In this article, I’m diving into the details to show you when you can expect your SEO to start working, what affects the waiting period, and what you can do to speed things up.
Let’s take a look!
On average, it’ll take 3-6 months to start seeing the first SEO results for a new website. These will be trickle-in results, as your rankings will improve, so you can really validate the full extent of your SEO ROI after 12-24 months. The definitive answer depends on your website and tactics.
When Ahrefs polled their SEOs, most said that SEO starts working within 3-6 months.
However, Morningscore’s research underlined that you’d see the real results after 12-24 months – if you implement the right tactics.
And this leads me to my next point…
SEO isn’t a one-off affair. Most beginners to SEO perform keyword research, publish their content, and “let Google do its thing.”
Unfortunately, that’s not how things work. First, there’s the prep work (not too hard, but everyone loves cutting corners) and your goals.
Then, when the content is live, you have to monitor your SEO – manually in Google Search Console or with a weekly auditing tool like SiteGuru – to ensure your pages are getting crawled and indexed, and that there aren’t any mission-critical errors.
Suppose there are two websites.
Website A is new to the topic, they purchased their domain yesterday, and they’re getting started with SEO. It takes 3 months for them to start getting 1k+ organic visits daily.
Website B, on the other hand, also recently launched its SEO strategy, but they’ve been online for years. Their owner hadn’t done SEO before and instead focused on paid ads and social media. They start seeing visits pour in after 1 month
Why was website B more successful than website A?
Because they already have history. Google is familiar with their entity, and so is the audience. Similarly, they’ve probably received social mentions and backlinks – even if they didn’t actively seek them out.
Again, let’s imagine two websites starting their SEO efforts. Website A is in the fintech space, which is very competitive. Website B is in a nascent niche (let’s imagine automated teddy bears), and they’re one of the first to cover the topics.
Website A is trying to swim into the waters full of high-authority websites like BankRate, Revolut, and others. They’ve had years to establish their authority. Once website A decides to compete with them, it will take a while to climb the rankings.
Website B, on the other hand, is one of the few websites operating in this little new niche. When they post something, Google will rank it much higher because there’s not a lot of competition.
So you can think of SEO competition in two ways: the ranking websites’ authorities and the pool Google has to pick the results from.
The smaller the pool, the easier it will be for your website to dominate!
(Of course, don’t get discouraged. Even if you’re a new website in a competitive niche, there are ways to do SEO right and see results faster - I’ll cover them in the following sections!)
In SEO, there’s something we call the Keyword Difficulty (KD) score – how fast can your website rank for this keyword relative to the competitors already ranking for it?
For example, suppose you want to rank for the keyword “leather couch.” Your competitors will be huge websites like Amazon, Anthropologie, etc.
It might take years to reach page one.
Using Ahrefs’ free KD checker to evaluate a keyword.
Unfortunately, it’s super hard for a website with a Domain Rating lower than 91, but the neat part of the tool is that you can see the average number of backlinks you’d need to rank in the top 10!
On the other hand, you could target a keyword like “the best leather couch for dogs,” where the competition isn’t as sharp. If you target long-tail keywords like these, you’ll be able to rank within 2-3 months (as opposed to 6+ for competitive ones).
It’ll be much easier to rank for a long-tail keyword!
SERPs for really detailed queries also tend to have forums (e.g., Reddit, StackOverflow) ranking for them, so it’ll be easier for you to outrank them – as opposed to topics and queries where big websites like Forbes cover the subject in depth.
I typically use LowFruits to find keywords where forums (blue apple icons) rank on the first page.
Technical SEO errors can also affect the period it takes for SEO to work, including:
- Crawling and indexing rate (and errors)
- Duplicate content
- Orphaned content
- Improper internal linking structure
- Page speed, delayed loading, layout shifts, etc.
And more! So, even though it may not be at the top of your priority list, set up your technical SEO staples to receive (and keep) traffic.
Last (but not least) – your content quality matters, and so do the backlinks with which other relevant websites “vouch” for you.
Google’s goal is to answer a searcher’s query as soon as possible, and you want to be the last click on their search journey, showing that you’ve met their search intent.
If you have a high bounce rate, Google takes that to mean that you’re not providing the right answers to searchers, and they have to go back to the SERP to find other pages. If those pages are more successful than you, they’ll rank higher.
But you'll need to build your backlink profile to get there in the first place (especially for competitive keywords). This ties directly into creating great content, as you’ll want websites to link to you because they liked your content’s comprehensiveness, angle, or research.
Now that you understand what affects the waiting period before your SEO results kick in, it’s time to get proactive and do something about it!
Google has to get used to a new website’s posting volume; it will slowly ramp up the “crawl budget” - i.e., the rate at which it crawls and indexes your content (so it can rank it accordingly). Make sure you don’t have any incorrect robots.txt directives or indexing errors that could slow you down.
Similarly, crawling and indexing are heavily influenced by your sitemap and internal linking. Sitemaps tell Google which pages on your website to check, and internal links help its bots navigate your website from one page to another.
