Last updated on August 24, 2021.
My experiences and thoughts on how long SEO takes to work.
The question of how long SEO takes is indeed the most often asked question about SEO. It also happens to be the question that is best answered by the infamous “it depends”.
On average, you can expect to see the first results of SEO after 3-4 months in the case of existing websites that already have some authority. New websites usually need to wait at least 6-12 months to see any meaningful effects of SEO.
But is it always so? Not really. These are simply the two most popular case scenarios.
My SEO experience, however, shows that there are at least 20 important variables that determine exactly how long SEO may take to work and bring serious results.
Let’s go through each variable and analyze how it can affect the amount of time needed for SEO to start working.
When does SEO work?
That is a good question, isn’t it?
Here are a few things that should be clarified regarding SEO results, SEO success and the amount of time SEO takes or may take:
- SEOs generally agree that SEO “works” if the site is growing and gaining visibility in search engines.
- There are no guarantees in SEO. Just because my site started to gain traction after 6 months does not mean that yours will need the exact same amount of time.
- The question of how long SEO takes to work is usually about how much time needs to pass for the SEO activities and campaigns to start bringing results that are satisfactory both for the client and the SEO specialist.
- It is impossible to replicate someone’s SEO progress 1:1 even if you do the exact same things.
- Each SEO project is different and is influenced by different variables and factors.
With that said, let’s dive deep into the factors influencing how long SEO may take to work.
20 factors influencing how long SEO takes
My 8-year experience with SEO shows that these 20 factors have the biggest influence on how much time a given SEO project will need to bring some significant SEO results.
Note that these factors can either positively or negatively influence one another, so you cannot look at them in total isolation or consider them to be absolute truths. But that is pretty much how everything works in SEO ????
1: Website History
What the site was involved in in the past can have a huge impact on its SEO future.
- A site that has been building tons of low-quality links or accepting lots of guest posts that did not add any value to its visitors clearly does not have an SEO advantage.
- It is going to be even worse if a site has a manual action or has lost tons of visibility after a Google core algorithm update.
- Google says that there are no bad feelings left after a manual action has been lifted and the site has made great improvements. However, this holds true usually only if the site really goes out of its way to improve and recover.
❗ Semrush is probably the best all-in-one SEO tool that you can use to check the visibility of any site and how it is doing in organic search.
Here you can see the history of organic traffic to my website in Semrush:
Fortunately, it is quite easy to go back in time and examine a site’s history. You can do that using Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and Wayback Machine (to check how the site used to look).
You can also use an SEO tool like the above-mentioned Semrush or Ahrefs to check the traffic trends of the site, its keyword positions, links, and more.
2: Domain History
The domain history (especially if it is a very bad one) can negatively influence the SEO future of a site.
The domain history can have a negative impact on the site in the following cases:
- The previous owner used the domain as part of their PBN (Private Blog Network) that was penalized by Google.
- The domain used to have adult content.
- The domain used to contain pure spam or malicious content.
- The domain had a pure spam manual action.
- Millions of spammy links are pointing to the domain.
The domain history can also be a positive:
- A very high-authority website used to be hosted on the domain.
- There are a lot of very high-quality links pointing to the domain.
Wayback Machine is probably the best way to check how the site looked like in the past of what content was on it.
This is one of the past incarnations of my website according to the Wayback Machine:
You can also easily check the domain history with the help of tools, such as Semrush, Ahrefs, or Serpstat.
3: Website Age
Generally, the older (and more authoritative) the site, the quicker and bigger its SEO effects will be.
New websites always have a disadvantage in this respect and always need more time to see any SEO effects.
Assuming that there are no other factors hindering the site and the site is creating new high-quality content, these are popular scenarios:
- A new site usually needs 6-8 months to start seeing the first SEO results.
- A new site usually needs 2-3 years to get real traction.
- An existing site (that is at least 2-3 years old), can see the first results after 3-4 months.
- An existing site with already some authority and good content can really take off after about one year of intensive SEO activities.
My site is 6 months old. I started from scratch and only now (after those 6 months) it is starting to see some SEO traction.
SEO requires a lot of patience but if you have one it can pay off very well.
4: Previous SEO Activities
Any previous SEO campaigns or lack thereof can have a huge impact on how big and how quick SEO results the site will get.
- If the website has never been optimized for SEO, you can expect it to see quick improvements once some basic SEO optimizations are done.
