How Long Does SEO Take?

hy does SEO take so long?

That's a common question we get. In this article we'll show you the major reasons SEO might take longer and what you can do about it.

We'll also show you how to really quickly get a read on how long it'll take to get ranked.

How long does SEO usually take

The typical range you'll see quoted is 4-6 months, but we've ranked sites in 3 days and we've seen it take more than 2 years. There are a few major reasons why, so let's explore those.

Major SEO factors

You can do everything exactly right in SEO and still have it take 2+ years to get any traction. Google algorithms consider a ton of factors in determining where you rank, but outside of major technical issues, only a handful will really make a huge impact on how long it takes to get ranked.

These are all relative to the competition, and they may vary depending on the keyword you're going after.

  1. Content to meet intent
  2. Brand awareness
  3. E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness)
  4. Backlinks

If you understand how you rate on these 4 items compared with your competition, you can get a very rough estimate of how long it'll take to get ranked for your target keywords.

So let's talk about each one...

1. Do you have content that meets search intent?

In order to rank for any keyword you need to have content that meets the needs of the people searching that keyword; in other words, it meets their "intent."

By intent we mean whatever goal they had in mind when they searched that keyword in the first place.

So if I search "polarized sunglasses," I could be looking do some or all of these things:

  • I might want to buy polarized sunglasses.
  • If I want to buy them, I might want to buy them online or I might want to visit a store locally.
  • I might want to learn about polarized sunglasses (what are they, how much are they, what is polarization, etc).
  • Some combination of these.

So if you want to rank for "polarized sunglasses," you need to figure out what you think most people want when they search that term and then figure out a way to create page content that gives them that.

If you do this well, it influences how people interact with your content, and that will signal to Google that it should rank higher.

And since all of SEO is relative to the ranking competition, all other factors being equal, you need to meet intent better than what's already ranking.

2. Compare your brand awareness to the ranking competition

How well known are you compared to the competition ranking for your target keyword? Brands influence user behavior, which influence rankings, and bigger brands have an advantage here.

When considering awareness of you vs. the competition, keep in mind that your SEO competition may not be the same as your real-world business competition. In SEO you're competing with whatever sites are already ranking for your target keywords, and those sites are often not all the same as your real-world competition.

3. Do you have E-A-T on the topic?

EAT is an acronym Google came up with for their quality rater guidelines. EAT stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.

This is basically about you and your expertise and credibility on your content topics.

So let's say you're a bank. As a bank, you probably don't have expertise on plumbing. And because of that, you'll rank pretty low on the Expertise portion of EAT if you try to publish content on plumbing.

But you might have high expertise on topics related to checking accounts.

Authoritativeness is about your position. So take some kind of teenage financial savant who has a freakishly high knowledge on financial topics. He may be an expert, but he doesn't have any authority. So that bank probably outranks the teenage financial savant on Authoritativeness.

Trustworthiness is pretty straightforward: Do we have a reason to trust what you're saying?

The implication of EAT is that it's going to be pretty tough to rank for any topics unless the you or the organization behind your website has high EAT on those topics.

Where we often see organizations with high EAT go wrong is they forget to publicize how much EAT they actually have. Take this article for example on The Gottman Institute website...

For those that don't know, John Gottman is basically the godfather of modern relationship psychology. And that's his website. But if you land on that article and you don't already know who John Gottman is, you won't know how much EAT that organization has on that topic.

If you have high EAT on a topic, make sure people who land on your website know about.

4. Backlinks

You don't really need to use backlinks to determine how long it'll take to rank in organic search, but I'm including them here because there are cases where you've done everything else right and you're still not ranking and that may be because your competition has more high quality backlinks than you do.

I'll expand on this in a future post because I strongly disagree with the common thinking on backlinks, but it's out of scope for this post.

Plus backlinks are damn near impossible to accurately evaluate for non-pros.

Backlinks can help compensate for weaknesses in other areas. So if, for whatever reason, you can't create amazing content, or you don't have the brand awareness or EAT your competition has, you can make up for that, to an extent, if you're able to build very good backlinks.

The challenge with backlinks is good ones are - pretty much by definition - hard to get.

Again, a topic for another post.

Calculate your rank time score

Ok, so now that we've covered the major factors influencing SEO, here's how to get a really rough picture of how long it'll take to get ranked:

First, search your target keyword in Google.

Second, estimate on a scale of 1-3 where you are compared to the ranking sites in terms of brand awareness. So if you're bigger than all or most of the ranking sites you get a 3, if you're the underdog, you get a 1.

Third, rank your EAT on the topic against the ranking competition. Again, 1 is low, 3 is high.

Plug those numbers into this calculator (copy the spreadsheet at this link if you can't edit the below embed):

John Crenshaw
John Crenshaw
UFO company founder. 15+ years experience in performance marketing.
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