When to Expect Results With SEO


Recent data shows that SEO is hands-down, inarguably, a good investment for any business.

A screenshot showing a table broken down into four columns: Industry, Return on Advertising Spend (ROAS), ROI, time to break-even. The industries shown in the table are addiction treatment, B2B saaS, biotech, construction, eCommerce, financial services, higher education/college, HVAC, industrial IoT, commercial insurance, IT staffing, legal services, manufacturing, and medical device. The table shows that medical device saw the highest ROI (1,031%) and that it took 13 months to break even on SEO campaign costs vs revenue.
 Source: https://firstpagesage.com/reports/seo-roi-statistics-fc/

However, despite what new statistics show, it still remains one of the most fundamentally misunderstood strategies.

For the most part, this stems from its tendency to take months or years to have a significant impact on a business, while Google Ads and other forms of digital marketing can produce leads and revenue almost immediately.

But as most business owners know, immediate returns aren’t everything, and long-term growth should be the goal for every company. Done properly, SEO can be an engine of long-term growth. 

If you’re new to SEO and considering creating a strategy, here’s what you should know about it.

When to Expect Results (SEO Returns)

Generally speaking, a reasonable timeframe to look for results in an SEO campaign is three to four months. There are some caveats, such as enterprise-level SEO campaigns running on sites with thousands of pages, but overall, for most business websites with up to a few hundred pages, an effective SEO strategy should start showing itself within four months. Additionally, it’s important to note that SEO returns can fluctuate depending on your industry, the status of your site at the start of your campaign, your competition, and other factors. But, with properly implemented SEO, it’s always merely a question of “when,” not “if.” 

What Do SEO Results Look Like?

Many businesses may look towards leads and conversions as the major indicator of SEO success. However, the returns on your first SEO campaign are probably not going to show as dollars. 

What you’re looking for about three months into an SEO campaign are what the industry calls “visibility KPIs (key performance indicators).” These are factors like:

  • Impressions: How many people see your site in search results
  • Clicks: How many users actually click on your site
  • Click-thru Rate: The ratio of clicks to impressions
  • Keyword Rankings: How you rank on search engine results pages (SERPs) for your targeted keywords compared to competitors. 

The higher all three of these metrics climb in the first several months of an SEO campaign—especially as compared to how the site has performed previously—the more likely you are looking at a lucrative long-term SEO strategy.

A screenshot from Google Search Console which shows clicks and impressions over a 7-month period (June through December). It shows some volatility in clicks and a steady increase in impressions.
A screenshot from Google Search Console showing changes in total clicks (blue) and impressions (purple) over the course of 7 months.

You should look for consistent, steady gains in these visibility metrics over the course of any SEO campaign. However, remember that users’ online behavior also occurs independently of your SEO activities and goals—people shop before Christmas, but not on Christmas, etc. There will be fluctuations in these metrics, and not every drop is the result of bad SEO.

Why Does SEO Take So Long to Deliver?

There is one major reason why SEO campaigns take longer to deliver results than other forms of digital marketing, and it’s in the first two words of the acronym: search engine. Search engines like Google use bots called “web crawlers” to index the internet, much like a library catalog or an excel sheet for business inventory.

Because this activity takes resources, search engines cannot constantly crawl every page of the Internet and update them in real-time. This means that once you make changes to your website (optimizations), those changes will not reflect in the search engine results until the engine has crawled, re-indexed, and ranked the updated pages for certain queries. 

Crawling, indexing, and adding pages to ranking algorithms takes time, and this is what happens over the first two to three months of any SEO campaign. There is no way to speed up this process. It doesn’t matter if you are Nike or Nick’s New Pizza Site, Google does not crawl any one site faster than another.

So, if you began an SEO campaign anywhere from yesterday to four months ago, you shouldn’t expect any real results. What you should expect, however, is that an effective strategy is being put in place that will start revealing itself soon.

