The short answer is there are no one size fits all answers to that question
In a very best case scenario you can see considerable results in six months more realistically twelve. This best case scenario is for example for a new site with a brand new domain never used before. Measuring SEO in anything less than six month periods is a completely futile and misleading exercise.
Parthenon in Athens – Philosophy Bedrock – Huh SEO
Quick tip 1 – consider SEO from the outset
If there are no major surprises such a poor work carried out previously, typically low paid low quality outsourced link building, that may even have returned really fast and “good results” for a little while and that we may have to go and either disavow or remove altogether, in such scenario we may well need far more than six months.
This is the most classic type of chronic poor SEO or webspam as the proper name for that is, but well beyond that, inadvertent low quality content, graphic design centred web design to mention but a few.
Firstly we need to distinguish between a new and old site
For a new site – and by new site we assume a site that is newly launched and runs on a new domain (this is important as a new site running on a domain that has previously been owned) may well have a toxic history that could affect or completely compromise any SEO efforts you do.
This is also under the “optimal” scenario of you, the site owner knowing upfront enough about how Google the web and search friendly sites work and are built.
So you are, or have access to a savvy web designer that understands the above and considers both technical search friendliness and site architecture from scratch and so the site is built under this premise for maximum SEO benefit, thus, you stand the chance of seeing good results in six or twelve months.
For an existing site – sadly, almost without fail, in my experience anything else will be a much harder site to do SEO with, or see good results in the timeframes above.
The reason for that is one of the two scenarios:
The site had SEO done to it – as a rule of thumb the more people or companies done SEO to it the harder it will be to work with or return results quickly, this is normally due to the fact that the previous SEO knowingly or misguidedly used low quality techniques such as poor link building en mass, keyword stuffing and so on, these would fall under the webspam umbrella and to some extent ruined the reputation of your site.
The site had no SEO work done – under this premise the older the site (if Google does not rank it anywhere at all) the harder it will be to “convince the algorithms” that the site is a trusted source for the subject matter it covers.
Quick tip 2 – learn what webspam is, FAST and avoid it at all costs – webspam is for search as doping is for competitive sports
If sounds too good to be SEO it probably isn’t SEO
If it sounds too good to be SEO probably isn’t SEO, guaranteed fast quick results are NOT and never were SEO, learn what webspam is FAST (and yes I do know capitals means shouting on the interwebs) I add bold for good measure and I’m writing this from the highest rooftop in London, see the top of the Shard, from here a seat and write.
Real SEO is more alive than ever – just got harder so raise the bar
Quick tip 3 – SEO is by definition a long term strategy do not give up halfway
SEO is by definition not a short term strategy and anyone telling you otherwise is quite simply talking about spam and not SEO. The same goes for any guaranteed results.
For short term you should invest in a form of paid media for Google that is Adwords – PPC or pay per click and you can show top result on Google page above the SEO ones in matter of minutes, provided you throw enough money at it.
That is of course not as potentially rewarding over the lifetime of your site as SEO.
PPC to use an expression from an old teacher is a mixture of “crack and casino“, meaning what you get out of your PPC is a one time affair. You invest £1000.00 you get X amount of impressions, X amount of clicks and when your fine grand runs out, whatever you got out of it, that is it. Finito!
On the other hand with SEO what you put into it, is divided by the lifespan of your site, and webspam equally, if you get fast return on your SEO, which more likely will be spam and not SEO, you will be then harvesting that for the rest of the lifespan of your site.
I’m going to offer that the lifespan will be directly opposite to the severity of your SPAM problem, this means that if you are really unlucky and hired an unscrupulous SEO, your site and domain may last as little as one year and anything else you throw at it, well will be a waste of money.
I recently had a client that wanted to look at SEO results in the same fashion, taking about SEO ROI in three months or even six just reveals a complete lack of understanding of how Google works.
SEO is partly owned media and partly earned media, if you want to find out what these are go ahead and click to see some quick definitions below.
Quick tip 4 – the ROI of your SEO like the ROI of your site is calculated by the total investment divided by the lifetime of your site or business.
