eCommerce SEO: How Long Does It Take to See Results?
by Brittany Currie
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They say that patience is a virtue. Unfortunately, in today’s society of instant gratification, this attribute is in short supply for most folks.
However, when it comes to learning and practicing patience, search engine optimization can be a magnificent teacher.
The reality of the matter is that SEO is one of the single most important and impactful investments that online retailers can make for their business. As it stands, SEO ranks among one of the top ROI-producing marketing activities.
“If I had to pick one ‘best’ strategy when it comes to ROI, I’d choose content marketing and SEO–thanks to its multifaceted range of effects, permanent value, and potential for compounding returns, there’s just no better way to spend your marketing budget.”
There are a panoply of other such studies and statistics showing that SEO is one of the most critical strategies for merchants to deploy, which is why it continues to be an integral component to most businesses’ marketing blueprints.
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this question as there are a multitude of variables involved that influence search optimization efforts, such as:
The current level of optimization
Content marketing effectiveness
In addition to these variables (and many others), it is also necessary to evaluate and take into consideration these same elements for the site’s competition.
It is essential to understand that even with concrete data on these factors, there is still no formula that can be used to answer how long SEO takes.
That said, in our experience, it can take the majority of a year or longer to see SEO efforts finally bear fruit.
While the “how long” question is almost impossible to answer with any degree of certainty, what can be answered more succinctly is why SEO takes so long to produce results.
Search Engine Optimization Gains: An Analogy
To gain an understanding of why SEO takes so long to work, it is best to use the classic analogy of diet and exercise.
Losing weight and building muscle requires a plan, discipline, dedication, repetition and time. An individual can’t hit the gym one day and expect to see the results the next. A person’s body must adapt to the diet and workout routine.
For someone to see the fruits of their labor, it is necessary that they put in work on a consistent basis, thus revamping their lifestyle by adopting healthier eating habits and habitually exercising for months–and sometimes years on end–to achieve their ultimate goal.
Retailers can’t expect that plugging in a few keywords on product pages, writing a few blogs and optimizing some meta descriptions will push them to the top of the SERPs.
Just like reshaping one’s body, SEO is a process that requires retailers to consistently seek out new on-site, off-site and technical opportunities that can elevate their pages over the coming months and years.
Additionally, this only speaks to the seller’s end of things. It also takes time for Google to recognize a website’s efforts and assign it the authority that it deserves for its contributions.
As retailers endeavor to optimize their store, search spiders will come to notice the work that has been put into the site (assuming that the rightstrategies for improving Google rankings are implemented) and compare the quality of the pages to others within the space. If the merchant’s pages are more relevant, authoritative, serve the intent of the search and are otherwise in line with Google’s quality standards, the destinations in question will be promoted.
In a nutshell, SEO is a long game that can require months or even years to prove to search spiders that the site is more valuable than those currently listed in the SERPs for a particular query.
As alluded to earlier, there are a variety of elements that influence the length of time it can take for retailers to rank at the top of Google’s results.
While we can’t list them all here, some of the most important elements that impact how long it will take for a seller’s SEO strategy to take hold include:
Domain Authority (DA)
Every website on the internet has aDomain Authority score. This figure is representative of how much authority a domain is given, based on a multitude of factors. These scores range from zero to 100, with the higher numbers being more influential.
The higher a site’s Domain Authority, the more visible that destination is likely to be in various search engines.
This begs the question: How does one increase their Domain Authority?
In order for a seller to increase their site’s DA, it is necessary tobuild better backlinks from high-quality websites and fewer from low-authority, potentially spammy destinations.
As a merchant increases their website’s Domain Authority, they can expect to see this reflected in their SEO results.
That said, there are other elements that factor into Domain Authority, such as on-page content, internal linking strategies, mobile-friendliness and other ingredients.
However, before we stray too far from the topic of links, it is best to take a closer look at how inbound links influence SEO performance and the time it takes to rank.
Most are well aware that links still play a massive role in SEO, despite the changing landscape. However, the impact of backlinks on how long it will take to see the benefits of an SEO campaign is dependent on several factors.
First is the volume of links a site acquires. Generally speaking, the more links a site accumulates, the more success it is likely to see in the SERPs. However, as most know, when it comes to links, it is no longer a game of pure numbers.
The fact is that, in most cases, a handful of high-quality links from relevant and authoritative websites will have a more significant impact on SEO performance than a plethora of low-quality links.
