Why Does SEO Take So Long?

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Why does SEO take so long?

It’s a question many frustrated business owners have asked again and again. It’s a completely valid question–yet one that rarely gets answered to anyone’s satisfaction.

Here then, is a nuts-and-bolts answer to the question of why search engine optimization takes so much time. As you’ll see, this frequently time-consuming process is all part of an assurance that your SEO dollars are well-spent.

Analyzing Your Competition Takes More Time than You May Think

Unless you’re selling a product or service that is less than a month or two old, you will have competitors who are already ranking well in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Simply getting on equal ground with them is a task that can take time.

To tell the truth, even the best SEO analyst will need to take time to find out where and what that ground actually is. In most markets, your competitors have spent a decade or more building both their websites, and links to those websites. A thorough competitive analysis will take into account every link that leads to every competitor result that shows up on the first few pages of results that rank for your desired keywords. Link tools like Majestic SEO or Open Site Explorer can be helpful in developing an understanding of where the ground is.

open site explorer

Search marketing competitive analysis tools can also be used to help you assess the level of competition in your domain. These tools are offered by a handful of companies like iSpionage and Spyfu. A new entrant in the web hosting space for instance might use iSpionage’s comparison functionality to assess the level of competition for industry keywords.

When you see large numbers of first page keywords and SEO traffic value in the millions, then you know that competition is going to be fierce. In many markets with entrenched competitors that have been competing for some time, a strategy of optimizing longer-tail terms that will be able to compete within specific industry niches and sub- niches is often the best approach to take.


iSpionage Web Hosting SEO Traffic Value Comparison

Build Links from Sites with Authority

Once you or your SEO provider develops these insights, the next step is to find common sites that your competitors use for backlinks. There are often anywhere from 5-100 different sites that all of your major competitors will use for rank-boosting backlinks.

You will need to create a database of every link pointing at the top 50 pages that rank for each one of your keywords. You need to know how many of those links come from the same sites, and from which pages on those sites, and how often. From this, you may be able to see how to grab some of those links for your own site.

Then you need to find links from pages that none of your competition is using. At the very least, you should look for links that a very small percentage of your competition is using. These days, it’s difficult to find quality sites for backlinks, that aren’t already being used extensively. But it is possible. It is also crucial to your success.

As you can imagine, all of this takes time. And it’s only the beginning.

Getting On “Ground Zero” With Your Competitors Takes Time

compassAfter that, you or your provider must procure links in one of several ways: content creation, paid link placement, paid content creation, guest posts, site creation, subdomain creation, link bartering, content trading, etc.

Regardless of whether these links are paid for, traded, or otherwise acquired, dealing with site owners can take time. Blogs and Web 2.0 pages built on your behalf need to be written by good writers who understand SEO–and who probably already have a lot on their plates.

Then, you or your SEO agency should ensure that every image has an appropriate file name, title, and alternate text, specific to (usually) a single keyword, on each page where it appears. And your content should have images, typically, on every single page.

Since a good search engine campaign involves all types of content, your provider will need to make videos on your behalf–and make sure that each video has the right file name, and the right title (for both the video and the page), the right description, and even the right account name.

As you can see, each of the literally thousands–and usually tens of thousands–of links that your site needs in order to rank well, needs to be supported by an entire page that has been precision-engineered in at least a dozen different ways.

As you can see, effective link building takes time. But it is definitely worth the wait.

Google Rarely Trusts Speed

cheetahIn light of the above point, it’s also important to understand that Google is wary of links that gain too much popularity, too quickly.

At one time, you could create hundreds of links literally overnight and reap the benefits. The benefits usually didn’t last, but then you could do it again. And again and again, until you either gained the traction you wanted or got banned from Google’s search engine.

These days, all it takes is a slight portion of unnatural-looking links headed your way in a short period of time to put you on the penalty box with Google. Google may not remove your site from its index entirely, but it may apply such a heavy penalty that you won’t really know the difference.

That doesn’t mean that getting lots of links all at once will instantly sink your ship. In fact, getting hundreds of links from an article that goes viral on Facebook, Twitter, or another social media site, is a recipe for success.

But Google has gotten very good at detecting “link spam”. In fact, some would say it’s gotten a little too good. And while it’s just fine to share your content on Facebook and get as many links as possible in as short a period of time, too many links in too short a time can trigger a manual review. If you or your provider are using techniques that provide too many links too quickly, this review could sink your ship almost overnight.

So if your SEO provider doesn’t build links at quite the pace you’d like to see—rest easy. They’re actually doing you a favor.

Good SEO Takes Fine Tuning Along the Way

Once this work is thoughtfully undertaken, you or your provider will then have to deal with the fact that Google does not stay the same. And neither does Bing and Yahoo!

more ispionage

The way search engines rank sites can change overnight. These changes have brought many profitable websites to their knees, knocking out six-, seven-, and even eight-figure businesses literally overnight. The most dramatic of these updates are known as Panda and Penguin, although there have been others.

