It’s the kind of question that comes up time and time again, so I felt it was time to address the issue in a blog post. Clearly the answer will vary hugely between clients, campaigns, and industries to mention a few variables.
In order to set your client’s expectations and to avoid shooting yourself in the foot, it is well worth over estimating a little. SEO white hat techniques are a long game strategy and anyone who promises or says they can deliver results within a few days or a couple of weeks are usually either lying or using black hat tactics to manipulate you into the SERPs.
This is because you cannot guarantee results and unless you are working for Google then you do not have any kind of access to their algorithm. The short and simple answer to the question is 3-6 months in my opinion. There is more than just guess work involved here, there are many factors involved in improving keyword rankings, I have explained these below.
Before I go on to explain how these elements will affect the speed you get results, it is worth noting that everyone defines success differently. For many SEO’s it is traffic that defines success, for clients it is return on investment (ROI). So first off, understand what your client is anticipating and set their expectations accordingly. Clear reporting is vital to this process, detailing “total traffic” for the month is simply not enough, how much of that was organic traffic? How much of the organic traffic included people searching for the company name? What are referral traffic volumes like? Have you excluded paid search traffic?
For the purpose of answering the question in the context that it is most often intended, I will make the assumption that “results” mean organic traffic and keyword rankings.
Indexing Your Website
As I mentioned, every site is different, but Google robots will crawl your site with a certain frequency; this might be every few minutes (in the case of the BBC’s website) or it may be once every fortnight. Depending on how frequently your site is crawled will be a big factor in how quickly you see results from SEO. If your website is crawled once every couple of weeks and it takes three visits for every page to be re-indexed then it will take roughly six weeks for your whole site to be indexed.
Building the relevance with search engines is done largely on page, so once all of the on-page SEO elements are in place it can take several weeks or longer for this to be picked up by Google. Adding new content to the site regularly can help improve the frequency that Google index your site… This is one reason why many people add a blog to their site.
Picking up Links
Link building is a major part of any good SEO campaign and in the same way that it can take a while for Google to index your website; it can take time for Google to index the site from which you have gained links. There may even be a delay after the link has been identified before Google passes on link juice or authority from that link.
This is an intrinsic factor to consider; if you are competing locally for an esoteric term then you can expect minimal competition and as a result you could expect faster results. If however you are competing nationally or globally for competitive terms then results will be slower coming. In fact depending on the strength of your site initially the SEO consultant may target lower competitive keywords to begin with. These will often have smaller search volumes and yield less traffic but be quicker wins for the short term.
If your competition is well established or a big brand then it will be harder to break into the market and will take longer to achieve results.
How Well Established is Your Website?
This is an important question because if the domain is brand new then it will take longer to build the authority of the site up. If your competition has been there for the past decade and you are new to the online market then you will have some uphill running to do. Google will not bump a well established and proven website down the rankings in place of a newbie six week old website even if it is relevant.
Budget / Time
One of the few ways to improve the speed at which you can expect to see results is, of course, your budget. The more you spend (within reason) the quicker you can see results. It’s a cold hard fact but nonetheless one that needs to be appreciated, especially when put into the context of how much your competition is spending. If you have a budget of £400 per month and you are competing in finance, you can expect your competition to be spending that per hour.
Budget effectively equates to time spent on the campaign, if you do all the work yourself then it will only be the time that is a factor to you… The more time and effort you spend on a campaign the better the results should be.
Implementing the SEO recommendations can be an obstacle to success, if for example you are unable to give full access (such as ftp) to the search agency then more often than not changes will have to be implemented by Web Developers (who as we all know are obstructive and lazy!). I am joking of course, but issues can arise if Web Developers are unwilling or unable to make certain changes. I have experienced times when a client site is unable to accommodate Meta data or H1 titles, missing important on-page elements will hinder results.
These elements are all relative to the other elements; a brand new website and domain could still dominate the top three results for all of their top keywords within 6-9 months if they are targeting locally and have a reasonable budget. Conversely a huge budget and low levels of competition will only aid in delivering results quickly if recommendations are implemented. The most effective way to gain success with SEO is to carve your own niche, using a well implemented and strong keyword strategy.
If you are doing the SEO work yourself, put in the hours and the effort to make it happen. If you are hiring someone to do it for you, then make it as easy for them as possible to get the best possible results.