When to Expect Better Results

If you find yourself at month seven or eight of an SEO campaign and your website traffic hasn’t improved at least a little, this is an appropriate time to reconsider some things. 

First, what SEO strategies have been implemented? Were they solely on-page changes (changes you can see on the website)? Did the person or agency attempt any improvements to site speed and communicate any critical technical issues with you? Are impressions, clicks, and traffic staying flat or even falling off since the start of the SEO campaign?

It’s important to ask and independently research any SEO strategy that you are paying for because you could be paying for one that is severely outdated. There are many different approaches to SEO, and not all of them are equally effective. Search engines are constantly changing and updating—think of all the ways your personal Google search experience has changed over the years, with maps and shopping results, etc. That means that SEO best practices are constantly evolving, too, so you need an SEO team that keeps up with what is going on in the industry.

Common Pitfalls That Cause Campaign Stagnation

If you are not seeing positive movement in your campaign, it is likely due to some combination of the following reasons:

1. Incomplete or Outdated SEO Strategy

Search engines are simply ignoring your site because it has not been fully optimized (low number of optimized pages, low number of keywords targeted, etc.) or is incompatible with recent or historic algorithm updates.

2. Unaddressed Site Issues

Perhaps you were informed your site needed an SSL certificate, an update to WordPress, or an important plugin. Maybe you were alerted to poor site speed due to excessively large images or media files, or had a bunch of pages with similar content (ex. five pages talking about roof installation). If these issues were not addressed near the beginning of the campaign, no SEO strategy will be able to overcome them. If you’re just finding out about any of these things in, say, month six of the campaign, it’s time to find a better SEO partner.

3. Constant Site Changes Since You Started SEO

One of the worst mistakes you can make is to keep adjusting site content, URLs, title tags, and keyword targeting in the weeks and months after an SEO campaign starts. This can happen for a number of reasons but is usually due to the business owner getting “cold feet” on an SEO strategy and, not seeing the desired results within the first month or two, requesting or even making a whole bunch of site changes to try and get things moving. 

Try to put faith in the process that you’ve invested in and forget that you have a website for three months. Many business owners have sabotaged their long-term growth and their relationships with marketers in futile attempts to “boost” an SEO campaign at the beginning. If you have questions or concerns about an SEO campaign, simply communicate these to your agency or staff. 

Measuring SEO Success

Now that you know what to expect from your SEO service, you can take appropriate action based on the data. If your site records a high speed, is regularly publishing authentic content, and is ranking for a decent amount of keywords, and has done so for six months or longer, this should be translating to tangible results. At the very least, you should be getting more web traffic, and you should even start seeing more of whatever conversion activity fuels your business—form fills, phone calls, online purchases, requests for quotes, etc. 

If you’re not, the eight month to one-year window is an appropriate time to enter “prove it” mode for your SEO strategy. Again, because SEO is a long-term process, don’t be too quick to jettison the strategy altogether. Work with your agency or staff to identify flaws in the strategy, and agree on some corrective actions and goals to hit in another three to six months. Always make sure that any data you are provided, or that you cite yourself, is qualified and placed in the appropriate context based on the nature of your business and audience.

Build Your SEO Strategy Today

At Momentum, monitoring and creating effective SEO campaigns is just another day in the office for us. We’ve been doing this for over a decade, and don’t plan to stop anytime soon. If you have questions about search engine optimization, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ve helped grow dozens of businesses, from large-scale manufacturers to small-scale painters and roofers, and we can get your business on the path to long-term growth too.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation—we’re happy to answer your questions or help you build the right strategy. 

Nick Johnson author profile picture

Nick Johnson's Bio

A career writer, editor, and researcher, Nick Johnson is also a veteran SEO strategist and campaign manager who cut his teeth crafting effective local SEO campaigns for small to mid-size businesses. He wards off a constant sense of existential dread by snuggling cats, spending time with his daughter, and hiking and camping around Colorado. He, for one, welcomes our new robot overlords.