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How long does SEO take to work?

Two of the most common questions we are asked are "how long will it take to rank on the first page for my keywords?" or "when can I expect to be #1 in Google?" The answer to both of these questions is that it's impossible to know, and that this impossibility has been further cemented by the fact that SEO has evolved considerably over the last five years.

You see once upon a time SEO strategy was all about choosing lucrative keywords, building links to your website for those keywords, and sitting back while Google did the rest. Nowadays, that tactic is less effective and can actually get your website blacklisted. So-called "golden keywords" are no longer what you should be targeting – you should be looking at the long-tail; the phrase-based keywords which people are actually searching for on a daily basis.

When you ask an SEO agency "how long will it take to rank on the first page for my keywords?" or "when can I expect to be #1 in Google?", you are only telling them that you are stuck in the past and that you don't understand how modern search works. We're of the opinion that for the last three years the "golden keyword" paradigm has been wrong. We believe this because increasingly there is no one term that people are searching for, but several terms.

You need to wrap your head around modern search, then. SEO today is driven by natural search language – people asking Google stuff like "how tall is Michael Fassbender" and "how to make dauphinoise potatoes." This language-driven search is also supported by Yahoo and Bing. It's happening because people are increasingly using virtual assistants such as Apple's Siri, Google's Now and Microsoft's Cortana to get stuff done. As more and more people have turned to technology to ask things, search engine algorithms have had to adapt.

The good news is that these keywords are much easier to rank for. For example, it's much easier to get on the first page of Google for "how to create a brand strategy" than "brand strategy", or "dauphinoise potatoes recipe without cream" than "dauphinoise potatoes". The reason they are easier to rank for is because they are not as competitive. This might sound like a downer, but it actually isn't – long-tail keywords have a much higher chance of being relevant to the searcher than generic terms, which is why it's vital that you start targeting them.

This will lead to more engagement and ultimately more conversions.

We'll end this article with a bit of a shocker; your rankings don't matter as much as you think they do. I know, I know, it doesn't make sense – but instead of asking "how long will it take to rank on the first page for my keywords?", you should be asking "how can I become more relevant to my audience in the search engines?" This is a much better way of working, and it's something that all organisations can work towards.

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