May 10th, 2018

SEO FAQs: How Long Does It Take to Rank for Keywords?

Author: Laura Lynch
Laura Lynch
Director of Marketing

How long does it take to rank on Google? Let us count the ranking factors…

One of the most frequently-asked SEO questions boils down to: How long will it take for my content to rank for keywords on Google? It’s not a dumb question—in fact, we often want to be ready to answer it for our clients because it helps set appropriate expectations. However, there is no easy answer.

A 2017 study from SEO tracking and monitoring company Arefs showed that about 95% of fresh content takes over a year to rank in the top 10 on Google. It’s an interesting article, but the most important findings boil down to:

  • Longevity matters. Pages with strong domain authority that have been around long enough to earn the #1 spot are hard to displace.
  • Keyword volume matters. The higher the keyword volume, the harder it is to claim the number one ranking.
  • Domain Ranking matters. The more credibility your domain has earned from Google, the faster new pages go up in the rankings.

That said, the study focused heavily on very high-volume keywords. Even their “low volume” group (which was most successful in ranking quickly) measured keyword volumes in the range of several hundred a month. This means that, while their data is very insightful, small businesses targeting niche keywords have more hope than large corporations targeting high-volume terms.

For low-competition, long-tail keywords, most small businesses can expect to start ranking after 3–6 months. That’s a lot better than a year +, but it still depends on a lot of factors, and no company can guarantee specific search engine results. However, if you’re interested in the different factors that can affect your search engine rankings, here are the top contributors.

You did your SEO, right?

First off, if you haven’t done any keyword research, haven’t optimized your content, and haven’t ensured your pages are findable by Google, then you’re not going to rank. You can’t expect whatever you write to simply start ranking for things if you haven’t your part of the work. Optimizing your pages for certain keywords is how you help Google understand what your content is about and how it should rank.

How new is your domain, and what is your domain authority?

If you’ve only had a live site for less than six months, it’s probably not going to rank for anything. You’re too new to the game to have the heft to outrank companies who have been posting and updating content every few days for several years. It takes time to build credibility, unless you already have such a huge amount of real-world credibility that everyone already knows who you are.

How difficult are your keywords, and who are you trying to displace?

A crucial part of keyword research lies in determining which keywords are the low-hanging fruit, and which are going to involve some stiff competition. If you’re a small cola company, trying to outrank Coke or Pepsi for the top spot on Google is an exercise in futility. Don’t bother. You can still rank for keywords, but you’re going to have to find look for more refined terms such as “natural sugar Coke alternatives” or “organic Coca Cola alternative.”

Is anyone linking to you?

One of the biggest signals to Google that your content is valuable to other people are the number of other sites linking to it. If you post an article that attracts a lot of attention, there’s a good chance it will rank highly with relative speed. However, the quality of those backlinks also matters. A link from a .edu or .gov site will have significantly more authority than anyone else.

A lot of businesses have made the mistake of trying to build backlinks through illicit means, such as by leaving links in the comments section of other pages, or by purchasing backlinks through a scam company. Google is aware of these tactics, and using them could land you in trouble. Which brings us to the next point…

Have you used any black hat techniques?

Of course, none of this matters if, in your rush to get to the top page of Google, you engaged in some questionable SEO strategies. Link stuffing, purchased backlinks, and other black-hat tricks can result in a serious penalty from Google that might banish you from search engine rankings altogether.

No one owes you rankings. You have to earn them.

Probably the biggest misconception many people have when it comes to page rankings is the idea that businesses should be able to guarantee a certain page ranking. They’re looking at their content, and they believe that if it’s good, then it deserves to be number one in the search results.

The problem is that you are not Google’s customers—at least, not where page rankings are concerned. The users typing in search queries are Google’s customers, and it is in Google’s best interest to connect them with whatever site best matches their query. You might want that to be your site, but Google’s algorithm may say otherwise.

Because of this, your best strategy for earning long-term rankings lies in a prolonged SEO and content marketing campaign. You won’t rank overnight, and if you don’t put your time into a sustainable effort, whatever you do publish probably won’t ever rank, because other ranking factors (such as frequency of fresh updates, backlinks, or overall domain authority) won’t ever reach the levels they need to help you rank.

As a marketing strategy, SEO is about the long-term. But with enough patience, your hard work will pay off. You just have to give it enough time.

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