How Long Does SEO Take to Work? [2020]

We hear the question all the time from small business owners, startups, and even larger-sized organizations:

“How long does SEO take to work and to see results?”

Now that’s a loaded question, yet one that surely deserves an answer.

The long answer short:

SEO takes time and is highly dependent on where your business and website is currently at.

Starting out with a new website you’ve just purchased and a new site?

Often times, you’re looking at a minimum of 6 up to 12+ months to start seeing organic traffic trickling in.

An established domain with a ton of pages already ranking at the bottom of the first page or second page of Google?

We might be able to see quick turnarounds of only a few weeks to driver first page rankings.

It all depends.

Let’s dive deeper into this question, and analyze what you should keep an eye out for during the selection process, and the best answer we can give on how long it’ll take to start seeing results.

SEO 101: The 80/20 rule of SEO

Before we jump in, let’s take a look at what it takes to get results when it comes to search engine optimization.

This is what we like to call the 80/20 rule of SEO.

If you’re not already familiar, the 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle states that 80% of results come from 20% of the actions.

You can apply the 80/20 rule to pretty much anything in the business world, and that includes SEO.

When we boil down SEO to its core, there’s really three key areas that make up the 80/20 rule:

A. On Page SEO + Topical Analysis, Intent and Keyword Research

Do we understand our target audience, how they’re searching and what type of terms they’re using in Google and other search engines?

Do we understand the SERPs (search engine results pages) for keywords important to our business, and the intent behind those keywords as well as the types of webpages that Google wants to show?

B. Content Strategy and Content Creation

Are we creating quality content that allows our target audience to find our business in search, answers their query, and provides value at the same time?

Are we actively engaging in a content marketing strategy that is going to naturally earn our website inbound links, and create content that is shareable by our audience?

C. Backlinks and Authority

Is our website authoritative in the eyes of Google, meaning we have external links pointing to it from well-known and already authoritative third-party websites in our industry?

Are we doing link building in a white hat manner that is going to land us high-quality links which boost our backlink profile and in turn the authority of our business and domain?

Outside of these three core items, the rest is mostly just noise.

Yes, there are other ranking factors and things like Technical SEO which matter when it comes to a large eCommerce store with 10,000 products and 40 different categories.

Yes, site speed and indexation are also an important thing to keep in mind when it comes to your web precense.

But truly at the core of SEO, the three points above are going to be the biggest drivers of results, and define whether you have success or not when running out an SEO campaign.

For each and every client campaign we work on, the above three items of the 80/20 rule of SEO rule are exactly what we look at and analyze to understand how we can build out a winning campaign for our clients that is going to drive traffic, revenue and in the end be an ROI positive endeavor.


Quick Results Guaranteed” = Run!

If you’re looking for SEO services, and are in discussions with either an SEO consultant or an SEO agency that promises quick results, you should run as fast as possible.

There is nothing worse than setting unrealistic expectations, and losing the trust of your clients.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about either Local SEO or National SEO, there simply are no quick results.

Not only is promising quick results a false promise, it speaks volumes for the qualities of the services you’re considering buying.

SEO takes time, and no great freelancer or agency is going to promise you results.

In fact, SEO itself is an educated guessing game.

Yes, you’re putting your faith into a freelancer or agency that knows best practice and what they’re doing.

They know what works from working with clients time after time again, through implementing strategies that they know will help both your website traffic and revenue to grow.

With that being said, no one has control over Google’s algorithms.

As we know, algorithm changes can be frequent, and oftentimes unpredictable with what they can cause when it comes to ranking drops and traffic losses.

Nonetheless, a great company knows at the core what it takes to drive search rankings, and get targeted search traffic for your company.

SEO rankings, when done in a “white hat” manner, come from hard work and simply waiting it out.

Our agency waited nearly 9+ months to see the fruit of our labors start to drive inbound leads through search engine optimization, as shown in the below Google Analytics snapshot:

You’ll see the comparison of the blue-dotted line showing users YoY for the past 180 day period.

Most agencies get too tied up with client work to really sit down and focus on inbound marketing strategy, and ours was surely no different.

We actively started our own internal SEO campaign around Q4 of 2019, and you’ll see we’ve started to actively see steady and focused growth right around the summer of 2020.

There is no overnight success in life, and the same goes for Google search.

So remember, if a company is approaching you with guaranteed and fast results, you’re going to want to walk the other way.


SEO vs. PPC

A lot of times, businesses need leads or customers in the door now.

