How Long Does It Take to Rank In Google? (How to Get the Snowball Effect)
is the Head of Marketing at Lean Labs. His experience ranges from higher education to SMBs and tech startups. When not doing digital marketing, he's sure to be enjoying some kind of nerdy pastime.
I’ll tell you how long it’s going to take to rank. But, I’m first going to show you why that’s a shortsighted question.
We’re living in an ROI world, and the pressure to get a return on investment quickly is leading to a lot of really bad decisions.
Here’s the deal: unless you work for yourself, the higher-ups are going to pressure you to think in campaigns. We even do that at Lean Labs, working in 90-day sprints for our marketing strategies.
But, if your content marketing strategies are geared for quick wins, you’re going to lose. And, I’m going to be the one who beats you.
Because I’m playing with Google for long-term attention. And, I don’t give a lot of thought to how fast each piece of content ranks. I’m building for growth, and I’m crushing it.
In this article, I’m going to share a lot of data to back up my point. And, then we’ll talk about how to win while your competitors flounder.
How Long Does It Take To Rank on Google?
This article is going to be split into two pieces: First, I’m going to show you the data that you’re not going to like. Secondly, I’m going to show you how to fall in love with it, and leverage it to win.
To be honest, what I’m about to share with you has always been a hunch of mine, going back about a decade. But, I never really thought about gathering the data to support my hunch.
I was winning for my clients, and I just did what worked. But, after having client after client asking “how long” questions, I decided to put that question to rest with some empirical evidence.
Even I was shocked by what I found!
Now, I wasn’t shocked that I was right. The formula for success was working consistently. But, I was surprised at just how right the strategy actually was.
Ahrefs completed a study a few years ago on how long it takes to get a piece of content to rank on Google. Some of the most eye-opening finds were as follows:
1: The #1 Position on Google is Owned By The Oldest Content
Yes, the older the content, the higher it ranks. How does that fit with your “fresh” content strategy?
How many times have you been disappointed when you couldn’t unseat that ancient piece of content that was settled in at the top spot and gathering dust? Trust me, I’ve been there.
The truth is content ages very well on Google.
2: A Huge Majority of Top–10 Results are Older Content
It’s not even close!
Almost 60% of all top–10 results are three years old, or older.
Only 22% are less than a year old!
Let that sink in… your brand new piece of content has a 22% chance of hitting the top–10 results in the first 12 months!
You were probably disappointed when it didn’t get there within a few days!
3: The Percent of Pages Ranked #1 Less Than A Year Old is 1%
I rounded down, but consider that. The top–3 positions have less than 4% of content that is younger than 12 months.
4: High Domain Authority Makes Only a Small Difference
Domain authority is important. But even for domains with a very high domain authority, only 11% of their new pages ranked in the top–10 within the first 12 months. And only 20% reached anywhere from 11–100.
70% of their new content didn’t rank at all!
Let that sink in!
5 Only 5.7% of all newly published content will get to the Top–10 Google Rank in Under 12 Months!
Yeah. Less than 6%!
SEO Experts CONCUR WITH THE DATA
This study was not a fluke.
Trust me, no one does link building as good as Neil Patel. And, he still says it takes him several months to get results.
Tell me again how disappointed you are because your brand new content is not ranking page–1 in Google after a week.
What Does This Mean for Content Marketing?
For most people reading this, the data is depressing. So, they’ll try to out-Patel Neil Patel and do “link-building.” For most of us, we know that means doing things Google doesn’t like to try to “game” the system.
That’s a loser’s mentality, truthfully.
Even if you’re successful at gaming Google today, they are going to hammer you tomorrow or the next day. Then, everything you’ve worked for is gone. Period.
That might be fine for the guy who can start a new blog on a domain and go back to spamming. But, for a brand, being slapped by Google is devastating. As in, you may go out of business.
The SEO Mistake Marketers Keep Making
And, we’ve lost some clients that thought they could pay an agency for a month or two and have hundreds of top–3 rankings. They either fired us, or we fired them. Either way, we didn’t work together very long.
Unrealistic expectations make for horrible decisions every single time.
With all the pressure to win now, marketers are leaving a simple and timeless principle of content marketing: be evergreen!
Content marketing can’t be only about your current sprint or campaign. If you want to win in 2019 and forward, you’re going to have to work to compete now and PWN tomorrow.
Content Marketing As a Long-Term Strategy
We tell all our clients that we’re not creating “pieces” of content.
We’re creating a single customer-centric growth engine.
Each piece of content is part of that engine. Therefore, we don’t put a lot of stock in the performance of each micro piece of the engine. Instead, we measure the overall performance of the entire thing.
For example, if we publish a blog post that gets little-to-no traffic in the first three months, you won’t find us sweating it. It doesn’t matter! The real question is, how is the overall strategy working? If that checks out, we trust that floundering piece of content will find its way eventually.
We keep creating evergreen content, and measuring the growth of the collective over the growth of the individual. Some posts perform extremely well out of the gate (the 5.7% that Ahrefs was talking about). They rank, and they bring in traffic by the boatloads. Others, do nothing spectacular in the short term.
