Stop reading. Now.
Go open Google Analytics. Click on Behavior, then sort by Top Content, and add a Secondary dimension for google / organic.
Now, what do you see?
If you’re like most websites, the top trafficked pages are also often at least 12 months old. That means three things:
And it means the people plowing ahead, business as usual – despite the world seemingly falling apart around them – will be the first ones to reap the benefits in the future.
While everyone else? Running around like headless chickens? Chopping and changing strategies or directions every three months?
Broke, unemployed, out of business, or gobbled up by their closest competitors.
I’ve been fortunate to work on very big sites. It’s beautiful. Everything is always up and to the right.
You hit publish today, rank top 3 tomorrow, look like a genius, write fancy case studies, a pithy LinkedIn post or two, speak at some conferences, and cash fat checks.
It’s great fun. I highly recommend it.
Sadly, that’s not how it works for everyone else outside the web’s top 1%.
Unless you’re a big site, like 85-90 DR+, it will take months (if not years) to rank well for anything.
That means publishing new content today doesn’t go from “not indexed” to top 3 immediately. What’s more common is some variation of the following:
Don’t believe me?
Open up your favorite SEO tool and look up the ranking timeline for any top page on your site.
For the vast majority, you’re looking at ~6-12+ months of obscurity before a piece of content ranks in the top three for anything meaningful.
Reasons typically include:
The point of all this?
SEO is an investment with a defined payback period, typically 12 to 18 to 24+ months in the future.
It’s among the best, highest ROI with the lowest customer acquisition cost channels for most businesses on the planet.
But – it’s not an overnight thing.
It’s like investing in multifamily houses vs. a simple short-term rental (Airbnb):
So how do you value this? How do you prove it? And how do you justify it to bosses or clients or spouses that want to hoard cash elsewhere?
Let’s use a simple model to explain.
Go look up a list of relevant keywords in your space. Assume easy-to-moderate difficulty to start. Don’t overthink it right now.
Then, drop volume and traffic potential in two separate columns, like so:
Next, let’s keep going until we hit a good round, easy-to-divide number.
I will select “30” because it means we can easily count this as “10” articles each month. So this group of 30 will be one quarter’s worth of new content.
Again, I also want to see some volume and traffic potential estimates.
And assuming they’re not overlapping too much, we can grab the sum totals for potential volume or traffic of all these keywords in time.
Yes, we’re drastically oversimplifying at this point.
Ideally, these are thematically related, so we can build out defined pillars, clusters, hubs, spokes, and whatever nerdy marketers call them these days.
And hopefully, you’re building internal links correctly to support these dense webs of content you will create and have a distribution plan in place to ensure social engagement and backlinks flow like the salmon of Capistrano.
But again, this is for illustrative purposes. So let’s keep moving.
Not everyone should create tons of tons of content. That’s not what I’m recommending.
But most relatively new or small sites suffer from insufficient high-quality, unbranded content.
Simply increasing your content output over the next year will do wonders for your brand visibility, recognition, and ability to build an audience or drive leads into a sales funnel later.
It won’t solve all your problems. But it’ll solve some pretty big ones. (See, obscurity.)
So let’s assume you will create a 2,000-word article for each keyword you just identified. That’s roughly 10 per month or 120 over the next year.
Not insignificant, but not too difficult, either.
(One good writer should be able to produce ~2-4 articles/week comfortably, whether part-time or full-time. And if they can’t? They’re not a good writer.)
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Ha! Just kidding. There won't be any traffic in the first six months.
So let's say within the first three months, we publish 30 articles. If you're starting from scratch, watch out for inevitable delays, snags, and snafus.
You should be working out the operational kinks at this point, building a solid long-term foundation, vs. worrying too much about just publishing publishing publishing.
Now, for the fun part.
We will extrapolate out over the next 12+ months to show you – directionally, if not numerically – how the compounding benefits of SEO kick in only after 12+ months.
Refer back to the bulleted ranking timeline above. Nothing usually happens in the first 3-6 months for a brand-new piece of content.
Some might be on Page 2 or a few on Page 1. But probably nothing in the top five positions, where ~80%+ of the traffic comes from for each keyword.
However, as you continue publishing 6-12+ months into the future, two things begin to happen:
Let's visualize this now, showing how (a) the potential monthly volume and traffic essentially double each quarter while, at the same time, (b) the average position of your content goes from higher than 5 to within the 4th or possibly even 3rd positions:
Why is this second point significant?
Because your traffic doesn't just grow 10% if you go from >5 to <5, each small position increase at that point increases the SERP CTR exponentially – and traffic as a result.
(For the SEO nerds, we're using position CTR estimates from Advanced Web Ranking.)
Once again, we're vastly oversimplifying lots of things at this point.
But the underlying principles are legit.
What does all this mean?
It means all those lagging indicators, like traffic, leads, and sales, only show up after at least a year of solid work in the first place.
And I know this because I've done it and seen it time and time and time again:
Lastly, how do we justify more budget for SEO and content, even when we have nothing to show today?
A few ways:
Is this rocket science? Not really.
Is it 100% accurate down to the individual numbers? Not a chance.
But is it logical and practical and directionally accurate? You bet.
People often view "marketing" as an investment or an expense.
The latter group, we can't help. They'll never learn – until it's too late.
(Like next year, when they've cut their marketing budgets today to "save money" and then don't have any new leads, customers, or clients to pay them in the future.)
The former? There's still a chance. You can and should cut back on certain areas during a recession or tough economy.
But growth should never, ever, ever be one of them. Especially SEO.
Because the results you're seeing today are from the SEO snowball from the last few years.
While the results in 2024 and 2025 and 2026 are from your efforts today.
Let output die over the next few months, and all you're doing is making it more likely that those depressing lists of layoffs will continue to grow next year as the body count rises.
The post Why next year’s SEO results depend on your SEO work this year appeared first on Search Engine Land.
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