Rank one is the ultimate goal in search engine optimization (SEO)—at least for most companies. 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, getting to rank one is challenging. 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 reach rank one in Google search? And is it worth the time and effort?
Let’s start with the simple, high-level view: 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. In other words, there’s no formula for how long it takes to reach rank one; it all depends. This much we do know: the long term returns of organic search engine optimization, beat paid results.
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.
In short, the average age of a rank-one page is nearly 950 days—or more than 2.6 years. Rank-two results averaged about 850 days, with a steady declining trend down to rank 10, where the average age of a page is 650 days. Additionally, only 22 percent of 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? In short, 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.
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, you can get there in the span of a few months, but for the most part, it’s going to take a couple of years. What accounts for this difference? Which variables determine the length of time it takes to rank?
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 2.5 years to reach rank one, 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 SEO company. If you need help deciding which keywords to target or which rankings to target, or if you simply need help with the execution of your strategy, reach out to SEO.co for a free consultation today!