Any business creating a digital footprint knows just how crucial search engine optimization is to their online marketing efforts. It’s a proven strategy to boost your brand’s visibility on search results, as well as encourage you to establish your site’s authority and credibility to consumers.
Tons of articles have been published rounding up the best SEO practices and most creative tactics that will ensure you can reap the benefits of SEO. However, the debate remains as to how long you’ll see results after putting in your efforts. Is there a definite answer to this.
The truth is, it depends. It may be frustrating to hear this, as digital marketers live in a fast-paced bubble where instant ROIs and improvements are expected, but there is no correct answer.
There’s also the fact that “results” can mean differently to different SEO practitioners. One could be expecting higher rankings in SERPs, while another could want more organic search traffic. While they may be different, these factors are closely linked, and they will perhaps start to show improvement at different timelines.
There’s no one real answer as to how long SEO takes, but it’s well worth your time to familiarize yourself with the process so you can manage your expectations and gauge the trajectory of your results.
How Search Engines Rank Pages
Search engines like Google and Bing work hard to rank different web pages as accurately as possible properly. This helps users find the most relevant websites that will answer their search queries and reward webmasters who put in the work to make their sites helpful to their readers.
Here’s how they do it.
Step 1: Classify
First things first: search engines classify the search terms entered by a user. This helps them in identifying the information it needs to execute the rest of the steps in page ranking. Before that, they used to rely mainly on keyword volume despite some websites not having proper tags or labels. Some examples of classifications a search engine would give are YMYL, local, unseen, adult, and question.
There is currently no catalog of classifications available for SEO practitioners to see or infer what kind of category a specific search term would fall into, but it is known that this step starts up the whole ranking process.
Step 2: Context
The next step is discovering user intent and your historical, environmental, and geographical factors that influence that query. After considering the category of the search terms entered, they now have to find the relevant information related to that query. Some examples of these data are:
- The user’s location
- The current time
- Identifying whether or not the query is a question
- The device used to enter the query
- The format used to perform the query (typed, voice, etc.)
- Whether the query relates to previous items searched or not
- Whether the question has been asked before or not
Step 3: Weights
Before an engine can determine what pages should rank, they need to figure out which signals are most important to the query. This is where RankBrain enters the picture. RankBrain is part of Google’s core algorithm which helps the search engine determine the most relevant results to a search query.
With the query classification and context at play, the search engine’s algorithm can now understand which relevancy signals have the most weight in influencing the results. For instance, if you were to type a time-sensitive topic such as breaking news in politics, freshness would be a critical factor vs. a general search about home gardening tips.
Step 4: Layout
A few years ago, Google SERPs were pretty straightforward, showing the first ten links to the query entered. It slowly evolved to become a bit more interactive, highlighting the essential information on the page. These additional data points evolved into what we now know as schema markup.
For instance, there could be a short bio page for a celebrity or prominent historical event at the top righthand corner of the page. Google could also display related videos to the topic, breaking news, or other search queries that are relevant to what was initially entered. If you type a search term for an item you intend to buy, then you will see carousels with prices linking to online shops that sell the product. Not all queries will garner the same SERP layout.
Step 5: Ranking
Finally, the search engine can begin ranking. After gathering all the important information such as classification, user intent, relevancy signals, and layout, it can arrange the pages in the order that would most likely satisfy the user. This is actually the “easy” part for search engines—it’s gathering the rest of the information above that takes time and work for it to process.
Videos, developing stories, and other information related to a query may change any time, and so that requires constant updates that can affect the presentation of the SERP of the search query entered.
What Does SEO Speed Depend On?
Since the length of time it usually takes for SEO to produce tangible results is in a range (2 to 12 months), most digital marketers would still likely gun for the shortest time possible in this timeframe. There are plenty of factors that can speed up or slow down your SEO efforts.
It should go without saying that the rate of difficulty increases in an industry where there are a lot of competitors. There’s always a possibility that your competitors have been doing SEO longer than you have, and the results will show—so it could take a while to dethrone them from the number one spot on SERPs. This is also a huge factor why competitor analysis is essential before starting your SEO strategy. It’s good to be clued in with what your industry rivals are doing and to spot the holes in their campaigns which you can do better.
It’s no surprise that links have a huge role in SEO, as these are trust signals for search engines to decipher if your website is a credible reference that other sites refer to. However, it’s not all about quantity here, but quality.
