Why does SEO take so long?

By Joe Cox

seo takes a long timeSecuring a sustainable ranking position on your most important keywords in the search engine results pages (SERPs) can be game-changing for both small and large businesses alike. Getting your site to those hallowed top positions on page one is rarely a simple affair and can take a long time. It’s important to remember that SEO is highly competitive and it’s likely that your competitors are also investing in it, so you’re relative positions isn’t against a static environment, but against a wealth of other sites and pages, all vying for Google’s attention.

If you are putting in a significant number of hours and aren’t yet seeing the results, SEO can quickly begin to feel like a frustrating and time-consuming task, but there are many reasons why it can take so long. In this article, I want to break down some of those reasons.

SEO is not the Same as Traditional Marketing

SEO is often lumped together with other digital marketing and that can often lead to a misunderstanding of how quickly results can and should start filtering through. A lot of traditional marketing has the power to generate results in as little as a few weeks. You will generally either see some success and push your strategy further, or your approach won’t resonate with your audience and you’ll switch your focus. Either way, the efforts are more direct because you are often creating materials and media that is directed straight to your end audience.

SEO is different because your first audience is actually Google’s algorithm. Only by appealing to that, can you begin to turn around rankings and start to get on the radars of your target audience market. The speed of which you can achieve this is dependent on how much search visibility your website has in the first place. If you’re way down on page 7 then it’s a longer journey to page 1 than a site on page 2 that’s also trying to rank for those same keywords.

The waters are further muddied by the competitiveness of the keywords you’re trying to rank for.

SEO Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

One of the most important truisms about SEO, yet one of the least appreciated and understood, is the fact that SEO does not exist in a vacuum. Whatever energies and efforts you are putting in, doesn’t account for what your competitors are doing. As such SEO success should always be viewed in the context of how competitive the keywords you are trying to rank for are.

If you are operating within a highly competitive industry with many big players with budgets to match, it can take up to twelve months to work your way up the rankings. Alternatively, if you’re in an industry where SEO investment is relatively low, it is entirely possible to start seeing significant results in as little as a few months.

Always assume that your competitors are putting in the same amount of work as you are and if you can’t compete in terms of quantity, understanding how you can outperform them on the quality front should be at the top of your agenda.

Don’t become discouraged though just because you are in a highly competitive industry. Good SEO companies will take account of this and look for ‘content gaps’ that is longer tail keywords that are related to your industry but have far less competition. This all comes down to good keyword research.

Keyword Research

Effective SEO strategies used to revolve almost exclusively around a handful of relevant ‘golden keywords’ but this approach simply won’t secure the results you want to see any longer. Instead, your approach should be powered by natural language because increasing numbers of people are using voice assistants such as Siri to conduct internet searches.

Voice searches typically include more detail so understanding how to rank for several of these less competitive long tail keywords will often help you to secure more searches than a few ‘golden keywords’. This research process takes time but it should never be rushed because it will ultimately form the foundations of an effective SEO strategy.

Let’s now look at some of the other important factors that can affect how quickly your site climbs the search rankings.


Google needs to know you exist for it to rank your site at all. Whenever you search Google, you are not being presented with a completely live view of the Internet. Instead, you are looking at a library of websites that Google has discovered with Googlebot. This is the name for Google’s crawlers (also known as spiders) which crawls the web to understand content and archive the results it finds.

Although Googlebot is powerful, the crawling process takes time and it could take it several months before it discovers a new strand to your SEO initiatives. The more content you create, however, then the more regularly Googlebot will start crawling your site and the quicker your efforts will be rewarded. Google likes freshness!

The Age of your Domain

Although not as big a ranking signal as it once was, the age of a domain is still important in terms of how quickly you can expect to rank. If you have recently registered your domain and your website has just gone live, it is unrealistic to expect that suddenly, overnight, you will compete with a site that has spent years building its reputation and standing. It will always take time for Google to attribute your website with the level of authority that it deserves.

The Quality of Your Content

Often massively overlooked in favour of quantity, content quality plays a vital role in determining how quickly you will start securing the results you want to see. Google has become very good, not just at understanding what content is about, but how well it’s written. The days of outsourcing poorly written blog content and loading it onto your site in the hope of it boosting your rankings are gone. Less is more in this respect. You’d be better spending your money on a single well written long-form blog article per month than five or six poorly written short pieces.

Every piece of content you publish must be informative, well-researched and valuable to your audience. Try to avoid sitting on content for any period of time because if it’s ready to go, the sooner you hit publish, the sooner it will start to have a positive influence on your ranking.

Establishing a regular publishing schedule will demonstrate that your site is consistently updated with new content, which will both encourage your audience to return more frequently and prompt Google’s spiders to crawl your site more frequently.

Results Typically Slow Over Time

It can be easy to become discouraged when your progress starts to slow, but it is important to remember that overtaking sites lower down in search rankings is typically easier than making headway against those at the top of the pack. Take stock of those easy wins, but keep your eyes on your ultimate goal when things start to get tougher.

Geographical Variations

Local SEO strategies specifically work to target searchers within a defined geographical area that is local to your business. The core of local SEO is essentially the same as general SEO, however, the tactics employed to succeed are likely to be markedly different.

Maintaining an up-to-date and detailed Google My Business listing is vital for local SEO, but you must also pay close attention to both link and on-page signals [2], including your domain authority and including important keywords in titles, headings and meta descriptions. Although every small change made here will take time to contribute to your rankings, patience and perseverance will pay off in the end.

Getting to the Top and Staying there

Technology has changed considerably over the last three decades and this consistent evolution naturally has an impact on SEO results. One good big example of this is Google’s rollout of its mobile-first index, which takes account of the fact that most searches are now performed on mobile devices.

Google’s algorithm is constantly changing and updating, often with the result of causing some sites to plummet and some to rise in the space of a few days. This shifting landscape requires SEO professionals to keep on top of new developments and adapt their approaches accordingly. In this respect getting to the top of Google’s search results in good time is one thing; staying there is another.

If you are optimising your site in ways that Google wants you to though, your site will become less susceptible to these algorithmic updates, ensuring you don’t just get to the top but you stay there, whilst others around you fall.

About the Author:
Joe Cox is Content Director at Bristol SEO Agency Superb Digital. You can connect with Superb Digital on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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