How Long Does SEO Take To Work & Why Does It Take So Long?

On a daily basis I get asked this question more than any other “How long will it take to get ranked #1 for my keywords?”. It’s a question many frustrated business owners have asked again and again but unfortunately the answer isn’t so simple, frankly it’s also a little misguided.

When someone comes to me and says “I want to be #1 for such and such keyword,” I know they’re stuck in a paradigm and are failing to see the big picture. You see, once upon a time you could simply choose 5 – 10 ‘golden’ keywords and with minimal effort you could target them to become the major source of traffic to your website.

It was literally like turning on a tap, one day you had zero visitors and the next day you’d have one hundred.

Fast forward to modern day SEO and these golden keywords rarely exist, they’re a unicorn.


To be honest if you’re only focusing on a small group of generic keywords you’re probably not being found by the majority of the people who are searching for you.  You see everybody searches a little differently, some will use short form such as “service + location” while others prefer to use natural language and ask questions (long tail keywords), that’s likely the way you found this article.

70% of all keywords searched for are in the long tail and only 18.5% of searches are in the higher competition short form keywords. So you see, SEO has become so much more than ranking for a dozen or so terms.

The Question You Should Be Asking

The thing you really want from your SEO campaign is leads and sales, not rankings. Instead the question you should be asking is “How long will it take for SEO to start generating leads and sales?”. Rankings are the output of quality SEO but they should never be the metric to determine sucess.

Learn why rankings are a poor metric for success.

Leads and sales is something that can be improved overnight, it could be as simple as converting your current traffic at a higher rate. Receiving more enquiries translates directly with your business growth goals and that’s when you can clearly see the impact.

If you’re purely focused on rankings and traffic then you could be missing critical information.

Here is an interesting example of a client we worked with who actually saw their traffic temporarily trend down, due to the removal of spam referrals, but saw a significant increase in leads and sales within the first 3 months and even more now 8 months into their campaign.

Traffic trending down


Conversions trending up


As you can see from the above example within a 5 month period the number of leads generated per month was considerably higher.  See the case study and learn how we increased customer leads by over 292% in just 6 months.

How Long Does It Take to Work?

So how long does it take to start generate leads and sales? Well, again…that depends.

It depends because of a variety of reasons and the first being that no two businesses or websites are ever the same. It can depend on how long your website has been around, what SEO has been done so far and what was the quality of such SEO? Is the website in good shape, is there significant content, does it have a strong link profile and has it been built with a conversion focused and strong call to action?

Does the market want a product like yours?

Most SEO agencies will recommend a minimum of 4 – 6 months before you start to see results. Remember that SEO typically has an exponential growth profile and can start slowly. This period of time should be enough to see an upwards trend however you might need to be 12 months before you see the full impact.

Let me try to break down the SEO process and the type of work that is completed each month in an ongoing SEO campaign.

Phase 1 – SEO Audit & Research

The first stage of your campaign begins with a site audit including the initial tasks of account setup and competitor research. In this phase we want to understand your business requirements, identify target keywords and set your initial goals and objectives.

We’ll complete a review of your competition so we can identify how you’re positioned in the marketplace and the overall level of competition. As part of that we’ll also be conducting an SEO audit of your website and identifying any technical onsite or offsite issues that may be preventing your site from performing.

Estimated time: 10 – 15 hours, depending on the size of your site. In most cases this takes up the majority of your first month.

Phase 2 – Technical SEO & Onsite Optimisation

In phase 2 we begin the hands on technical SEO work by addressing the findings of the SEO audit. In some cases the website may need to be overhauled or redesigned to be conversion focused and this can take a significant amount of time. In the majority of cases however we work on things such as:

  • Improving site structure and content organisation.
  • Improve copy adding relevance to a variety of searches.
  • Improving copy to increase trust and develop preference.
  • Optimising Meta data (title, meta description, header tags etc).
  • Improving site speed.
  • Building out local landing pages.
  • Ensuring your website is responsive.
  • Leveraging keyword and competitor research.

How long does phase 2 take?

This phase may take anywhere between 1 – 2 months depending upon –

  • How much corrective work your site requires
  • How aggressive you wish to be with geo targeting regions/suburbs (Local SEO)
  • How easy your website CMS is to work with

If your website has seen the result of prior poor quality SEO services then expect to be in this phase for longer than expected.

Estimated time: 15 – 45 hours, depending on the size of your site. In most cases this takes up the majority of your 2nd and 3rd month.

Phase 3 – Offpage Optimisation & Local SEO

The offpage optimisation process is one of, or if not, the biggest contributing factors towards the improvement of your site within the search results. Moz even went so far as to highlight that “Optimizing your local business listings like Google+ Local, Bing Places, and Yelp is one of the most time-effective and cost-effective digital marketing opportunities for local businesses.

