How Long Does it take to Improve Search Engine Ranking

If you hire someone to help you improve your local search engine ranking, you undoubtedly want to know how long it will take to see an improvement in your current ranking.

Unfortunately, their isn’t a simple answer to this question. Improving your local search engine ranking depends on many factors and all of them take time to work.

In addition, it’s important to understand that online search results are generally going to reflect how dedicated you are to creating a strong online presence that offers real value to real people. The stronger your online presence, the more visibility you gain and the higher your search engine ranking will likely be.


The main factors affecting local online ranking include;

  • The number of local competitors.
  • The structure of your website.
  • How many local business directory listings you have.
  • Online reviews.
  • Quality of content on your website and on your directory listings.
  • Time

Generally, the days of listing your business on one or two sites, having a website with some basic content and a picture or two and waiting for your search engine ranking to improve are long gone.

Here’s the harsh reality.

Unless your business is in a very small town with little or no competition, if you don’t take the time and make an effort to improve your search engine ranking and online visibility using your website and local business listings… engines will likely ignore you.

This is why.

Search engines have become very powerful entities. Search engines want people who use their services and to be satisfied with the results. Therefore, when a user enters a search query, that search engine wants to display the best and most relevant information possible on it’s search results pages.

What is the best and most relevant information available to search engines?

Search engines keep the exact formula they use to determine search engine rankings secret.

This is what most industry experts agree on and what search engines say matters most to local search results page rankings; having a website, business directory listings and quality content that offers real value to people.

Generally if you have a website, list your business online and create content that offers some value to people, you will see, at the very least some local online visibility and subsequently some improvement of search engine ranking over a period of time.

Unfortunately, we still can’t answer this question. How long will it take to improve my search engine ranking?

That’s because the answer is; it depends.

The answer depends on the structure of your website. It depends on the number of business listings you have. It depends on the amount and quality of relevant information you have on your website and/or attached to your business listings and it depends on your competition and how much information they have published on their website and their business listings. It also depends on how often that particular search engine updates its results pages.

There’s more.

It also depends on how long your content has been posted online. The more competition you have the harder it will be to rank locally and the longer it will take. The one factor that nobody has any control over is time.

A search engine is like an new world explorer looking for information. When an explorer finds a source of valuable and reliable information, the explorer will tend to want to use that source to find out as much as possible before looking for another source. Similarly, when a search engine finds a local merchant that provides relevant information on a specific topic reliably over a period of time, that merchant will rise to the top of search engine rankings.


Be wary of promises to rank quickly!

Because we live is such a fast paced world, people and businesses generally want to see results quickly. As a result many marketing agencies and consultants either struggle or hesitate to give truthful answers to the question, “how long will it take to get me to the front page of search engine rankings.”

They fail to explain to clients all that must happen to get to the top of search results pages and they don’t discuss the one very important local search engine ranking factor that nobody can control; time.

With a little bit of knowledge you can guess about how long its going to take you to improve your search engine ranking.

Before we do that, let’s define exactly what we are talking about with regard to search engine ranking. Success can be a subjective point and therefore may be defined differently by specific businesses under different scenarios.


Definition of Search Engine Ranking Improvement

For the purposes of this discussion we used a definition that is used by industry experts and was used by Brightlocal in one of their surveys of local search engine ranking experts.

Here it is.

Search engine ranking improvement is defined as;

A clear improvement in either search ranking and/or clicks that leads to increased lead generation, which can be attributed to the optimization work being done for that particular business.


Estimate How Long it Will Take You to Rank Locally

If you understand the definition and objective, you then will better understand your own scenario and can then attempt to guess how long it will take you to rank on local search results pages.

This is how you do it.

First – answer these questions to the best of your ability.

  1. Do you have a website?
  2. Is your business listed on more than 10 business directories?
  3. Does your website and/or business directory listings provide information about your business, the products you sell and services you provide?
  4. Are there LESS than 3 other businesses within a 20 mile radius of your business that you would consider competitors?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, you can be reasonably sure that you will rank on local search results pages relatively quickly. That means in 6 months or less.