In fact, we think about 20% of our content performs reasonably well in the short term, which helps make up for the 80% that are doing seemingly nothing.
As long as we are doing a killer job, the 20% spur enough growth to keep our clients interested in the short term. And, if they buy in fully, they stick with us as we allow the evergreen forest to grow.
Trust me, when it grows, it skyrockets.
What Does a Long-Term Ranking Strategy Look Like?
Let’s go back to the data. If you publish a great piece of content today, there’s a 95% chance it’s not going to rank top–10 for at least 12 months. You can shrink that timeline with some link-building, paid promotion, etc… but you have to do it right–which takes a lot of man-hours and effort.
So, the content you published in February of 2018 is just starting to age into Google’s graces naturally. That’s great!
Guess what? Next month, the content you published in March will just be starting to do the same.
And, April… same story. And, it never stops!
Long story short, if your content marketing strategy is about the ongoing, never-ending content marketing lifestyle, you’re measuring shortsighted ROI.
For our clients, we tell them to give us 8–16 months to get them really excited.
Now, hear me out, those 8–16 months aren’t getting zero return. There are signs of growth right from the beginning. But, especially for brands who have lower domain authority, the returns aren’t “exciting.”
And, because of the lack of excitement “now” they throw away a ton of excitement later. We’ve had some clients that got impatient after a campaign–90 days–and decided they need to go another direction. The sad part is, we’ve seen a lot of them with a ton of potential that continued to flat-line their traffic and leads for years.
And, we’ve had some come back because the content we published eventually started blowing up and they wanted to work with us again.
How To Snowball Your Google Rankings
If you really want to win, you’ll focus 100% on creating helpful, evergreen content. And, you’ll keep making it month after month after month. And, you’ll reserve judgement for every single one of those pieces for at least 12 months.
Because incremental growth is what campaigns can bring. Compounding growth is what content marketing should bring. And, the more it compounds, the more dramatic the growth becomes.
It’s a snowball effect. And, it’s how you kill your competition!
I’m going to show you how to do this, but first I want you to see that I’m not relying on just 3rd party research. This is something we see over and over again with our own content.
How We Know Snowballing Works
This is one of my favorite examples of evergreen content coming into its own. This is one of our oldest and most loyal clients. They've been with us for years, and we've delivered some amazing results for them. In fact, they told me that Lean Labs brought them from "being a pimple on the butt of the internet and turned us into a main player."
Their words, not mine!
It took 14 months to get 50 organic visits in a single month. For all intents and purposes, this article was a failure in the eyes of 90% of marketers. I have to admit, we weren't too pleased with it either.
At 36 months, it went over 200 organic visits, 3 years after we published it.
At 41 months, it skyrocketed to almost 800 organic visits!
And February isn't slowing down!
This is another example from the same client. This piece of content looks like it took a better growth curve, steadily climbing month over month. But, it still took 11 months to reach 250 organic visits in a single month.
It still took 31 months to hit the peak of 1,250 organic visits a month. And, it looks like January and February are signaling another climbing trend.
Who knows where this one will stop?
This is another client, who has also been with us for a while. They came to us with a little more domain authority than the client above.
A few months ago, we audited our content and learned that, for this client, most of the top performing content pieces took an average of 8 months to climb to a respectable plateau of traffic generation.
In this example, you can see it took this article 8 months to reach more than 100 organic visits in a single month. Seventeen months later, it hit its high mark at around 400 organic visits. December and January seemed to settle around the 300 per month plateau.
This is another example from the same client as #3. It shows that, again, the ninth month started skyrocketing month over month, plateauing at 300 organic visits a month. Then, month 16 started another growth spurt.
This is an example from our own marketing -- this piece of content lives on Lean Labs' own blog. In January 2019, it brought in nearly 3,400 organic visits by itself.
Look at when we published it, though.
Six months after it was published, it brought in a paltry 43 organic visits.
How many pieces of content are you giving up on after six months?
This is another example from our own blog. Look at the slow, anemic start, compared to the growth months and months later.
I could literally paste in chart after chart. I have hundreds of examples that look just like this.
I have some examples of content that ranked a lot faster. But, those are outliers. As an ongoing, consistent rule, the content we produce follows this kind of growth pattern.
What about the content that never ranked?
Truthfully, there are some of them, too. But, dude, the first example ranked after 41 months!
Are you asking me to judge content that hasn't ranked yet?
My point is, if you're creating great, valuable, evergreen content, you can't judge your ROI on individual pieces of content. If you do, you'll make judgments and change strategies based on premature data!
And you might jump out to a lead with some gimmick of paid campaign. But, trust me, you're never going to outrun the consistent pace of awesome evergreen content.
The Shocker: None of those pieces of content were promoted. Not a single one.
Everything that happened to them was completely organic.
There was no paid content amplification.
There was no "link building" (aka: spamming inboxes begging for links).
All of these results are 100% organic only.
How Are You Ranking on Google, Then?
