perfect” the first time
- If you’re unsure about a piece of content, find a trusted advisor to run it by
- Read and consider every piece of feedback that comes your way, and adjust accordingly
- Be laser focused on producing valuable content, not just “content for content’s sake”
- If you’re having trouble finding time to write, carve out 15 minutes every day; it’s about consistency over time, not massive, short-term inputs
Content output is a powerful variable of SEO success that’s completely within your control.
You just have to prioritize it among your own work or your team’s work, or bring on someone who can help you out.
Improve the quality of your keyword targeting.
In addition to content output, one of the other ways to improve your SEO performance quickly is to be more intentional in the keywords and key phrases that you target.
You could have plenty of people clicking and converting, but if they aren’t the right people, you’ll see $0 in returns.
If you want to think of it in terms of “levers of control”, content output is your quantity lever, while keyword targeting is your quality lever.
So how do you find high quality keywords?
There are really factors to keep in mind:
- Is the keyword relevant to your business? In other words, is it something that an active buyer would be searching for on their way to purchasing your product or service?
- Are enough people searching for that term that you can generate clicks and conversions?
Let’s take each of these one by one.
Keyword targeting is just like Jurassic Park.
Just because you can target a keyword, doesn’t mean you should.
You have a limited amount of energy and resources you can put into a serious SEO effort. By focusing on the keywords that are the most relevant to your business, you can maximize your impact.
By business relevance, I mean the things that lead to revenue.
In SEO, business-relevant keywords are the terms customers search for and the questions they ask as they progress along their buyer’s journey:
- Deciding whether to purchase your product or service
- Considering solutions to their problems
- Discovering that they have a problem to begin with
Focusing on relevant search terms will maximize the impact on your business, thus speeding up how long it takes to see SEO results.
Monthly Search Volume
If you rank #1 for a search term but only two people search for it, odds are you aren’t going to see success off the bat.
By examining monthly search volume, you can focus on the keywords that are likely to generate a large enough audience that it’s worth the investment.
For pillar content, you want to shoot for a minimum of 300 monthly searches.
For more niche content like blog posts, you can go even more narrowly. But be sure to keep the Goldilocks principle in mind.
Too big of an audience and you probably won’t be competitive.
Too small of an audience and it’s not worth it.
Plus, smaller search volume isn’t always a bad thing. If you’ve done a good job picking keywords that are relevant to your business, then you’ll be attracting searchers who are a good fit for your business.
These may be smaller in number, but the quality of each lead will be higher.
Where to find high quality keywords
So now we come to the important question: Where can you find these high quality keywords? Here are some places to look:
- Keyword research tools
- Web traffic analytics
- Customer insights
- Competitor content
I’ll break down each of these in detail.
Keyword Research Tools
Whether you’re using a free tool like Ubersuggest or a high-ticket platform like SEMRush, there are a number of tools out there that enable you to research keywords, their search volume, and competitiveness. Most keyword research tools also let you see which terms your competitors are ranking for as well.
For a list of the top keyword research tools, click here.
Web Traffic Analytics
Web analytics tools like Google Analytics can give you powerful insights into your webpage performance. From there, you can see which pieces of content generate the most visits and positive engagement.
Knowing how your audience is currently engaging can point you in the right direction for future efforts.
This one is so simple, yet few companies actually take advantage of it.
If you want to know which questions and search terms your customers ask as they’re about to make a purchase, ask them!
Check out what your competitors are doing. They may not be ranking for any of those terms, but you’ll see which topics they value.
Who knows, you may be able to out maneuver them and get to those rankings before they do.
Don’t “set it and forget it.”
One of the biggest value propositions of SEO and content marketing is that it continually generates leads and revenue for your business.
You post a piece of content once, and five years later someone could stumble upon it and reach out.
Because of this, there could be an inclination to “set it and forget it.”
However, this is the wrong approach.
SEO is constantly changing. Google is always updating their algorithms. New competitors are publishing content every day.
You may end up ranking #1 today, and tomorrow you drop off the first page.
To that end, you should always be monitoring your SEO performance.
Google Search Console is probably the most powerful free tool out there to monitor how your site is performing, but there are other paid tools that can help as well.
If you see that you’re slipping in a particular search term, find the piece of content optimized for that term and try to figure out what’s wrong.
If you published a piece of content a few months ago and it’s not breaking past the top ten, see if you need to refresh the content to get a better result.
Here are some of the ways you can continually nurture and expand your content.
Refresh your content.
Industries change and shift over time.
That article you wrote two years ago may no longer be up to date and providing the same value as it did back then.
It’s important to continually analyze your content to see if there’s anything you can do to improve what you’ve already written.
Engage in aggressive link building.
Organically attracting backlinks is a very slow process.
If you want to speed up your SEO performance, consider reaching out to webmasters of reputable domains to see if they would be interested in linking to your content.
Add new information to your content over time.
No matter how lengthy a piece of content is, odds are you having fully covered the topic at hand, at least not as in-depth as you could.
If a piece of content is stalling, consider adding more information to it. The additional value could make all the difference.
Repurpose existing content.
Just because you post a blog on your website doesn’t mean your job is done right then and there.
By repurposing content for other channels or use cases (e.g. pillar pages, product pages, etc.) you can exponentially increase the value of your content production efforts.
As you ramp up your SEO campaigns, make sure to continually monitor your progress.
A short sprint to fix a problem could save you years in lost potential customers.
SEO takes time to yield results. That’s a fact you need to understand before you seriously invest in the channel.
However, the exact amount of time is going to vary based on a number of factors. Some of those factors are beyond your control.
But plenty of them are.
To maximize your success with SEO, you have to put in the work.
Even when it looks like it’s not working, keep pushing forward. With consistent and focused effort over time, you’ll see success from your SEO efforts.
As I mentioned earlier, content output is one of the major factors that impacts your SEO success. Click here for a FREE guide that walks you through how to produce more content while maintaining quality.
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