Part of the reason for this (outside of high-quality links possessing substantial authority) is that links from trustworthy sites are more difficult to earn, thus making it challenging for competitors to duplicate the site’s success.
Complicating the matter a bit, the speed at which a site has historically earned links could be factored in as well. If a site shows a sudden surge in backlinks, it could be indicative of a manipulation attempt on the site owner’s part, thus sending up red flags for Google.
If this scenario comes to pass, there is a chance that the increase in links could trigger a manual review and sellers could be on the receiving end ofa penalty from Google.
Therefore, when building backlinks, the speed with which a site earns links should display consistent, stable growth, as opposed to massive spikes followed by total lulls.
Assuming that a retailer is indeed padding their backlink profile in a natural way that is congruent with Google’s guidelines, this shouldn’t be an issue.
That said, the quality of the content is the key issue.
To top the SERPs, today’s content must be far better than anything else ranking. While it doesn’t need to be a Shakespearian masterpiece, content does need to be incredibly high-quality, valuable, informative, intent-oriented and optimized for search.
As far as length is concerned, there have been many studies published on the matter over the years. As Search Engine Journal notes when discussingthe ideal blog post length for SEO:
“Google wants substance, evidence, and facts from authority entities on whatever the topic may be. Turns out, longer content typically has these elements baked into it. Average content length for Page one results is around 1,900 words, according to a 2016 study. That’s a lot longer than the 200- or 500-word blog posts most writers or webmasters think is ideal. That’s a big reason why long-form content ranks better in organic search than short content.”
However, as the piece goes on to note, writing a 5,000-word tome of a blog that holds little value won’t generate results on the basis that it is verbose. In reality, a 500-word piece of content that is concise and valuable is far likelier to produce the intended outcomes than the novella masquerading as a blog post.
That said, assuming the longer piece does contain substantial value, there is a good chance that it will greatly contribute to a site’s SEO performance and the time it takes to rank. For instance, in aBacklinko study of 912 million blogs, it was discovered that long-form content generated an average of 77.2 percent more links than shorter pieces.
Now, much like a massive influx of links, some SEOs think that new content should be rolled out slowly and consistently as publishing pieces quickly could appear unnatural and anger the Google gods, thus negatively impacting rankings.
While the logic is somewhat understandable, it is unfounded. The fact is that if merchants have top-notch content that they are ready to publish, get it online!
Part of the reason for this is that a page’s rankings do correlate with its age. Moreover, the sooner a piece is published, the sooner it can begin contributing to a seller’s SEO performance.
The longer a merchant sits on a piece, the longer their SEO outcomes will take to achieve.
However, this doesn’t mean that if retailers are sitting on a cache of awesome content that they should just initiate a blog dump and post them all simultaneously. Instead, it is best to put together a consistent publishing schedule via acontent calendar.
The reason for this is that this shows Google that new content is added to the site on a regular basis, thus encouraging search spiders to come back and crawl it more frequently. Similarly, posting on a recurring schedule will also help to encourage readers to visit the website more regularly as well.
Both of these types of visitors (search spiders and consumers) can help to speed up the rate at which a seller begins to see the fruits of their SEO labor.
However, it is also worth noting that it is not just publishing new content that can aid a merchant’s SERP performance.Refurbishing top pieces can and running them through the promotional cycle also serves the same purpose as infusing new data and information into an already successful blog can breathe new life into it, thus bringing back search spiders and visitors all over again. Retailers might even acquire some new links out of the deal.
At the same time, deleting underperforming content (a process known as “pruning”) can also aid in SEO rankings as removing such content can enable search spiders to index more important pieces, while also avoiding the potential for keyword cannibalization.
The SERP performance of the competition is another significant factor in how long it will take before merchants begin seeing SEO results.
In most scenarios, a seller’s rivals will actively be working on their SEO performance at the same time. This means that increasing a retailer’s rankings is like hitting a moving target as the optimization efforts put forth by a seller will always be working within the dynamic framework of the developing and diminishing efforts of others that rank higher.
It is kind of like one of those old high school word problems: Car A is traveling at a rate of 50 miles per hour. Car B is traveling at a speed of 70 miles per hour. If car A is 15 miles ahead of car B, how many miles will it be before car B catches up to car A?
Looking at SEO through this framework, it is necessary to analyze the competition to understand:
How far ahead is the competition?
How fast are these rivals “driving”?