If you answered no to any of those questions – then there are many other factors that come into play.

Our own experience is this.

Our experience with getting clients to the top of local search results pages in very competitive markets requires the following:

  1. You must have a website with relevant content published.
  1. You must have your business listed on at least 70 local business directories including Google.
  2. People must actively be writing reviews about your business online.
  3. You must be patient – it can take at least a year to get to the top of search engines rankings in competitive markets.

To help you better guess how long it will take you to rank locally, we incorporated a survey of the industries leading experts conducted by Brightlocal. The survey considered 5 typical scenarios that cover most local businesses. The results of the survey provide a typical time period for the subject to achieve significant rankings and/or performance improvement.


5 scenarios – how long will it take to rank?

  • Scenario 1 – A brand new business
  • Scenario 2 – An existing website with some optimization
  • Scenario 3 – An existing website with poor optimization
  • Scenario 4 – A site is hit with a manual penalty
  • Scenario 5 – An existing client stops investing in SEO
  • Further questions

Scenario 1 – A brand new business

You land a new client. They are a brand new business and don’t have a website, nor local listings on Google, Bing or Yahoo.

How long would you advise the client that it will take before they see will significant ranking or performance improvement?

Note: this question has been divided into two scenarios; a) a client that works in a competitive sector & location, and b) a client that works in a non-competitive sector & location.

A) Client works in a competitive sector & location

Key Findings:

  • In a competitive scenario, 78% say that significant rankings can be achieved in 3-9 months
  • 50% say that 6-9 months is enough time to rank significantly
  • Only 11% believe significant rankings can be achieved in under 3 months
  • 11% say over a year

B) Client works in a non-competitive sector & location

Key Findings:

  • In a non competitive scenario, all experts agree that significant rankings can be achieved within 9 months
  • 94% say that it is possible to achieve significant local rankings within 6 months
  • 28% say significant local rankings can be achieved in under a month


In a competitive sector or location, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome, so trying to start from zero and achieve substantial local rankings is likely to take at least 3 months. However, in a non-competitive environment, significant local rankings can be achieved at a much quicker rate; and our experts suggest that even in the first month, some good progress can be made.

The strength of competition for a site starting from ‘nothing’ clearly plays a big part in how quickly a site can achieve local rankings. However, good news for start-up businesses is the suggestion that they can realistically compete in any scenario, within 6 months.

Expert quotes:

“It takes 6-10 weeks generally for Google to index and insert a brand new listing, let alone have it rank for anything.” – Joy Hawkins

“In the case of new sites, it’s pretty much a question of link building and getting the citation stuff spread out. Often time-to-rank issues are a function of the client’s ability to prioritize and schedule SEO tactics. If you have complete control of their site, citations & review strategy, the time-to-rank could be much faster, even in competitive niches (e.g. one great blog post can do it in a day), but in my experience that is rarely the case. – Andrew Shotland

“These are our favorite type of job for obvious reasons. Going from “no site and no listings” to “indexed and listed” is one of the few places we can guarantee fast results. We even charge less for new sites, because the job is so much easier.” – Scott Hendison

“For highly competitive industries and market areas, it’s realistic to consider organic local search marketing to be a long-haul effort. Ask yourself: why should your business rank higher than the approx 7-10 others that currently occupy the top positions? The simplest answer is: you don’t! Essentially, this is the nature of the game. It’s not possible to develop this in one month, flat. You need to consider ongoing, monthly services to make this a possibility.” – Chris Silver Smith

“I have found that it’s always better to under promise and over deliver. There are a lot of variables and uncertainties that come with this, so preparing your clients is essential to the relationship.” – Casey Meraz

“The biggest issue that influences the amount of time required to rank competitively are as follows: a) Local Search Eco-System Trickledown Effect: It takes months for NAP data to propagate from 1st tier directories down to 3rd and 4th tier directories. b) Review Generation is typically a slow process because a brand new business does not have strong brand recognition or a wealth of customer data to reach out to for reviews.” – Dev Basu

