How Long Does SEO Take? (Updated for 2024)

SEO (search engine optimization) is an incredibly important strategy for driving organic traffic to your website. It's also the most difficult, time-consuming, and takes the longest to realize results. 

One of the questions I always hear about SEO is: "how long is this going to take before I see results?"

SEO Maven Neil Patel Digital conducted an in-depth analysis to quantify that question. His team dug through a massive pool of references, over a four year time period:

  • 100 million domains externally (aka - without direct access to their Google Analytics accounts)
  • 1 million domains internally (aka - with direct to their Google Analytics accounts)
  • Of those 1 million, the 43,391 websites actively focusing on SEO as a marketing tactic

If you're an SEO nerd like I am, I recommend reading through his entire research article from start to finish to dive into alll the numbers. Below, you'll find the top insights. 

How Long Does SEO Take?

NP digital's chart of average SEO traffic growth over time.

Insight 1: At least 6 months before you see results

In the first 6 months, those websites focusing on SEO saw an 11.4% increase in organic search traffic.

Neil's team didn't even begin reporting on data until the 6th month mark. Why? Because growth before that mark is statistically insignificant. 

This tracks with what we see as an agency and what Google says about SEO: it's a slooooow, long game. So if you've invested more energy into your SEO but don't see results just yet, don't give up hope - it can take up to 6 months before you notice anything happening.

Insight 2: Year two has the biggest jump

The 2-year mark seems to be the sweet spot for maximum return on SEO efforts. The website analyzed saw a 49.4% increase in organic traffic on average over the 1st year. 

Again, this goes to show that SEO is all about the long haul and perpetual effort. Slow and steady wins the race.

Insight 3: Common traits among the out-performing outliers

The data was averaged out to create a big picture - but what about the outliers? The NP team also looked at websites that grew the fastest, had a baseline visitor count of at least 10,000 organic visitors a month and also grew at least 50% per year for all 4 years.

They noticed a few key traits among all the top outliers.

  1. Focus on keeping content up to date - They revisit existing content to update for accuracy and modern SEO standards.
  2. Omni-channel branding - They focus on building a recognizable brand using social, email and paid ads.
  3. Riding the trends - The top-performing sites were also those who jumped on trends as they happened and produced content for them. This may seem counter to the slow and steady approach, but it does work!
  4. Fast load time - The top-performing sites loaded within 2.5 seconds on desktop and 5 seconds on mobile.
  5. Big TAM - These brands all have a large TAM - which is the total addressable market. This is likely related to the branding piece as well - Google puts a lot more stake in big brands vs. smaller companies. So for example, a coffee franchise with locations across the country has a larger TAM than a coffee shop with one location.

Final Thoughts

SEO is a constantly evolving art that changes frequently. However, the data shows us that no matter how frequently tactics change, the time it takes to see those tactics come to fruition remains lengthy. Expect a minimum of 6 months before changes become noticeable, and up to 2 years before you see a large boost.

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BizzyWeb is a Minneapolis-based digital marketing and web design agency that helps companies get the high-quality leads they need to grow and thrive. Our tactics include inbound marketing, SEO, advertising, web design, content creation and sales automation. We are an accredited HubSpot Platinum Partner and we offer full-service HubSpot onboarding, enablement and strategy for new and current users.
Dave Meyer
Author: Dave Meyer
Dave Meyer is President of BizzyWeb. Dave has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and communications and has presented digital marketing topics to thousands of people across the US and Canada.