This article was originally published in October 2020 but was updated in July 2022.

Many SEO firms will tell you that it takes 4 to 6 months to see results. That’s generally accurate, but bear in mind this is when you start seeing results, and SEO results grow over time. Whatever results you’re getting at 6 months should be considerably less than what you’re getting at 12 months. Success by any standard rarely comes within the first 3 months, even with a healthy SEO budget. Along with understanding proper SEO time frame expectations, you might ask…

How Long Does SEO Take?

We’ve heard this question many, many times from basically every one of our clients and partners. It’s a very common question in the SEO world because businesses want to know when they will see an ROI from their SEO. At some point, you may see your results taper off, and then it may be a matter of maintaining results rather than growing them. 

And the answer is… it depends.

Depends on what?

It depends on a lot of different factors. For example: how long your website has been around, how much SEO has been done previously, what shape the website is in, how much content is on it, its link profile, and many other SEO factors. 

Figuring out how long your SEO will take comes down to first evaluating the data behind a few key variables. Those variable are:

  • Content
  • Inbound links
  • Competition

After you have done research on these variables for your business you will begin the actual work and evaluate how quickly you would begin to see results. Because there are so many layers of each of these variables you would have to extrapolate quite a bit to get an idea how long it might take to rank at a particular position.

Key SEO Time Frame Variables

Content

Quality content can mean a lot of different things to a wide variety of individuals but it is basically how you engage, inform, support and delight your audiences.

Ideally, your content should do these things while also taking into consideration the keywords that you want rank for. 

Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Land has stated, “The trick is not speaking in terms of what the searcher is going to type into the search box, but speak in terms of what the searcher wants to read.” Always keep in mind that you’re writing for users first and that search engines(with the most recent BERT update) are getting much better at understanding natural language.

Inbound Links

Data has shown that getting external links is the single most important objective for attaining higher rankings. But that begs the question, “What should I focus on when building links?” We recommend following a model that focuses on these 3 factors:

  • Quality – Popularity(traffic) and relevance for your site.
  • Volume – Steady growth with no un-natural spikes.
  • Velocity – The speed at which you earn links – should have relatively stable growth.

If your SEO link building has these three factors included then you can be sure that your SEO firm is building quality links for you and that your rankings will see results.

Competition

Unless you’re in an incredibly specific niche, it’s more than likely that you’ll be facing massive competition in the SERPs.

Think about a local dentist’s office. There’s probably hundreds per city, each with a website trying to rank. The problem is, only ten of those sites will rank on the first page of Google. Because the competition is so fierce, it will likely take longer to see SEO results.

If both you and your competitors are spending the same amount on an SEO campaign then you will both likely be ranking for similar terms and essentially “out bidding” each other. Make sure that your competitive research is done with proper expectations and goals from the outset. 

Why Does SEO Take Time to See Results?

SEO takes time to see results because of the amount of time and effort that goes into creating backlinks, on-page, and technical website optimizations. Unlike other digital marketing strategies, SEO relies on a number of different search engine algorithm factors. It is not as simple as paying a fee for an advertising company to put up a billboard alongside the freeway. Or paying a monthly amount for advertisements to pop up on Facebook. Search engines wish to display the best information to their users! To accomplish this, they have come up with a way to filter and find the best content – through search algorithms. Algorithms play a key role in why seo takes time. Algorithms measure the on-page, technical, and backlink optimizations for a website. Ultimately, they use those results to rank different web pages. The process of building out optimized pages on a website and improving your domain authority through link building is a process, especially when you are starting from scratch.

SEO Time Frame Expectations Versus Reality

It’s hard to understate the value of SEO. It is a service, when done right, that can really help a business grow simply by helping more customers find it. And as simple as that description is, SEO is a process. It takes time to get those extra eyeballs to a website, and more people taking action on a business profile. SEO isn’t a situation where you can just install a few features and click a few buttons and you’re optimized. It’s a proven process that takes time to grow, and maintain high rankings. 

So what does this all mean for someone looking to start with an SEO campaign? Or what does it mean for someone trying to figure out how to get more customers? It all starts with setting the right expectations.

In being in this business a long time, we’ve noticed a few things. Many if not most of the cancellations we see are because of unmet expectations set at the very beginning of a campaign or at the start of the sales process. Retention of a customer starts from the very beginning of the sales cycle. It starts with telling a customer what will happen with an SEO campaign and setting a solid foundation of a good customer experience from the very first interaction. Without that early groundwork, it can lead to unhappy customers who leave before they can see the results you know you can provide.

Key Elements that Happy Customers Understand About SEO Time Frames

Onsite Edits Happen Within the First 30-45 Days

This is the most important work that goes into an SEO campaign, but it’s definitely the least visible. This is all the behind the scenes work to the code that makes sure all pages work, that the site is mobile optimized, and that pages load quickly. But because most of it is done behind the scenes, many customers don’t see the actual work. Some of this editing includes optimizing content and copy on a website, which is visible. Making sure a customer understands these steps may not be prominent or obvious, but are crucial to the health of a website. It helps to set the right expectations about a SEO time frame in its earliest stages.

