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One of the most difficult things to understand when you start optimizing a site for SEO is the timeline. How long does it take for SEO to work? For ecommerce store owners used to the quick results of PPC, this question often turns into– why does SEO take so long?

In this article, we’ll talk about the average SEO timeline and what factors may cause the process to take more or less time.

Your SEO Timeline: How to Get the Results You Need 

Search engine optimization basics
SEO Timeline: Before the clock starts
Month 1
Month 2
Months 3 and 4
Month 5 and on
Why does SEO take so long? How you can speed up the process
Factors that can slow down your SEO timeline
Factors that can speed up your SEO timeline

The average SEO timeline for results is 6 months. But those results will vary depending on your current site health, competition and many other factors.

The most important thing to remember when planning your SEO timeline is that SEO takes time. 

It’s not about waiting for search engine magic, it’s a complex, repetitive and detail-oriented process. SEO is a long-term strategy, so set your goals and expectations for the next five years of your business, not just the next five weeks.

A man building a store shows the process it takes to execute a strong SEO timeline

In some ways, building SEO for your website is like building a brick and mortar store

First, there are the technical aspects of building, plumbing and electric. These help your store operate without problems like a leaky roof or a hole in the floor. 

Next, there are the design elements that create a welcoming space for your shoppers. 

Then, there’s the housekeeping and maintenance that keeps everything in your store in working order. 

Finally, there’s the marketing you create to bring people into your store.

It’s true, your store isn’t ranked, and you’re probably not competing for the most popular store in the neighborhood. But you do have to consider the rules of your city, municipality or neighborhood association to keep your brick-and-mortar compliant.

And just like your local brick and mortar store brings people in with its great location and attractive storefront, with the right search engine optimization, your online store can pull in the perfect customers to grow your business.

Search engine optimization basics

If you’ve ever watched a home improvement show, you know that each episode starts with a clear goal and timeline. As the episode continues, the contractor discovers all the problems he or she needs to fix. Broken sewer lines, carpenter ants, knob and tube electric or rusted pipes can hit the timeline and budget hard. 

A man reseearches online to get set for the perfect SEO timeline before he hires Selz experts

Changes to your SEO timeline may be the same way. There’s a lot of technical vocabulary in SEO that makes it feel a lot more complicated and mysterious than it really is. You learned random home renovation terms by watching multiple seasons of your favorite shows, then doing a little research on your own. You can learn about SEO in the same way, and this list of SEO vocabulary is a good place to start.

SEO is part of all the tasks you already do to build and maintain your online store. SEO can help you reach more people and put a spotlight on the value your store can offer. But before you invest the time and resources you need to optimize your ecommerce store, let’s talk about what the first six months might look like to help set your expectations.

SEO Timeline: Before the clock starts

Your budget is often a stress point that puts pressure on your SEO timeline. Most small businesses learn how to do more with less early on. 

Because SEO is a long-term strategy that requires a lot of specialized knowledge, it’s a good idea to set a budget and stick to it. Do some research on SEO plans and options. Next, create a clear outline of what you want and how you think it will make a difference for your business.

For example, say you’re working on your annual marketing budget in January. You want to increase organic search 200% by November to increase your traffic for the holiday shopping rush. With that in mind, work backward from that goal to form your ideal SEO timeline. On average, it takes six months to see results from SEO efforts and that impact builds over time. So, the earlier you start the faster your results will come. 

Organize your SEO timeline around important times of year for your business, like the holiday shopping rush

Working with an outside agency can speed up that timeline significantly. They have more expertise, so they won’t struggle with the learning curve or unexpected results. The best SEO teams will also have broad and specific knowledge of your niche and resources that can speed up the process. So, if you see the potential for additional sales during the holidays with increased organic traffic, it’s smart to start your SEO strategy with a team of experts right away.

If you haven’t built an SEO strategy before, ask yourself: 

  • Do you want to focus on an increase in traffic?
  • Do you want to prioritize an increase in conversions?
  • Are you hoping to generate a set number of leads?
  • Do you want to build awareness for your brand and brand keywords?

It’s possible to make progress on all these goals with the right SEO timeline, but keep in mind that the more goals you have the longer your strategy could take to accomplish.

SEO Timeline: Month 1

Most of SEO is research. Depending on your site and niche, this research could include technical SEO audit, keyword research, or digging into competitor sites. 

These articles and online courses are a great place to start learning:

KEYWORD RESEARCH: The Definitive Guide
How to Do Keyword Research for SEO
How to Do an SEO Competitive Analysis
SEO Competitive Analysis: The Definitive Guide
Technical WordPress SEO

Selz ecommerce SEO is a great way to build awareness and publicity for your small business

If what you discover in your research is a little overwhelming, it will probably take longer to optimize your site for SEO. So, schedule a free site audit before you go any further. 

Depending on your skillset, you may want to consider learning about technical SEO first. Then you can make updates on your own before you bring in outside help. 

SEO Timeline: Month 2

Once your research is at the right point, optimization can begin! This stage can take a significant amount of time or just a couple of months. It will depend on the resources you’ve dedicated to the project and the current state of your site. 

