One of the common questions that SEO companies are asked is “how long will this program take to produce results?” That is actually a difficult question to answer, because each case is unique. What you have to understand is that there are many factors all in play at the same time, and all of these things effect how long it will take for you to rank on page one of Google (which is the goal.) What you have to understand is that SEO is actually a competition between your website and all of the other websites that are competing for that position in Google’s results. The winner is going to be the webiste that satisfies Google the most with regards to the factors that are being considered, which is essentially “content” and “links.” A modern SEO program is essentially a “content creation” strategy. This means that unique content on a topic that is being targeted is created and then positioned on your website, or on sites linking to your website. The target topic is the thing you want to rank for in searches, and the content on that topic is positioned either on your website in order to convince Google that you are an authority on that topic, or offsite with a link back to your website. This reinforces the understanding on Google’s part that you are an authority on the topic, because information on that subject that is found in other places on the internet is then linking back to your website. This is a simplistic version of the way it works, but essentially that is what is creating the positions you have in search results. If your information is better than your competition, and the links coming in to that page are also better, then you will outrank them.
The question of “how long until I outrank my competition” depends on how much work we are doing targeting this particular subject and how much work your competition is doing on the same subject. Basically, it comes down to the challenge of creating original content that is better than theirs, along with more links than them and better ones. We can only speculate as to how much they are doing, because we cannot see everything that they are doing on their site, or how many links they have. We can use software to analyze their website and get an idea of the links they have, but we cannot see everything, only Google can. Software that we use will find some of the links they have, but will rarely find all of them. All of these links are a factor with regards to rankings, so we need to concentrate on doing more than them. If there are many competitors in the space, and they are all developing content and links, we are going to need to do more than them all.
How competitive a keyword or keyphrase is decides how much work is necessary. Something that is going to make a lot of money for the businesses that are on the first page is probably going to be quite competitive, as all those competing businesses understand the value of being on the first page. This means that we are going to need to catch up to them all, and then eventually do more than them in order to outrank them. One thing that many people assume is that we can just do a ton of work in a short time and then that volume will make us surpass the competition. What must be understood is that Google is looking for “natural” things. Google does not want to put the websites that are targeting rankings into their results, and instead they want to put the websites that provide the best information on a topic. If you make it obvious that you are targeting rankings and your seo program is specifically to rank for a certain phrase, Google will actually push you backward in rankings as a penalty. We must approach seo in a way that looks like the natural things that a business would do on a website, providing information on their expert topic over time and external websites linking to that content over time. If all of the information shows up in a short time and then stops, it looks completely artificial and will not accomplish the goal. A good seo program builds authority over time, and reinforces that authority by continuing to publish.
So the factors that come into play are essentially how much work are we doing vs everyone else that is targeting this same topic. When you view it this way, it becomes more of a discussion of how competitive the phrase is vs how much work we can safely do each month without appearing unnatural. In many circumstances, the “how long will it take” discussion is completely decided by the client budget, which limits the amount of work each month. If a phrase is competitive and we are only doing a small amount of work, we can expect it to take many months or even years to overtake the competition, if we do at all. If we are using a projection of competition vs the safe amount of work that can be done, it will generally take somewhere between 6 and 9 months to see a page one ranking if a website is brand new. If it has been established for a while it might take less, but generally it takes around 6 months to establish authority on a subject that Google has not considered you for at that point. If you are already considered an authority it may be less time, however you also must understand that moving from a deep page number up to a first page is actually easier than moving from the top of page 2 onto page 1. The real competition for a phrase is generally found on the first 2 pages or results. So it might take 6 months to get rankings on page 1 and then another 6 months to move from number 10 to number 2.
Basically, the “how long does an seo program take” is answered speculatively. We look over some factors like your existing website and the competition, and we make a judgment call as far as how much work we think we can safely do without garnishing a penalty. If this amount of work is more than your budget allows, then the process will take longer. If it is within your budget, it will probably take about 6 months or so to see results.