“Starting from a blank slate is easier in many ways because you don’t have pre-existing inconsistencies holding you back.” – Phil Britton

“In most competitive markets it takes time to build up the domain authority to be able to compete, but every once in a while you’ll see a new business that seemingly comes out of nowhere to rank in the top spots with next to no links, citations, or reviews. This is pure speculation on my part, but it seems like a “quality deserves freshness” factor in local search where Google will give a new business the opportunity to compete and then measure user engagement metrics to assess whether they are worthy of keeping that rank.” – Darren Shaw

“Local rankings for a new business take months and months even when everything goes smoothly. If clients drag their feet on crucial steps like getting reviews…well, who knows how long it will take.” – Phil Rozek

“Rankings in local search could be divided into organic search local rankings and “Maps” local rankings. The first type of rankings are influenced predominantly by the “traditional” ranking factors – website SEO, content, links. The second type of rankings are influenced by a mix of “traditional” and “Maps-specific” factors (such as citations). Therefore, a division in the results achievement time frame could be made. In general, rankings in organic search could be achieved relatively faster, especially in less competitive niches, as compared to rankings in the Maps search (“7-pack”). The rankings in the 7-pack rely heavily on citations, and citations are being associated with the corresponding Google+ Local listings on a cyclic basis. Sometimes, a few cycles are needed for a citation to be associated with a listing. Thus, the time frame is rather long even in extremely low competition niches.” – Nyagoslav Zhekov

Scenario 2 – Website with some optimization

You land a new client. They have an ok website but they don’t rank well in search and have had little optimization work done yet.

How long would you advise the client that it will take before they see will significant ranking or performance improvement?

Note: this question has been divided into two scenarios; a) a client that works in a competitive sector & location, and b) a client that works in a non-competitive sector & location.

A) Client works in a competitive sector & location

Key Findings:

  • In a competitive scenario, at least 3 months can be expected before significant rankings are realized
  • 3-9 months is seen as the optimum time required on an existing site
  • None of our experts believed that significant local rankings could be achieved in under a month

B) Client works in a non-competitive sector & location

Key Findings:

  • In a non-competitive scenario, 94% believe that optimization is realistic in under 6 months
  • 50% say that good local rankings can be achieved in under 2 months


In a competitive sector for websites that have had little work done on them, 50% of local search experts agree that significant local rankings can be gained within 3-6 months. Interestingly, the results don’t differ too much from a scenario where a client has NO website.

However, 11% of experts believe that a brand new business can achieve significant rankings within 2 months. Once we flip the scenario to a client with an existing site, only 6% agree that the same can be achieved. It suggest that it may be easier to start with a clean slate, than fix other SEO issues / discrepancies that may already exist – however trivial.

Expert quotes:

“Local Search is dependent on their website, if that is not optimized and cared for well, local is out of the game.” – Darryl Quinlan

“Competitive space or not, we’ve seen it take months for internal site changes to affect organic rankings. I’m convinced there’s a sort of “waiting period” imposed by Google after they notice a lot of changes being made to a site, almost as if they don’t want the site owner (or site editor) to believe that their changes can affect rankings.” – Scott Hendison

“I don’t see a big difference between the case of a business with an established website but nothing else, and a business that is just starting fresh. The website on its own doesn’t provide much. It needs to be tied to all the other factors to move the needle.” – Darren Shaw

“Ranking has many different factors and each factor can take different time spans. The two main factors that define the speed of ranking. 1) Where are you trying to rank? Organic or Map? What engine? 2) What are you trying to rank for? Branded terms? Branded terms with local modifier? Generic terms? Generic terms with local modifier? There are too many variables to answer how long it takes to rank.” – Bill Connard

Scenario 3 – Poorly optimized website

You land a new client. They have an ok website but they don’t rank well in search. They have had quite of lot of optimization work done but the quality of the work is low and they have some NAP consistency & low quality link issues.

How long would you advise the client that it will take before they see significant ranking or performance improvement?

