As an award-winning SEO agency, one question we get asked a lot is, ‘how long does it take for SEO to work?’. Of course, this is a perfectly reasonable question. Potential clients want to know when they can expect to see a return on their SEO services investments. However, unlike paid media, where results can be seen almost as soon as ads are turned on, organic SEO can take time to succeed.
In order to explain how long it takes for an SEO strategy to make an impact, it’s important to understand what SEO actually is and how it works. This guide will take a deep dive into SEO, looking at the factors that impact the effectiveness of an SEO strategy and, ultimately, answering after how long you can expect to see meaningful SEO results.
What is SEO?
SEO – or search engine optimisation – refers to the process of improving the quality and quantity of organic (non-paid) traffic from a search engine to a web page or site. In the current business landscape, this represents one of the most important forms of marketing strategies for all businesses.
How does SEO work?
In its most basic form, the purpose of an SEO strategy is to demonstrate to search engines – like Google and Bing – that a page or site is best suited to a relevant targeted search term. Search engines are designed to provide their searchers with high quality, relevant results. With this in mind, SEO strategies work by optimising the technical aspects of a website, as well as the on-page content, to ensure the page/site in question appeals to the algorithms that influential search engines use to rank the results they display to their users.
In order to work, a successful SEO strategy will need to focus on three key areas. Known as the ‘three pillars of SEO’, these are:
- Technical optimisation
- On-page optimisation
- Off-page optimisation
Not directly relating to the content of a page or site, technical optimisations revolve around making changes to the back-end of a website that make it easier for search engines to properly crawl and understand a site. Common tasks associated with technical optimisation include:
Site structure/navigation – Making technical changes to a site that makes it easier for users to navigate between different pages. This can include the implementation of a ‘meganav’ at the top of the site and an optimised internal link strategy. Improving navigability through the use of ‘breadcrumbs’ – allowing users to go backwards and forwards on their user path as easily as possible- also falls into this category.
XML sitemap optimisation – These should be made clear and easily digestible, allowing search engines to crawl a site. This helps a search engine understand the purpose of your site and index pages accordingly.
Site speed optimisation – Can content on the site load more quickly? From the size of assets like videos and images to poor coding, a whole host of website functions can impact the speed of a webpage. Search engines tend to favour sites that are quick and user-friendly.
Mobile optimisation – The majority of search engines – including Google – use ‘mobile-first’ indexing. This means it favours sites that are mobile phone-friendly. For this reason, ensuring a site is properly optimised for mobile users is an important aspect of technical SEO.
As the name suggests, on-page optimisation involves ensuring the content on a page is relevant and provides the best user experience possible. To do this, SEO content strategies should strive to ensure all content produced meets the intent of the relevant search terms the site wants to target. To do this, SEO content strategies should include:
Copywriting – SEO must be considered during the writing process. This is to say, copy should be optimised through the use of relevant keywords and all copy should be clear and easy to read. This may involve the use of scannable bullet points, for example, and the avoidance of long sentences and large chunks of unbroken text. As we explain below, copywriters should also write with the E-E-A-T principles in mind.
Optimising for E-E-A-T – This stands for Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trust. These are the four characteristics used by Google to determine the validity of web site content. Although on the face of it these principles sound subjective, optimising for E-E-A-T is simply about providing authoritative, trustworthy content that is written by a topic expert.
Tags – Relevant tags – such as meta tags and header tags – are vital to SEO performance. They help users find what they are looking for and are an important factor that can determine how a search engine chooses to index a web page. This is to say, a page with the correct tags in place is more likely to rank well for the selected topics and keywords a business wants to target.
Images – The right imagery (paired with the relevant alt text) can be helpful in providing a better user experience.
This involves boosting a site’s search engine rankings by working with other parties, not directly linked to the site. This is primarily achieved through backlinks. These are links from other sites to your site that, in theory, demonstrate to Google that other sites view your site as a trustworthy authority. Off-page optimisation typically involves the following:
Link building – This is the process of finding relevant, high quality third-party websites to link to your site. As you might expect, the more reputable and relevant the sites that link to your site, the more valuable they are from a SEO point of view.
Social media – Building a strong and wide-reaching social media presence is also an important part of off-page optimisation. Building a large following on platforms such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, and regularly creating and pushing relevant content and posts is a great way to boost SEO performance through branded coverage.
