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A popular thought within the online marketing community is that SEO is closer to a marathon than it is to a sprint. While pay-per-click and display advertising make it easy to reach a large audience very quickly, SEO offers a far greater ROI for businesses, albeit with a far lengthier time scale.

It’s common for businesses to turn to their SEO services company in California one or two months into a campaign, see little to no visible progress, and wonder where there money has gone.

Don’t worry – it’s been well spent, but the results just aren’t visible yet.

In a marathon, the first twenty miles are all about preparing for the end. Runners intentionally operate below their abilities for the first few legs of the race to stop themselves from running out of steam at the end. It’s called ‘hitting the wall’ and it’s a very real phenomenon for runners that didn’t adequately plan their race.

SEO is much the same – if you start out too quickly, aggressively building links to your website and stuffing your content with keywords, you’ll quickly achieve top rankings. The only problem is that towards the end of the race – in this case, the next Google search quality update – you’ll hit the wall and lose your position.

Just like cooking something at too high a temperature will burn it, overcooking your SEO efforts will push your website further towards the bottom in the long run. As such, it’s important to judge SEO results using a long-term time scale.

Below, we’ve listed three stages of SEO success: ranking for long-tail keywords, moving up the ranks for major search keywords, and finally, ranking for highly valuable search keywords. Alongside each one is an indicator of how long this can take, and why you shouldn’t rush to achieve these results too quickly.

Ranking for long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are search keywords that typically have a high value, yet aren’t capable of bringing in much search traffic. An example of a long tail keyword is “good pillows for sofas” – a far more specific, and easier to achieve target than a short-tail keyword like “pillows.”

While long-tail keywords lack the volume of short-tail keywords, they’re generally the easiest keywords to rank for. If you’re working with an SEO provider to achieve high rankings for long-tail keywords, you could see a great deal of progress in as little as six months.

Moving up the ranks for major search keywords

The toughest SEO competition you’ll face is on the first page. Ranking on the second page of Google’s search results is a temporary step that, while still valuable to businesses, is rarely the end goal of any SEO campaign.

If your target keywords are short-tail terms (such as “pillows”) that have hundreds of thousands of monthly searchers, you can expect to reach the second page in anywhere from six months to two years. This, however, is dependent on the level of competition that you face within your industry.

Ranking for high-value search keywords

For most businesses, this is the goal: to rank prominently for high-value keywords that bring in hundreds of thousands of monthly visitors. With most short-tail keywords boasting extreme competition, this type of SEO can take years to achieve using reliable, long-term SEO tactics. 

If your goal is a short-tail keyword – for example, “pillows” or “insurance” – you’ll need a high budget, a capable SEO provider, and lots of patience. A target like this is not for impatient businesses, as high-value keywords are infamously competitive and rarely available using short-term tactics.

In closing…

If you’re ever concerned that your SEO campaign is taking too long to get off the ground, it’s worth remembering the analogy above: running too fast at the start of a marathon will slow you down at the finish line.

While there are hundreds of unethical SEO tactics that will help you move to the front of the pack quickly, they’ll rarely allow you to win the race. Think long term and you might be overtaken in the beginning, but you’ll have the strength to pull ahead as your competitors fall, giving you a reliable top-ranked website.

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