Note: this question has been divided into two scenarios; a) a client that works in a competitive sector & location, and b) a client that works in a non-competitive sector & location.

A) Client works in a competitive sector & location

Key Findings:

  • For a poorly optimized site, 89% believe it will take longer than 3 months to rank well
  • 61% say between it takes 3-9 months for significant local rankings
  • 28% say it will take longer than 9 months

B) Client works in a non-competitive sector & location

Key Findings:

  • 61% say that a website can achieve significant local rankings in 3-6 months
  • 22% believe this can be achieved in under 2 months


In a competitive scenario, if a site has been damaged by poor optimization then there is a far bigger chance that significant rankings will take longer than 9 months. If we look at all 3 competitive scenarios so far, and compare how many experts answered ‘more than 9 months’, then it reads like this:

  1. No website – 11%
  2. Existing website with little optimisation – 6%
  3. Existing website with poor optimization – 28%

However, in a non-competitive scenario these issues are far easier to fix; 61% believe that significant rankings can be achieved in just 3-6 months and only 12% believe that it will take longer than 9 months. This reinforces the difficulties that SEOs can face when taking on a new client with an existing website – particularly in a competitive sector / location.

Expert Quotes:

“NAP issues take longer because even if you update all the directories, it takes additional time for Google to recognize this.” – Joy Hawkins

“My choices here are on the safe side for what I feel I would say to a client. There was a time when organic changes could affect a site in days, but times have changed, and it’s not uncommon for us to see very little movement after 90 days of hard work. We always try to under promise in the beginning, to better manage client expectations.” – Scott Hendison

“A cleanup and optimization strategy is more difficult to fully scope and much more time consuming to execute. The distrust that has accumulated because of NAP inconsistencies needs to be overcome. Most times, time, with consistent NAP info, is the only thing that can rebuild that trust.” – Phil Britton

“This is the worst case scenario for any business. You can’t rank until you clean up, and while a citation cleanup job can be done in a month, recovery from low quality link issues seems to take a year or more. I sometimes wonder if a business entity gets permanently “tarnished” and will always have ranking issues after they have eroded Google’s trust with spam tactics.” – Darren Shaw

“Just depends how bad the damage is. You’ll probably need to work on the citations in at least a couple of “waves,” spaced about 2 months apart. The links would have to be pretty egregious for the business not to rank anywhere or for any terms in Google Places. But if they are that bad, expect a year-plus before much happens.” – Phil Rozek

“Depends how long is spent on the account each month! If it’s a prolonged effort each week then the improvement could be seen much quicker, obviously.” – Susan Hallam

Scenario 4 – Manual penalty

You land a new client. They have an optimized website but recently been hit with a Manual Penalty by Google because they have a ‘suspicious’ link profile. They are not appearing in search for any terms, even brand terms.

How long would you advise them that it will take before they appear in search results again?

Key Findings:

  • 76% say that it will take at least 3 months for a website to reappear after a manual penalty
  • 24% say that a website can return within 2 months


The general consensus is that a website will have to wait at least 3 months before it can re-appear in the search engines. Most of our expert panel agree on over 6 months. This highlights the amount of work that is often required to clean up a link profile & submit a reconsideration request.

However, 1 in 4 believes that this can be achieved in less than 2 months, presumably if the penalty is met with a thorough & effective reaction, and depending on the size of the ‘clean-up’ job.

Expert Quotes:

“Clients can rank in Places with a manual penalty within 6 months but their organic ranking doesn’t restore for a LONG time”. – Joy Hawkins

“We have seen penalty rebounds within a day of removing the penalty, but we have also seen situations where it appears that Google the penalty doesn’t get lifted until Google reruns the algo which can take months. There’s also the case that many of these sites hit by penalties have weak link profiles, so they may “recover” from the penalty (i.e. get reindexed), but it doesn’t mean they will rank for anything”. – Andrew Shotland

