Anybody working in the SEO realm – whether that’s as a technical SEO, a content marketer, a link builder, or all the above – gets asked this question on a regular basis.

The answer, much to the despair of their SEO clients, is this: it depends.

In my experience, there are three major factors that will influence the speed at which your campaign develops.

#1: How technical you’re willing to get

It’s no use generating masses of optimised content and paying for high authority backlinks if your website isn’t technically sound.

By this, I mean that your platform needs to be:

• Fast

• Mobile-responsive

• Easy to navigate

• Easy to read

• As clean as possible from a coding perspective.

Google’s search engine crawlers are increasingly valuing great UX. Websites that provide a brilliant experience to users are far more likely to achieve first-page ranking positions, while those that consistently experience low dwell time and high bounce rates will struggle to gain organic visibility. This is largely because Rankbrain – a form of machine learning used by Google to process web-wide data – uses these kinds of metrics to determine whether a web page is ticking the right boxes when it comes to usability. If it looks as though users are enjoying the content of the page, it will tend to rank well. If it seems as though users are being ‘turned off’ the page, Google will assume it’s not worthy of better exposure.

You must also make sure that the content, metadata and other key elements on your pages adhere to best SEO practices. At a very basic level, you need to:

• Develop unique meta titles and descriptions that give the search engines an accurate idea of what your content is about

• Add enough content to each page to ensure the topic is clear

• Add descriptive alt tags to important images

…And that’s without assessing your robots.txt files, generating accurate XML sitemaps, ironing out all your canonical URLs and adding Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs).

Sounds full-on, doesn’t it? It is. Technical SEO takes time, patience and stamina. But it’s an absolutely crucial part of the optimisation process that cannot be overlooked.

#2: How much you’re willing to invest in the process

SEO isn’t cheap, I’m afraid.

It’s getting harder to game the system, which means SEO consultants are constantly having to come up with creative ways to help their clients outrank their competitors. It doesn’t help that Google and the other major search engines are constantly changing the goalposts by introducing endless new rules and features that dictate our optimisation practices. All these combined means that you’ll need to provide your SEO agency with a healthy budget in order to generate the return on investment you need.

It’s not just money that makes the difference, though. It takes time to get any campaign off the ground, and you, as the business owner, must work closely with your chosen SEO provider to ensure they have everything they need to do their job well.

You’ll typically need to:

• Dig out any examples of previous SEO work that’s been carried out onsite and offsite

• Provide keyword ideas that will form the foundations of your keyword targeting strategy

• Work with your provider to set the right KPIs for the campaign

• Provide ideas, feedback and soundbites for content

The bottom line is, you’ll generate results much faster if you’re prepared to get stuck in.

#3: How consistent you are with your search engine marketing output

Some business owners will pull the plug on their SEO campaign after a few months because they’re not seeing an ROI straightaway. Others will start the process with gusto, then let their SEO activity slip after a few weeks because they need to focus on other areas of the business.

The key to SEO success is to stick with it.

Keep creating content regularly; keep building those backlinks; keep assessing and tweaking your website to ensure it’s delivering the best possible experience to your customers.

Develop a plan of action with clear milestones and make it a priority to ensure tasks are completed on time and within budget. If it helps, assign these responsibilities to a member of staff who has a basic understanding of SEO and who can be accountable for liaising with your SEO provider to make sure things get done.

Other factors that might slow down your SEO progress include:

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• The competitiveness of your niche. Up against a series of big players? It’ll take longer to outrank them.

• The age of your domain. Just launched your website? It’ll take a while for Google to learn to trust it.

• The SEO activity that’s been carried out to date. Invested in poor SEO practices in the past? It could take several months to put things right!

If you take all these points into consideration, how long should it take to start seeing improvements in your organic rankings?

Most SEO experts will tell you that you need to stick with an SEO campaign for at least 6 months.

It takes this long to start generating tangible results, whether that’s in the form of increased traffic, better search positions, or more enquiries or sales. Bear in mind that this ballpark timeframe doesn’t usually include the initial research and discovery phase of the project, which will involve carrying out a website audit, researching a winning keyword strategy, and assessing the quality and impact of the SEO work that’s gone before. These processes can take one or two months, depending on how quickly you can provide your SEO consultant with the information they need (see #2).

Assess, invest, and make SEO a priority. Follow this formula, and you’ll fast-track results.

About the Author

Danielle Haley is the founder of Indy Consultancy Ltd, a content development agency that specialises in creating SEO-friendly copy for websites. Before deciding to focus purely on content creation for businesses, Danielle was co-director of a search engine marketing agency and was responsible for managing a wide variety of client SEO campaigns.