While startups and corporate giants alike use the SEO process to improve search engine ranking with minimal expense, many have unrealistic expectations for their SEO campaigns. They envision reaching coveted first-page status in Google search results in a matter of weeks or even days.

In reality, SEO takes much longer than a few days to deliver results. It’s not a sprint that requires all-out effort for a short duration. Instead, it’s like a marathon that requires perseverance, preparation and — most importantly — time. But just because a thing requires a long-term commitment, does that mean it’s not worth the exertion? On the contrary. Some of the best things in life come only after investing significant time and effort. Marriage, degrees, physical fitness and high-level corporate positions are a few examples.

Most people have a general idea of how SEO works, but few understand how long it usually takes to work. To make the most of your SEO campaign and avoid unrealistic expectations, it’s important to understand the process. Here are a few strategies you can use to stay in the SEO game for the long term.


Understand the SEO Timeline

If you can’t expect results from your optimization campaign in days or even weeks, how long will it take for your efforts to pay off? The answer isn’t the same for everyone. However, the following SEO timelines can give you a basic idea of how long the various steps in the process can take:

  1. Site Audit/Website Analyzation: two to four weeks
  2. Technical Changes: two to three months
  3. Keyword Research: one to three weeks
  4. Content Revamp: two to three months
  5. Link Acquisition Campaign: three to four months

These steps may take more or less time than outlined above. The current state of your website, your budget and your sense of urgency can all affect how long each step takes for you. Most companies, however, should aim to meet the timelines above when building an SEO strategy. Now that you know how long SEO results can take, here’s an in-depth view of each step included in the average SEO process.


Site Audit/Website Analyzation

Before you can optimize your website, you need to know where it’s lacking. Analyzing your website and content is the first step you should take when creating an optimization strategy. You probably look at your website every day, but it’s time to examine it with a critical eye. Better yet, hire a professional to audit your site and look for the following weaknesses:

  • Site load time: Did you know 53% of visitors leave a website if they have to wait three seconds or longer for the site to load? Additionally, if your site loads too slowly, your SEO rank will be poor. This is because Google reserves high ranks for sites that have good load times.
  • Domain authority ranking: Did you know anyone can conduct a quick online search to find out how authoritative your site is? Every website has a domain authority score assigned to it. SEO is one of the factors that determines how high your score is.
  • Robots: Sites with good SEO strategies have no major disallows associated with their robots.txt file. Robot crawlers need to have access to important areas of your site to index them. Sites that disallow crawlers in important areas generally have an SEO problem. You can review your robots.txt file and make sure only simple areas of your site disallow crawlers. To get started, type your domain name into your browser, followed by “/robots.txt”.
  • Onsite content: The term “onsite content” includes everything from your Home Page to onsite blogs. For SEO purposes, a site needs to regularly release quality content to rank well in search engine results. Most websites release blog posts on a schedule for optimization purposes. An inactive blog is a sure sign of an ineffective SEO strategy.
  • H-tags: Header tags give your article context and structure. They also give readers a snapshot of what your page is about. Your main header tag should be in H1 format and is the title of your page. Headers in H2 format are secondary and are a lot like book chapters. They tell the reader what main topics your page or article covers. All other headers (H3 through H6) function as sub-headings inside each H2 section. To optimize headers for SEO, add relevant keywords and make them short and interesting.
  • Sitemap: A sitemap is a website’s list of pages. Well-organized websites usually have sitemaps and are easily indexable. Websites that are not indexable generally have poorer SEO rankings. If you don’t know whether your website has a sitemap or not, it probably doesn’t. You can always check by typing your URL into your browser, followed by “sitemap.xml”.
  • Meta content: Every web page on your site should have a title tag and meta description. Title tags are most important for SEO and can affect your ranking. Title tags show up as clickable headlines in search engine results. They are short (50-60 characters) and include one or more keywords and a brand name. They provide potential customers with a quick summary of what your page is about. Meta descriptions are a little bit longer (up to 155 characters) and summarize the content of a page on your website. Without both of these elements, your website is not optimized for SEO.

If you feel lost and don’t know how to analyze your website for these things, don’t worry. You don’t have to stumble through the process yourself if you aren’t confident or qualified. There are professional companies that specialize in website audits. They will give you actionable information to help you strengthen your SEO process. A thorough audit may take anywhere from two to four weeks, depending on the state your website is in and how fast your auditor is.