- If the SEO activities conducted so far have been more on the black hat side of things, then it can negatively impact the future progress of the site.
- If the previous SEO specialist or firm has set the bar high, then you might need to be very creative in your SEO campaign to get ground-breaking results.
You should always do your best to learn all about the previous SEO campaigns conducted for the site and their effects.
5: Website Content
Whether you like it or not, content is still KING and what is currently on the website can either improve or hinder its future SEO growth.
Both the amount and the quality of content matter here a lot.
- If the website has just a few info pages and no blog section with articles or guides, then it will basically be starting from scratch. The site will need a lot of new high-quality articles added over the course of at least 6-12 months. 2-3 new articles per week are an absolute minimum.
- If the site has hundreds of obsolete and low-quality content, it may not be able to see any SEO effect until some content pruning has been done.
- The site that already has around 50-100 high-quality articles that bring some organic traffic will have a clear SEO advantage over a site with no blog section. In that case, you can expect the site to see the first SEO results after 2-3 months.
Working full time as an SEO, I managed to create 35 high-quality expert SEO articles. I believe that my progress could be much better if I had had created 100 or more articles.
So, yeah, both the existing and future content influence how long SEO takes.
And finally here is what Google has to say about content in their documentation on SEO.
⚡ Content is probably one of the most important on-page SEO elements but there are more of them! Check my on-page SEO checklist to learn more.
6: Website Visibility
Similar to the content of the site, its current visibility in search engines can also determine how long SEO will take to work.
- Even if the site is a few years old and is clean in terms of any spammy SEO techniques, it will need a lot more time to grow if it does not have any SEO visibility.
- A site with no SEO visibility is a bit like a brand-new site that is yet to build its authority with Google. In that case, you can expect the SEO results to take 6-12 months.
- A site with already some visibility and relatively good rankings will surely be making SEO progress more quickly. In such a case, you can expect to see the first SEO results after 2-3 months.
Here is the current visibility of my site (after 6 months and adding 30 high-quality expert SEO articles):
❗ You can check the website’s visibility using an SEO tool like Semrush or Ahrefs. Google Search Console will give you the most accurate data.
7: Website’s Backlink Profile
Backlinks influence SEO and are one of the most important ranking factors for Google.
There are usually three case scenarios regarding the website’s backlink profile and its effect on how much time the site will need to start seeing (positive) SEO results.
- If the site has absolutely no backlinks, then you can expect that it will grow like a brand-new website that is yet to build its authority and trust.
- If the site has thousands of spammy backlinks, then its SEO growth may be hindered until you do some disavowing and cleaning up.
- A website with already a bunch of high-quality authoritative links will have a clear SEO advantage.
❗ You can check the backlink profile of a site using a tool like Semrush or Ahrefts. You can also check that in Google Search Console.
To check the links in Google Search Console navigate to Legacy tools and reports > Links.
Semrush will also give you a great overview of backlinks as well. Make sure to use it especially if you don’t have access to Google Search Console.
Make sure to use at least two tools for checking backlinks to get a better picture.
Google admits that backlinks have a real influence on how websites are ranked so this is the factor that you absolutely cannot ignore. It can literally make or break a site.
8: Technical Optimization
Technical SEO is fundamental. Without technical SEO optimizations, the site will not be able to live up to its full potential.
- The main purpose of technical optimizations is to make the site accessible both to users and search engine robots.
- The site might not be able to gain visibility if it has some critical technical mistakes or a complete lack of any technical SEO optimizations.
- That’s why an in-depth technical SEO audit should always be the first step of any new SEO project.
⚡ Technical SEO audits are my specialty, so I invite you to read my technical SEO audit checklist to learn how to examine a site in terms of technical SEO and get free access to my SEO audit templates.
9: Website Speed & Performance
Speed is a Google ranking factor which can impact the SEO progress of a website.
Here are a few simple facts and truths you should be aware of:
- The speed and performance of the site influence the experience of its users.
- Google pays a lot of attention to a user experience and wants sites to provide the best user experience possible.
- With the new Core Web Vitals update just around the corner, it is safe to assume that speed and performance will be more important than ever.
- It is almost certain that the site will be negatively impacted if it is doing far worse in terms of speed and performance than its competition.
- If a site has a Google PageSpeed insight score of 12/100 and all of its competitors have 90+ scores, then this site will be trouble.
