When you have put a lot of time and thought into your SEO strategy, and then even more time trying to implement it, it’s only natural to want results immediately.

Insert keywords today, get a thousand visitors tomorrow, right?

But how long does an SEO strategy really take to work?

Baking an SEO Cake: How long should you wait for your SEO strategy to work?

If you are putting in place your own SEO strategy, you will want to see results as soon as you can, but when you pay someone else to implement that strategy, you may want results even quicker.

SEO is something that requires a sizeable investment upfront with your digital marketer; but when are you going to see the customers flowing in? And when will you begin to recoup this investment back?

In general terms, you can start getting a good idea of success after 4-6 months of your strategy being implemented. You may see some things as soon as two months in, but you can’t really analyse patterns or inform future strategy until at least 6 months have gone by. For comprehensive assessment and future planning, you should allow 12 months.

This amount of time also depends on a lot of individual factors including:

  • how old your business and website are
  • what your previous strategy was
  • how your website works now
  • how long and how dynamic your content is
  • how other sites link to you
  • and a whole bunch of other technical stuff.

Why does an SEO strategy take so long to provide results?

Modern SEO strategy is a multi-pronged attack

Once upon a time, SEO strategy meant being ranked Number 1 on Google for your keyword. Now it is much more complex, competitive and sophisticated. Your website will succeed not on the basis of one keyword or one small group of keywords, but on the basis of a number of different steps targeting longer phrases and similar terms.

If you sold training toys for dogs with behavioural issues, you might want to rank highly for ‘dog toys’, but doing so doesn’t really bring you business success, for a few reasons:

  • People putting in generic terms like ‘dog toys’ could be looking for any kind of dog toys, or even people doing a project on dog toys for school, so the percentage of this group that might be your target audience is small
  • The number of people ready to buy dog toys is even smaller
  • People who are closer to buying will put in more natural language and use full questions, to cut out all of the irrelevant referrals they might get instead.

Your strategy will most likely cover a range of keyword long tail phrases, and optimisation through a number of sources, including on-page and off-page strategies. The global sum of determining how this is working and seeing positive results simply takes time.

The most valuable visitors to your site need to be ready to buy. You are not just targeting an audience with a problem, you are also targeting them at the stage of readiness to purchase. This will also vary which keywords work for you immediately, and which ones build you a solid base following of people who may come back later.

Powerful strategies naturally take time to build.

Google as the single largest search engine by a LONG shot is one that you should be targeting, but one that is kind of hard to fool easily or quickly. Most normal businesses with normal digital marketing budgets will not rank highly on Google very quickly.

The more powerful methods that Google uses to assess if you should rank highly for any terms naturally take longer to build. For example, the effect of backlinks can be a slow process and you need to give it some time. For more detail on this see our article on Backlinks.

You need enough time to establish patterns and rule out other explanations

Significant rises and falls in your traffic will happen constantly, so you want to give the numbers a little bit of time to form patterns before you take any action on them.

Drops could be the result of a penalisation by a search engine for poor practices, in which case you need to clean up your act. But drops could also be because of a functionality error in your website or the links used. It could also be because of something completely different, and often caused by things that are temporary or that you may never figure out.

Look for patterns before you change up your keywords because they do take a little time to build a solid following, and you need to assess the performance over a reasonable period of time to see it clearly enough.

What is your definition of ‘working’?

Are you looking for the Number 1 ranking for your target keyword as your definition of success? This is one way to do it, but it may not actually tell you anything. And it certainly may not bring you converting customers.

You may see some SEO results in as little as 3 months, but you will unlikely see SEO success in that time. Both of these metrics are necessary in your determination of whether your strategy ‘works’.

If your definition of a working SEO strategy is one that brings paying customers, it is something that will take longer to see, and require a number of different measurements to assess. This is because it takes a little time for enough customers to find you, and then convert into paying ones, and also because then you have to figure out where they are coming from.

It will take longer again to be able to see what isn’t working and make a solid informed plan for expanding your SEO strategy.

Some things that you can do while you are waiting

As we said above, it’s only natural to want to see immediately how many people are coming to visit you and how they are getting there, but you do need to be at least a little bit patient in this. Conducting daily analysis from the day you implement the strategy is going to give you a lot of numbers, but not much in the way of actionable steps you can take.

But there are things you can do while you are waiting for that SEO cake to bake, such as

  • Conducting keyword research to look for underutilised words and phrases
  • Checking out the success of the competition’s SEO strategy
  • Researching good quality sites that you could be seeking partnerships with
  • Continue publishing quality content featuring your target keywords

The take away advice is that to see whether your SEO is working you need to allow at least six months and at best more than a year. If you need results sooner or cannot afford to implement an SEO strategy for that long, you are better off investing in PPC advertising, organic content marketing, or DIY SEO to get things rolling.

The cake, once baked, is delicious, but you can’t rush it!

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