seo tortoise or hareOne of the most frequent questions clients ask us is, "How soon til this works?" Unsurprisingly, business owners want speedy results and ideally, they'd like to see their business atop the search engine rankings as soon as we hang up the kickoff phone call.

However, that's just not very realistic. When it comes to SEO, any agency that promises hare-like results is probably not following Google's rules for SEO or using black hat SEO tactics, which will ultimately hurt your business. As the saying goes, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." And since SEO is an on-going process, the question isn't exactly one of how long the entire process takes; it's more about when you'll start seeing results.

On one hand, you can start seeing results pretty immediately if you start publishing new content right away. New blog posts, new articles, and new website content will all help grow visits to your site. Along the same lines, minor keyword tweaks and catching website errors (404 error pages from broken links or 301 redirects) can also help your website quickly earn better rankings.

Other SEO techniques simply take more time and effort. Most SEO agencies conduct a complete audit of your website to thoroughly analyze your website's accessibility, indexability, on- and off-page ranking factors, and any search engine penalties your site may have accidentally accumulated. From here, they can make more specific recommendations about how to optimize your site for the search engines.

Three of the most important elements of an SEO campaign use long-term techniques to get results: link building, competition analysis, and authority building.

While link building techniques used to consist of buying hundreds of links from spam sites, Google has since wisened up and begun to recognize link spam. Now, link building requires you to regularly produce engaging, valuable content that encourages shares via social media and within the industry. Similarly, building authority comes when other highly respected influencers in your industry take notice of your great content and begin to link to your site. When Google sees these authorities engaging with you, it starts to realize that your site is legitimate and contains important content that should show up higher in the search engine rankings. Finally, analyzing the competition teaches you new strategies that would be beneficial for your website to adopt, as well as what mistakes to avoid.

It's also important to remember that sometimes, trying to do too much too quickly can be dangerous for your company's SEO. For example, it may be tempting to focus on one specific keyword that you want to rank for and try to skyrocket your rankings for that term. Your ambition is admirable, but the problem here is that this method creates an unnatural backlink profile, and you can end up getting penalized for "anchor text over optimization." While focusing on a broader, more long-tail set of keywords takes more time, it's actually safer and more effective in the long run.

Similarly, trying to build links quickly by buying links will raise a red flag in Google's eyes- they'll recognize the links as unnatural and will penalize your accordingly. Although these quick-fix tactics are tempting in the short-term, it'll actually be harder for you to maintain your high rankings than if you had built the links naturally with white-hat SEO.

When you view SEO as a long-term process rather than a box on a to-do list to be checked off as soon as possible, you open your website up to lasting improvements that will continually help your website maintain high search engine rankings. Some SEO results may happen within a couple of weeks; other changes will take up to a year to really make a difference. Remember, the tortoise won the race- and so will long-term SEO.

What other questions should you think about asking your potential SEO agency? Download Choose the Right SEO Agency: Ask These 7 Questions to make sure the agency you partner with aligns with best practices and your business goals.

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