- If, on the other hand, the site has 80/100 score and the competing sites have similar scores, then it may be a better idea to fully focus on a different aspect of SEO.
Therefore, if you want the site to bring SEO results more quickly, you should address any of its speed and performance issues at the very beginning.
Here are the performance and speed results for my site according to Google PageSpeed Insights.
10: Google Page Experience
Google page experience signals are a group of five metrics that are considered by Google when ranking websites.
These signals currently include Core Web Vitals, mobile-friendliness, HTTPS, intrusive interstitial guidelines, and safe browsing. Core Web Vitals are not an official ranking factor yet but will become one in May.
- How long SEO will take to work for a given website directly depends on whether the site complies with Google page experience signals.
- If the site does not meet page experience signals, then it may not be able to make any SEO progress until these issues have been resolved.
If you want to speed up the SEO results the site will get, make sure that it passes all of the Google page experience signals.
⚡ If you want to learn more, here is the Google page experience audit that I have recently created.
❗ Make sure to check my Core Web Vitals audit as well to learn how to optimize a site to pass Core Web Vitals metrics.
E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) are the three components of a high-quality site as defined by Google in their Search Quality Evaluator Guideline.
- If the website has a lot of E-A-T, then you can expect that it will start to see the positive SEO gains within 1-3 months. ,
- On the other hand, a site with no E-A-T will probably at first need to gain a bit of expertise, authority and trust before it can see huge SEO effects. This is a bit similar to the situation in which a brand new site is. 6 or more months are probably necessary.
- E-A-T is especially important for Your Money Your Life (YML) websites which may not be able to make any progress without at least some level of E-A-T.
Here is a section about E-A-T straight from the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines:
Building E-A-T will always bring positive results for the site in terms of SEO.
12: SEO Specialist
An SEO specialist or an SEO firm that will be doing SEO for the site is one of the most important factors influencing how long SEO will take and how big its effects will be.
The site will be growing more quickly and using its potential as long as its SEO specialist:
- knows what he or she is doing,
- has enough experience (at least 3-5 years),
- is really passionate about SEO,
- has laid out a clear SEO plan and strategy,
- is not a bull***t SEO artist whose only goal is to make quick money (this one is really important).
Here are a few helpful guides on hiring an SEO (from the Google Search Central site):
13: SEO Budget
The bigger and the quicker SEO results a site wants to achieve, the more money it should be willing to invest in SEO (usually).
- However, before you invest any money in SEO (and especially big money), you must be sure that you can really trust the SEO or the SEO firm you want to hire to do SEO for you.
- In most cases, the best investment of money is into new high-quality content.
- A website can expect to grow very quickly if it can spend 10K a month on SEO and things, such as new content creation, PR, or link building.
- On the other hand, if a site has only $500 a month to spend, then it might not be able to use its potential to the full.
There is just as much one person can do in 24 hours. If you have a big budget, then you can hire other people to do 10 times as much in the same amount of time.
14: Technical SEO Audit
Doing a technical SEO audit of a site is vital. This is the most important and fundamental step in every SEO project.
The purpose of a technical SEO audit is:
- to examine the site in terms of SEO, its visibility in search engines, and its potential,
- to detect any technical problems and issues that may hinder the site’s growth,
- to recommend solutions and fixes,
- to prioritize SEO tasks,
- and more.
I cannot think of a reason why a site should not have a technical SEO audit done.
15: Implementation of technical fixes
A technical SEO audit will work ONLY if the fixes it recommends are implemented.
You may conduct the best technical SEO site audit in the world but it won’t have any impact if the client fails to implement the recommendations provided in it.
This is – unfortunately – a very common case, especially with huge websites where each small change requires authorization and acceptance by the management.
- Doing an in-depth professional SEO audit is just as important as implementing all of the fixes and recommendations suggested in it.
- The site will be making little or no progress unless all of the technical fixes and optimizations are implemented.
- Many more advanced SEOs (including me) can implement the recommendations themselves or instruct a web developer how to do it.
16: Quality And Quantity Of New Content
Adding new content is the single best way to make a website grow fast and gain SEO traction.
The more high-quality content is added to the website, the quicker SEO progress the site will be making.
- A website that publishes a few new articles every day is going to have way bigger and quicker SEO effects than a site that publishes a few articles a month. The former can expect SEO effects after 2-3 months. The latter may need several months.
