How Long Does it Take to Rank?

Posted on May 27, 2014 in

There’s a good chance that you’ve heard this before. I know we hear it from time to time in our offices too. If you’re unlucky, sometimes, the conversation goes poorly. I have had clients in the past start with “From what I’ve read about SEO…”


Yikes. That isn’t going to end well.

Recently, we had a client at Maserati Fort Worth launch a new web site, and they asked when they should start seeing traffic to the site. A reasonable question, as lot of time and effort was put into launching the site,  so of course they are interested in the ROI. The short answer was: it varies. I have seen instances where there was low to medium amount of competition, and it took 3 months for the site to start ranking. If there’s a lot of competition, it could take 12 or more months to start showing some real relevant traffic.

Anyone who promises you they can get your site ranking high within X number of weeks is someone to avoid. They very well may get you ranking in a few weeks, but there’s a lot of risk in that. The next algorithm update from Google is bound to knock the site down a peg or two. Is that really the best strategy? Companies that make promises like that are in a churn and burn type mentality. They are prepared to move on if anything bad happens to your site. And what happens when you follow some advice that’s outdated by 3-4 years and you get deindexed by Google? Are you prepared to build a new site again and get a new domain while you’re at it?

A Short Google History

I believe this issue goes back to June 2010, when Google launched their “Caffeine” update. They massively increased their index size, and in doing so, let a lot of spammers in. Poor quality content flooded the web. Caffeine was a platform update to their algorithm. And ever since then, Google has been tweaking their algorithm and penalizing sites that try and trick their way to the top.

When Feb. 2011 rolled around, Google’s “Panda” update came out. Although they wanted to pull in information real time, they took a couple steps back with “iterative filtering” to try and control the spam. Then Google follows that up a year later with a little “behavior correction”: the “Penguin” update. This went after paid links, nasty link networks, and countless other link scams. All of a sudden every SEO is exposed with the dirty tricks they had been pulling over the years, and many sites lost their rankings.

Why is all of this important? Well, it’s important for Google to serve up the best quality results for its users. Otherwise, the users will stop using their search engine if they continue to find spam. It’s in their best interest to devalue any site trying to hack its way to the top, and actually rank quality websites that are helpful to its users. They made some errors along the way ranking sites too high, too quickly. It’s in their best interest to make sure the site that’s rank are legitimate and of quality.

So, How Long Should it Take?

Well in the Maserati Fort Worth site’s case, they have already started to receive SEO traffic within the first two weeks. In fact, they also have a Dallas dealership, and receive about 1/2 of the traffic that site has; and it’s been around for years. For specific branded terms, we are seeing them rank on page 1 in the first 3 weeks. Two weeks ago, they were in the middle of page 4. So the growth is there, but it’s not overnight. With the low-medium competition for some targeted keywords, we assess it should probably take 2-3 months for the site to move into position for keywords it deserves to rank for. But again, in some instances we have seen this take up to 6 months.

The key issue to focus on here is that SEO is a long term digital strategy. If you are looking for a magic bullet, or someone is trying to sell you one, beware. Chasing those short term gains are going to do long term, sometimes irreversible damage.

By Nathan Byloff

Nathan is the CTO for RankHammer. His area of expertise is technical SEO and everything to do with data - collection, analysis, etc. He is driven by automating any reporting task that has to be done more than once.