It is possible to bounce into Google, Bing and Yahoo's number one position within a few hours or days. Despite what you might have heard you can even do it for medium competitive phrases without having any backlinks as I've proved before.
In my SEO example I show how we managed to rank a page for the medium competitive term 'SEO example' in two weeks without getting any backlinks from any other website so is this the answer. Do your search engine optimization, wait a couple of weeks and bingo?
Unfortunately not. First I should point out that claiming you can get top rankings within two weeks might make a great title for a YouTube video but its not really true. Creating the content took several months, that's the more realistic timescale. If I'd used a larger team of writers I could have reduced that timescale for sure - it all depends what resources are available to you.
As you move up the rankings fro a search term things will always get exponentially harder. If you've created some pretty good content it shouldn't be that hard to get into Google's top 3 pages unless you are targeting some ridiculously competitive phrase.
From there however it can be a slow graft proving to Google, or any search engine for that matter, that you are better than what they are already offering.
Sometimes improvements are even invisible to see. Let's say the website below yours in the search results is only 'just' below you. If they just carried out some basic SEO they would overtake you. But the website above you is much better than yours. You could do some sterling SEO work and make some space so the competitor below you would have to work much harder to take your position but still not be good enough to overtake the website above you.
On the other hand you might get a really good backlink from a website with buckets of authority and bounce up five places over night.
Both Google and Bing are reconsidering the order of rankings all the time. Even if you have a small website Google is probably taking a fresh copy every week or two so it will know if you have radically changed (and by changed I mean improved) your content.
If you get a backlink from a website with plenty of authority, well those websites are crawled much more regularly by the search engines so you shouldn't have to wait more than a few days for it to affect your rankings.
There are times however when you may have changed content on your page and it's hard for Google to know if you have made it better. Say if you have made design changes.
I'll give you a good example of this. A client who had just started working with us here at link2light took me by surprise when he announced that he had just launched a new website design. "The difference between this one and the last one are like day and night" he announced.
He wasn't wrong ... accept his new design was the night bit. Immediately his bounce rate rocketed up and people spent much shorter periods of time on his website - especially the page that bought in 70% of his organic traffic.
Now Google says it doesn't look at bounce or dwell time but within days his rankings started to slip and they just kept moving down over the weeks as he remained in denial. Eventually he admitted he had a problem.
We redesigned his site so it was better than the original and one hundred times better than his attempt.
Immediately the bounce rate of his key page dropped from 80% to 35%. People stayed longer and went deeper but now the visitor numbers were so low there was far less data for Google to grab hold of and understand the improvement. Like an oil tanker making a u-turn things slowly recovered. It took several weeks for the page to recover its original positon and several more weeks to go higher.
Google is getting better and better at Natural Language Processing - understanding what content is about and whether it is deep and rich or shallow and poor. Technical advances have made this possible so I don't doubt the other major search engines are on the case as well.
This means it can quickly see if you have improved your content, although it would still struggle to see if you had improved your design.
The introduction of Structured Data - code on the page which tells all the major search engines specific things like the address of your business or the price of a product - also means they can react faster.
And they are all getting better at checking for new backlinks faster.
So how long does it take for SEO to work? When it comes to content improvement - and that includes all those little things like title and heading tags - your probably looking at no more than a couple of weeks. You'll get a feel for it by using Google Search Console which will tell you how often Google is crawling your pages.
Backlinks from websites with authority should be reflected faster because Google crawls them more often
Changes because of user behavior metrics (Dwell time and Pogo Sticking) - which Google claims it doesn't use but "Yeah, right, for sure Google" take the longest because if you are not getting much traffic its slow for Google to collect tha data which proves you are offering a better user experience. One way around this is to give it that data on a plate using Google Ads - I talk about this elsewhere.
But remember if you see no change in your rankings despite your SEO work this doesn't always mean no change has taken place. It just means its still not enough to be better than those who rank above you.
I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.
If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.