- Of course, this is just as much about quality as it is about quantity. It is better to publish a few high-quality articles a month instead of creating tens of crappy articles that no one will be interested in reading.
- Adding lots of low-quality content just for the sake of adding content will do more harm than good.
- It is practically impossible for a site to grow and gain visibility unless new content is added to it.
17: Scope Of SEO Activities To Be Conducted
How long it will take SEO to work is also highly dependent on the scope of the SEO activities to be carried out.
You need to be very careful when hiring an SEO specialist or agency to do SEO for you. Always make sure you know exactly what types of activities the SEO contract involves.
- A site will not be making much progress if the SEO strategy focuses on (low-quality) link building only.
- If the SEO strategy is diversified in such a way that it includes both new content creation, link building, technical optimizations, and PR, then the site will probably be making quicker progress.
- The SEO strategy should in 90-80% include the activities that can actually move the needle.
If you are not convinced about the SEO strategy of your SEO, it is a good idea to consult someone else. Feel free to contact me.
18: Website’s Niche
A website’s niche also has a huge impact on how quickly or slowly the site will be growing in terms of SEO.
The more competitive the niche, the longer SEO usually takes and the more investment it needs.
- If a site is in a highly competitive niche like finances or law, then it may need many months or even years to see any results (especially if it is a brand-new website).
- Another important variable is the focus of the site. The more focused the site is on one topic, the quicker it can gain traction for this topic.
- You can outrank huge highly authoritative sites if you have a smaller site that strictly specializes in one topic.
- Huge high-authority sites usually cover a great range of more general topics. If all your site talks about is mobile SEO, then you will have a great advantage over New York Times which may only have a bunch of articles about SEO.
- The only way to speed up the growth of a site in a highly competitive niche is by investing a lot of money (or time) in content, PR and link building.
- If your site’s niche is too small and there is little interest in it, then your site may not be growing even though you are doing everything “by the book”.
Just like all of the factors I am talking about here, a site’s niche can either make or break the SEO effects the site wants to achieve.
19: Compliance With Google SEO Guidelines
Sites that comply with Google SEO guidelines usually have the biggest chance of achieving great SEO results and continually growing in the long term.
- The site that does everything the white hat way may not grow as quickly as the site that has found an SEO “trick” that seems to be working miracles (for now).
- The site that is not involved in any manipulative SEO techniques may be making slower but steady progress.
- The effects of the SEO strategy that complies with Google guidelines will sooner or later snowball.
- The awesome SEO results achieved as a result of some mischievous and spammy SEO techniques are always short-lived and may be totally wiped out any time.
If you want the site to be visible in Google, then you must respect and comply with the Google guidelines and recommendations. Fortunately, Google provides a ton of useful documentation and resources on how to stay in the clear.
20: Google Core Algorithm Updates
Google core algorithm updates always have winners and losers and you cannot fully control in which group a site will be after the next core update.
- Google is pretty clear about what it values and what it is looking for in websites.
- You can control the scope of your SEO campaign but you cannot fully control how a core algorithm update will impact the site.
- In most cases, the sites that suffer from Google core updates actually deserve that. They either overdid with SEO optimizations or lost some relevance.
- However, there are a lot of stories of sites that claim to be 100% compliant with Google guidelines but which still lost rankings after a core update.
- No one can guarantee that the next core update will leave the site untouched.
- You as an SEO must be aware that the results of your SEO campaigns can either be completely destroyed or multiplied many times overnight.
Any decent SEO should take into account this very unpredictable SEO factor when making any predictions or estimations.
Make sure you read the Google Search Central article about core updates. Below are a few of the questions you will find in the article.
I am sure you now have a clear picture of how long SEO can take to work and how many variables there are at play.
If you account for all of them, you will be making more clever SEO decisions and increasing the chances of SEO success of the site.
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Olga Zarzeczna is a senior SEO specialist with 8+ years of experience. She has been doing SEO for both the biggest brands in the world and small businesses. She has done more than 150+ SEO audits so far. Olga has completed SEO courses and degrees at universities, such as UC Davis, University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins University. She also completed Moz Academy! And, of course, has Google certifications. She keeps learning SEO and loves it. Olga is also a Google Product Expert specializing in areas, such as Google Search and Google Webmasters.