time-for-google-rankings.pngOne of my favorite places to get inspiration for new blog posts is from our organic search traffic. Recently, one of our visitors landed on AttorneySync for the search “how long does it take to get google rankings.” And like most other things, the answer is that it depends.

Let’s assume your register a new domain, set up a new shared hosting account, and launch a website or blog for your law firm. As far as the search engines are considered, you’re brand new to the web.

Assuming most of the technical aspects of your site are search-engine-friendly (SEF), you have an XML sitemap, and you register your site with Google Webmaster Tools, you should expect that your site will be indexed quite quickly. In fact, we have seen new sites that followed the above procedure get some pages indexed on the very same day that they were launched without any external links. Google is getting extremely efficient at indexing new websites.

So how long does it take to get Google rankings? Well, that greatly depends on the competitiveness of the search query in question. For example, let’s say that you follow the above procedure and your home page is targeting your name. If your name is unique, like mine, it is not unrealistic to expect that you could rank very highly for a search of your name. On the other hand, if your name is John Smith, it is very unlikely that you will rank very highly without some serious Internet marketing efforts. In fact, if your name is John Smith you’re probably out of luck since you will be competing for the top spot in Google with Wikipedia’s entry for explorer John Smith.

But what if you want to target an unbranded keyword search? How does one ascertain how long it will take to get Google rankings for a particular keyword search?

First, let me say that no one, I mean no one, can guarantee a particular ranking for a particular search in a particular time. If they do, they’re lying. That being said, there are ways to understand the competition within Google’s index for a particular keyword search. One of the first ways is to understand how many web pages are competing for that keyword. This information is easily obtained from a Google search engine result page:

In this example, we can see that there are over 75,000,000 web pages in Google’s index for the search “john smith.” This indicates that this is a rather competitive search query. However, it’s very important to understand that this is a very rough estimation of competition. The total number of pages indexed for a search term doesn’t say anything about the quality of the sites that are indexed for the term. Allow me to explain.

Let’s suppose we have another search query that also has around 75,000,000 pages indexed in Google. However, the term ranking number one for this search query is a very new website. Let’s further assume that most of the other results are also not very authoritative websites or very loosely relevant to the search query. In this case, the number of pages indexed for the search phrase is a very misleading representation of the competition level of the search query. That is why you also need to take into consideration the relative authority of the pages that are ranking for a particular search query.

To get a better idea of how competitive a search query is (which in turn will help us get a better idea of long it will take to get Google rankings for that search), we need to understand the relative relevance and popularity of the sites that are indexed for the search query.

Relevance is usefulness of information to a user. Google uses many factors in determining relevance but some of the most important include:

  • The Title of your web page.
  • Headers on your web page.
  • Text on your web page.
  • Various other relevance signals.

More likely than not, search results for a particular search query are very likely to contain the search query in these key relevance areas. In our “john smith” example, you will notice that the phrase “john smith” appears in the title of the page, the URL of the page, and the meta description:

This makes this page highly relevant in Google’s eyes for the “john smith” search. For most competitive searches, all of the top results will contain several of these relevance factors. Which is why Google relies more heavily on popularity.

According to Google, popularity is:

measure of the importance of a page based on the incoming links from other pages. In simple terms, each link to a page on your site from another site adds to your site’s PageRank. Not all links are equal: Google works hard to improve the user experience by identifying spam links and other practices that negatively impact search results. The best types of links are those that are given based on the quality of your content.

So, in order to understand how competitive a keyword search is to rank for, we need to gain an understanding of the number and quality of links that point to the pages and domains in the search results.

There are a variety of methods and tools for understanding a page’s back link profile (or the number and quality of links pointing to the page). I prefer SEOmoz’s SEO toolbar

As you can see, the toolbar shows the number of links pointing both to the specific page in the result and also the entire domain. For example, while the wikipedia page entry for John Smith doesn’t contain many links, the wikipedia.org domain contains many. This tells us that this search query is highly competitive. Forcing wikipedia out of the top spot is likely to be somewhat difficult and take significant investments in both time and money.

So, now that we are armed with some tools for determining the competitiveness of a keyword, we can get a much better idea about how long it is likely to take to get Google rankings for that keyword.

Google Rankings Strategy

What I will typically recommend to clients is that they break their keyword goals into short, intermediate, and long-term. Lower competition keywords go into the short-term bucket. The most competitive keyword targets go into a long-term keyword bucket. This way, the client can see some results in terms of rankings, traffic, and leads in the short-term, but still plant the seeds for much more competitive keyword targets over the long haul.

Very generally speaking, most keywords of which we target fall into 6-12 month ranking time frames. We have found this time frame to be a good balance for targeting keywords that generate relevant visitor & inquiry traffic in a reasonable time period. Obviously, we have some clients that are targeting keywords that are in competition levels outside these time frames on both ends.

The time it will take to get Google rankings for any particular keyword will also depend on the effectiveness of the search strategies being executed. If you are able to generate viral Internet buzz that attracts great quantities of high quality links and social shares to your website, you will have a great deal of success in a very short period of time. On the other hand, if you are only building small numbers of low-quality links, you are likely to conclude that “search marketing doesn’t work.” This is why it is so important to focus on developing and effectively distributing your very best web content to your target audiences.

Always remember that organic search marketing simply is not advertising. If your mantra is that you need new potential client leads now, you will be much better served exploring Internet advertising opportunities than you will investing in organic search marketing.

In the end, while this question is worth asking, it really demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the Internet works to compliment other marketing and advertising initiatives. Instead of focusing on rankings, I recommend monitoring and measuring other key performance indicators like traffic and conversions. Are people finding your site? Are the people that are finding your site targeted visitors? Are your visitiors engaging and interacting with your website and your firm?

While rankings are undoubtedly a piece of the Internet business development equation, they simply shouldn’t be your primary focus. To many legal professionals have terribly unrealistic expectations for their Internet marketing campaigns.

(Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joerg73/2981270905/)