At the end of the day, no one but the search engines have control over the SEO landscape. What you do have control over is how you respond to the changes. Good information from good systems and SEO know-how is often the difference between “sink” and “swim” when it comes to the business you conduct online.

Chris Sparks
Chris is an online marketing and content strategist at the search marketing competitive intelligence provider iSpionage.
Chris Sparks
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  • Edv

    The dramatic changes brought about this updates will have a huge impact on some website owner that’s why it’s a continuous research and innovate to be able to responds to those changes and to be honest sometimes its really tiring and time consuming.

  • Ian Garlic

    Great Post! We have clients that understand this and those that don’t . The funny thing is that we tell people don’t expect the phone calls to increase for at least 90 days and at least 6 months after launch before it is significant. Still, people want things to happen right away, which I understand.
    I think it is a lack of understanding about all of the work, the time doing, the time analyzing and the time reacting to Search Engine changes.
    You have to show results as an SEOr but you have to balance that with expectations on an often technically under educated population.

    • Alvin Brown

      Well said, Ian. I often set the same expectations only to have clients start calling 2 weeks after they sign an agreement with “when will or should we expect _____!?” statements and questions. Most of the time, it is the clients that have been burned by fly-by-night SEO that promised them unrealistic silver-bullet SEO results. It makes the honest SEO have to over communicate time and time again the importance of time and patience in sound SEO.

  • Ashish C Zaptech

    Yes ! These activities make our SEO procedure zero to top desk. The success of the website and it’s SEO depends upon well site structure, link building authority and Contents.
    Thanks for the enhancing and sharing these information.

  • Nirav Vyas

    There are many factors that can affect how long it takes for your site rankings to increase. Although search engines are constantly updating, they don’t update your link popularity as frequently. This happens about once every three months. In addition, all off-page work also has to be indexed and compared with the indexing of the on-page work on your website.

  • Ambika Mahajan

    Now, that is a brilliant write-up!!
    We all remember having read “The hare and the tortoise” story at school, which teaches us that “Slow and steady wins the race.”
    Bu when it comes to blogging, we expect getting thousands of visitors to very article the moment we hit the PUBLISH button.
    After commenting on a blog, we expect a sudden surge in traffic. The same holds good for Guest posting as well.
    And I totally agree with you that if you build up too many links too fast, Google might have reasons to believe that you are using black hat stuff over your blog or website.
    Put in your best effort and wait for the best to happen to you!

  • eDigitalFields

    In general, When hiring for a seo for website optimization, it almost takes 3 months to 6 months for new site to be ranked or indexed on google, heard from many seo agencies. So, this is a good article them to follow.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Good SEO takes time because, just like anything else, if you want to do it right you have to take the time to get it done! A lot of SEO tricks are about getting to the top fast, but the results are short-lived. Building authority through links and content is a slow moving process, just like building authority in your own offline life.

    • Chris Sparks

      Well said Nick. Thanks for reading. Glad you found this post interesting/useful.

  • Maciej

    I think the issue is that it is human nature to want everything immediately and many of us have grown accustom to having things in the palm of our hands when we need it. I always tell clients to be diverse with their Internet marketing because your streams of inbound traffic should be from multiple locations not just one. Yes, back links are important but if you don’t have the time to wait couple that effort with blog writing and some paid advertising. I understand that making that recommendation is easier said than done but the Internet marketing space is just that, a marketing space. You can’t base all your success on just building links.

    • Chris Sparks

      Too true Marciej – We often suggest AdWords etc. as the tactic for clients that truly need/expect immediate results. SEO is the slow and steady approach that (with concerted effort, good information and metrics, competitor monitoring and insights) can win the race.

  • Noah Parks

    Great analysis of the finer details of SEO. It is always important to stay on the good side of Google and other search giants. After all, SEO is a service to businesses as well as customers. Optimization isn’t meant to manipulate search results in an inauthentic way, although many view it that way.

  • John F

    I try to explain these points to my clients every day!

  • carl

    Thanks for this lovely post, now i can share some of this with my clients who wonders why its taking a long time to see the effect of their SEO.

    thanks again.

    • Chris Sparks

      No problem Carl. Thanks for commenting! Glad you liked the post and it will be helpful to you.

  • Sam

    Hi Chris,
    SEO is not like miracle that you will get traffic within 24hrs, we have to manipulate and the see analysis for particular sites and then assure to get good traffic within the timeline.

    With Regards

  • Gaurav

    This is something that i have learned in the past few months . Its true that SEO is a game of patience & we should concentrate on social presence more than building links. However link are also required upto some extent so they should be naturally built to have a positively working SEO .

  • Derek

    This is a great post I actually used it to defend myself at work…Most people think that you can rank for competitive keywords over night when it’s quite the opposite. Hard work and lots of strategy followed by waiting for the results.

    • Chris Sparks

      So glad this was useful for you. More of a long distance race than a sprint right?
      Thanks for commenting!