A high volume of low-ranking webpages that link to your site won’t guarantee a high ranking—the opposite is true. These links could hurt your web reputation and slow down your SEO progress too. By focusing on sites that have higher domain authority, you can maintain the quality of your backlinks and attain your SEO goals faster.
Lastly, there’s also the topic of how fast you get those inbound links. Search engines would find it quite dubious if you suddenly acquire a considerable amount of high-quality links all at once. This could indicate black hat SEO techniques and could cause your site to get penalized—something potentially challenging to recover from.
Search engines love high-quality content. This has some indicating factors, such as word count, internal links, external links, format, and more. However, there’s no need to spew out 10,000-word articles on the regular. Google has become smarter in identifying the types of content that answer a person’s search query.
There’s also the factor of how regularly you publish your content. Some people have thought that the key to content publishing is to do it as often as possible—but this theory has been debunked. As long as you have great content that’s worth discussing, highly relevant, and helpful to your target audience’s problem, then there’s no reason for volume to trump quality and relevance.
The effectivity of your SEO efforts also lies on what your website looks like:
- Is your text readable?
- Do the pages load quickly?
- Are the URLs short and related to the page’s topic?
These factors matter when it comes to the speed of SEO. Your website architecture tells Google how much effort you put into your website and how much you care about your users by giving them a great browsing experience.
Having an architecturally-sound website also helps Google crawl your webpages for information more easily. They don’t have to crawl through too much text, code, or too many URLs to identify which data is pertinent to your site. Keep in mind that Google also now prioritizes mobile-friendly webpages versus those that are not optimized.
Unfortunately, even if you believe that your website is the answer to the information that’s lacking in your industry, you might find it difficult to rank for the first six months since your website has gone live. This is because Google considers sites that are less than six months of age as a “new website.”
Search engines tend to favor old websites since they’re more established and less likely to spew out non-factual information that could hurt their reputation. However, that shouldn’t stop you from putting in the work for your new website. As long as search engines see consistency in your efforts, you will be rewarded faster—especially after passing the six-month mark.
Google Takes a While to Index Pages
Building upon the discussion about website age, it’s also important to consider that it takes a while for Google to index new websites and pages. The current estimate is around four days to four weeks. However, the exact amount of time will again vary. Google always uses its private algorithms for their actions, so it’s quite tricky to give a definite answer to this process.
Here’s how Google indexes pages:
- Crawling begins with a list of websites from past crawls and sitemaps provided by webmasters. This job is done by the Googlebot, an algorithm-equipped web-crawling digital robot tasked to discover new and updated web pages to be added to the Google index.
- As the bot visits each new site, it detects links on that page and adds them to its list of pages to crawl as well. It pays attention to new websites, updates to existing web pages, and dead links.
- Once it starts crawling the site, it reads the information on the page according to the instructions outlined in the site’s robots.txt file. After Googlebot finishes reading the text and following the links they discovered on the page, it begins the process of indexing the webpage.
- The data and content which the bot read are sent back to Google’s servers and added to its vast database. They take note of key signals such as keywords and website freshness, all of which are tracked in the Search Index.
- The information collected in the database is then fed to programs that keep track of which sites should be crawled, how often bots should visit them, and the number of pages to fetch.
The Google Search Index is the web’s library with hundreds of billions of webpages in its fortress. It’s the index at the back of reference books. As content and links are published every minute of the day, it could take a while for Google to crawl each individual site and add them to their index.
There’s no current strategy to follow to make Google index your page faster. However, it’s worthy to point out that the speed at which Google can index your site will depend on the same criteria that you should look into when auditing your website for SEO: content, website architecture and responsiveness, inbound links, etc.
SEO is Worth It
Although it seems like SEO is a challenging process with no immediate rewards, don’t give up—it’s worth it! While it’s not the fastest channel in terms of results, it’s one of the most important tactics you should implement if you want to hit your long-term goals. A good rule of thumb would probably to check back on your progress around the sixth to twelfth-month mark and see if there are any other tactics you can incorporate or if you should re-evaluate current practices.
If you noticed, the common thread among all the topics discussed is to build an authoritative and helpful website. You can accomplish this by producing great content, establishing credibility through inbound links, and creating a superb user experience for your visitors. The heart of SEO directly lies there, as unbelievably simple as that sounds.
Another thing you shouldn’t forget is that SEO is a process. You will need to update your tactics, maintain your website, and continually scout your playing field to stay on top of the game. It’s important not to get complacent as a lot of companies regularly take their shot at SEO and also expect results.
Make sure you’re always working to secure or maintain that top spot!
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