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If you’re like most modern companies, you’ve at least flirted with the idea of starting a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign. Maybe SEO has allowed you to capture a massive stream of inbound traffic and currently represents the most successful element of your marketing strategy. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between.
The appeal of SEO is pretty obvious. Rank higher in search engines, and you’ll get more inbound traffic. More inbound traffic leads to more revenue. And because SEO is relatively inexpensive, the return on investment (ROI) is often favorable even in merely decent campaigns.
That said, there are some important downsides to SEO that you must consider. Notably, SEO takes a long time to develop and show its true results.
So what are you supposed to do if you’re not seeing results? Should you keep investing, waiting and hoping for the best? Or do you withdraw and cut your losses? And if you must withdraw, when’s the best time to do it?
The SEO dilemma
This leads us to the central SEO dilemma. For SEO to work long-term, you have to keep investing in it for months — and sometimes years — despite seeing little to no results early on. In other words, you have to have faith in the strategy and keep pushing for further development. Considering the near-universal value of SEO, this is worth pushing for.
At the same time, it makes no sense to remain complacent with a strategy that isn’t bringing value to your organization. If you invested in SEO for 10 years with no results, most people would consider it a bad financial move.
So where do you draw the line? At what point do you consider calling it quits?
Reasonable timeframes for SEO
Before we can answer that question, we need to establish expectations for the timeline of SEO. How long should it take for a “normal” SEO campaign to develop?
This question is hard to answer, since it depends on so many variables. Campaigns may take longer or shorter depending on their budget, the industry, the quality of the SEO campaign and other factors. For our purposes, we’ll consider an experienced SEO campaign manager with a mid-sized business in a competitive (but not ridiculously so) industry). Additionally, the budget is neither restrictive nor indulgent.
Realistically, you should start to see some momentum within a few weeks of starting your campaign, and definitely within the first two months. You’ll notice your domain authority ticking upward (especially if you haven’t done any work on this yet), you’ll see measurable traffic increases and you should start climbing the search engine results pages (SERPs) for your target phrases. If you don’t see any measurable progress after two months, that’s a bad sign.
After three to six months, you should see much more progress. Even in a competitive industry, you should see yourself become a formidable player. If you’re still seeing minimal progress after six months of work, something is seriously wrong.
Alternatives to quitting
Here’s something else to consider: Abandoning the SEO campaign isn’t the only option available to you. If you’ve spent several months optimizing for search engines with not much to show for it, you could instead make adjustments to your strategy. If you’re targeting the wrong keyword phrases or if you’re competing on a national, instead of local level, you can make some strategic changes to see faster momentum.
If you’re doing the work all in-house or if you’re doing the work yourself, consider hiring an expert to take over the campaign. They can help you figure out what you’re doing wrong, correct the issues and ultimately prime you for better results.
Variables to consider
If you’re questioning whether your SEO strategy is working, or whether you should quit, be careful not to make any impulsive decisions. Instead, consider the variables that could be influencing this position, such as:
- Niche and competition. Competitive fields make it extremely difficult to grow.
- Standing penalties. Violations of Google’s terms of service can lead to penalties, which are very hard to recover from in some cases.
- Content quality. Bad content or adherence to questionable practices can stymie your momentum.
- Pace of work. Your budget and drive will dictate how much progress you make; if you’re only investing the bare minimum, you shouldn’t expect fast results.
SEO is a long-term strategy, and for the most part, you shouldn’t let your impatience get the better of you. Momentum builds slowly and is often imperceptible at first, gradually building to incredible heights. However, there are many ways a campaign can go wrong, and it’s not a good idea to continue pursuing a campaign that simply isn’t working. Keep a critical, analyzing eye on your campaign, and if it’s not generating results after a few months, be ready to change it or cut it loose.
Originally appeared in Entrepreneur