“Penalization can involve some thorny issues. The longer your site may have been involved in something against search engine policies, the longer you may be suppressed in rankings — search engine personnel have stated that even when you’ve cleaned up the issues, they may choose to keep you down for a period of time, because “it wasn’t fair that you had better performance at the expense of others who played by the rules.” So, results may vary according to the issue involved.” – Chris Silver Smith

“The penalty is dependent on so many factors. With unnatural links you can take the short road and 410 pages and conduct link removal for a few weeks. If they have just a handful of bad links you’re looking at 5 weeks. However I have worked with clients that have had 100,000+ and that took about 7 months.” – Casey Meraz

“Again, this depends how long we spend on the account in total. If we focus purely on link removal each day for a couple of weeks then the results can be visible within a month – I have seen clients return to their previous rankings within a week after a reconsideration request is accepted, and in other cases it has taken upwards of 12 months.” – Susan Hallam

How long after the penalty is removed will it take before their rankings are back to pre-penalty levels?


Key Findings:

  • None of our experts believe that pre-penalty rankings can be retrieved in under a month
  • 53% say between 1-6 months
  • 48% say more than 6 months
  • 24% say at least 1 year


According to the experts, 1-2 months is the absolute minimum for a site to regain its pre-penalty local rankings. After this, there is much debate on whether it will take anything from 1-2 months to over a year. Presumably this varied response is based on the specific scenario of each site and times may vary widely.

Expert quotes:

“They may never return to pre-penalty levels, because their pre-penalty ranking was likely never deserved in the first place. Not only will they have to wait for a Penguin recrawl that may take months (it’s been 9+ now) but also, the “suspicious links” that formerly helped them will be gone or disavowed, and in some cases may not be replaceable.” – Scott Hendison

“‘Appearing in search results again’ is very different from “ranking well again”. We have been able to get manual penalties lifted within a couple of months, and that will get the business “appearing” again, but they won’t recover to where they ranked before getting hit with the penalty. Climbing back to the top is going to take a tonne of quality content development and naturally earned links and mentions. It’s the long game. Once they get back into the pack based on quality, they’ll be able to stay there.” – Darren Shaw

The return to previous rankings varies depends on the client in question and the industry they operate in – I also think this partly relies on other ranking factors, as the website may be suffering due to other factors alongside the penalty.” – Susan Hallam

Scenario 5 – Client stops investing in SEO

You have been optimizing a client for 6 months. The client decides to stop investing in SEO.

What drop off in ranking or performance would you expect to see in the following time periods after you stop optimizing?

In the following chart we have collated all results from our panel of local experts:

Key Findings:

  • Within 1-2 months there is very little change once local optimization work has ceased
  • After 3-6 months without any local optimization, the first significant drop in rankings will occur (20%)


Within 1-2 months of no optimization there is seemingly little change, but as the months go on there is a steady decline in local rankings. After 6 months there is significant decline (34%) and after 2 years a site is likely to lose up to 50% of its rankings. Obviously this shows the importance of continued local optimization and how important it is to see local search as an ongoing project rather than a one time deal.

Other Questions

We asked 2 further questions to finish off the survey.

  1. In your experience, is it easier/faster to generate a boost in organic ranking or local/map rankings?

Key Findings:

  • 61% say it is easier to boost a site in local / maps results
  • Organic results are perceived to be much harder to achieve


We’ve seen that given the right conditions, significant rankings in local search can be achieved relatively quickly. However organic rankings are affected by more factors than local / map results, and this is reflected above. 61% of experts agree that local / maps results are easier / faster to achieve than organic results.

  1. In your experience, after optimizing a client which search engine do you see performance improvements in fastest?

Key Findings:

  • 61% say Google shows local ranking improvements fastest
  • Yahoo is perceived to be the slowest responding search engine to local optimization (6%)


This shows that Google is the quickest site to respond to local optimization. However this may have something to do with the fact that most local SEO knowledge, focus & discussion is based around Google, due to its dominance in the search market. No doubt that if Bing or Yahoo were to gain more market share then this would be reflected by a change in practices from local SEOs.


To learn more about how to get found online, attract new customers, grow your business and make more money, click on one of the links below.

Author: Jim Merrick