One of the most frequent questions companies ask marketing services about SEO is, “How long will it take to see results?” The goal is understandable – they want actionable information about timetables and how long they’ll have to invest in SEO strategies before they get where they want.
The answer, however, is that it doesn’t do any good to think of SEO as a limited-time strategy to “fix” a problem. Search engine optimization can certainly help a number of online marketing goals, but it’s not a one-time solution. On the contrary, long-term investment and patience are some of the most valuable SEO tactics for any business. Here’s why.
SEO Takes A Significant Amount of Time to Show Results
If the experts are forced to give answer to the “How long does SEO take to work” question, then they tend to say around six months. Of course, there are a lot of caveats to this answer. It means that it will take six months for SEO to show the very first signs of working: Many brands need years to build an SEO strategy that achieves the best ranking or traffic results that they can currently get.
Additionally, a slight boost in page ranking (not necessarily a goal in itself) or a similar metric is only the first sign that the strategy is having an effect. The results for Local SEO, regional SEO, and global SEO can all vary based on the SEO strategy, including how long it takes to start. The industry and targeted audience will also affect SEO plans. Also, keep in mind that the way SEO starts “working” can mean many different things to different brands, depending on what they are looking at and what they are changing.
Bottom line: You can’t expect SEO to work in a month or two. It doesn’t happen that way. A six-month wait period, filled with a new content push, is often the minimum requirements…and usually only the beginning.
SEO Applies to Every Piece of Content Brands Create
A company can’t really stop using SEO. The optimization applies to keywords, metadata, URLs, image titles, captions, titles, and all the other pieces of content. Once content creators start applying SEO to content, it’s not something that they just quit doing – SEO is now a permanent part of the process. You see this even more keyword analysis tools that marketing teams adopt: Marketers don’t simply stop getting new keyword ideas or avoid what’s trending in their industry. It’s now a baked-in part of the strategy.
In this way, SEO really isn’t a campaign that can be started and ended at specific times. SEO may shift with a new campaign, but it doesn’t stop when that campaign ends. Trying to quit SEO after it has been implemented is like blindfolding your marketing team: They lose a key capability, and are a lot more likely to make a mess.
SEO Changes Constantly
SEO itself is subject to frequent change! Google’s own algorithm for search results and ranking is kept a close secret to prevent manipulation (as are the algorithms that social sites and other platforms use), but we do know Google makes very frequent changes to it. In fact, Google has recently switched to a model where it makes more or less continuous changes to the algorithm to advance specific goals – more than 3,200 changes in 2018 alone.
Many of these changes are focused on encouraging higher-quality web content, punishing poor SEO practices (like keyword stuffing), and making it easier for people to find the content they want to see. But it all impacts brand SEO decisions. No brand can afford to ignore SEO practices for year or longer, otherwise the mistakes they make will continue to mount up until they are doing more harm than good. Marketing experts and agencies like Blue Atlas can help firms stay updated on current SEO best practices, but it’s an ongoing effort.
SEO Works By Comparing Current and Past Results
The idea of “one-time” SEO analysis has another fundamental flaw – SEO is meant to build on results over time. This is especially true for companies that don’t have much past SEO work or those embarking on new strategies. Every viable SEO strategy 1)implements changes and 2)examines results to see how those changes worked. Then marketers tweak keywords, choose new types or content and practices, and continue to adjust.
For example, let’s say a window repair company is starting a new SEO campaign and they’re using a lot of “fix your windows” phrases in their new content. After about 5 months, analysis shows that’s producing results. However, marketers discover that a competitor company is getting even better results by using more answer-oriented material, like “how to know if your window needs to be replaced.” They switch to more answer-oriented content, and in another six months results are noticeably better than they were before.
Current Website Quality Is an Enormous Factor
SEO can also depend on the current website a brand has, and how much work needs to be done. A small contractor business that hasn’t touched a single page website in years is going to need a lot of up-front work for search engine optimization. In this case, that brand is likely to see results very quickly, maybe within a month or two, because they didn’t have any SEO before – but this is just the beginning for that business, because they will need to have a long-term strategy to create and publish content where none existed before.
Likewise, a business that decides to scrap its website entirely and build a new website from the ground up is going to need a significant amount of time devoted to planning and web development. After this, SEO results will be very volatile for a brief period before settling down and allowing analysts to take a closer look.
Then there are companies that have had ongoing SEO for years, but want to implement a new strategy and start studying different indicators. These companies can a long time to make SEO changes because their data will show a gradual shift that needs to be watched over months and years.
Start-and-Stop SEO Efforts Don’t Work
Our above examples show why SEO needs to be an ongoing, long-term effort. Unfortunately, there are still brands that outsource their SEO work to a marketing firm, contract with them for several months, then. Maybe a year or two later, they’ll look into another SEO contract for updates, but otherwise SEO goes ignored within the company.
Back in the very early days of the internet, that was a more viable strategy. Now it’s fairly useless. Content creation, and by extension SEO, isn’t a start-and-stop process. It’s not something you can periodically update and shift but otherwise leave alone. When brands understand this, they’re already on their way to great SEO results – it’s just a matter of time.