How do you measure SEO success?
SEO success does not happen overnight. Instead, it takes time to audit a site, put a strategy together, and then implement the technical, on-page and off-page optimisations you think a site needs to improve. For this reason, it’s important to keep tabs on a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) before, during and after implementation to measure your progress. Below we take a look at a number of key metrics you can use to track the success of an SEO strategy.
- Keyword rankings
- Organic traffic
- Conversion rate
- Engagement metrics
- Click-through rate (CTR)
Keyword research forms the basis of all successful SEO strategies. This means, once you have identified the keywords you’d like to target, and implemented changes to ensure a site is targeting the right audience, you’ll need to track your process. This is where keyword ranking tracking comes in.
Whether you use a specialist rank tracking tool such as Advanced Web Ranking or Semrush, or keep tabs on your targeted keywords manually, monitoring how your site is ranking for your identified keywords over a period of time is a great way to measure the success of an SEO strategy.
Naturally, your ultimate goal should be to have your site appearing on the first page of search results for your targeted keywords. This is where a site has the largest opportunity to increase organic traffic to a specific page. If you are noticing your site climbing the rankings in the weeks and months following the implementation of a new SEO strategy, this can be interpreted as progress.
Increased traffic can lead to a boost in sales and overall brand visibility. For this reason, this is a common KPI for brands launching an SEO strategy for the first time.
As the name suggests, this metric simply refers to the number of visitors you are able to drive to your site organically from search engine result pages. An easy way to monitor organic traffic increases is by using Google Analytics. This tool is able to segment the sources of all organic traffic to a site on a page-by-page basis. From here, you can find what search engines people are using to find your site, where these users are geographically located, the time of day they accessed your site, and more.
You can also use analytics tools to simply monitor the overall traffic to your site and the pages you are looking to improve. A steady increase in traffic following the implementation of an SEO strategy could indicate your SEO methods are successfully working.
In SEO, ‘conversion rate’ refers to the number of conversions – be that an onsite purchase, an email signup, or a subscription/account creation – divided by the number of unique visits a site or page gets. As a direct measure of SEO implementations on a company’s bottom line, for many businesses, this is the most important KPI when it comes to monitoring SEO performance. This is to say, by monitoring conversion rate, a business can gauge the potential return on investment an SEO strategy is generating.
Once again, Google Analytics can be used to monitor the conversion rate of a site or individual web page.
Understanding how SEO strategies have impacted how engaging a site or specific page is to users is another important metric to keep an eye on. By doing this, you can better understand the user journeys experienced by visitors to your site. This means, what aspects of your site are popular with users and which need more work in the way of technical SEO changes or content tweaks. Examples of common engagement metrics that can be monitored using Google Analytics include:
Engaged sessions – the number of users who either stay on the site for more than 10 seconds, visit more than two pages, or complete a conversion.
Average engagement time per session – the average length of time that a web page is in focus on a user’s screen.
Engaged sessions per user – the number of sessions per user a site/page gets, when averaged by the entire user count.
CTR refers to the percentage of users who see your site listed on a search engine results page and actively choose to click into your site. As discussed above, title and meta tags can impact whether or not a user chooses to visit your site after seeing it listed in the SERPs. This means getting this part of an SEO strategy right plays a significant role in the health of your site/web page’s CTR.
With this in mind, it is a good idea to monitor CTR when assessing SEO performance. Doing so can help you to assess how appealing your results are to a user. It can also help you to determine whether or not the SEO implementations you are making are having their desired effect.
How long does it take to get SEO results?
Any SEO expert worth their salt will agree that providing a concrete answer to this question is a fool’s errand. This is simply because so many different factors – from the resources available to a business to the competitiveness of the industry in which they operate – come into play when an SEO strategy is put in place. It’s also true that ‘results’ and ‘success’ can look very different in the eyes of different brands.
However, as a rule, when implemented correctly, an SEO strategy should start to show results within a six to 12 month period. While it’s important to remember that SEO is an ongoing process and that it can take time to achieve all KPIs, a business should be able to see some return on investment – be that an improvement in conversion rate, organic traffic and/or ranking performance – in this timeframe.