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How long does it take to see SEO results, and what results can I expect?

Ok, the truth?  No one asked me this, but it would be good to be asked.  When you have clients for your service, you need to know what results they expect and to find out if those results are reasonable.  When do they expect them to happen?  Is what they want to see happen even possible?

With search engine marketing, there's a huge barrier in jargon, education, technical expertise, so it's easy to let it just be a big unknown.

I suspect the perspective of many SEO clients is "we know we need to do it, because we want high rankings, and we have no idea how to get them.  You get them for us."  And that's our job. 

The Keywords You Target Can Make or Break Your Campaign

You want high rankings on which keywords?  Every client has some keywords they want to rank for, but are those the keywords that get the most searches?  Are those the keywords your best prospects are typing into the search engines?  How do you know?  Even we experts guess wrong frequently- we can find out what people are really searching for.

More importantly, how tough are those keywords to rank for?  After all, if they're the best keywords, a lot of sites will be competing to rank in the top 5 or 10 results for them, right?  So it takes a lot of effort.

How long will it take to get the rankings you want? 

It depends on a lot of factors, including:
- The competitiveness of the keywords
- How many webpages you have
- How old your site is
- How many links you have to your homepage
- How many links you have to deeper pages
- The quality of those links, their age, and the relevance of the pages that link to you to the topic/keyword you're targeting
- How well optimized your pages are for the target keywords
- How quickly your webpages load

...and many others.  There are literally dozens of ways to negatively impact your search rankings- some of them are done by webmasters with their choice of URL, some of them happen when you choose what words go in your navigational links, and so on.  SEO touches every aspect of your website's design, functionality, and hosting.

As implied above, selection of keywords and a study of your competition comes first.  It doesn't matter how hard you work on SEO if you work on the wrong keywords.  

Here's how it can go wrong with bad keywords:
- You might rank #1 for your favorite keywords, but they won't bring you traffic if few people are searching for them
- The people that do come on those keywords might not give you your website's most wanted response
- You could chase after good rankings on a too-competitive keyword and get nowhere, wasting effort you might have spent on another searched-for keyword that was overlooked by the competition
- You might want to target a keyword that your site's content will never allow you to rank on

Let me expand on that last one with an example.  

Being Unreasonably Ambitious in Keyword Choice

I'll bet Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet would each love to rank in the top ten for the search "new car".  But if you search Google for that keyword, you'll notice not one brand has succeeded at that.  Is that because they haven't worked hard enough on SEO?  Maybe.  But it's more likely because Google wants to provide the best possible search results, and a searcher for "new car" has not yet chosen a brand.  There are dozens of car brands, so it would be better to serve up search results for "new car" that deal with the entire topic of new cars.  If you notice, the natural search results include Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds, and MSN and Yahoo's car subsites.  This is Google giving the searcher the most appropriate results for their level of specificity.  Now, if you search for "ford", or "new ford", you'd expect to see ford.com in the top five.  And not Toyota, no matter how much somebody at Toyota wants to be #1 for it.

You can only rank for keywords your site deserves to rank for.  You can't fake out the search engines anymore.  A site about trucks will never rank highly for a search for "cars".  

If you want to rank for "new cars", you need to create a site that covers the entire topic and is good enough for hundreds (thousands for a keyword like this) to link to.  Then get those links.  How much would it cost to compete here?  How many pages and links do kbb.com and edmunds.com have? 

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