Technical Changes

Armed with the results from your website audit, you can create a plan of action that includes technical changes to your website. Remember, all aspects of your site need to function optimally for best results. It doesn’t matter which technical change you focus on first, as long as you get to everything as quickly as you can. Here are a few technical SEO changes you may want to make after your audit:

  • Eliminate duplicate content
  • Fix or remove broken links and pages
  • Decrease site load time
  • Apply SSL (secure sockets layer)
  • Identify and disavow toxic backlinks
  • Create and submit an XML sitemap
  • Make pages accessible to crawlers
  • Optimize for mobile
  • Make your site secure with HTTPS

Use feedback from your audit to determine what technical changes you need to make to your website. Depending on how many changes you need to make, plan on completing this process in about two to three months.


Keyword Research

Keyword research is one of the most important aspects of a good SEO approach. If you don’t use the right keywords in your content, it will be harder for customers to find you online. But how exactly do you research and choose the right keywords for your content? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Brainstorm a list of topics related to the products you offer. Choose topics that interest your target customer.
  • Think of important words associated with the topics you chose. These are words that customers are likely to search for when they want to learn more about the topics.
  • Type your topics into reddit. You’ll discover a variety of trending threads where your target audience spends time. Once you’ve found relevant threads, analyze them. Look for questions and terms your target audience uses a lot. In particular, keep an eye out for key words that come up frequently. You can also do this in popular forums such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.
  • Use Google to discover popular keywords. Google is a free tool that can give you endless ideas for keywords and topics. Type the topics and keywords you’ve already chosen into Google and see what other suggested terms come up. Keep in mind that Google has massive amounts of data on keywords related to your topics. If the search engine suggests a keyword or phrase, you can rest assured many people search for it.
  • Download keyword research tools. Some are free while others cost money. Google’s Keyword Planner is a popular and very reliable tool for planning your keywords. As you may have guessed, the data you get from this tool comes directly from Google’s extensive directory. While the main goal of the Keyword Planner is to help companies create effective Google ad campaigns, it can also benefit your SEO strategy.
  • Choose both long-tail and short-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords include at least three words. They’re specific and don’t get a lot of search volume. However, they are typically less competitive, which means you’ll see results quicker when you use them. Phrases such as “buy high-top women’s shoes” and “top children’s clothing brand” are long tail. Short-tail keywords have three or fewer words. They are broader than their long-tail counterparts. Short-tail keywords are more competitive but are still important to use in your SEO process.
  • Narrow down your keywords. You can use search volume data to figure out which keywords your customers search for most frequently. You can also analyze cost-per-click metrics to figure out if people who search for certain keywords end up spending money. Google Trends can give you further insight into the effectiveness of your chosen keywords.

Your work doesn’t end once you’ve identified the top keywords for your content. Revisit your keyword strategy frequently to make sure it’s still working. Make changes as needed to continue driving organic traffic to your site.


Content Revamp

Now that you’ve figured out what keywords you want to use in your content, it’s time to refresh your website. To avoid unnecessary rewrites and massive headaches, move forward with a clear strategy in mind. Create every piece of content with optimization in mind. Here are a few goals to aim for when creating and releasing onsite and offsite content:

  • Check your keyword usage. You probably have a massive list of keywords by now, but stuffing them all in every piece of content can be cumbersome. It can also negatively affect readability. Using too many keywords (especially if they are irrelevant) in a single piece of content is “keyword stuffing.” This practice can hurt your ranking with search engines. Reputable companies try to space their keywords strategically throughout their content. Use the “Find” feature to find out if a single keyword appears too many times in your blog post or web page.
  • Create useful, engaging content. The internet has web pages and blog posts on every topic imaginable. Bring value to your readers and avoid getting lost in the melee. Always release quality content that’s accurate, shareable and interesting.
  • Insert a call to action. Calls to action are essential in any good SEO process. In addition to using relevant keywords and creating quality content, you need to guide your readers toward a desired action. Your call to action may vary depending on the action you want to achieve. For example, you could invite your readers to schedule a free consultation. Or, you might encourage them to browse the “new car” section of your online catalogue.

Use these helpful tips to create content your readers will want to read and share. Keep in mind that a single typo can cast a shadow of doubt over your content and make you seem like an amateur. Always have an editor check your work before publishing it.


Get Help Optimizing Your Content

There’s no shame in relying on others to help you develop a stellar SEO strategy. As a small business owner, you probably have plenty of other things on your plate anyway. Boostability offers leading-edge SEO business solutions to small businesses. They also create attractive websites and structure engaging social media posts. Claim your free website analysis or contact them directly at 800-261-1537. Now is the perfect time to harness the full power of SEO to gain greater visibility and improve traffic to your site.


Colton is the former Director of SEO Strategy at Boostability testing and defining the products and processes that make Boostability's customers successful. He was part of Boostability for over 8 years. Colton loves hanging out with his family and gaming. He runs a personal blog over at www.coltonjmiller.com where he discusses gaming, life, and SEO.