You know investing in search engine optimization (SEO) is important. But for all the work and costs involved, you really wish you could just get a straight answer on when it will start to pay off. When will those optimized website pages and blog posts you’ve put so much work into actually start to show up on Page 1 of Google?
You’re far from the first business to wonder how long it takes for content to rank. The reason the question is so hard to answer is that there are so many different factors that influence which pages rank and the time it takes for them to get there. But while we can’t offer you a simple answer, we can provide you with information to help you gain a clearer picture of what to expect.
Ahrefs did a deep dive into the data to figure out how old most of the pages ranking on the first page of Google are. They found that, on average, most of the pages in the top 10 are over three years old.
That’s disappointing news for anyone eager to start seeing results sooner rather than later.
But averages don’t tell the whole story. And in fact, it is possible to get onto Page 1 sooner than that. A piece of content our client Ariel Precision Medicine published about pancreatitis this last year started ranking roughly a month after it was published, and has gained in rankings for a number of keywords in the months since.
And the Ahrefs research did find that about 5.7% of the results start ranking in under a year, most of those within 61-182 days of being published. So while faster rankings are rare, they are possible.
And there’s more good news: once you start ranking for one keyword, there’s a higher chance that you’ll begin ranking for other related ones as well. A separate Ahefs study found that a page that wins the top spot for one keyword will typically rank in the top 10 for anywhere from 400 to 1,000 additional keywords.
This tracks with what we’ve seen in our pancreatitis example, which has steadily increased the number of keywords it ranks for over the past six months.
We’ll dive into the separate factors that influence how long it takes a single page to rank well, but before we isolate any one thing, it’s important to understand that no one factor works alone. For the SEO efforts for one page on your site to pay off, you need an overall strategy that strengthens your entire website.
And a strong SEO strategy even goes beyond the website itself to include additional channels. Working to gain links from other websites and investing in social promotion both play an important role in starting to rank. A piece of content can be amazing and check all the boxes for on-page optimization, but it won’t get far without off-page factors working to boost its authority in the eyes of Google.
The first step to getting any one page of your website to rank faster is making sure it fits into a larger SEO strategy that builds the visibility and authority of your brand both onsite and off.
A strong overall strategy is important because it ensures you hit all of the main factors that have to combine in order to gain a ranking. The algorithms search engines use to determine which websites and pages to rank are secret, complex and constantly changing. No one knows the exact mix of factors that goes into deciding which page will gain that top spot, but we know enough to confidently identify five of the most important ones.
Google recognizes that high-quality content is most likely to come from a website that’s quality across the board. Aren’t you more likely to click on a piece of content by a brand you know and trust than one you’ve never heard of? For that reason, no individual page is evaluated entirely on its own. Even if all other things are equal, a piece of content on The Washington Post website is far more likely to rank than one on someone’s personal blog.
For one piece of content on your website to rank, it matters how authoritative the rest of your site is. Search engines measure domain authority based on a number of factors. According to SEO experts, some of the main ones include:
If your website is brand new, building up the authority of your root domain will take time. Even the best pieces of content you publish will likely take months or years to start ranking. But over time as you increase the authority of your domain, the time required for individual pieces to rank will decrease.
You could get a new page ranking in no time if you’re content with focusing on a keyword no one else is trying for. But that would mean no one is searching for it either, making it worthless. One of the most important factors that influence how long a new page will take to rank is how competitive the keyword is.
When Ahrefs looked at how many of the pages that made it to the top 10 within a year were targeting high-volume keywords (defined as over 50k searches a month), the percentage dropped from 5.7% to .3%.
If you want to rank faster, start by focusing on relevant long-tail keywords that are less competitive than the broad terms popular in your industry. An allergist can more quickly claim the first page for a term like “common symptoms for Austin cedar fever” than for “allergy doctor.” Long-tail keywords won’t bring in as much traffic as winning a top spot for a broad keyword would, but you can win the ranking faster. That means getting traffic from it sooner and, with the right keywords, that traffic will be highly relevant.
One of the most important rules of SEO is that Google’s priority is the person searching. They want to deliver the most valuable, relevant results possible, so the algorithm is designed for that purpose. That means if you want to rank, you need to make sure the content you create provides what your audience is looking for, and that it does it better than any other piece of content on the subject.
In a perfect world, this is the only factor you’d have to worry about and the best content would always win in the rankings. But quality can’t be judged with any objective measure that an algorithm can handle, so the search engines have to use other measures that signal quality (like backlinks and engagement metrics).
In order to perform well in all of the other ranking factors, you need to make sure you get this one right. Make sure you’re creating content that’s accurate, comprehensive, and targeted at helping your audience solve their problems.
On-page optimization techniques are how you communicate to Google what your page is about. By including your target keyword in the page’s URL, title, headings, image tags, and within the copy (but only where it fits naturally — no keyword stuffing), you communicate to the search engines the terms and topics your content is about. That helps the algorithms understand which search inquiries the piece should show up for.
In the post on pancreatitis referenced above, the SEO team built the piece around the highly-searched keyword “what is pancreatitis,” making it the page title and H1 tag. To further optimize the page, they included several related long-tail keywords that research revealed people are also searching for, such as “what happens during pancreatitis” and “what are the symptoms of pancreatitis.” That optimization played an important role in the ranking results the piece has achieved.
Arguably the most difficult and important factor in how quickly you’ll earn rankings is how many links you get back to your content and where they come from. Backlinks are one of the most powerful signals Google uses to understand how valuable a piece of content is. Earning links to your content takes a lot of work, but it’s a tactic that’s well worth the effort.
Much of a good link building strategy is about playing the long game by building relationships with relevant brands, bloggers and publications in your space. But for more short-term gains, you can alert relevant websites to your content pieces and write guest posts on related topics that include a link to your piece. If the content is truly useful, over time as more people find their way to it, the links will start to grow without you having to go out and directly ask for them. But doing the work to give the piece an initial boost is important.
While you can employ tactics that may cut down on how long it takes for a particular piece of content to rank, in general you should expect it to take time. SEO results don’t come fast, and the fact that they require real work and skill is part of why they’re so valuable. Practicing patience can be frustrating, but when you start to earn the rankings you’ve worked so hard for, the traffic you gain from them will make the wait worth it.