Posted by Sam Battin, Senior Search Strategist, SEO

Why does it take so long?

Something important to know about SEO is that it’s never immediate.  It’s not like paid search where you can spend $10,000 and at the end of the day you’ll know exactly what your ROI was.  First you need an SEO plan, then you need a talented developer to execute the SEO plan, and then you have to wait for a couple weeks to see how you did.  Here are the things a search engine needs to do that take a couple of weeks to complete:

1) Search engines have to crawl your site

If you’ve ever looked at your site’s server log, you can see when search engines are visiting your site.  You’ll notice that search engines aren’t visiting your site 24 hours a day; instead, they come by and request a couple pages and then they leave.

During these visits, search engines are doing a couple of different things; they’re checking to see if you have any new content, and they’re also making sure that the old content is still there.  They’ll check the text on your pages and the links that take visitors around the site.

Search engines don’t have unlimited resources, so they can only spend a few minutes crawling your site every day.  On the one hand search engines want to show their users the latest information about your site, but on the other they want to make sure they’re not showing their visitors any broken links. 

2) Search engines have to index your information

Crawlers merely collate the information about your site; what’s next is reporting that information to the search engine.  In this step, numbers are crunched and algorithms applied to determine the content of your site.  This ensures that your site isn’t spammy and has good information to contribute.  Search engines like sites that update often, so if information has changed since their last visit then that will go into the equation as well.  In this step, search engines also make judgments about the search terms for which your site is best suited.

3) Search engines have to re-calculate inbound link values

Inbound links to your site are always changing; to keep results relevant, search engines need to ensure that the links they previously found are still pointing to your site.  They must also re-calculate the value of those linking sites based on those sites’ own inbound links.  Sites that have more inbound links will pass along even more value through their link to your site.  Sites that lose value from low-value spam links or who have converted their content entirely to Flash will pass along less value with their links.

4) Search engines have to compare your site with everyone else

Now that search engines have reviewed your site’s content, checked the links going in and out, and determined the queries for which the site is best suited, search engines now compare your site with all the other sites competing for the same keyword sets.

This is why when you change the title tags on your site you can’t simply sit back in your chair, fold your arms and wait for your search traffic to begin increasing.  In our experience, it takes about four to six weeks for search engines to react to your changes and adjust your ranks accordingly on results pages. 

If you’re revising your site in preparation for a holiday, you should strive to have all your changes completed as many as two to three months before the event; this may provide you some time to put in additional refinements to your site if you’re not ranking for the keywords you want.

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