With these variables established, it is possible to figure out a rough estimate (rough being the keyword) of how long it will take to catch up, based on the site’s SEO budget (more on budgets momentarily).
However, the problem here is that SEO is not as linear as a simple word problem. There are all sorts of uncontrollable variables to consider, such asGoogle algorithm updates, a ramping up of the competitor’s SEO efforts or even a massive boost to a retailer’s site stemming from an outstanding piece of content.
Additionally, the industry to which a seller caters also plays a considerable role in how long it will take to see results. If a site is in the business of selling watermelon-flavored potato chips, there is a good chance that they will be able to climb Google’s SERPs reasonably quickly. After all, not many businesses are likely to offer such a novel product.
On the other hand, if a retailer sells iPhone cases and other accessories, there is going to be tons of competition with which to compete, significantly impacting the time it will take to rank.
Plainly put, the more web pages that a merchant has to compete with, the longer it will take to reach the top of the heap. Moreover, this concept also builds on itself. While it might be easy and take little time to outrank lower-quality pages, as a seller increases their rankings, it will take exponentially more time and effort to surpass each subsequent page.
However, even understanding this concept, there are still more layers to the competition onion.
As retailers reach higher levels of the SERPs, the more authoritative pages they begin competing with will likely have highly competent and experienced SEO professionals pushing their performance upward.
The fact is that a company delves into a niche because there is demand in that area. As they enter the industry, competition thereby increases. As more folks pile into the industry, in order for businesses to remain profitable, they will need to offer better and better deals to capture a larger share of the market.
Naturally, as this cycle continues, those with the deepest pockets are likely to obtain greater success. Part of the reason for this is that they can afford to hire skilled SEO teams to drive increased exposure and market share.
As a result of all of these variables, whenanalyzing the competition’s SEO performance, it is necessary for retailers to not only map out where rivals currently reside within the search landscape, but also their activities over the previous months and estimates as to where they might go moving forward.
As touched upon several times in this section, a major consideration of outranking highly competitive brands is a company’s SEO budget, which leads us to the next topic.
While it is unfortunate, it is true that a retailer’s marketing budget will have a direct impact on their SEO results.
The fact of the matter is that a larger budget enables more people to work on a site’s on-site SEO efforts,eCommerce market research, content creation, off-page outreach and other critical campaign elements.
However, it is essential that retailers do not confuse things. While a larger budget will have a positive impact on the campaign’s outcomes, this does not mean that it shortens the timeline for how long it will take the results to come to fruition. The fact is that no amount of money can guarantee a quicker trip to the top of the organic rankings. Money can only influence the number of tasks that can be completed, how quickly those assignments are fulfilled and the competency of the people working on the project.
This is precisely why it is vital to consider more than the price whenhiring an SEO agency. Those who prioritize an increase in traffic and conversions over obtaining a number one rankings position for a specific keyword are likely to see a far greater ROI. This is an important concept that we will return to momentarily.
The Process of Accumulation
Circling back to the SEO/exercise analogy, again, it requires consistency to transform one’s body through diet and exercise. Putting in a single, immensely challenging workout will do nothing more than make the person awfully sore for a few days.
Using similar logic, many companies think they can implement a one-time optimization project and call it a day. While some agencies are happy to take the company’s money for the venture, it likely won’t do much good.
Again, much like exercising, SEO is a process of accumulation.
The way that websites build trust with search engines is by displaying a consistent pattern of content updates, links acquisition,on-site optimization efforts and the like. Massive spikes in performance make search engines suspicious, thus attracting the wrong kind of attention.
However, through a steady pattern of improvement, Google and others are likely to reward sites with increased visibility.
Therefore, procuring monthly SEO services is critical to the success of optimization campaigns. Having an intentional, targeted, systematic approach to search engine optimization will help to put a company in Google’s good graces. The destination clearly displays improvement patterns that are consistent with the engine’s guidelines, instead of spikes that could be indicative of the use ofblack hat SEO tactics.
Why Rankings Aren’t Everything
As mentioned a few moments ago, those who prioritize traffic and sales over conversions are going to get a better return on investment than those who are fixated on rankings.
Don’t misinterpret this message: Rankings do matter. However, they are not the metric that merchants should be most focused on improving.
If by asking, “How long does SEO take to start working?” a seller actually means “How long will it take to reach the top of the SERPs?” that person is mistaking outputs for outcomes.
