How Long Does SEO Take to Work?

Time: 3:39 am

Every SEO campaign is unique in its strengths, weaknesses, and duration. But at Firestarter SEO, we typically see our campaigns experience their first real successes after four to six months. Most SEO plans generate some slow movement in the first three months or so, but big changes usually don’t kick off until around half a year. Fortunately, once the momentum starts building, it continues to accelerate each month.

But why do SEO campaigns take so much time to take effect? If the internet is so fast and ever-changing, why aren’t the changes SEO brings instantly visible? The answer can vary from one website to another. Below, we’ll unpack why SEO takes so long to work and what you can do to speed things up a bit.

How Long Does it Take for SEO to Work?

In most cases, SEO results can take about three to six months to fully take effect. But experts also report longer and shorter wait times, with some suggesting it may take up to a year or year and a half to see optimal results.

Many juggling the costs of SEO become frustrated by a lack of results. While it’s understandable to want to see the benefits of your hard work, where SEO is concerned, there may be no way to avoid some downtime.

That’s because, put simply, almost no one sees instant results from SEO changes. But that doesn’t mean that your strategy is failing or even that it’s bad. In fact, results that pop up quickly might not last long without continuous effort, so seeing changes as fast as possible may not necessarily be advantageous.

Think of an SEO strategy like a fine wine: it can certainly be great as is, but it tends to get better and better with age. There’s no way to rush this process, either, but there are some things you can do to ensure your strategy is as efficient as possible.

Why Does SEO Take So Long? Key Factors

A primary reason SEO takes as long as it does to transform your site is that its pieces take time to build. These key components of a successful SEO campaign require a consistent effort to work their magic, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your time. Understanding how they work demonstrates why short-term investments lead to long-term results.


SEO keywords are the words and phrases you use to drive targeted traffic to your website. They’re also what your audience uses to find your website. Some will have more websites competing for them than others, meaning it will be harder to get a ranking spot on the first page.

Google is constantly making changes to its algorithm to ensure searchers are served with quality results. In the early days of SEO, maximizing rankings meant having keywords in a few areas throughout the site content.

This is not the case anymore. Keywords must be naturally woven into the text on the page, and using them too much can be considered keyword stuffing – a practice that Google and other search engines frown upon.


Backlinks, or links to your site from other sites, are an important part of SEO. Each backlink counts as a vote of trust; the more you have, the more Google sees you as a valuable source of information.

But, not just any backlink will do – to be quality, it must:

  • Come from a relevant, trusted source. Search engines consider link relevance on multiple levels, including the content of the overall linking website, the page the link is on, and the content directly surrounding the link. Likewise, search engines use websites they know are quality, such as the BBC and The Huffington Post, to determine trustworthiness. The fewer the number of links away a site is from one of those core seed sites, the higher the quality of a link from that site is.
  • Send traffic to your website. Links add value because they direct visitors to more information on a topic long before your page is ever considered in any ranking algorithm. As website visitors click these links, they bring traffic and value to your site that will help you in the long term.
  • Use natural anchor text. Link quality improves if its anchor text is similar to, or the same as, a phrase you’re trying to rank for. But, if you have too many links to your site using the same anchor text, it starts to look unnatural and spammy, which can decrease your rankings. That’s why it’s better to use natural anchor text within the content rather than focusing on a money phrase.
  • Come from diverse sources: Having multiple backlinks to your site from the same site doesn’t do you much good. The more unique domains you have in your backlink profile, the better.
  • Not be reciprocal: Because link exchanges were highly abused in the past, reciprocal link value has been reduced. If you’re getting a high-quality backlink, it should come from a website you’re not already linking to from your own site.
  • Not be one of many other backlinks on the page: Trust and authority get split between all the links on a page, so the fewer links there are, the higher the quality of each.
  • Not be paid for: Paying for links is against Google’s terms of service, and though they do often improve rankings, they can’t be considered high quality because of the risk associated with them. If Google notices what they think are paid links, your site will be penalized, and you’ll lose ranking.
  • Not be easy to earn: The easier it is to get a backlink, the less valuable it is. If you can get the link within a couple of minutes or clicks, you’ve had thousands of people do it before you, and still, thousands more will come after you to do it, too.

Business Information

Every local business should claim their business listing with Google and as many other directories as possible. Many offer listings for free and can help significantly strengthen your online presence. For the best results, make sure your listings are consistent and contain the same name, address, and phone number.

What your business provides will play a role in your rankings simply because of the competition in your area. If you have a niche business that serves a limited clientele, you’ll see results faster as long as clients are searching specifically for your services.

But if you’re in a more competitive field, there are more businesses gunning for those top-ranking spots, making them harder to get. Plus, businesses are often spending money to ensure they stay on the top.

Why Your SEO Isn’t Producing Results

How long SEO takes partially depends on factors that you can address quickly. Problems that make your site difficult for search engines to find or for users to navigate can slow things down significantly.

Let’s take a look at some common obstacles that affect how long it takes for SEO to work.

You’ve been penalized.

It’s possible your website has been hit by a Google penalty caused by the 2012 Penguin algorithm update or later changes to the algorithm. As Google becomes aware of different ways webmasters manipulate rankings and aims to improve content quality, it will likely penalize more specific actions, such as keyword stuffing.