Money is the life blood for any business, so a lot of times, waiting months for SEO to kick in isn’t going to cut it.

Now, as we already know, SEO is a long game.

On the other side of the coin, there’s also what’s called PPC, or pay-per-click advertising.

Pay-per-click and social media advertising is another digital marketing effort which is a great way to quickly start driving leads through the door.

PPC in the form of an analogy is like being able to turn on a faucet and the water starts coming out instaneously.

With the right landing pages in place, and through working with an experienced PPC agency, you can set up and launch a campaign in under a week (depending on complexity) and start to see returns from your investment almost instantaneously.

The one negative side of PPC is that once you turn it off, aka stop spending money on advertising, those leads will stop coming through the door as your ad placement is no longer live and being shown on LinkedIn, Google or any other platform on which you’re advertising.

SEO on the other hand, is an evergreen strategy that takes time to pan out, but will continue to pay back your business over-time as it requires minimal maintenance.

Don’t get me wrong – you’ll want to go back and re-work continue depending on the subject, or topic to keep it relevant and up-to-date in some cases, but it often times won’t require an entire re-write.

Both of these digital marketing strategies can play very well together in a combined marketing campaign when done in cohesion – launching a PPC campaign to start driving traffic and leads in the door, while simultaneously running out SEO strategy and a campaign which is going to pay back dividends well into the future.


SEO Results take time AND budget

It might go without saying, but not only does SEO take time, but it also takes a budget to achieve those results.

There’s that old saying that goes “you get what you pay for” which couldn’t ring more true when it comes to the SEO efforts that you’re paying for as a client.

Unfortunately the search engine optimization community has become flooded with a lot of self-proclaimed “SEO experts” that don’t know a thing about SEO, but jump in head first with no prior experience to start collecting money from unbeknownst clients.

There’s no wonder that the community has gained such a bad rap with all of the snake oil salesmen that are out there lurking in the bushes.

With that being said, you should go into your journey searching for a freelancer or agency that has proven experience and that can show results in the form case studies and client testimonials.

A great SEO campaign is going to cost money, there’s no way around that.

There are plenty of studies out there comparing the costs of typical SEO campaigns across the industry, and one thing rings true – great companies charge more money for their services because their legitimate, they have clout, and they get results.

If you needed open heart surgery tomorrow and you were in the process of researching the best doctor to conduct the operation, you wouldn’t opt to choose a doctor fresh out of med school that is $10,000 cheaper than the best open heart surgeon out there, would you?

So why choose the cheaper option and take a shortcut for your business when you can work with one of the best freelancers or agencies out there that you know gets results?

Great SEO services come at a price, just like anything in life.

Look for an agency that is transparent in both their pricing and deliverables so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

Great agencies are going to work on retainers and contracts that range from 6 up to 12+ months, as they understand it takes both time as well as a commitment from the client in order to achieve results.

Great agencies are going to charge a premium for their services, as you’re getting the excellence of a team of experienced SEOs well-versed in their craft, and not just a single employee.

Finally, great agencies are going to be sharp, communicative and on top of both their internal processes and project management skills.

This is all going to be clear from the get-go in initial conversations and their final proposal before working together.

Every company is going to have a marketing budget and set amount their willing to spend, but vet carefully and remember you’re going to get what you pay for in most cases.

There’s a world of difference between black hat SEO at $199 a month SEO, and a company that’s well-vetted charging a premium for their services.


So – how much time does it really take?

So how long does it take to see results from SEO?

The final answer: it depends.

The bottom-line is that you should be expecting to wait anywhere from 6 to 12 months to start seeing substantial results for SEO efforts.

Optimization of an existing, established website and its pages can heed quicker results, but not always.

Keep in mind that SEO is a long game, but a game that can continue to bring long-term gains for your business overtime when done correctly.

Looking for a digital marketing agency that specializes in, and knows SEO inside out.

Vet the company, and make sure they know what metrics are important for your business, and that they’re going to take the time to understand the intricacies of your business inside out.

Finally, keep it mind it will take time to see results and there is no short-term SEO success.

Even though that’s the case, you’ll want to be working with an agency that keeps you in the loop each step of the way and sets realistic expectations for achieving your agreed-upon goals.

Once you hit the finish line at the end of a campaign, you’ll be ready to celebrate in your victories together, and start the next race.

Ready to increase your search traffic? 🚀

Find out how we can increase your search traffic and grow inbound leads for your business.




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