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How Long Does SEO Take to Get Results?

We’re getting used to getting everything we want right away. Same day Amazon shipping and binge-watchable prestige series on your streaming platform of choice prime us to want it all and want it now.

Everything from social media algorithms turning people into viral stars overnight to generative AI tools for content creation makes it all too easy to expect maximum results, right away, with minimal time and labor investments.

As a result, it’s easy to get discouraged by digital marketing when immediate results don’t turn everything around and open the floodgates to new organic traffic, new qualified leads, and a rush of new business. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one example of something that takes time to bear fruit.

While you can start to see improvements in your rankings and corresponding marketing payoffs within months, the maximum benefits of SEO can actually take years to emerge!

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Apple orchards don’t grow overnight. And as Eddie Cantor famously said, “It takes twenty years to make an overnight success.” Now, SEO doesn’t take 20 years to do, but it is a longer-term project. In this blog, let’s take a look at the effects SEO has on your website if you stick with it and be patient.

Exploring SEO in the Long Term

Recently, digital marketing guru Neil Patel had the same question as us—and decided to do some investigating. He found the most dramatic increases in organic website traffic tended to occur two years into a long-term SEO strategy, and three or four years in, websites that stuck to long-term SEO still tended to see more growth in SEO traffic than they did in their first six to twelve months.

Neil’s data shows that the full benefits of SEO come when you treat it like a marathon, not a four-minute mile. Our own experiences agree—we’ve seen huge leaps in site rankings, organic traffic, and qualified leads coming to our clients after six to twelve months of dedicated SEO work, but it’s the coming years that bring in the biggest benefits.

What does a long-term SEO strategy look like?

Let’s take a look at an example of a long-term SEO strategy and see what continuous SEO optimization involves to create those third-year and fourth-year gains Neil’s data shows:

Year 1: Laying the Groundwork and Getting Traction

In the first few months, you’ll be doing everything you expect from an SEO campaign—doing your initial keyword research, optimizing your website for search engine performance, creating keyword-rich content, writing blog posts (like this one) and building links. You will see some movement in the first few months for less competitive terms, but the real results come in the second year.

Year 2: Tracking Results, Growing Keywords and Expanding Your Reach

In the second year, you’ll use the work you did in the first as a foundation for your continued growth. You’ll diversify the content on your website to reach new audiences, explore and build links in other niches in your industry, and keep working to optimize your User Experience (UX). Your traffic will continue to grow and you will get some wins with local SEO.

Getting Local With SEO

Local search presents users with search results relevant to their physical location down to the county and city level, instead of the location-agnostic search we’re more used to. Once a business has its SEO fundamentals down pat, it’s time for it to claim this oft-unacknowledged territory for itself through local SEO.

When a business neglects local SEO opportunities, it leaves crucial positions in local search rankings uncontested—positions their competitors can snatch up to attract potential customers in their backyard.

If your business has one or more physical locations, you want people near those locations to find you right away. Best practices for local SEO include creating landing pages on your site hyper focused on your location and targeting relevant keywords for that region, such as the ever-popular “____ near me.”

Year 3 and Beyond: Updated Strategies, Adaptation and SEO Evolution

The third year represents a complete shift from laying the foundations for an SEO-optimized brand to a mature SEO strategy based on maintaining and growing the authority and reach you’ve established. However, you never really stop growing.

In the third year, as your website gains more and more authority, you can start targeting more competitive and high-value keywords with a healthy blend of evergreen content and trend-based content.

While search engine algorithms are constantly changing, a mature website is well suited to weather these changes—though, of course, that’s no excuse for becoming complacent. The third year of your now-mature SEO strategy is about focusing on long-term metrics and staying up-to-date on the latest trends and algorithm changes so you can hold onto your hard-won gains and remain competitive.

Breaking Down Five Benefits of Long-Term SEO

Let’s take a look at just five of the benefits you’ll see if you stick with sustained, continuous SEO efforts over the course of years:

1. Significantly Improved Organic Search Rankings

SEO is all about improving organic search rankings, and that is something that only comes with time. Another essential aspect of improved organic rankings, though, is authority—and authority, too, is something that takes time to cultivate. Years into continuous SEO efforts, as content ages and earns authority, it ranks higher for targeted keywords, leading to far higher visibility and traffic.

2. Enhanced Brand Credibility and Authority

Building your credibility and authority as a trusted brand and a source of helpful information is both central to long-term SEO and a byproduct of mature SEO efforts. Continued presence at the top of SERPs enhances brand credibility and positions the business as an authority in its niche.

The more popular a keyword, the harder it is to rank in the highest search results due to intense competition from high-authority websites, and the more authority you need to compete. This is where long-term SEO comes in. You build authority slowly but surely, and after tackling progressively more competitive keywords, you’ll find yourself well-positioned to compete for the most desirable and high-traffic search results.

3. Adaptability to Algorithmic Changes

For those of us who deal with SEO every day, nothing gives us headaches quite like algorithmic updates. The search landscape can change overnight, and with it, websites can experience massive fluctuations in their rankings—and consequently, their organic search traffic.

However, after a few years of a mature and long-term SEO plan, websites have developed better insulation against these seismic changes compared to websites whose SEO efforts have yet to fully ripen. Because continuous SEO diversifies a website’s position across search results, they don’t keep all their eggs in one basket, making them better positioned to quickly adapt to search engine algorithm updates and minimizing impacts on rankings.

4. Greater Content Value

As part of a long-term SEO strategy, content can’t just be set-it-and-forget-it. Cultivating a garden requires fertile soil, and the fertile ground of SEO in the long term is evergreen content. Content created as part of a long-term SEO strategy accumulates value over time, continuing to draw traffic and generate leads years after being published.

Even content with short-term value, such as seasonal blog posts or news posts, can be used as part of a long-term SEO strategy. By continually refreshing old content with new, relevant, and helpful information, you both establish greater SEO value in your old content and establish greater authority as a trustworthy brand.

5. Better User Experience

Long-term SEO involves continuous improvement of website usability, speed, and mobile optimization, contributing to a superior UX. After all, for your SEO efforts to pay off in the long term, you need to ensure website visitors have an easy and pleasant experience using your website.

If you’ve been keeping your finger on the pulse of website usability and following best practices for UX and technical SEO as it evolves, the traffic from your SEO strategies will continue to lead to more conversions and more loyal customers.

When It Comes to SEO, Slow and Steady Wins the Race

When you start planning farther and farther into the future, you realize that many aspects of digital marketing become less of a sprint and more of a marathon. The long game takes endurance, perseverance, and most important of all, patience. Long after the people who focus on short-term gains have burned bright, burned hot, and burned out, slow and steady wins the race.

There are two ways to get to Carnegie Hall. One way is to take public transit or a rideshare to the corner of 57th Street and Seventh Avenue. The other way, which takes a lot longer but is infinitely more rewarding, is practice, practice, practice!

Long-term SEO takes a lot of work and persistence over a long time to establish your authority and bring in new customers. With over 20 years of SEO experience, the team at Intuitive Websites is here to help you elevate your online presence. Contact us today to get started.

Willow Ascenzo

Contributing author: Willow Ascenzo, one of IW’s content specialists based in southern Wisconsin. Prior to joining IW, Willow had over six years of experience crafting long-form website content for various tech startups in the Madison area.