SEO can be a painfully slow process. It can take months after starting your first SEO campaign to notice any significant results. And if you’re lucky, it will only take a few months after that for the investment to turn a profit. If you’re not so lucky, it can take months to realize that you’ve been ripped off by a shady SEO company.
But why is SEO so slow? Well, it boils down to several factors. Some of these factors are conscious decisions made by Google, others are technical limitations, and most of them fall somewhere in between.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why SEO is so slow—and why that might even be a good thing.
It takes time to earn Google’s trust
Only Google employees know exactly how Google ranks websites in search results, but there are still lots of tools and clues the rest of us can use to get a better idea of Google’s ranking system.
The biggest clues come from Google’s Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines. In 2015, Google publicly released the document their army of “search quality raters” uses to judge websites. Basically, Google uses these search quality raters to determine which sites real people find easy to use, trustworthy, and helpful.
Unfortunately, this involves using the kind of intuition that’s difficult to turn into programming, so Google relies on help from real humans. These human-rated websites are then judged against their automated search results to see if everything is on track.
So why does this matter?
Well, the document literally tells you that “Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness,” or “E-A-T” are some of the most important factors to consider when grading a website.
While the guide constantly reiterates how important these factors are, it doesn’t go into very much detail on the factors themselves. The Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines state that “Recommendations from expert sources, such as professional societies, are strong evidence of a very positive reputation.” They also state that some topics (such as medical advice) generally require more formal expertise, but that “sharing personal experience is a form of everyday expertise.” This, unfortunately, is as close as Google comes to giving an in-depth explanation of their criteria.
It seems like Google intentionally left their definition of E-A-T vague. From what we can tell, they didn’t want to redefine what it means to have expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness; instead, Google forces their raters to use their own intuition and research skills.
In the real world, it’s not easy to demonstrate expertise, authoritativeness, or trustworthiness. It takes time to earn a PhD, gain a following, or earn the trust of your peers and audience. Google understands this, and they also know that it takes time for these accomplishments to be reflected online. That’s just one reason why the SEO process is so slow.
Building good links takes time
One of the big ways that Google’s algorithms try to get a grip on a website’s E-A-T is by evaluating its inbound links. In fact, that’s the entire basis of their original algorithm.
Generally, the harder it is to get a link, the more Google values it when determining rankings. While easy links can be built overnight (like ones from blog comments and cheap directories), gaining links from news coverage, quality guest posting, industry associations, and local organizations can all take much longer.
It takes time for Google to find new links
It doesn’t just take time to build a good link—it also takes time for Google to notice it.
To factor a page into their search results, Google has to “crawl” it with their automated bots and index it into their database. Then, they’ll periodically re-crawl it to see what has changed and how those changes should affect rankings.
With the massive number of sites existing today, it’s easy to see why Google might wait days, weeks, or even months to re-crawl the same page. And since Google won’t know about any of the new links to your website until they re-crawl it, it could take just as much time for any new links to factor into your website’s ranking.
If your website is brand new, Google might not even know it exists until they find a link to it (unless you set up Search Console for it). Once they do, you’ll still have to wait for Google to find several good links to your website before you see your site begin to rank.
Slow ranking changes obscure how Google’s system works
Imagine you just got a link from the New York Times and the rankings for your primary keyword immediately shot up by 10 positions. Then the week after that, you get a link from TechCrunch and your rankings gain another 3 positions. Then, you buy a link from a black-hat link network, thinking it would help your rankings, but you actually end up losing 5 positions.
If everyone had this kind of information about the impact that specific sites could have on their rankings, it would be much easier to manipulate search results. Spammers would be the first to capitalize on this by testing links in large batches, and the people who build legitimate links based on relationships would suffer.
By making it harder to tell which factors impact search results, Google forces webmasters to rely on their principles: publish quality content, earn links naturally, and play fair.
SEO is, should be, and always will be slow
Building something worthwhile takes time, and Google realizes that.
For searches that demand brand new results, like news that just occurred, Google uses something called “Query Deserves Freshness”, or QDF, to override some of the usual ranking signals.
For everything else, users would rather see search results that have stood the test of time and earned their place. So, if you’re waiting for an SEO campaign to kick in and impact your rankings, spend less time worrying about when that will happen, and more time making sure you’re doing it the right way.