How Long Does it Take for SEO to Work? 6 Relevant Factors That Influence SEO

When it comes to SEO, a huge number of marketers are wondering how long their strategies will take to provide visible results. Unfortunately, the process of SEO is influenced by a number of parameters that website owners cannot control, making it impossible to determine how fast the results will actually show up.

A few years ago, SEO was about doing accurate keyword research in order to identify relevant keywords, creating pages that target those keywords and generating links from article directories that redirect to these pages. At that time, you would have needed just a couple of months to see a dramatic change in your ranking, but now, the same process would make your SEO efforts completely pointless, possibly resulting in penalties from Google.

Let’s take a look at the most important factors that influence how long SEO takes to work.

1. Google Penalties


Many unethical SEO practices can result in having your website penalised by Google. Of these, artificially-created links, duplicate content and keyword stuffing are the most common. If you integrate any of them in your SEO strategy, Google may penalise your website, removing its ranking for all or some keywords.

Before SEO can provide palpable results for your website, you must undergo a comprehensive recovery process first, which typically involves:

– Revising your pages and removing those with thin content

– Removing pages with duplicate content

– Updating title tags, meta descriptions and headlines

– Creating quality and highly resourceful content (with your target keyword preferably!)

– Implementing a better on-page SEO strategy to help search engines read and understand your website

– Submitting a reconsideration request through Google Webmaster Tools

After undergoing this process, you will need to wait until Google refreshes their algorithm in order to decide whether the action you have taken has helped removing the penalty. In this particular situation, the factors that influence how long your SEO strategy needs to work are the severity of the penalty, how fast you implemented the recovery process, the type of corrective actions you’ve taken, and the amount of time needed for Google to refresh their algorithm.

2. New VS Old Website

The age of your domain is another factor that determines how long SEO needs to work. While old websites have been online for at least a few years, new websites are brand-new domains that are less than 6 months old and tend to be held back due to Google’s so-called sandbox. As a rule of thumb, SEO works better for older than newer websites, providing much faster results as well.

New websites shouldn’t expect to see any considerable results in the first six months. However, you can expect to see some of your pages listed on the second and third pages of Google in the first 3 months as long as you publish quality content on a regular basis and implement a good social media campaign.

This will not drive a large amount of traffic to your website in the first six months, but it will help gradually move to the first page of the search results if your strategy addresses all aspects of SEO. Getting more pages indexed and earning a few links pointing back to your website will give you more exposure, increasing the amount of traffic that you are receiving.

There are several aspects that affect the rate of growth of your website: the type of website, type of content, competition levels and more, but as a rule of thumb, you will need at least six months to see results if your domain is newer. If you own an older website that has never been under a penalty, then you should be able to notice a change in your ranking position after just a few months.

3. Number of Links Indexed by Google
The number of pages indexed by Google is another factor that influences your ranking. As a matter of fact, several studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between the number of pages in the Google index and ranking positions.

SEO works faster for websites that have at least 100 quality pages in the index, but you shouldn’t attempt to create pages only to increase the index. It is better to have fewer pages with high-quality and resourceful content than more pages with duplicate, thin or incomplete content.

4. Quality and Length of Content

Quality and Length of Content

The content that you publish on your website will dramatically impact your ranking. For Google to index your pages, you need to provide lengthy, quality and very resourceful content, which should meet the following criteria:

  • Be unique and original
  • Have at least 1500-2000 words (the average number of words in the first page of Google)
  • Deliver accurate and resourceful information
  • Have content that is SEO-friendly and well-structured

A great A/B test from @neilpatel of Quick Sprout (from back in Dec 2012, but still spot on and evergreen material) dives deep into this subject. You can read this here:

5. Number of Incoming Links

Number of Incoming Links

Backlinks have remained an important SEO factor even in 2015, and websites with a strong link profile should expect to see faster results. Quality links coming from authority websites can help your website get a much better ranking position, but webmasters should carefully think about their link building strategy. Even if you can get several links by guest posting on reputable websites, you should avoid generating too many links in a relatively short amount of time.

This will likely raise warning signals for websites that have initially had very few links, possibly resulting in penalties that will render your search engine optimisation efforts totally useless.

6. Competition Level

The marked is filled with hundreds or even thousands of websites vying for attention, all of them competing for the same keywords. As such, you must implement a more comprehensive SEO strategy, and do more work than your competitors if you want your website to get more exposure and drive more traffic.

It is thus normal that your SEO strategy will need more time to provide the results that you are expecting. If competition is fierce, then it might take longer than just a few months until you will see results.

Here’s the KPI’s we work toward with an SEO campaign for a medium competition niche:

6 Month KPI Projection for our SEO Packages

If implemented correctly, SEO can make a difference in how your website ranks within SERPs in as little as two to three months, especially if there are no penalties that need to be lifted. Keep in mind that, if your website is newer, then you will need at least six months until some of your pages will start showing up on the first and second pages of Google. Extensive optimisation and consistent maintenance is required to ensure long-term results that will help your website grow.

Joe Ryan is the Founder & CEO of UK online marketing agency, Digital Search Group, which specialises in smart internet marketing. He is a specialist in online marketing strategy and brand building. When he’s not considering the next best online marketing strategy with his team, he enjoys travel and spending time with his family.