SEO, or search engine optimization, is a tactic used to gain visibility in search engines without paying for ads. The effects of SEO take time and it should be tied to a strategy in an effort to achieve an overall goal or objective. SEO often has phases that look something like this:
Research > Audit > Planning > More Research > Implementation > Analysis > Repeat
There has always been a set of time between the initial phases of SEO to when those efforts start seeing the major benefits. Not a set amount of time, but anywhere from 1 week to 1 year. There are too many other factors involved to put a specific time frame on this.
In more recent years we have seen greater impacts sooner than we had in the past, but SEO results are not immediate despite the Google and other search engines capabilities these days.
Why Isn't SEO Immediate?
There are many factors as to why SEO effects are not seen immediately, but here are a few that many small-medium size businesses can related to.
- You've got a brand new website. The search engines know nothing about a website when it just comes online and it has no established trust or credibility. Not saying that all websites that rank well are trustworthy and credibly, but most are probably at least relevant. It takes time for a search engine to understand your website in order to include it in relevant results. A new site has very few inbound links, which is a major ranking factor.
- A lack of inbound links. Part of an SEO project should be creating content that is linkable. Content that makes other website owners say, "Yes, that is great!"...great enough that they decide it is worthwhile to create a link back to your site. These inbound links will build slowly and naturally, but if you're doing it right they will. These are additional opportunities for the search engines to follow the link, read the anchor text, determine relevancy to the linking site, and start building trust.
- Crawlability. This comes down to development, internal linking, site structure, robots.txt, etc. Many things come into play when it comes to crawlability and not all sites are created equal. The more crawlable your website is by a search engine, the more likely it is to be ranked a bit quicker.
Many, many other factors come into play, but these are common ones for small-medium sized businesses...heck, even large businesses have some of these same problems.
We have an SEO client in which we completed the planning, auditing and initial implementation in spring of 2013. The client does have some seasonality that will affect overall traffic and we were implementing the efforts at a time when traffic would be generally slower. Our goals for SEO were to increase visilibility/traffic in order to stay competitive in a crowded market, reduce declines in slower seasons, maintain visitor quality.
We followed our detailed process and implemented our strategy. We didn't expect any significant changes in month 1. However, 2 months after implementation we saw a decline in traffic, a drop of 12% (visitor quality was maintained). Because a small decline was already expected due to seasonality, it was difficult to determine whether the drop was a result of change or merely external factors...maybe both. Month 3 saw a very slight traffic increase of 1%, however the following 2 months saw declines of 9% and 1%.
So here we are 5 months after the initial planning and implementation experiencing traffic declines. Even though visitor quality was being maintained, it is not the direction we wanted to go. Throughout the 5 months we modified small things and continually checked for major issues. We did not make major changes because we knew that SEO does take time and we were confident in our initial efforts. However, not everything is a homerun, right?
But then we see a glimmer of light.
In the 6th month following our initial implementation, we saw a 30% traffic increase. Yes, some of this is seasonal but it gave us some hope. We continued to monitor steady increases month-over-month while at the same time maintaining visitor quality. We were confident in our plan and continued with the smaller ongoing efforts to continue the growth without going back to the drawing board.
Over a year after launching the SEO strategy we were able to compare Q2 of 2014 to Q2 2013, the overall organic search traffic increase was 72%! We were happy to not only see such an improvement in traffic, but also the maintained visitor quality. It was important that quality was not sacrificed to just get the higher volume. This was a success and are working on efforts to even further improve this.
Had we jumped ship too early on our initial SEO strategy, we may have created extra work for both us and the client. It is important to understand that every website is different and even if it may only take 1 month to see huge improvements for website A, it could take 6 months for website B. It is also important to remember that if declines continue or major losses are experienced, there may be a serious issue, don't avoid it and keep waiting. At that point it could be too difficult to recover.