There is a secret to these results. We call it the snowball effect, and it's golden.
Let me explain.
Some people want to pay for content to grow their business. So, they invest $X to get X pieces of content. If that content doesn't perform, they go do something else.
So, the attention is on single pieces of content. We've proven that it's impossible to truthfully measure success that way. Even the top websites on the web take 12 months for their content to rank.
There's no way to judge evergreen content in a vacuum.
If you can't judge the individual pieces, how do you measure?
Easy, you measure the collective.
The Evergreen DOMAIN AUTHORITY Machine
For our clients, we always focus on the main goal: growing domain authority.
Your domain authority impacts your rankings across the board. If 'Site-A' has a domain authority of 40, and 'Site-B' has a domain authority of 60, and both publish the same quality and optimized pieces of content (all things being equal save domain authority) Site-B will win the ranking war every time.
Now, there are a lot more factors for ranking beyond Domain Authority, but if you do everything right, the domain authority is the tide that lifts all boats.
How It Works
Every piece of content you publish is given a little piece of "authority" by Google. We normally refer to it as 'SEO Juice.'
The amount of initial SEO juice a new piece of content is "born with" depends on the authority of the domain. A piece of content from Facebook, for example, will have considerably more authority than a new piece of content on a brand new hobby blog.
So, this new piece of content has a measure of domain authority. Over time, as it garners backlinks and social shares, etc., its isolated authority (the authority of the individual page, rather than domain) will grow.
This means that piece of content has more SEO juice.
Now, the pages that piece of content links to get the benefit of a downward trickle of SEO juice. So, if that page has an SEO juice amount of '3' and links to 2 pages, both of those pages might get a drip of 0.001 SEO Juice.
(This is not exact science, I'm just spitballing for the principle, not the mathematics)
So, if page A has an authority grade of 50, and page B has an SEO grade of 80, and page B links to page A, Page A gets the trickle down of SEO juice, which means it now has 50.002 of SEO juice.
In other words, links from other pages increase the volume of authority (juice) of the page those links point to.
This works for external backlinks, as well as internal links. So, if you publish a blog article and link it to a key website page, that key website page gets a small bump in authority.
The more content you publish, the more SEO juice you play with, the more the pages you link to get more juice, and your entire domain gets an upgrade in juice.
That's why we call it a snowball effect.
As we consistently publish valuable, evergreen content, we are consistently growing the authority of our entire domain. And, as that authority grows, the impact of every piece of content gets dramatically more powerful.
So, for a new site, a new piece of content might only get a micro amount of initial SEO juice. But, after publishing consistently for 12 months, the new site now has significantly more domain authority.
The pieces of content this site published in month 13 are born with more power than those from month 1.
Because the domain has added so much juice it has much more weight to throw behind newer content. And, that newer content just adds to that weight.
And on and on it goes.
Those pieces of content that were optimized for very competitive terms now have a domain with higher and higher authority behind it. And, suddenly, when that domain authority reaches a tipping point, those pieces of content will begin to rank.
That's why that one example above skyrocketed in rankings in month 42. It was evergreen, it was valuable, and it was optimized. And, eventually, a drop of SEO juice was the "Straw That Broke the Camel's Back" and that piece became more authoritative than it's competition.
And, we see this happen over and over again.
How Do You Know It's Working?
The truth is, you don't.
You have to do the right things the right way, and then just trust the process.
We measure three things to ensure we're getting the results that lead to snowballing growth:
1. Organic Traffic
We don't measure this individually, we measure it on the domain. The domain is the engine, and every piece of content we produce is fuel. But, we measure based on the engine performance, not the fuel.
We like to see a month-over-month growth of a certain percentage. The percentage is based on how much content we're publishing, and any other promotional activities that might help the organic rank.
2. Organic Leads
If your content is really helpful, it will bring in the target audience. And, if your website isn't horrible, your target audience will be interested in your offers. As your organic traffic grows, the amount of organic leads you're converting should also grow, although it never happens in direct proportion. Traffic will grow faster than lead quantity--and that's okay.
3. Organic Customers
The bottom line is the bottom line. If you're not closing customers, what's the point? As your organic leads grow, your sales should also grow, although not in direct proportion. Leads will grow faster than customers, and that's okay.
Creating Content That Will Rank On Google
Those are the three things we track. We don't like to investigate more granular than that, at least from a marketing performance level. Because we know, as the traffic and domain authority grows, the blog posts we published last year will be helping us even more this year. And the content we publish this year will benefit as a result of what we published last year.
It's a snowball effect you can take to the bank.
But, there are some caveats: You have to create great content, and it has to be evergreen, and it has to be optimized.
Luckily, we've laid out our strategies that work for us in this Organic guide. Follow it to the T, and you will see compounding growth, year over year.
Trust me, your competitors are probably stagnated, trying gimmick after gimmick to get the quick win! These "get traffic fast" tricks never work long-term.
You can compete with them if you want. Or, you can play a different game.
Evergreen, Organic traffic is that different game. And this guide shows you how to play it like a pro.