How long do you want to stay around?
The longer you stay around the more you get with the least amount of time and money, but there are no shortcuts in the beginning, cripples cannot run marathons, reputations aren’t built overnight.
For truly organic rankings that are based on the true reputation of your site, blog and you or your team as trusted author(s) in your subject matter, there is only one way to it and that is by thinking long term and produce the best possible content that focus on answering your user’s questions and by establishing relationships that validate your credentials and knowledge, anything else is probably not worth doing and in particular link building which is a form of SEO crack at this stage in 2014.
I recommend doing that with as much advance planning as possible and again produce content both for business (transactional queries) and (informative queries) inline with your business agenda and for example the seasonality of your market and target audience, it may include an editorial calendar in a form of a spreadsheet or even a wordpress plugin if that ‘s waht your site is built on.
Quick notions covered in this post:
SEO is not strictly a marketing channel
The true ROI of SEO can only be calculated at the end of your business life cycle (what? Yes, absolutely) if you knowingly or inadvertently spent £xxxxx.00 on short term SEO In the first six months of your site’s existence and you got results and even some apparent return on investment, that is more than likely the kind of WebSpam and the true NEGATIVE results are yet to come and if you are really unlucky you will be harvesting those for years to come.
The ROI of SPAM is non existent
Webspam – short term SEO churn and burn strategies that may return quick rankings but will burn your domain name and possibly your business chances of success. The most common issue I encounter both with small business owners and managers as well as with some of my tuition clients is that they are largely blissfully (or not so blissfully) unaware of what webspam is.
Reputation – reputation is a word used in SEO largely to refer to the number of links to your site, this comes from the old notions and to some extent the link and keyword based search infrastructure.
Reputation in the era of Google+, Hummingbird, semantic SEO age is a measure of the quality and authority of your content (authority vs popularity check that link to understand the difference – scroll) and you or your site’s authors relationships, not the number of links, but rather the quality of your relationships in your field or subject matter.
Google is your partner (love it or hate it)
Speaking of which the most important one in this game and often misjudged by many site owners including apparently savvy content creators, is that Google is your partner, that’s the arrangement you enter in when investing time or money in SEO, yes, I do know that the big elephant in the room is so massive and present that you and me take it for granted and may fail to view it as such, that is in my opinion not a wise thing to do. (But I only know I know nothing :)
Owned Media – your website and blog and any digital assets you have direct control of.
Paid Media – attention you pay for; includes PPC and display as well as any form of advertising you pay for and have no direct control over, Facebook post boosts, sponsored tweets, etc r.
PPC Pay-Per-Click – you put £10000.00 in, the return of that is whatever you get out of it and that is it.
Earned Media – things you do not control and do not pay for but earn you some attention, these include any mentions on social media (if you pay for Facebook followers and twitter mentions – these are not earned media) any links that come naturally to your site (again links you paid for with money and or any other kind of compensation ARE NOT earned media).
Where does SEO Fall?
Great question, that will depend on your understanding and definition of SEO and at is why before calculating success or results let alone attributable PPC or paid media kind of metrics to it such as I invested 1K and return was 2K are virtually impossible.
SEO is not strictly a marketing channel, just as your website alone is not a marketing channel, these are both devices that aid your overall marketing efforts and wider presence in your market. Your site is your shop window, SEO and content marketing are your seasonal decoration.
Calculating the ROI of SEO
Given the above and the fact that a user may find you and research your on Google’s organic part of the SERP (search engine results page) and may then convert for example by calling your number. It is virtually impossible to attribute real specific return on SEO.
In my opinion you need to throw SEO and the cost of designing, developing and maintaining your site and divide the all investment by the number of years you intend to stay around.
Also, in my experience, if you are doing the real kind of SEO that focus on UX (User Experience) the return will rise and the investment decrease the longer you stay around, this is due to the fact that you build a reputation progressively, just like in real life.
The Internet is no longer a far west distant type fantasy land where everything goes, the Internet, web, Google and SEO are the real thing and the IoT is coming or already here…