An output, such as achieving high rankings, is easy for SEO agencies to sell as retailers think that is what they want. However, rankings are meaningless if they do not produce traffic and sales, which are both outcomes.
Therefore, when partnering with an SEO agency, merchants only hire those that are concerned with producing outcomes instead of outputs.
SEO Outcome Timelines: Client Success Examples
Now that we have explored many of the most significant elements that could impact how long it takes to start seeing SEO outcomes, the question becomes:
“How long does it take to start generating leads and sales via SEO?”
While retailers can start seeing results in a few months, the reality is that to generate the outcomes that merchants desire, SEO efforts are likely to take 10 months or more.
Again, SEO takes time.
To help concretize some of the concepts that we have discussed thus far, let’s go ahead and analyze the SEO performance of a couple of Visiture’s clients.
We will call these retailers “Merchant A” and “Merchant B.”
‘Merchant A’ SEO Outcomes
Merchant A signed with Visiture in February of 2019. At the time, they were quickly losing visibility. The substantial loss in rankings that the company was experiencing was also having a profound impact on organic traffic and revenue.
To help remedy the situation, Visiture focused on optimizing the company’s on-site content for high-value keywords. This took the form of revamping product pages, blogs and technical components, as well as replatforming the site to a new eCommerce service provider.
Ultimately, Visiture was able to get Merchant A to rank number one in Google for important target keywords. As a result of this output, the outcome was that Merchant A experienced a significant boost to both traffic and revenue.
As far as traffic is concerned, the SEO timeline for Merchant A was:
At 5 months, traffic reached the levels of the previous year.
At 9 months, organic traffic had fully recovered and began steadily increasing.
At 14 months, Merchant A’s traffic was up 80 percent over the previous year.
Alongside Merchant A’s traffic, revenue followed a similar pattern.
As displayed by the graph above, Visiture’s SEO work had the following impact on Merchant A’s falling revenue:
At 6 months, revenue had improved enough to be flat to the previous year.
At 10 months, revenue had surpassed the previous year.
At 14 months, revenue saw an 80 percent year-over-year increase and has been up ever since.
As the traffic and revenue (both outcomes) for Merchant A display, SEO is a slow-building process that takes time to begin producing the intended results.
Now, let’s take a look at the performance of Merchant B.
‘Merchant B’ SEO Outcomes
Merchant B partnered with Visiture in May 2019. This retailer came to us because their organic traffic was flat and organic revenue was bottoming out.
Through our plan of action, Visiture helped Merchant B to make new landing pages that separated out the different product types and helped Merchant B to reorganize their navigation for a more user-friendly and SERP friendly structure.
Visiture also crafted new body content for these landing pages, thus helping Merchant B drive more organic traffic and revenue, as can be seen in the graph below.
In terms of organic traffic increases, Merchant B’s SEO timeline was:
At 9 months of SEO work, the retailer’s organic traffic began to outpace the previous year’s.
At 13 months, organic traffic was up a whopping 300 percent.
From month 9 and on, the trend continued month-over-month, year-over-year.
Much in the same way that Merchant A’s traffic and revenue tracked together, so did Merchant B’s, as is shown below.
For Merchant B’s revenue outcomes, our SEO program produced the following results:
At 7 months, revenue was flat to the previous year.
At month 10, Merchant B’s revenue was up over 2019 performance.
By month 13, revenue was also up by 300 percent.
From month 10 and on, the trend continued month-over-month, year-over-year.
These two examples clearly showcase how SEO efforts take time to produce the intended outcomes, building on themselves as time moves forward.
What Must Be Done to Improve SEO Outcomes
While a lot goes into building an effective, custom SEO strategy for retailers, some of the most essential tasks to carry out include:
Complete a Thorough Website Audit
Successful search optimization campaigns begin with a thoroughSEO audit to find mistakes that are holding eCommerce websites back.
During this process, an SEO specialist will examine key areas of the site to detect problems that may prevent it from ranking. While a site might look good to visitors, it could look like a disaster from Google’s perspective.
A good website audit can take weeks to months to complete, depending on the size of the site. It is not uncommon to uncover a myriad ofcommonly missed technical SEO issues that could require a complete overhaul of the site, as was the case with Merchant A.
From there, the necessary steps will be taken to fix or optimize the site, based on the findings.
This step is critical to overall campaign performance and outcomes, as the audit will be the basis for most of the decisions that a retailer makes in terms of climbing the SERPs.
