How long does it take to see results from your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts? Even more so than in other areas of marketing, SEO often prompts questions about return on investment. And depending on your level of marketing sophistication, these questions can have a few different answers.
Think of your SEO results like you’d think about a prognosis from a doctor. Getting an accurate, definitive answer can be tough, and it can depend on a lot of factors, such as your family medical history, exercise habits and how much red meat you eat.
SEO is somewhat similar. Though most experts agree that it takes around four to six months on average to start seeing significant results from SEO, ultimately, the speed of return depends on a number of factors, from your resources to your competition. Plus, just as with doctors, the skill of your marketing team plays a major role.
Rather than asking how long it’ll take to see results, make sure to think of SEO as one part of a more holistic approach to marketing. With this in mind, here’s a list of questions you may want to ask yourself as you work to get the most from your SEO efforts.
1. How am I measuring success?
One of the biggest reasons for confusion around SEO results is the question of how to effectively measure ROI. Since desired results could be anything from increased website traffic to improved search rankings to more revenue, understanding whether your SEO strategy is working can be a multifaceted question.
One particularly common mistake is to set goals without having a big-picture view of your marketing performance. We recommend leveraging software like Semrush and HubSpot to help you set up key performance indicators (KPIs) and track how your SEO efforts are affecting everything from rankings to traffic to conversions.
Remember, SEO isn’t linear, and it’s about more than just generating direct leads. Regardless of that enticing “four to six months” number, SEO is a longer-term play. For instance, improved SEO rankings build brand recognition and credibility, which can result in higher sales down the road. So just because you’re not seeing those higher rankings translating to higher traffic doesn’t mean you need to hit the panic button right away.
All said and done, the best way to measure SEO is in terms of revenue – if you’re seeing more sales, you know you’re doing something right. Once you have a more holistic view of your performance, you can start to draw conclusions and make adjustments.
2. Am I aligning my SEO efforts with other strategies and tactics?
SEO doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it’s connected to everything you do. Though many marketers make a false distinction between SEO and other avenues of demand generation, such as paid social, the most successful approaches see SEO as supporting existing goals and aiding in the development of new ones.
You may be sick of hearing that content is king. However, given that content is one of the three main factors Google considers in its rankings, your SEO efforts need to be directly connected to your content strategy. You won’t be able to make more than a small dent in the search rankings unless you’re backing up your target keywords with valuable content that’s worth sharing and features numerous backlinks (another of those three factors) designed to keep visitors engaged.
Another way to align your SEO initiative with your larger goals is to ensure consistent communication across teams. For instance, have your marketing team or SEO specialist spend time with the sales team to determine key industry pains and buzzwords. You could even consider listening in on support calls to see if persistent issues keep coming up.
One more crucial but often overlooked aspect of aligning your SEO strategy is website optimization, also known as technical SEO. Failing to resolve a number of technical issues on your website can affect your ability to climb the search rankings. Technical SEO can refer to a wide range of issues, including:
- Crawling and indexing
- Site speed
- Duplicate content
- Unnecessary redirect chains
- 404 errors
- Non-relevant pages that are bloating the index
- And much more
Keep in mind that technical SEO is only the first step to a robust SEO strategy – it needs to be supplemented with thoughtful content generation and integrated into a holistic marketing approach. However, the good news is that fixing these issues can lead to short-term results. In some cases, you can see your search rankings improve in as little as a month.
3. Am I shooting too high?
One common hindrance to SEO strategies is not understanding your competition and where the opportunities exist. Unless you have serious money to throw around, you’re probably not going to get too far trying to rank for highly difficult terms like “MSP” or “biotech” right away.
Instead of shooting high and hoping you end up somewhere close to your goals, take a more strategic approach by seeking quick wins and overlooked opportunities. In Semrush, for instance, hitting the sweet spot involves focusing on keywords with roughly a 40-100 “keyword difficulty” score – though, as always, this depends on your budget and goals.
With that said, don’t overthink yourself into keyword obscurity. Work on ranking for straightforward intent terms first – e.g., “wholesale lawn care distributor” – before you start getting into the nitty gritty of long-tail keywords, those more granular terms that can highlight anything from particular geographic locations to specific models sold to differentiating value propositions.
While every SEO success story is different, the most effective approaches understand that results are about more than how quickly you get them. And while SEO results aren’t linear, they can be exponential. With the help of an experienced marketing team, a holistic approach and the above questions, you can start the process of building authority and generating revenue today.