Let me just open this honestly by saying that if you’re asking the above question, you need to re-adjust your expectations and do some more research into the reality of SEO. That may sound harsh, but over the years as an SEO, I have more often than not seen those asking such questions setting themselves up for disappointment due to a few key points which can disrupt the desired smooth timeline.

The real question (as those with successful SEO campaigns would know) is “How do I know if my SEO campaign is successful?”
But for today, we’re here to talk about why the first question is a bad one:

1. How long is a piece of string? This old adage gets thrown around a lot, but it’s probably the most apt way to describe SEO. Just as the length of a piece of string is dependent on a range of factors, the length of time an SEO campaign will take to yield real results is dependent on more factors than most would care to count, given the algorithmic and secretive nature of search engines when it comes to assessing your website. For every aspect of algorithmic requirements SEO Providers are aware of, I’d be willing to bet that there are dozens more we don’t and never will know about.

For this reason, SEO can often be a case of trial, error and testing until you hit upon the right formula, which takes as long as it takes to get right. Of course there are ‘common’ time frames; for instance, you’d hope to start seeing movement around month 3 and to have a very good idea about whether or not what you’re doing is working around month 6. But figuring out why your site doesn’t rank in the first place is a matter of trying everything you know to try, then digging deeper if there appears to be more to the problem than is the case in your average SEO campaign. This can alter predicted timelines substantially. Not ideal, but a reality nonetheless.

2. The Goal Posts Are Always Shifting. Search engines are constantly looking to improve their approach in order to deliver the best possible result for the end user. Whether this is updating an algorithm in order to better do its job, or to completely change what it considers best practice due to abuse of previously acceptable methods, you can never guarantee that you will be where it seems you should be in 6 months, unless everything that is a factor today is still a factor then. With hundreds of algorithm updates (and usually at least one larger refresh) per year, this is not often a realistic approach.

3. Your industry has its own set of SEO Circumstances. If you’re a plumber, a lawyer or in finance, you may be in for a shock with regards to how competitive your industry is and how hard it could be to rank. If you sell coconut trees, you may well find that you’ll float onto the front page quite easily with minimal fuss. SEO is no longer a secret weapon and the SEO saturation of your industry is a key factor in determining how you can expect a campaign to perform and how much effort may need to be put in.

4. You don’t know what your competitors are doing. As per point 3, SEO is now something a lot of companies engage in. You can make all the right plans for your budget, but what if your competitors have a larger budget? It could end up like racing a scooter against a road bike! This can be one of the most important things to ascertain throughout a campaign with adjustments made accordingly, whether that be pushing up your own budget in line with what you think they’re likely to be spending or looking for alternative wins via different keywords or online avenues.

5. There is no “official word” on SEO methodology. At the end of the day, Search Engines do not share their inner workings. It’s something which is painstakingly figured out through experimentation (another good reason to engage an Agency). Anyone in digital marketing would give their right arm for search engine secrets, but it just doesn’t happen. The algorithms stay locked up and the search engines let us know as much as they’re willing to let us know. The rest has to be figured out.

So what’s the good news? Intelligent SEOs all over the world are constantly testing new methodology and analysing Search Engine comments, updates & history in order to accurately experiment via educated guesses which are then put into practice. Do not for a second think that any of the above means that an SEO provider can’t do anything for you, but as per Google’s own best practice guidelines and this video from Matt Cutts (head of Google’s Webspam Team), no-one can guarantee you rankings or a time frame in which they can be achieved. They may well be achieved within a certain average stretch, but if that’s something you require of an SEO campaign as an indicator of success, then you may want to re-evaluate your goals.

Focus on conversion (rankings=traffic=conversion in an ideal world) and be aware of the reality of your SEO situation at any given moment. If a campaign isn’t where you’d like it to be, figure out why, take action and keep going.