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Our Least Favorite Question to Answer

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As a digital marketing company that focuses on SEO, we work in a complex mess of systems and tactics that, truth be told, sometimes even we don’t fully understand. With updates from Google periodically rolling out, misinformation floating around in forums, and the looming fear of blackhat penalties, our days are never boring.

As proud citizens of this vexing society, we are accustomed to our clients asking lots of questions. Generally we enjoy answering these questions and explaining the way our world works. But there is one question that makes our skin crawl and keeps us up at night.

The reason we dread this question so much is because it is an absolutely fair question for our clients to ask, but it’s impossible to answer with even the slightest illusion of certainty.

Our least favorite question to answer is – “How long does SEO take to work?”

Again, we totally understand why clients ask this question. Their money is important and like any other investment they want to know when they can start seeing an ROI. However, there are three reasons we have to take a deep breath before answering.

The Starting Point

Everytime we embark on a SEO campaign, it’s a different story. Every website has different strengths and weaknesses, and assessing them isn’t always easy. In order to answer the question accurately, it would require an entire case study on the current state of the website.

The age of the domain, the amount of content, average traffic, amount of backlinks, domain authority, competitiveness of desired keywords, industry factors, and competitor analysis are all needed bits of information. We have reporting tools to get a lot of this information, but that will vary from site to site.

So answering the blanket question, “how long does SEO take to work?” is impossible. It is completely dependent on the above listed factors. We can take a stab at how long it might take for a particular client’s site, but even then we’re at the mercy of factors we can’t control.

The Competition

If you spend $1,000 a month on SEO, but your competition spends $1,200 you’ll lose every time. This is the main crux of the problem. We can take a best guess at a timeline, but that timeline is dependent on current conditions staying the same.

Firstly, getting an accurate gauge on what your competitors’ SEO efforts is almost impossible. There are a few tools out there, but none are very accurate. Even if we could get this information, it could change at anytime. If just one of your competitors decides to step up their SEO game, our hypothetical timeline is worthless.

SEO isn’t just a set of boxes to check and rules to follow, it’s a bloodbath. You do everything right, but ultimately the results depend on you outworking your competition.


One our biggest tasks on any SEO campaign is getting backlinks, which are links to your website hosted on another website. This is a tricky process, but the trickiest part is making sure the backlinks get indexed by Google.

Again, there are some tools out there that promise instant indexing, but there’s really no way to tell. Once we get the backlink it’s basically a waiting game for Google to index. All we can do is try to appease the Google gods and hope for a fast index.

To be clear, if we were a client we would ask our SEO company for a timeline too. This is a fair and legitimate question to ask, the answer is just more complicated than most people think.

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