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Inevitably, every client wants to know how long does SEO take to work.

Everyone wants instant gratification. We live in a time where nobody really wants to wait too long for anything. We’ve been conditioned to believe that faster often equates to better. We want instant food, instant miracles, instant success, and instant everything! But that’s not reality.

Let’s take food for instance. You can open up a can of soup, heat it up in the microwave and within seconds you can be eating your lunch. It’s delicious, quick, and provides you the sustenance you need to get through the next part of your day. Sort of. It’s also filled with salt and preservatives, and in many cases, the nutritional value can be lost or minimal.

Now, think of that homemade turkey soup you cooked right after Thanksgiving. You created a broth from the bones that you let simmer for hours in order to extract every ounce of natural flavor. You added in your fresh vegetables and herbs. It might have taken all day (not to mention the day it took to cook the actual Turkey) but the result was the perfect bowl of homemade soup that was chock-full of goodness and taste.

It took time, but it was worth it. The same can be said for Search Engine Optimization.

SEO Takes Time, But It’s Worth It

Almost every single client will ask the all-important question: how long does SEO take to work?

The industry-standard answer is 4-6 months…perhaps. You can find hundreds (or thousands) of articles on the Internet that agree with this consensus. And you can say that to every-single-client, but sometime within the first week or two, every client asks if it’s working yet.

Clients are excited. They’re nervous. They need to account for their spend. You’ll remind them that you ensured they’d start to see some results within 4-6 months, but at some point, they’ll begin to get impatient. It might not happen every time, but it happens enough. How long does SEO take to work will depend on a lot of variables.

Sometimes results can take a day, a year, or even more. It all depends on the goal, the key performance indicators (KPIs), the competition, the industry, and the ever-changing landscape of the Internet.

Let’s Determine What The Results Will Be!

Instead of providing the generic four-to-six months answer to the question “how long does SEO take to work,” we find it can be far more beneficial to outline what our anticipated results will be.

Key Performance Indicators – KPIs

KPIs are objective, tangible metrics that are used to measure the success of a campaign.

In the realm of SEO, there are several KPIs that can constitute successful results.

1. Growth in Organic Sessions – Tracking traffic from organic search is a measurable KPI. Growth can be slow going, as it does take time for pages and websites to make their way up the search engine results, especially in competitive industries. It is the objective that lies at the heart of any SEO campaign since more targeted traffic from the search engines is something that always excites clients.

2. Increases in Keyword Rankings – Back in the day, SEO companies would provide clients with spreadsheets outlining keyword results for targeted keywords. It was a metric the clients loved. But, with the growth of localized and individualized search results, it became more difficult to provide an accurate measure of keyword rankings. A website could be sitting at #1 for one user but #4 for someone else in a different location. Now, SEO companies might provide a more generalized average for keyword rankings.

Keyword ranking isn’t the be all, end all though. Going from number 50 to number 8 might not make a huge difference in traffic; however, going from number 8 to number 4 likely will. This is because most users will click on the first few results, but not wade too much further down the list.

3. Leads & Conversions – What good is all of this extra traffic if they are converting into leads? More and more companies are getting savvy with the results they expect to see, and leads, orders, and sales have become a valuable KPI for SEO campaigns. On average, the best results for a website come from organic traffic results. After all, this traffic is highly targeted for specific searches. If a person is searching for the best place to wash their car, it is likely to assume they are further down the path-to-purchase than a person who gets advertised to by a car-wash display ad or social media post.

4. Session Duration – Generally speaking, once you implement an SEO campaign, you will likely start to see an increase in session duration. This is because the quality of traffic is highly targeted, which means the user would likely be more genuinely interested and engaged in your website and information.

Targeted Traffic vs General Traffic

If you look at just numbers, one might think that having 10,000 visitors a day vs 5,000 visitors a day is a win. But, if the 10,000 visitors who are coming are more general in nature, is it really a win? They’re likely not spending as much time on the website, or they’re browsing without intent to purchase, contact, or convert. They take more effort to convert or bring back. So, if you can get 5,000 visitors who are specifically searching for one of your particular products or services, they’re more targeted. They’re likely more ready to convert or purchase. Those 5,000 visitors are more valuable than the 10,000 generalists.

How Long Does SEO Take to Work Depends on Tactics

Depending on the industry and the competition, an SEO professional will undertake a variety of tactics to achieve results. Think of it like growing a garden. Some plants, fruit, and vegetables take longer to bear fruit or flower than others. In addition, you can’t quite ever predict how long it will take before the tomatoes are ready to be picked.

An SEO plan that is really content-driven can take a lot of time; however, the results might come in spurts. The SEO professional will target a keyword, have a piece of content written and published, and depending on how competitive the keyword is, results may start coming within a week or longer. No one really knows how long it takes for SEO to work.  It could also take six months or more. In the meantime, with each new piece of content, site authority and ultimately results will start to build.

Budget Also Affects How Long SEO Takes to Work

Nobody wants to admit that the more you pay the better results you will get; however, budget equals time and resources.

How long does SEO take to work? Simply put, the more you put into it the more you should get out of it. Three team members spending six hours should see results faster than one team member sending two hours.

At the end of the day, SEO is not a quick-fix for a business that requires results immediately. It’s a long-term process that requires a strategy and if done properly, can provide long term results. SEO is a process where every step builds upon the one before it. Today’s results are likely built upon the effort from six months ago.

So, while you’ll likely find it takes four-to-six months to start seeing results, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. There are many types of SEO services that can be brought into play. Instead of offering a timeline for how long does SEO take to work, it can be more beneficial to offer education on the KPIs. That way, you can start celebrating the little wins along the way.

Please call our SEO experts at 1st on the List toll-free at 1-888-262-6687 to learn more about SEO or if you still have any questions.

For additional information on this topic, visit this informative article by Search Engine Journal.


Donald Kim

Donald Kim is a Digital Marketing Strategist and Project Manager at 1st on the List. He has an ability to combine his expertise in SEO, Paid Search, and Social Media in order to provide a comprehensive strategy. His holistic approach tailored to each client’s specific needs achieves significant results in terms of new growth and brand awareness. Donald is also an active member of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and the BC Chapter of the American Marketing Association.