During the audit, SEOs will examine the site’s:
Code Quality: Poorly written code can be detrimental to how a site is crawled and how it displays across different devices.
Crawlability: The site could be preventing spiders from crawling or indexing critical pages.
Usability: The user experience of the site has rapidly become a vital component of SEO. If a site hinders visitors from achieving their goals, they will bounce, thus sending negative signals to Google.
URLs: Unsightly, complicated URLs could impact SEO performance for the worse. The more readable, keyword-optimized and straightforward URLs are, the better.
Internal Links: Linking internal pages together is a necessary yet oft-overlooked component to on-site optimization. SEOs will analyze the site to determine if important and related pages are linked closely together and utilize ideal anchor text.
This is just a small taste of what will be scrutinized during a website audit.
Development of Strategies Based on Competitive Research
Again, a retailer’s competition is one of the most significant variables in how long it will take to achieve the desired SEO outcomes. The more competition a merchant has, the longer it will take to increase traffic and revenue to the sought-after level.
Therefore, SEOs must take the time to carefully examine a retailer’s rivals and the strategies they are using to increase rankings, drive traffic and boost revenue. What marketers find during this process will help to determine the course of action for enhancing a merchant’s search performance.
By utilizing tools such asAhrefs,SEMrush,SpyFu and the like, SEO teams can analyze domain comparisons, the keywords specific sites are ranking for, their backlink profiles, content performance and other essential details that will shape the overall campaign strategy.
Create Outstanding Content
Every day, untold sums of blogs, articles, videos and other pieces of content are published online. Put frankly, anything that a seller thinks is “good enough” is not good enough. The reason for this is that rival sites are also putting out content of that same level or above.
The fact of the matter is that great content takes time to create. Developing pieces that appeal to the interests of users, satisfy Google, are optimized for search and are better than what the competition is putting out requires a substantial amount of effort in researching, writing and optimizing.
Moreover, this doesn’t even take into consideration less tangible elements like the emotions a piece can provoke, its readability, uniqueness and the like.
A popular method for achieving all of the demands just listed isthe skyscraper technique. In a nutshell, through this methodology, SEOs will help retailers to find the top-performing content for a certain topic, and then aim to craft a piece that is superior.
Build Quality Backlinks
Building better backlinks than what a site already possesses is potentially one of the most challenging aspects of SEO. To acquire links that will move the needle for merchants is largely dependent on the quality of the content that is published on-site and produced for guest posting purposes.
Moreover, the type of backlinks that retailers want to acquire:
Come from relevant, established websites
Have a high Domain Authority
Are a mixture of dofollow and nofollow
The fact is that this is not easy to accomplish. However, by partnering with a skilled SEO agency, sellers can work with a team who is experienced in procuring these exact types of links.
Next Steps to SEO Success
Now that retailers understand why SEO takes so much time to produce results and what goes into achieving those outcomes, the next step is to invest in a qualified, reputable eCommerce SEO agency.
Unless merchants have the time and skill to handle their SEO endeavors on their own, it is critical to partner with a team of SEO experts who can guide the business in the right direction. There are plenty of grifters out there who will claim that they can get a site to the top of Google’s SERPs for a meager price.
Remember that when it comes to SEO, outcomes are more important than outputs.
The fact is that these types of individuals can often (and do often) do great harm to a seller’s website, thus putting them back further than they were to begin with, both in terms of SEO performance and monetary resources.
By hiring a skilled team of qualified SEO experts, retailers are more likely to make a wise investment into their business that produces a substantial return on investment that will help the brand scale for years to come.
The SEO industry has evolved in significant ways over the past decade. Where it was once a game where cheat codes and black hat tactics abounded, it is now an arena where skilled professionals implement long-term, white hat tactics to prevail.
While many think that SEO takes too long to work, instead opting to invest their budgets into social media and PPC advertising, what they fail to realize is that SEO is not about quick wins and instant gratification. SEO is about being patient and playing the long game, forgoing immediate, short-lived successes for long-term gain that persist for years on end, building a business to new heights of success along the way.
Google isn’t going away. Search engines are poised to be a core component of the internet for decades to come. Investing in your company’s SEO strategy today helps to ensure its existence and profitability tomorrow.
A Georgia Southern University graduate, Brittany joined Visiture in 2015 and manages Visiture's extensive internal marketing endeavors. Interests include: true crime podcasts, *watching sports, and her two pups, Lulu the Pug and Laurence the Greyhound.
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