SEO is not like wine, it doesn’t get better with age!
Your SEO project seems to be taking forever, you’re curious how long it’s all going to take, or you’re wondering why a long succession of historical SEO vendors and practitioners have been unable to realise everyone’s SEO ambitions, it could be down to using the wrong type or wrong amount of resources. This piece of insight should give you a straight answer to many of your questions.
One question that we get asked all the time, and which is clearly a major issue for marketers, is how long does SEO take to be effective. This is usually driven by them being told by various practitioners that SEO “takes time to be effective” or “SEO takes time to grow”.
This isn’t necessarily a lie, but it certainly isn't a fact and it confuses things. SEO is not like wine. There is no timely maturation of the work you have done after an initial roll out. So here’s what every marketer needs to know about SEO working and timelines.
Firstly let's define ‘work’, as in... ‘it works!’ Some people may choose to look at a simple improvement in ranking as evidence of SEO working, and there is little doubt that even though it’s not an express elevator to page 1, any positive growth, even if only a jump from 87 to 57, or a ‘straight in at 42’ is a good thing. But that growth may peter out, halt and even rescind within a short to medium period of time. So, simple growth is an indicator of SEO beginning to work, but is far from the end of the tunnel.
At the more stringent end of ‘it’s worked!’ is of course the benchmark of whether you’ve actually got to page 1 for the keywords you were targeting, and more importantly the keywords that represent the majority of your industry.
We prefer this one as a longer term assessment, as the above more dilute example can drag on for a long time, and many people hold on to their agencies for far longer than they should because of tentative evidence of ‘it working’, that never quite gets to the extent where anyone gets to page 1 and see’s their investment returned, and even if it is on a pay by results basis, time is money too!
So if that’s SEO ‘working’, how long does it take to... well... work? Without wanting to sound evasive...it depends! But don’t worry we are going to tell you what it depends on.
Remember, SEO is competitive and doesn't exist in the isolation of your world and site. You are not optimising your site, you are optimising it against somebody else’s. You’re competing, principally against the people that already occupy the page 1 space... and they are there in that space because they have achieved the highest level of relevancy, and greatest quality and quantity of inbound links out of all the other competing sites in that realm.
SEO is about closing gaps
Consequently SEO is about closing those gaps between you and them through innovative content development, site structuring, and online business development, and you will absolutely without a doubt , not rank on page 1, until you have closed that gap.
These gaps have to be measured accurately and you must have the right type of resources and amount of resource to close them.
It’s no good showing up to repaint the Golden Gate Bridge with a friend and a few litres of water based paint. Or even a hundred of you with a few litres of paint, or even a few of you with hundreds of litres of paint.
In other words, you need to know the size of the job you’re taking on, what’s required to do the job and ensure you have enough of whatever it is to complete it. Under resource for something and the job will take longer. Use the wrong resources and it won’t work however long you give it.
The reason most SEO takes a lot of time, is because many SEO projects don’t plan around the gap between their site and the ones they're trying to meet or beat. As a result, they mis-resource, so they never really deliver the entire improvement you’re looking for, and/or they under resource in which case the gap is closed in very small increments, all of which is stretched out over a long contract, and so the job seems to take forever.
There is another wild card here too. Imagine that having resourced to paint the golden gate bridge, it got slightly longer each month. That is what is happening in search engine rankings. The people at the top are not sitting idly waiting for people to catch up. They’re probably optimising, link building, advertising, growing the awareness and doing PR all the while you’re trying to catch up.
So you need to build this into your expectations and SEO planning too.
So search engine rankings are not like wine. They do not get better with age. They get better because you take proactive steps to close the gaps, and they get better quicker, the more intensive and focussed you are on the gap.
So we’ve talked a lot about some of the reasons why SEO seems to take so long, so let's assume we’ve done things largely correctly, and turn the discussion to some actual appraisals of timelines of when results start to appear, based on the work you might do.
We want to talk about two things here: uptake of your changes and improved rankings.
Google is really just a big database used to power search results, in which is the record of your site and all its pages. Until that record changes, your treatment and placement by the search engine algorithm remains the same. The way the search engine changes this is by revisiting the site and its pages with its spider. You can get a better understanding of how that process works in our search engine 101. If your pages have changed, i.e. you’ve implemented a new meta tag, changed the navigation system, re-written the copy etc, then these new records will be copied over the old ones, and their rank re-scored. This is uptake.
Uptake rates are entirely dependent on the search engines frequency of visits to your website, and how deep into your site they choose to go, and can vary depending on the maturity and importance of the site and the specific pages. Highly important sites will be crawled many times a day, whilst brand new sites are lucky to get a visit a month. Below we’ve produced this guide to when you could expect pages to be up taken post any change.
||High popularity site
||Med popularity site
||New/Low popularity site
||Once or more daily
||Every few days to 1 week
||Every 2-4 weeks
|1st tier page
||Daily to weekly
||Every 1-2 weeks
||Every 4-6 weeks
||Weekly to monthly
||6 weeks to not at all
Once your changes are up taken, it can take a short while, of hours to a week, for those changes to be re-scored by the search engines algorithm and for a rank change to possibly take place. Again the delay to rescore will vary on the same principles as the uptake will. Alas it’s not easy for search engines to reshuffle billions of web pages just because we want them to!
Don’t forget that if your changes feature architectural improvements that impact on the way other pages relate to the each other, then the search engine will need to crawl and uptake these too before they are factored in to your rankings. Let's say you have linked page b and c to page d. If there’s any benefit to be had by d from that, it will require page b and c to be indexed as well as d.
...And... if your optimization efforts on a page stretch out even further, to getting links on other sites, then it will take until these pages are crawled before these characteristics are factored into the equation for that page.
So this is all a very complete (we like completeness at Greenlight), albeit a very long way of saying that if your page, your site, and everyone else’s site that may have linked to yours is getting crawled within a 6-8 week period, then after that point, everything that could be factored into the decision on how to rank you probably has been done.
The key factor that effects your ranking though, comes back to the issue of the gap and resourcing correctly...and is... did you do the right things, or enough of them, to substantially re-colour the perception of the search engine to convince it, to allow you to rank higher than you did previously.
And this is the bottom line.
Whilst there is a little delay in search engines as they crawl and process new information, the change happens as fast as you can bring it.
If it's 2-3 months since you made your changes and you're still not on page 1, then that means the techniques have not delivered, and are unlikely to, since there is no maturation of relevance and importance. Things don’t become more relevant and important the longer they are there, so the search engines have decided that’s your natural weight. The only way to improve on that is to begin attacking those gaps once again, with more changes, and more links.
Basically, improving your ranking doesn’t take time per se, it’s just that the people doing it often do, and that needn’t be your choice if you understand the gaps, and plan and resource correctly to close them in a timeline that makes a difference to you.