Keyword Rank Improvement

Once these onsite optimizations are complete, keywords start to rise in the rankings. But that only starts once onsite optimizations are put into place. Growth will be slow at first with the largest positive increases happening to rankings within 3-4 months of starting an SEO campaign. The goal is to reach page 1 by the end of month six of a campaign.

Ongoing Communication

Every single month, it’s important to check in to evaluate how a campaign is performing and pivot if needed. Our dashboard and monthly call goes over every single task performed for an SEO campaign, and also goes over keyword progress. But monthly check ins are the minimum. Customers should be able to reach out anytime to get updates if needed without waiting for the report or just to ask questions about their campaign. That’s part of maintaining good expectations of a campaign so that a customer always understands why the work is being done and how it’s benefiting their site.

SEO Requires a Commitment of at Least 6 Months

This is the biggest expectation of an SEO campaign that needs defining early and often. Because of all the steps and work that it takes in SEO, it requires at least six months before reaching page one for a website. Sometimes it’s less, but sometimes it’s more. It all depends on the industry, the competitive landscape for a keyword, and the location. But, in order to set proper SEO time frame expectations, it’s important customers understand that it will take at least six months.

Next Step Expectations

Once a website reaches page one of Google, the work doesn’t stop. In fact, now the process can start over again to help the site grow even more. After stopping an SEO campaign, a site will drop off the first page within three months or so. And in a competitive market or industry, that can make or break an industry with several organizations competing for that top spot. There will always be keywords to target and growth for a site. Make sure customers understand this and have the budget to continue for the long haul.

Common Misconceptions that Lead to Unhappy Clients

In addition to setting the right expectations regarding SEO, it’s also important to help customers understand what SEO is not. And also, every agency does SEO just a little differently, you also need to help them understand your strategies and tactics and how they might differ from other agencies a customer might have researched.

SEO is not a short term solution

SEO isn’t something you can just turn on and turn off. It’s also not something you can just try for a few weeks and get substantial results. SEO takes time to build that relevance and trust with search engines. For immediate digital marketing results, it’s better to try a different tactic like PPC. Understanding SEO time frames can help you decide which digital marketing strategy fits best with your small business.

It’s not possible to guarantee first page ranking results

Even though agencies who do SEO campaigns have a tried and true method to get results, it’s still not guaranteed that a website will reach page one. Sometimes a keyword insisted upon by a client is too competitive, or sometimes the goal of ranking is too broad, especially with national campaigns. An agency will do its best over a significant period of time. But it’s impossible to 100% guarantee first page rankings. There’s just too many variables and unknowns depending on the campaign.

Our SEO solution is holistic, not a la carte

Like mentioned above, every agency does SEO a little differently. Some have individual tasks that someone can order. At Boostability, we focus on what tasks we believe will achieve the best results for each client within their budget. This holistic approach helps us decide on which keywords to focus on and the kind of content we write. This approach also allows us to also work at scale and at cost for our tens of thousands of SEO customers.

What is the Goal of SEO?

Is the goal to do better than the competition? Then you will, most likely, need to spend more time and money on those terms than they do. If a keyword is a high-volume/high-competition keyword it can take years to finally beat out someone who has spent years to build their reputation up to rank for those terms.

We often see clients who sign up for a few months and then call it quits citing, “We just weren’t getting the results we needed to justify the cost.”

If you can’t budget for 6 to 12 months of SEO, you might be better off putting that budget somewhere else. Getting higher rankings is an output that is desirable, but they’re worthless unless they generate leads or sales.

Set the Right Expectations to Ensure Success

Setting the right expectations about an SEO campaign can make or break it. It starts from the very first contact and making sure that a customer really understands what will happen while you optimize their site. Maintaining expectations continues throughout a campaign. By setting those expectations, it leads to better customer retention and success down the line.

Achieve Your SEO Goals With Boostability

We here at Boostability strive to provide agencies with the support, expertise, and resources necessary to help their businesses grow and help their clients succeed in SEO. Speak with some of our top-tier digital marketing experts today for more details about our white label SEO partner program or test a few websites using our free website analysis tool if you’re not ready to make that step just yet. In the meantime, you will get actionable tips on how to start improving your client’s SEO strategy!

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Kyle is a Content Marketing Specialist at Boostability. Since graduating from Utah Valley University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing, Kyle has developed a passion for creating SEO and Digital Marketing content to help educate and inform readers, customers, and partners through various marketing channels. He has previously worked with clients directly on Boostability’s Client Management team and loves to help businesses succeed online. Outside of work, Kyle enjoys playing sports, skiing, trying new restaurants, and spending time with family.