Google recently shared a video called “How to Hire an SEO,” where they offered tips on how to research and validate a reputable SEO company or consultant. In the video, they also shared a key insight--SEO takes time to show results. Four months to a year, by their estimate.
This timing aligns with our experience, and that of numerous other SEOs out there. And while this may be the realistic time period in which an SEO can see results, it can be a hard pill to swallow for some businesses. Four to twelve months?! 120 to 365 days?! 2,880 to 8,760 hours?! That’s a long time for any business, especially a growing online retailer that doesn’t have loads of cash to throw around.
So, why does it take so long? And is the investment worth it?
To answer the second question first: absolutely! Organic traffic is typically the largest portion of any website’s traffic sources because consumers trust organic listings more than paid advertisements. Consumers are also busy, and need to find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible, so if your site shows up above others (particularly above competitors and preferably on the first page), they’re more likely to click.
SEO is also valuable because it’s not just for search engines, it’s also for good for improving usability and user experience on your site. And when customers have a good experience, they’re more likely to purchase and come back again.
Now that we all agree SEO is worth the investment, let’s try to understand why that investment is such a long-term one. Below are X reasons SEO takes time:
1. You Can’t Fix It If You Don’t Know What’s Broke
Your mother was right--you’re unique. And so is every other site out there. Each site has different technical, structural, content, keyword and link situations that require a custom plan to address the issues and take advantage of the opportunities.
To get a true understanding of the landscape and develop a strategy for your unique site, an SEO needs to spend at least one month evaluating, researching and prioritizing.
2. [Quality] Content Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Search engine algorithms are extremely sophisticated. They can tell the difference between good quality and bad quality content based on length, word usage, reading level, in- vs. outbound links, frequency of posting and loads of other factors.
Developing high quality content--content that will provide value to your audience, establish you as an authority and pass the search engine’s sniff tests--takes skill, creativity, knowledge and, of course, time. You can’t rush quality.
3. It Needs to Seem Natural and Spikes Aren’t Natural
The search engines are wary of rapid results and massive changes. If your site gets thousands of new links in a single day, that’s suspicious and ripe for a penalty. The search engine algorithms can spot these unnatural changes, and penalize your site automatically (meaning you could be pushed down or even pushed right out of the search engine results pages (SERPs)).
The only safe way to make changes is gradually. And gradual requires time.
4. New Competitors Are Popping Up All The Time
These could be legitimate new competitors, selling the same products or services as you with a unique selling proposition. Or they could be “competitors”--any website or search feature against whom you’re vying for organic search placement.
“Competitors” could be media publications or online content providers who are writing about topics relevant to your business. They could be mom-and-pop shops or map listings, ranking in local search because they’re near the searcher. Or they could be featured answers, Shopping ads, videos, images or any number of other new search features. Currently, Moz is tracking 19 of the major search features, but there are others and Google is continually adding new ones and removing others.
These aren’t competitors in the traditional sense, but you’re absolutely competing against them for organic search placement. And it takes knowledge, experience and, you got it, time to keep up with these changing competitors.
5. Keywords Are Constantly Changing
Of the trillions of search queries entered into Google every year, 15% have never been searched before. That means there are always new opportunities for your business to gain visibility. Other things affect keyword usage too: online behaviors, news, cultural trends, language trends, seasonality.
If you pick a handful of keywords once because they describe your business and seem relevant, but you never validate with actual search query usage nor modify as things change, you’re going to miss out on a great deal of visibility for terms you might never have thought of.
6. The Search Engines Are Constantly (Constantly!) Changing
As quickly as competitors and keywords are changing, the search engines are changing even faster. Google makes changes every single day, some small some large, and they’re continually testing new layouts and designs, features and ranking factors. Keeping up with these changes and understanding if and how they impact your business requires research and testing, both of which require, you got it, time!
The days of seeing big changes from adding keywords to a page title or buying a link are long gone. As the search engines become more sophisticated each day, SEO become more complex and requires specialized knowledge and experience, and above all, time to see results.