In phase 3 we begin to work on the offpage elements of SEO that build authority. We work on things such as:

  • Submission to credible business directories such as (Truelocal, Flying Solo, Yelp, Hot frog etc)
  • Submission of your site to Google+ My Business, Bing Places.
  • Update any outdated local listings.
  • Reverse engineering competitor link profiles and reviewing for opportunities.
  • Using search engine queries to identify link and content opportunities.
  • Guest blogging on relevant websites and major Australia business websites.
  • PR using sites like
  • Listing your business in high quality and industry relevant directories.
  • Using outreach to build relationships and links back to your content.
  • Disavowing low quality links.

How long does phase 3 take?

This phase is the most time intensive and many items are recurring from this point onwards.

Estimated time: 10 – 15 hours per month at a minimum. In most cases this will begin at somewhere between month 3 – 4 of your campaign.

Phase 4 – Content Marketing

Content is extremely important, and vital to the success of your campaign. Content marketing ties in heavily with outreach and offpage optimisation. Without content, it’s incredibly hard to earn the types of links that will confer domain authority & rankings in search engines.

Content also increases your relevance to more searches and is the core strategy for targeting natural language searches (long tail keywords). Adding content to your site is a great way to attract your ideal customer and a very effective strategy for building your traffic too.

How long does phase 4 take?

This phase is ongoing throughout the duration of your campaign. You should continue this process regardless, even once you’ve stopped working with an SEO agency.

Estimated time: As much as you can you can spare or your budget can afford. This phase isn’t about doing the bare minimum it’s about doing as much as you can while sustaining quality.

How Do I Speed Up My SEO Results?

If you want results faster than you need more time or more money or a combination of the two.

As a business owner if you don’t have the time, and most business owners don’t,  it means that you’ll need to buy more of it from your SEO agency. The more time that can be spent on your SEO campaign the faster results can be achieved.

Remember that even though you might be investing in a monthly SEO package what you’re actually being provided is a fixed hour of time. While your campaign might go for 3 months in reality you’ve only received 30 hours of work which is very little when building a profitable online business.

Doing some of it yourself

Some businesses want to do their own content, I encourage it, but typically I’m met with excuses about “not having enough time”. At the start of any campaign it should be agreed on who will be the responsible party for creating the content.

The benefit of you doing it is that it will include your industry experience and advice which is vital for creating valuable content. It also means that more of your agency hours can be spent on your outreach and link building.

Having someone do it all for you

However if you choose a hands off approach and want to speed up results then consider purchasing more time so that more content can be produced without compromising on hours assigned to link building. Both link building and content can be a heavy investment of time.

Stopping Too Soon Because of Unrealistic Expectations

Most businesses underestimate how much time and money it takes to have a successful online business using SEO. Successful campaigns aren’t built overnight and results can be slow in the first 3 months.

We live in a world where we’re use to instantaneous gratification and it’s making us all impatient. For entrepreneurs and small business owners, every dollar counts – and investments need to pay off almost in real-time providing immediate marketing ROI.

What this means is that for new businesses that are unable to commit to 6 – 12 months of ongoing SEO is often not a great fit.

I’ve known many businesses who start their campaign full of motivation, blogging every week, but then quit after 2 to 3 months only to say “we aren’t seeing any results”. If that’s the case it often means that the business either as a) unrealistic expectations or b) unrealistic budgets. If you can’t budget for 6 – 12 months of SEO then you might be better off investing in AdWords which can provide results much sooner.

If you’re an Australian business targeting National terms for major capital cities then expect a minimum of 6 months and 15 hours per month would be a bare minimum for most.

Businesses need to stop thinking 1 -3 month ahead and instead put a strategy in place to be an online leader in their industry in 3 – 5 years time with the right long-term  SEO strategy.

A real life example of how long SEO takes to see results

The best way to see how long an SEO campaign can take is to show you. These results are for a national Australian brand operating in the competitive industry of debt collection. It took over 8 months to reach the #1 spot on a number of key terms but fortunately  within 3 months conversions had already increased significantly.

Note the drop in March is due to an unfinished Month at the time of writing.


At the end of the day, no one has control over Google or any other search engine. We have the ability to influence the results but we can’t control them. If you follow the process you’ll undoubtedly see results, if you stick long term then the results could transform your business.

If you don’t have the time then you’ll need to invest with a long-term budget. If you don’t have the budget then consider SEO training and investing heavily with your time.

Stop thinking about the short-term and consider where you want your business to be in 5 years time, I can tell you right now that you’ll either be a) struggling with the same issues you are now or b) you’ll be an authority in your industry because were commited and consistent to your long term strategy. Which one will you be?

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