Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a fantastic strategy for driving qualified traffic to your website.
It involves looking at elements such as site structure, headings, the best keywords to target with different pages, and the images on your site, and changing these to help you to rank higher on Google for search terms relevant to your business.
However, unlike paid advertising campaigns that can generate results overnight, SEO takes time to make an impact. If you're just starting out with SEO, you may be wondering - why does SEO take so long to work?
How Long Does SEO Take to Work?
Many businesses want their website to start ranking right away after implementing some basic SEO tactics. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic.
Most sources agree that a proper SEO strategy takes between 6-12 months to bear fruit in the form of improved search engine rankings and organic traffic. Generally, it’s realistic to not expect to see any real results before the 6-month mark. After this, there may also be more user journey work to do to ensure as many of your new website visitors convert to leads as possible.
Where your website may fall between the 6–12-month timeframe depends on several factors:
How competitive your niche is - Ranking for highly competitive keywords in saturated markets usually takes much longer.
Technical SEO factors - Issues like site speed, mobile optimisation, and indexing problems must be addressed before any other work can begin.
The quality and volume of content - Fresh, relevant content focused on target keywords is essential for SEO success.
Links and citations - Building a diverse link profile and getting listed on relevant directories also takes time.
Past SEO efforts - Sites with an existing solid SEO foundation see results faster than those starting from scratch.
Why Does SEO Make an Impact Slower Than Other Marketing Strategies?
Other popular digital marketing channels like pay-per-click (PPC) ads and social media can demonstrate results much quicker than SEO. Here are some reasons why SEO is slower:
It relies on search engines, not people - With PPC ads, you put your ad in front of people actively searching. But SEO relies on ranking high in search engines to get found. Algorithms take time to assess your relevance.
Indirect effect on conversions - Higher rankings don’t directly translate into sales. You need compelling on-site content and user experience to convert your new SEO traffic once it arrives.
No instant gratification - Popularity on social media can happen overnight, but search engines take time to crawl, index, and rank pages. So, you must wait patiently.
Results accumulate - Each piece of content and link builds over time. It takes months to create that cumulative effect that dominates rankings. SEO effort compounds, it doesn't go viral.
Ongoing process - SEO is not a one-and-done tactic. Rankings fluctuate with fresh content, new links, algorithm updates, and competition. You have to continually optimise.
Why Do Some Websites Take Longer to Benefit From SEO?
While 12 months is usually the longest you’ll go without seeing an increase in organic traffic generated by SEO, some sites take much longer to move the needle. Here are some reasons why:
- Highly competitive keywords
If you're trying to rank for ultra competitive terms like "life insurance" or "best restaurants", it could take years of effort to get on page one. Start with easier long-tail keywords first, perhaps targeting a specific location you serve within, such as “best vegetarian food in Exeter”.
- Technical issues
Sites with lots of technical SEO issues like duplicate content, crawl errors, multiple H1s, broken links, etc. can take a long time to fix, particularly if you have a large website. It’s important to work through these issues patiently.
- Thin content
Websites with only a handful of generic product pages or blog posts won't cut it. All pages should have a minimum of 200 words of original and relevant content, but to target some keywords you may need several thousand words on a page.
To get the best results, these should dive deep into topics, linking to relevant research and resources both internally and externally. They should also include topics and phrases with strong links to the keyword you’re targeting, used strategically in your titles, paragraph starters, and meta data.
- Lack of links
If your site doesn’t have many high-quality backlinks, it's tough to rank against competitors with large link profiles. Natural link building takes time and may include strategies such as guest blogging, creating original research into a topic, or creating another highly shareable resource.
- Previous spam tactics
Sites that used Blackhat tactics in the past may find rankings slow to recover. You'll need to focus on high-quality SEO to rebuild trust with Google. In some particularly extreme cases, it may even be better to start again with a fresh site.
- Google sandbox sites
New websites in the "Google sandbox" phase often take 6-18 months before they can rank well.
- Image and video content
Ranking image and video content in Google takes extra time and effort. Leverage alt text, schemas, transcriptions, etc to give your content the best chance to shine.
The more issues you need to fix or build up from scratch, the more patience will be required to see SEO results.
Are There Any “Quick Wins” in SEO?
While SEO can take significant time to make an impact, not all strategies take months and years to pay dividends.
Some "quick wins" you can implement for faster SEO benefits include improving your site speed to immediately improve user experience and reduce your bounce rate, refreshing old pages with relevant keywords, and fixing any technical issues which affect website crawling.
You could also consider:
Responding to Google Search Console messages about crawl errors.
Considering building links from low-competition directories (make sure you check these are good quality sites with decent authority scores before submitting)
Updating your GMB and schema markup to optimise for rich search results.
Producing content around trending short-tail keywords and news jack opportunities.
So, while comprehensive SEO takes time, you can still get some quick wins in the short term with targeted optimisation tactics.
Why We Love SEO as a Marketing Strategy
Despite taking longer to deliver leads than other tactics, SEO remains one of the most valuable digital marketing channels for long-term success.
While paid ads are often considered untrustworthy by users, organic SERP results are trusted more, and organic traffic will generally convert at a higher rate than other types of traffic.
While ads only run when you’re paying for them to run, SEO delivers a consistent, ongoing stream of organic search visitors which compounds over time. In many cases, this makes it an extremely cost effective and sustainable strategy.
SEO also feeds in well to other user optimisations on your site, such as mobile optimisation, appropriate page titles, and tracking your analytics insights to improve over time.
For the patient and persistent, SEO is one of the most valuable assets you can build for a business online. The long-term growth and sustainability can't be beat.
SEO takes months to bear fruit because engines take time to crawl, index, analyse, and rank websites based on many factors. However, for businesses playing the long game of digital marketing, SEO is one of the most rewarding strategies out there.
If you need help accelerating your SEO results, contact Spidergroup's expert digital marketing consultants today. Our integrated approach combines proven SEO strategies with content, paid ads, email marketing, and more to maximise your impact.