How long it takes to rank on Google is dependent on many factors.
Make no doubt about it: ranking on the top of the search engines is extremely valuable.
Rank one search results get far more traffic even than rank two search results; generally, 33 percent of clicks go to the top result, with 15 percent of clicks going to the second result.
In other words, increasing your rank by one can more than double your organic traffic for that keyword ranking.
The trouble is, the time to rank in position one on Google can literally take years.
SEO is a long-term strategy, and a competitive one; it takes time to develop the authority necessary to reach rank one, and even more time to usurp your top competitors, who are already sitting at rank one.
This can be intimidating for a business eager to see quick results.
How much time does it really take to your Google rankings to position one?
And is it worth the time and effort?
Let’s dive in!
In order to give a ballpark estimate of the length of time to rank in Google’s top position, you’ll need a complete SEO audit, which can provide a better timeline estimate.
This much we do know: the long term returns of organic search engine optimization, beat paid results.
The time it takes to reach rank one depends on many factors:
Google is a complex search engine, with an algorithm even experienced experts don’t fully understand, and different tactics yield different results.
On top of that, your results will be significantly dictated by your competition, since multiple companies like yours will be fighting for the same territory.
The formula and length of time to reach position one on Google is dependent on:
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Ahrefs conducted a study examining the average age of top-ranking pages, as an indication of how long it took to reach that rank.
To do this, they pulled in 2 million random keywords and looked at data for the top 10 ranking search engine results pages (SERPs) for each of them.
Additionally, only 22 percent of all the pages currently in the top 10 were created within the past year, and just over 1 percent of top-ranked search results were created within the past year.
What does this tell us?
If you can get to rank one within a year (which is possible), you’re an outlier.
Most businesses need to spend multiple years climbing to the top of the SERPs.
It’s what some digital marketers have deemed the “Google Sandbox.” The Google sandbox is a hypothetical phenomenon is an algorithmic hold or delayed effect on SEO for months or years until Google sees enough trust signals from your brand.
Neil Patel conducted a similar study, compiling data from BuzzSumo, SEMRush, and Ahrefs, to determine the average path to ranking in Google search results.
The average highest ranking position, among the millions of data points examined, was 1.81, and the average time it took to reach this position was 3.39 months, or about 100 days.
The average total referring domains was 25.
This tells us that merely entering the fray—getting to the first page of the SERPs—takes a few months for most businesses.
A smattering of other sources confirm these general ideas; some suggest it usually takes somewhere between a month and a year to rank, and some suggest it takes about 90 to 180 days, taking even longer to reach rank one (especially if the keywords are highly-competitive).
Sources vary, depending on what kind of data they’re examining, and whether they’re factoring in anecdotal evidence, but they’re all within the same ballpark.
We now have a general idea of how long it takes to reach the top spot in Google search.
If you’re at the upper end of the curve (or doing local SEO), you can get there in the span of a few months, but for the most competitive terms, it’s going to take a couple of years.
What accounts for this difference?
We discuss factor and entity diversity in other posts, but the most statistically significant factor for ranking #1 in Google results is diversity among the top 100 overall ranking factors for a given page.
These represent THE top statistically significant factors (Spearman Correlation between 0.31 to 0.19 at the time of this writing) to consider when looking to rank a given page in the top position:
We explain some of the top factors listed above in more detail below.
In the meantime, if you would like to scan your site’s backlinks, use our free tool for checking your backlinks now!
Google’s algorithm factors in both domain-level factors and page-level factors; that is to say, a page created on a 5-year-old, well-established domain is not the same as a page created on a brand new site, even if they’re created on the same day.
If you’re building a new website from scratch, you can count on needing additional time to reach rank one.
But if you have a strong domain already, your new and existing pages will be much more likely to reach high ranks quickly.
The nature of your content also matters; if you have a site packed with robust, detailed, popular content, it will be easier for your new pages to rank, since you’ll already have the benefit of high domain authority (or DA, which is Moz’s 3rd party measurement of domain rank) and high average domain rating (or DR, which is Ahref’s equivalent of logarithmic domain rank).
Perhaps obviously, the quality of your new page also matters. Not all web pages have the potential to reach rank one; if your page isn’t well-written, isn’t well-researched, or otherwise isn’t valuable to users, it won’t have much of a chance to rank—and certainly not quickly. Increase your chances of reaching rank one in the span of a few months by investing more time and effort into the value of your page. This will also help you earn more links, which as we’ll see, is a massive variable in your success.
One of the most important considering factors is the level of competition you face. If you’re trying to outrank a page that has been cemented in the rank-one position for many years, you’ll be fighting a major uphill battle. If the top-ranker is only there incidentally, you can displace them easily.
Generally speaking, higher-volume head keyword terms tend to be much more competitive than lower-volume long-tail keyword terms; the more popular a keyword is, the more competitors it attracts. It may take you several years to reach rank one for a term like “new bicycle,” but only a few months to reach rank one for a term like “used bicycle for teenagers in Memphis.”
If you instead focus your efforts on low competition keywords, you’ll have a better chance to reach the first page of Google.
You can build a list of your target keywords by performing a basic keyword search or diving into exhaustive keyword research with the right SEO tools.
Keyword optimization and technical SEO are important in determining your search rankings.
Despite popular opinion, and while there is a strong statistical correlation, link building services are NOT the top factor in ranking websites quickly in search engines.
Google calculates the “authority” or trustworthiness of your pages based on the number and quality of referring domains pointing to your pages with links.
Without link building, even the best-written, keyword-optimized page is going to be virtually unable to reach rank one. Conversely, if you’re able to build a host of high-quality, content-appropriate links to your page in the first few months of its existence, you’ll have a good chance of beating the curve to reach rank one.
The best SEO strategists utilize a mix of built links (with offsite guest posts) and earned links (naturally attracted with quality content).
There are other variables to consider as well, including technical factors like whether the page is mobile-optimized, but these are the ones you’ll need to consider most.
Knowing that it could take 1 to 5 years to rank for competitive key terms, is it truly worth the time and effort? The short answer is, yet again, it depends.
In some cases, reaching rank one is such a valuable achievement that it’s worth pursuing, no matter how long it takes. For example, if a query is getting 100,000 searches a month, moving from rank two to rank one could move you from 15,000 monthly visitors to 33,000 monthly visitors. But let’s consider a keyword that gets 1,000 monthly searches; moving from rank two to rank one will take you from 150 to 330 monthly visitors, a net increase of 180 visitors. If this is the case, getting to rank two for a handful of other queries may be a more prudent use of your time (and money).
Every SEO strategy requires a balance between ambition and opportunism. It pays to try and rank as high as possible for the most lucrative keywords relevant to your brand, but it’s also important to seek the easy victories—the low-hanging fruit that yields a lower return, but also costs less time and money to earn.
If you want to rank more rapidly, it’s typically best to implement a long-tail keyword strategy, using your on-site blog posts to target less-competitive long-tail keywords, knowing your “money” keywords will come in due time.
Should you strive for rank one, or a plethora of rank-two results?
And if you’re shooting for rank one, which tactics should you use to get there?
Everything gets easier with the help of an establshed SEO company that focuses on the data and math of today’s online search engine algorithms.
Our comprehensive SEO audits take into account direct (e.g. Google Search Console, Google Analytics) and third party tools (e.g. Ahrefs, Moz, SEOSurfer) taking a look at your website on page and off page.
We help you tune your pages for on and off-site factors so you can significantly decrease the time it takes for your site to rank high in Google search results!
Schedule a free consult today to discuss how we can rank your website higher and faster in Google search with relevant content marketing!