And since the first step in getting ranked is getting indexed, make sure you sitemaps and internal links are in tip-top shape!
You can check this in Google Search Console or by using an SEO audit tool like SiteGuru that flags issues for you.
Check your Domain Authority with a free checker like Ahrefs to see who you can compete with.
Then, create a list of target keywords and review their keyword difficulty (KD).
If your website is new or your Domain Authority is below 50, target long-tail keywords (3+ words in the query).
Big brands focus on high-volume, high-KD keywords. They want to get as many eyeballs on their content as possible, so they don’t bother with long-tail keywords that attract less traffic.
But for you, the hyper-targeted, low-volume keywords are a goldmine. They may not generate as many visits as the highly commercial keywords. Still, they provide more conversions because they can closely match the searcher's intent, allowing you to rank well by providing tailored content.
You’ll also begin to build topical authority, so you’ll be in a better position once the time comes to target more commercial keywords.
Once you start creating content, things can get confusing quickly, so use keyword clusters or topic pillars.
For example, your main topic/keyword is “couch.”
From there, you might want to break it down into sub-topics such as: “leather couch,” “velvet couch,” and “cotton couch.”
Then, you’ll use these keywords to generate your long-tail keywords and place them in the correct cluster, such as:
Couch -> Leather couch -> Eco leather couch, leather couch for pets, real leather couch
Couch -> Cotton couch -> Organic cotton couch, pure cotton couch, cotton couch maintenance
I like having a spreadsheet to keep track of everything and ensure we’re covering the right topics.
Order the topics by priority. You can use the search volume, keyword difficulty, and other parameters to know which topics to start with.
My content spreadsheet usually has the main spreadsheet with topics and the existing + to-be-added content. Then, I keep the volume data in a separate spreadsheet.
Do extensive content research (check forums like Reddit or the specialized ones in your niche to find questions your competitors haven’t answered yet), add your expertise and experience by following the E-E-A-T score best practices, and then promote it.
Yep! It’ll take a while for your organic traffic to ramp up, so the best way to get eyes on it is to share it on social media and forums.
This could attract your target audience, but the most important part is helping you build authority within your topic. Google keeps an eye on unlinked and social mentions, as well.
Plus, you can get fantastic backlinks organically!
Ultimately, creating high-quality content is all about going the extra mile.
Your competitors cut corners; there’s a lot of information out there.
It’ll be your mission to discover a new angle or form of presentation or information that hasn’t been shared yet:
You can make the content more actionable by adding comparison tables, checklists, and templates. For example, Findymail often adds comparison tables in the intros to their articles so readers can easily compare options.
Make the content more realistic (e.g., add your personal experiences or your customers’ experiences). First-hand experiences and stories are a big one for our SEO Academy, as seen in the E-E-A-T score article.
Freshen things up (e.g., share original research, new tactics, etc.) For instance, ScreenshotAPI’s article is a good example of crowd-sourcing fresh new tactics from the internal team.
And finally, try to add interactivity whenever possible. Never forget NYT’s iconic Rent-or-Buy calculator!
Knock this one out while your website is still fresh, and you’ll be in a much better position to only jump in when there are errors.
Optimize your on-page SEO to rank faster by:
- Setting up your Google Search Console and Google Analytics
- Creating and submitting a sitemap
- Choosing a suitable website structure and an internal linking structure
- Ensuring your pages can be indexed and crawled
- Setting up the correct canonical URLs
- Installing and configuring an SSL certificate
- Establishing the proper heading hierarchy
- Establishing the suitable URL parameters
- Implementing structured data
- Configuring your OpenGraph tags
Then, cover the more advanced aspects of technical SEO:
- Audit your website speed and PageSpeed Insights
- Optimize your assets
- Optimize your compression, cache, and minification policies
- Check your robots.txt file directives
- Create and configure a redirect map
- eCommerce? Set up your Product Feed
- Local business? Set up your Google Business Profile
Once you’ve set everything up, test it and keep an eye on it with SiteGuru. It’ll run weekly SEO scans of your website, and email reports with issues and to-do items.
You can jump in only when your attention is needed!
Many SEOs try to “hack” backlinks with exchange schemes, only to end up reducing their Domain Authority.
What you should do instead is focus on creating content that you can pitch as a linkable asset to relevant websites, such as:
- Original research
- Interesting perspectives
- Calculators and interactive elements
For example, Quickmail used their proprietary data to round up cold email statistics, which attracted a lot of links!
Promote your content and repurpose it for other channels.
For example, turn your in-depth post into a LinkedIn carousel, and share it with your network. We condensed our detailed technical SEO audit guide into an engaging LinkedIn carousel:
And finally – contact only the relevant websites for link insertions or guest posts.
Don’t strictly focus on websites with 80+ Domain Authority. Get backlinks from the “mom-and-pop websites,” like smaller blogs in your niche.