If your site has done something to cause Google to hit you with a penalty, your site rankings and traffic dip dramatically. But fortunately, it is possible to recover. The first step is usually to use the Google Disavow Tool to tell Google about links that you don’t want it to count against you. This gives you a chance to get rid of low-quality pages.

That’s not the only thing that counts when attempting to recover. Beyond removing unnatural links, it’s important to focus on building natural links and reducing any keyword stuffing by rewriting content.

If you notice your rankings plummet suddenly, that’s a good indication you’ve been penalized for some reason or another. Our SEO team can look at what’s going on when they conduct an audit and give more direction about a recovery strategy.

Your website is too young.

An element many newer companies need to consider is the age of their domain. It takes time for Google to index new sites as reliable and authoritative sources, causing SEO efforts to take longer to produce results.

Older domains have the upper hand in Google rankings simply because they have had more time to publish content and receive backlinks that help them carry more value.

However, an established domain isn’t enough to keep a site at the top. Older domains still continue putting out valuable content for their age to continue being an advantage.

Maybe you can’t compete with the biggest names in the industry just yet, but you can compete with other newer sites or older sites that aren’t up to your level in terms of creating new content.

Some other potential issues that can come with newer sites include poor site speed and performance. How a web page is designed can significantly impact its SEO performance, and newer sites may not have had the time to establish consistent and polished organization.

For instance, a very influential component of site performance is the presence of crawl errors. These are items on a client’s website that could cause search engines to diminish their trust in its contents. Examples span from 404 errors all the way to missing alt text on images.

Likewise, not having a site optimized for mobile use can take your site’s SEO down a few notches. With Google’s emphasis on mobile-first search, your site must be mobile-friendly.

There’s too much competition.

The hard reality is that, in most cases, your competition also invests in SEO. Depending on the industry, though, we at Firestarter often find that only a few companies focus enough on their SEO strategy to make it truly effective. These instances produce an opportunity to leapfrog competitors who aren’t doing anything for their online visibility.

On the other hand, some spaces are full of companies actively working on SEO. In these cases, having a clear strategy and working smarter than your competitors is crucial. Ultimately, a good SEO company should be able to quickly identify what the competition looks like and how active they are with their own SEO.

At Firestarter, we conduct a quick scan of your links to see exactly how established you are and what you’re up against. Here’s an example of what we run:

Domain Authority25353427
Total External Links1.3k6.8k7.8k4.1k
Total Links13.5k161k219k3.9k
Total Linking Root Domains221681554158

The first thing we look at is the Domain Authority. DA is not an exact reflection of Google’s algorithm. However, it gives us a general idea of how authoritative your site is on a scale of 1-100 and where you are compared to the competition. In the case above, our client is established (Domain Authority of 25), but we can see that they are behind the curve compared to their top three opponents, who all post higher DA scores.

Next, we look at the link breakdown. While Total Links and Total External Links are important, we often pay more attention to the Total Linking Root Domains—in other words, how many unique websites are pointing to your site. This metric gives us a much better gauge of how difficult it would be to overtake your competitors.

With the numbers above, it’s clear that link acquisition will play a major role in this client’s SEO strategy since they are well behind their top two competitors. It will probably take a longer, consistent effort to catch up since we likely won’t be able to acquire 400 links in just a couple of months.

Your website lacks resources.

If your website doesn’t have backlinks from other sites, doesn’t include links to other reputable sources, or lacks basic information that helps Google find it, it probably won’t rank. Search engines look for signs that a page is useful and offers value to readers. You can have the nicest-looking and most content-stuffed website out there, but your strategy may still fall flat without proof that you’ve done your homework.

Your website doesn’t have quality content.

Your website content should always be written for humans first and search engines second. It needs to provide substance and value. Google wants to know they’re pointing their customers in the right direction to get the best possible information for all search queries, so content is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Getting content right can be a nightmare for many businesses, especially if they’re not fond of writing or are unfamiliar with the best ways to write for the web. It can be an especially daunting task if there’s no budget to hire a writing team. It’s a major reason many businesses give up when they don’t see the results they’re hoping for in the early stages of their SEO campaigns.

How to Speed Up Your SEO Strategies

Remember, there is no way to speed up the time it takes for content and web pages to rank. But there are some things you can do to ensure that nothing slows things down, therefore delivering the fastest results possible.

  • Optimize Your Site: Make sure your site has all the information it needs to be indexed by search engines like Google. Add details like page titles, your business address, contact info, and other key details to help customers connect with you.
  • Conduct an Audit: Take a thorough look at your site to find areas that need improvement. Note pages that are incomplete, nonfunctional, unnecessary, or otherwise dragging your site down.
  • Consider Other Marketing: While you wait for your SEO campaign to take off, consider using other mediums like social media to promote services and products more directly. This technique can help you see some profit and grow your brand while SEO magic works in the background.

The Bottom Line

So, how long does SEO take to produce results? Probably at least a few months, but it really all depends on your site’s health, that of your competitors, and the strategies you use.

No matter your SEO goals or starting point, Firestarter SEO is here to help your website make an impact. We are an award-winning Denver SEO company with a proven track record of helping our clients generate leads, make new connections, and put their names on the map.

Our 12 years of experience in the industry help us offer solutions you can’t find anywhere else. Contact us today to learn more about our services or to find out how we can help you create an SEO plan that fits your needs.

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