Search engine optimization underpins almost every digital marketing strategy in play today, but many business owners find it elusive because it often takes time to see results.
In fact, you won’t even see the needle begin to move on traffic for 5-6 months in most cases.
But it can take 6-12 months to start seeing the real results. That’s why I’ve included 4 different projects to show you exactly how quickly traffic grows with different levels of effort. Each project contained different challenges, different levels of content investment, and different spans of time.
Here’s a summary of how they worked, if you just want the highlights.
This is what happened in each project, which explains why each project took as long as it did.
Technical SEO and 1 Post Per Week: 8 Months
This is the classic example of well-rounded SEO and content marketing driving serious website growth. Technical SEO wasn’t what drove traffic, but it lowered the price of entry into Google’s search results. Speeding up the website’s load time by 300% and solving the usual on-page technical issues
You can see an uptick in traffic in the first few months indicating that traffic saw an immediate improvement, but that’s only a blip on the radar compared to the content beginning to rank in the search results.
There’s a seasonal dip in month 7, but then traffic just skyrockets beginning in month 8. It climbs, month over month, until it reaches 40,000 visits per month. That’s the power of content marketing and SEO working together—and at an average of 1 well-crafted post per week.
Asking “how long does it take” is kind of a misleading question here because different tactics contributed to different phases of traffic growth, and they all stacked on top of each other to accrue more and more traffic.
- Technical SEO started showing results in just 2-4 months.
- Early content production showed a traffic uptick in 5-7 months.
- Traffic really started to grow in 8 months.
- Traffic grew to 40,000 monthly visits over 17 months.
Modest results happened in 2-4 months, but awesome growth took 8 months to start kicking in. That’s directly attributable to content production combined with a longtail keyword strategy. Even publishing one post a week can generate incredible traffic gains if you’re tactical and consistent.
SEO Results from 4 Posts Up Front: 6 Months
This project was limited in scope, but yielded incredible returns. Just 4 well-researched and optimized blog posts took the client’s organic traffic from single-digit figures to 3,000 visitors per month. That’s an uncommon win in modern SEO.
Two points of consideration for the skeptics out there:
- Low Domain Authority: At a domain authority of 12, there wasn’t any existing authority to skyrocket to the top of the results. This was good old-fashioned longtail keyword research in action.
- One Exceptional Post: It’s true that you’ll never know exactly how well any single piece of content will perform. I had educated guesses based on keyword data, but one post outshone the others to carry most of these traffic gains.
All 4 of the posts contributed traffic, but one of them stood out from the other 3—and that’s usually how it goes. It’s not unlike creating a diverse investment portfolio, really. You have an educated guess as to how each asset will perform, but there are external market forces at work affecting the performance of each. You won’t have concrete evidence about how those posts perform until they start performing over at least 6 months.
Without the ability to predict the future, it just makes sense to invest your time and energy into a focused but diverse group of content assets, then press the advantage with your most successful pieces.
Since there was no technical SEO involved in this project, we can attribute the growth directly to the content. Here’s what we can say:
- The first signs of traffic appeared at 4 months.
- Serious traffic growth was in full swing at 6 months.
Imagine what kind of website growth this website could have seen if the client had continued with SEO and content marketing after just that first phase of publishing.
SEO Results With Technical Work: 2 Months
Severe budget restrictions put the SEO and content work on hold with this project almost immediately, hence the long stretch of “nothing” before an abrupt uptick.
The technical SEO happened inside of 2 months before that uptick, showing quick gains of 300 visitors per month.
Some time after that, the organization agreed to invest in content at one post every 4-6 weeks. The rise in traffic isn’t quite as dramatic as it was immediately following the technical SEO, but you can still see where the website started earning organic traffic from its content.
That’s where it really started to grow its traffic. With the technical hurdles out of the way, the content started showing results within 2 months of publishing—and nearly doubled traffic again just 5 months later.
How long did it take for SEO to kick in here?
- 1-2 months for technical SEO to take effect.
- 2 months for content to show signs of traffic.
- 5 months of content production for real traffic growth.
SEO Results From Low-Quality Posts: 5 Months
This was a very limited project. The organization had traffic from some successful posts, but they were all old posts—and they composed of “how to” topics about things that didn’t really touch on the company’s best services.
There was an immediate uptick after managing to convince the client to invest in its own content production. Even though it didn’t want to invest in a content strategy with deep keyword research or planned calendars at the time, Google still recognized the freshness of the content being published—and rewarded it to some degree.
There was a seasonal dip in December, which is common in most industries, and then traffic shot up to 350 visitors a month—a solid traffic increase for the bare-minimum effort the organization put into writing its own content, marking a 700% increase in its original level of organic traffic.
But let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
It’s important to note some serious missed opportunities here. After seeing traffic gains of 3,000 or even 40,000 visitors per month, you’re probably left wondering why anyone would care about gaining 300 visitors per month—and you’d be right to wonder.
That’s why I included this case study in the post. There were some serious problems with the organization’s approach:
- It didn’t follow a content strategy.
- Content topics it chose weren’t very relevant to customers.
- It didn’t allocate time for keyword research, so posts weren’t optimized.
- It handed off content writing to the intern (literally, not figuratively).
- Publishing was erratic. “Bi-weekly” posting was an average tempo at best, but not a rigid schedule.
Google did reward the website with some traffic for its freshness, but not nearly as much as it could have done so for better, evergreen content that tried to educate prospects.
Synthesizing the Results About SEO Time Investments
We have 4 different case studies with 4 different results. So what lessons can we draw here? As long as we accept these as general guidelines, the 4 case studies tell us that SEO takes time relative to the quality and the time investment of your content marketing.
- Consistently posting high-quality, keyword-targeted content will likely generate traffic results in 5-6 months.
- Your website can generate thousands or even tens of thousands of visits per month if you publish consistently after the 6-month mark.
- Fixing technical SEO issues can correlate to more traffic within 2 months of making the changes, but traffic gains will be limited.
- Addressing technical website issues gives your content a fighting chance to start earning traffic.
- Content strategy, keyword research, and the quality of your content writer have a huge impact on your ability to generate traffic.
These lessons won’t be a surprise to anyone with experience in the digital marketing space, but it emphasizes how important diligence and patience will be for your online marketing. Following the strategy, maintaining high standards, and allowing Google some time to trust your website as a resource for the rest of the world is the key to getting started with SEO.
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Happy hunting out there, marketers.