One of the most common questions we get here at Firestarter SEO is, “How long does SEO take to start working?” Unfortunately, there’s no clear cut answer, as it depends heavily on the strategy, and the level of competition you’re up against. However, you should start seeing results within a couple of months, but don’t be surprised if it takes a bit longer. It is worth noting though, that the progress you see in the early stages should pale in comparison to the results you see at the end of the first year. What matters is consistent effort and remaining agile enough to adjust the strategy according to the results you’re seeing.

Let’s look at the variables that go into how quickly you’ll see results in your campaign.

Keywords

Keywords are the words and phrases you use to drive targeted traffic to your website. These are the words and phrases your audience is using 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 their algorithm to ensure searchers are served with quality results. In the early days of SEO, all you had to do was have your keyword in a few areas and throughout the content, and you were golden. 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.

Your Domain Name

Your SEO, at the basic level, revolves around your domain name. If your domain has keywords in it, it can help speed up the process, but it’s not a magic bullet. Even domain names that are keyword rich can rank badly.

  • How long ago did you buy your domain? If it’s brand new, it could take longer to see results, simply because the search engines rely on trust. They have to have time to see that you know what you’re talking about, and you are a viable source of information for searchers. They consider domain age when determining how legitimate your business, website, and information is.
  • Has your domain name been penalized? If you purchased your domain from a third party because you wanted to avoid the domain age issue of a new domain, or simply couldn’t find a brand new domain that fit your brand, it’s important to look at its past history. There’s always a chance it was abused and discarded. It could have been used with black hat SEO or in other malicious activity. If this is the case, it likely has been flagged by the search engines. This isn’t to say you can’t reverse the damage, however, it will take longer before you start to see results.
  • Did someone outside your geographical location previously own the domain? It’s not uncommon for a domain name to be sold when a business closes. Let’s say you bought the .org version of your domain because it was the only option available, but you now see the .com is available. Sure, you can make the switch, but that .com domain has a long history with the previous business, which operated in a different area than you do. It doesn’t mean you can’t rank it, it just means it could take a bit longer because the search engines have to recognize that you are the new owner and you have a different address.

Business and Location for Local SEO

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

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. Often, businesses are spending money to ensure they stay on the top.

Website 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. Of course, getting content right can be a nightmare for many businesses, especially if they’re not fond of writing, or 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 why many businesses give up when they don’t see the results they’re hoping for in the early stages of their SEO campaigns.

Past Website Penalties

If your website has been hit by a Google penalty in the past, say Penguin, it doesn’t mean your rankings will suffer forever, but it means you’ll have your work cut out for you. The Penguin algorithm update came in 2012, and was Google’s answer to website spam. They became aware of webmasters manipulating their rankings through purchasing links or participating in link networks specifically designed to improve ranking. It was also aimed at improving content quality by penalizing keyword stuffing.

It’s possible to use the Google Disavow Tool to tell Google about links that you don’t want it to count against you. It’s a way for webmasters to get rid of low-quality links and recover from the penalty.

But 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 re-writing content.

That of course, is an old penalty, so it’s just an example of what can be done to recover. 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.

Backlinks

Backlinks, or links to your site from other sites, are an important part of SEO. Each backlink counts as a vote of trust and the more you have, the more Google learns that you are a trustworthy source of information. But, not just any backlink will do – hence why spam is such an issue.

To be a quality backlink it must:

  • Come from a relevant source: Search engines want everything to be relevant and useful to their users. They consider the relevancy of a link on multiple levels, from the relevance of the overall linking website, the relevance of the page the link is on, and the relevance of the content that directly surrounds the link.
  • Come from a trusted source: Search engines use websites they know are quality and difficult to get links from, 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 TrustRank, and the higher the quality a link from that site is.
  • Send traffic to your website: Links were originally intended to add value to a page because they direct visitors to more information relevant to the topic of the page, long before they were ever considered in any ranking algorithm. Website visitors still click these links, so having a link high up on a page will still bring value because regardless of rank it will send traffic to your site.
  • Use natural anchor text: The quality of a link improves if the anchor text of the link is similar to, or the same as a phrase you’re trying to rank for. But, if you have too many links coming 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. Variations in anchor text is key.
  • The more authority, the better: If there’s a backlink to your website on a page that links to other high quality sites in the same niche as yours, it tells the search engines your site should be included in the high authority bracket. It doesn’t mean that if the other links are low quality your site will be classified as such, too, but the search engines may not include those in their ranking calculation.
  • Come from sources other than your existing backlinks: Having multiple backlinks 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. This means 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 on a page get split between all the links on a page, so the fewer links there are on that page, the higher the quality of the link.
  • 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.

How an SEO Campaign Works

An SEO campaign generally begins with an audit to determine your baseline ranking, backlinks, and traffic. This helps in creating a strategy to improve rankings. The exact course of action will depend on your competition, your budget, and your current rank. A plan for the next several months will be developed, and acted on accordingly. If things aren’t working out as expected, adjustments will be made.

The most important thing to remember is no one can ever guarantee a #1 rank in Google. If you’re dealing with an SEO agency that’s made that promise to you, it’s an indication they’re using blackhat SEO techniques to manipulate the rankings.

Are you ready to get started with your own SEO campaign? Get in touch today!