Are you reading this blog because you’ve got a meeting with the big boss in 3 minutes and you really need to go in with something? OK, we'll help you out. When he asks, "how long does it take to improve organic search results?", here's the short answer:
Quite long, actually.
Honestly. I’d love to be able to tell you that it takes X amount of days to improve your organic search results. Alas, Google is a tricky devil and doesn’t really work like that.
Ahrefs conducted a study where they found that almost 95% of newly published pages won’t be in the top 10 search results pages within the year. Compare that with the remaining 5%, who tend to start ranking highly in organic search after around 2-6 months.
So why the huge discrepancy in time? And how do you position yourselves as that 5% who DO make it to the top?
Most importantly, how do you begin to set expectations for your boss when the answer is so bloody vague?!
In an ideal world, SEO would be a formula that we could apply across the board, spluttering out a consistent and predictable time frame for how long it will take to improve organic search. If that’s what you need, you’ll love PPC.
There's some tough love to learn about SEO. Google doesn’t care how hard you tried or how long you've been trying. Frankly, they laugh in the face of your SEO gold stars. Google only care whether you’re genuinely the best result. Are you the fastest, most informative, most popular option out there?
Spending 3,000,000 hours on SEO doesn’t necessarily align with you ranking No. 1 on Google - it depends on whether your site is a better search result for Google's users than your competitors websites are, and whether you’ve given Google enough time to notice and slowly adjust.
Those aren't straightforward things for Google to calculate, which means that estimating the effectiveness of your changes is harder still. SEO isn’t an exact science. There are so many factors that will influence your ranking! However, in our experience there are three boxes that you can roughly put yourself into to get an idea of organic ranking time frames.
1. New site for a new business
Just created a startup and in the process of building an entirely new website? It’s going to take you the longest to start ranking in organic search. You’ll most likely be looking at anything from 6 months to a year to appear for your search terms - even potentially your own brand name, which can often be assumed to be a quick ranking win.
“I’ve seen clients who are sole UK distributors of products take 4 months to rank for the product brand name in the UK” - Ste, SEO Manager at NLM
Four months for a unique brand name! See, this is where you start understanding what we mean when we say that SEO is tricky.
The variables are things like how well you’ve optimised your website, how competitive your industry is, how fast and well-structured your website is, how easy you make it for Google to crawl your content, how often you update your blog... The list goes on. And without any decent PR or links from top-dog websites, it could be even longer.
2. Replacement site for an established business
If you’re creating a replacement site for a website that is already established on the same domain, don’t just assume that Google will instantly place you back on the organic search pedestal you occupied before.
Those Google spiders are going to have to recrawl your brand-spanking new website to figure out if it’s as valuable as your old one, and this inevitably will take some time. Ensure you set up lots of page-to-page 301 redirects (NB: this blog is old and while accurate in its description of 301 redirects, you should probably check the code examples before applying them to your website) from the old pages so the spiders know that the page they used to love is still there, it just lives in a slightly different place.
Often this disruption will cause the site to have a little wobble in terms of organic traffic and visibility. Gary Illyes from Google has said that it's a good idea to change one thing at a time and let the 'dust settle' for a month or two when making big site changes. For example, don't move your site over to HTTPS at the same time as launching a rebuild. If you can avoid changing all your URLs at the same time, that's good too. According to Gary, it's best to do it in stages. By updating the design and then updating the content after, you’ll avoid those sudden fundamental changes that can cause dips in organic traffic. Hopefully.
3. New content on an existing website
Your organic results for any new content that you’re creating will depend very much on how much Google currently trusts your website in general..
If you’re pretty well-respected in your industry and are already ranking for your chosen search terms, then a new piece of content can start ranking in as quickly as an hour - but in most cases we’d expect it to be a few days. Thankfully you can push this along by asking Google to recrawl your new content so that you don’t have to wait for them to find it themselves.
Don’t forget that this does all depend on how well that particular piece of content has been optimised. If you bashed it out in 17 minutes flat because you’d fallen behind on your publishing schedule, then unless you can conduct some kind of black magic content wizardry (erm, call me) it’s probably not gonna be that great.
“Even if you’re putting up volumes of great content each month (think 60-70 really good articles in 4 months), you might not really see an uplift in traffic at first. Keep at it though, and 12 months down the line, the snowball keeps getting bigger despite having the odd slow month.” - Ste, Resident SEO Master of NLM
Depending on which of the three options above you fall into, you’ll see very different time frames. While your boss may not be thrilled at the idea of potentially waiting for a year before seeing the effects on your organic ranking, if you wave this blog in their face they should see that you’re not just saying that because you’re hoping to take it easy for a year (unless of course that is your game, in which case SHAME ON YOU).
As ambiguous as all this sounds, it is possible to improve your organic search results and get recognised by Google (or Bing, of course, let’s not discriminate). The important thing to remember is that where you appear in the SERPs is ONLY affected by how good of a result your website is (compared to everyone else):
“A good website really understands its audience and has excellent content to address those problems, It looks beautiful and loads quickly, as well as having a great user experience and being widely cited by other websites online. There will be structured data to tell machines key pieces of information, and have a high click through rate thanks to helpful meta descriptions.” - Ste, You Know The Drill By Now
Now before panic sets in, check out the SEO guide below! Once you’ve read through that you’ll know how to implement solid SEO foundations into your website and start seeing results (then maybe ask your boss for a pay rise now that you’re an SEO whizzkid).