It's one of the most common questions my clients have asked over the years: How long does SEO take? How long before I start seeing a noticeable improvement in my rankings? How long before I can rank #1 in Google and dominate my competitors like the unworthy scum they are?

Okay, so I added that last one for effect. But it's true. Everyone wants to know how long it takes to implement an SEO program, and when they might see results. Here's what I've learned after doing this for nine years.

Breaking Them Out: Implementation vs. Improvement

We are actually talking about two different things here. On the one hand, you probably want to know how long it takes to implement a search engine optimization program. That's the first step to all of this. In addition, you might be wondering how long it takes to improve your rankings in Google and the other major search engines. That's another topic entirely. We will discuss both of these questions in detail below.

1. How Long to Implement an SEO Program

You can implement a basic SEO program in two to five business days. It can also take two years or more. I'm not joking. It really does vary this much. The difference lies within your goals and your industry. There are many variables at work here:
  • How large is your website? How many pages of content do you have?
  • How competitive is your industry or niche, from an SEO standpoint?
  • What kind of linking profile have you built up already (inbound links)?
  • What kind of website traffic do you have right now?
  • What do your bounce rates look like? How long are people staying on your site?
  • How long is the list of keywords / topics you want to improve rankings for?
  • Do you have any in-house writing talent, or will you be outsourcing web content?
These are just a few of the questions I would ask in order to assess your SEO situation, and to determine how long your SEO program might take to produce results.

2. How Long to Improve Your Search Engine Rankings

How do you define the word "improvement," in terms of search engine optimization? Are you aiming for general improvement (ranking / visibility) for a long list of topics and phrases? This would be an easier task to accomplish. Or do you hope to rank #1 - #3 for a highly specific and competitive phrase? This might take years to accomplish, if it's possible at all. (Hint: The first strategy is the smarter one, from an SEO standpoint.)
When you add all of these variables up, you can see why it's so hard to say how long SEO might take. But I can tell you this. If you are starting on the ground floor -- meaning you've never done any kind of search engine optimization at all -- you should start seeing some kind of results in less than a month. This is especially true if you create an active publishing program for your website, adding new content on a regular basis. This is the real "secret" to SEO success, publishing new website content on a perpetual basis.
And there's the magic word ... perpetual.
The Webster's dictionary defines perpetual as "occurring continually or indefinitely." I can think of no better way to describe a search engine optimization program.
When people ask me how long SEO takes, I often respond by asking them how long marketing takes. I'm not being cheeky. It's a valid point. Most business owners would agree that marketing is never done. If you woke up one day and said, "You know, I think I've finished my marketing program for good," you would be on a short track to business failure.
The same goes for search engine optimization. It's never done. You will never truly "finish" or "complete" an SEO program. It's a perpetual strategy, wherein you are always publishing new content, engaging more visitors, and acquiring new links.
Granted, you may be able to implement the basic components of an SEO program in a week or so. You can create a well structured website or blog. You can develop a list of keywords and topic ideas for your content. You can start publishing content onto your site. And you can begin promoting your content to attract new visitors and links. But those last two items can (and should) be done indefinitely. How long it will take to see results will depend on the list of questions we covered earlier.

Briefly: How Search Engines Rank Websites

In order to understand how long SEO takes, you'll also need a basic grasp of search engine algorithms. These are the computerized formulas they use to evaluate and rank websites. Granted, much of this is information is proprietary -- trade secrets and all. But there is also a lot that we do know. And you must embrace this knowledge if you want to succeed with your SEO program.
Search engine ranking algorithms have evolved constantly over the years. And they will continue to evolve, in order to keep up with the exponential growth of the Internet. Today, the major search engines (Google and Bing) use four key factors when ranking websites.
  1. They use the relevance of the content, in relation to the user's search query. How closely does this page or website match the user's search?
  2. They use the link popularity of the website. How many, and what kinds, of other websites are linking to it?
  3. They look at "usage rates" to determine how people behave on the site. Do most people stick around for a while? Or do they bail five seconds after landing on the site? Does this website retain and engage its visitors?
  4. Lastly (and more recently) they use "social signals" gleaned from the world of social media. How often does this site get mentioned, cited and linked to from Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Is the website socially engaged, or on a virtual island by itself?
There are many more variables and ranking factors, aside from those listed above. But from a strategic perspective, they all come down to one thing. Content. You must offer plenty of high-quality content through your website or blog. You must provide better content than your competitors. You must do a better job engaging your website visitors.
In the context of this discussion, "content" can mean many things. It might refer to a library of articles and tutorials you have on your website. It might refer to some kind of web-based tools or resources. It might even be user-generated content, the kind you find on forums, blog networks and social-networking sites. Whatever form it takes, it must be better (fresher, more plentiful, more useful, more accurate, more in-depth) than what your competitors are currently offering. This is the key to long-term success in search engine optimization.
So if you ask me how long SEO takes, I'll answer your question with another question: How long will it take for you to create this kind of content?

Have Questions About This Topic?

I recently added some Q&A forums to this website! So if you have any questions about this topic, or anything else relating to SEO and Internet marketing in general, be sure to visit the forums. You can post a question in one of several categories -- SEO, pay-per-click marketing, blogging and social media, to name a few. I will do my best to answer your questions in a timely fashion. Best of all, it's totally free to join. last

By: Brandon Cornett
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