Your SEO timeline relies on attention to detail, so get Selz experts involved early in the process

Optimization may involve on-page updates like revising product descriptions and adding alt text to product images. It could also turn into a major project that requires extensive technical updates and content creation.

Read more: It’s Not SEO Magic: 3 Ways to Improve Your Site for Search

SEO Timeline: Months 3 and 4

After a few months of dedicated cleanup and link building, you should see some changes in the SERPs. The changes you’ll see should be in line with your SEO strategy. If not, you’ll need to revisit the plan and make changes sooner than later.

If you have a hard time asking for outside help or waiting for results, don’t forget you can talk to your SEO Partners about what you can do to support and enhance their efforts. Some services, like Selz, offer SEO Services as well as ecommerce coaching. When you combine these resources you have more options to grow traffic and conversions with less wasted time.

SEO Timeline: Month 5 and on

During this stage, you’ll be actively adding new content and backlinks to your site. You’ll have a clear picture of your entire website and you’ll know how to measure the performance of different pages and sections of your website.

SEO is about making your site healthy, so doing regular cleanup with tools like Ahrefs site audit or Screaming Frog isn’t just something that you test and execute once then forget about it.

You’ll want to check your site health at least once a month for as long as your site is live, in addition to monitoring your analytics. It’s also a good idea to check page speed regularly. Even if you’re the only person making site updates, a change of plug-in can create an unintended ripple effect on your site health.

Why does SEO take so long? How you can speed up the process

Slow and steady wins the SEO race, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait in the dark. If you’re getting outside help for search engine optimization, ask for an updated timeline after your initial audit and anytime you feel like the process is stalling. 

Site optimization is complex and requires a clear plan

If you’re managing SEO on your own, set small measurable goals like a percentage increase in conversions from organic traffic or ranking for a specific section of your blog. This will give you a snapshot of the overall progress you’re making and inspire you to keep pushing.

Depending on your competition and the resources you can dedicate to the work, it can take an SEO timeline of a year or more for you to see the top results you’re hoping for. 

That lack of progress can feel frustrating, but SEO timelines can change based on a lot of factors that are out of your control. The following are factors that have an impact on SEO performance.

Factors that can slow down your SEO timeline


Older domains often rank faster than brand new ones. This is usually because an older site will have existing backlinks and content, which is a signal of trust for search engines like Google. You can learn more about Google’s ranking factors in this article. 

SEO penalties

Google search console can tell you if there are any outstanding penalties or manual actions for your site. It’s a good idea to address these issues first. 

Google search console is an effective tool to speed up your SEO timeline

Another thing you’ll want to clean up are some common site errors:

  • 404 errors
  • Missing alt text for images
  • Duplicate content

Factors that can speed up your SEO timeline

A man blogging online is creating great content that  will improve search engine optimization

Great site content

A lot of articles about SEO make a point of covering keyword stuffing. This technique was a popular way to rank content online for many years. But today search engine optimization requires creative and innovative content. Searchers want to read blogs, web copy and product descriptions that do the best job answering their search query!

Voice search

SEO experts started talking about voice search a few years ago, and the changes voice search brought are still making waves that impact your SEO timeline. 

Voice search uses the words people speak out loud to devices like Siri and Alexa. Voice-based search terms often form questions or phrases like “Why use Basecamp” instead of titles like “Basecamp features.” This change in search impacts the way you should write content for your site. 

You always want to write for your reader, but you also want to make it easy for them to find you. Algorithms in search engines can help you out because they are looking for different groups of words to decide if your content is the best answer to a question.

Almost 92% of searches are long-tail keywords. This means that most people are searching for something very specific, but come up with results that are very general. So, if you’re an expert in your niche and are already creating content from the perspective of your customers you’re ahead of the curve!

Read more: The Ecommerce Guide to Writing SEO Friendly Product Descriptions

Selz makes it easy to add a blog to your ecommerce site for great SEO

Updating what’s already on your site

Another factor of SEO is how fresh your content is. For successful search results you need to constantly add new content. It’s so convenient to have a built-in blog connected to your ecommerce store, and you can speed up your SEO timeline, just by adding new posts to your blog!

Social media

If you’re already active on social media you’re in a great place to build more links to your site. Look for influencers and other store owners who regularly comment or share your posts. They are a great place to start building partnerships. These friends of your store may already be sending fans to your site, so just asking them to add a link will make the process easier for them and a bigger benefit for you! 

Look at your SEO timeline in the long-term

The term SEO sounds very exciting and high-tech, but search engine optimization success really boils down to commitment. It’s digital housekeeping, smart research and making connections.

You wouldn’t walk away from your brick and mortar store if the whole thing wasn’t built and ready for sales in 2-3 months. SEO can have a powerful impact on your business, but it needs a realistic SEO timeline to get the results you expect. If you go into it with the right expectations, you will develop a powerful channel for long-term sales.

About the author

Jana Rumberger

Jana is a writer and Content Manager at Selz. She has expertise in ecommerce strategy, selling products online, and small business solutions. Jana combines diverse experience in education, design, and manufacturing to craft engaging content.

In addition to her writing, she is a visual artist and foodie in Portland, Oregon.