All this helps you build an actually healthy backlink profile, as opposed to one where it’s clear you’ve paid for every mention.
If you operate locally, you’ll want to be authoritative within your topic and area. Provide resources specific to your locale and get backlinks from local websites.
You should do a bit of PR by contacting your local publications and submitting your website to local directories.
Don’t forget to claim your Google Business Profile! Then, invite your customers to leave reviews so you can rank for other SERP features such as the Local 3 packs, Maps, etc.
Once you’ve implemented the best practices, how do you actually make sure your SEO results are picking up the pace?
Once you publish your content, make sure you monitor the Indexation Report in Google Search Console.
You’ll see quite a few coverage statuses (we wrote a full guide!), but here’s the quick run-down so you know when to worry (and when to celebrate):
- Submitted and indexed -> You’re good!
- Indexed, not submitted in sitemap -> Check your sitemap.
- Discovered - currently not indexed -> Typically, this will happen with a new website. Sometimes it takes a while. However, it could be your crawl budget, redirects, internal links or a few other causes.
- URL is unknown to Google -> Use the URL inspection tool to check.
- Crawled - currently not indexed -> This happens if Google chooses not to index your website. Typically, it can be because of low-quality content, expired products, or redirects.
- Excluded by ‘noindex’ tag -> You’ve (accidentally or on purpose) asked Google not to index this page.
- Alternate page with proper canonical tag -> Check if Google’s accidentally omitting pages you want indexed. Typically happens with duplicate pages.
- Page with redirect -> All good if the redirect is intentional!
- Duplicate, submitted URL not selected as canonical -> Google chose a different URL for your duplicate pages.
- Submitted URL marked ‘noindex’ -> Check the page for no-index tags.
- Duplicate without user-selected canonical -> You have two very similar or identical pages on your website, so you’ll need to choose a canonical URL.
- Duplicate, Google chose a different canonical than user -> Check the canonical URL. Is it really the best fit?
- Blocked by robots.txt -> Check your robots.txt file for any directives preventing Google from indexing your page.
- Indexed, though blocked by robots.txt -> Check your robots.txt if you didn’t mean to noindex this page.
- Not found (404) -> Google can’t find your page at the provided URL.
- Blocked due to access forbidden (403) -> Your website is blocking Google from indexing this URL.
- Server error (5xx) -> Your server can’t process Google’s crawl requests.
- Submitted URL seems to be a Soft 404 -> Usually happens when visitors don’t see your website, but you’re sending signals to Googlebots that it exists.
- Redirect error -> Your redirects are sending Google on an infinite loop.
- Page indexed without content -> Check that Google can “read” your page content.
All in all, you should see “Submitted and indexed” as much as possible! Noindexed pages are normal – if you don’t want Google to index them.
For the complete list of coverage statuses and fixes, check out the guide.
Once you’ve verified that your pages are crawled and indexed, keep an eye on the “Impressions” metric in Google Search Console.
You should start seeing the first impressions, showing you that you’re appearing (even if it’s initially for very low keyword positions).
Keep an eye on your rankings.
I like to use the comparison reports in Google Search Console to see the difference between the two periods.
If you use SiteGuru, you can also filter by the delta (difference) for different keyword rankings.
The next thing you’ll want to evaluate is the click-through rate (CTR) – the percentage of searchers who click on your page from the SERPS.
Again, it’s something to check in Google Search Console (or SiteGuru).
Our next step will be evaluating how people engage with our content with Google Analytics. I like to use the key two metrics as my North Star KPIs:
- Time spent on site (Is your content engaging? Is it meeting their intent?)
- Bounce rate (How many visitors leave your website without taking action?)
Always optimize for the time spent on site and reduce your bounce rate as much as possible.
Your goal is to meet the search intent fully so people spend more time on your site. This can result in conversions and definitely results in sending positive signals to search engines.
P.S. Use SiteGuru to get all your key metric changes and updated SEO to-do lists every week.
Finally, you’ll want to monitor direct conversions in Google Analytics. Set up your goals and conversion tracking, and then monitor the sales.
I also like to use the Reverse Goal Path in Google Analytics to see which pages users visit before converting. This is immensely helpful for figuring out which pages are your highest converters.
Repeat these steps periodically to see how the metrics trend up or down, or keep an eye on it with SiteGuru and get summarized insights weekly.
Ultimately, SEO takes time. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, but once you set things up correctly, the results will be more than worth it because – unlike PPC – the results compound, and they’re organic.
- Be mindful of your website history. It’ll take a while for a new website to establish itself in the niche – especially if it’s competitive.
- Focus on long-tail keywords first. Then, work your way up to the super competitive ones.
- Research the SERPs to create content that goes the extra mile.
- Do original research or create differentiated and linkable content you can pitch to get good backlinks.
- Set up your technical SEO foundations and improve your website performance.
Then, keep an eye on things (from rankings and errors to high-priority actions and optimizations) with SiteGuru.
Even if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed, SiteGuru will show you exactly what you need to do to see SEO results faster!