How Much Time Does SEO Really Take?


To the uninitiated, SEO can seem daunting. Getting started is relatively easy, but in order to be successful in an especially competitive environment, you need to dedicate yourself to the strategy. You’ll have to acquire new skills, consult the community with problems you can’t solve on your own, and continually scale up the diversity and intensity of your strategies.

The common solution for this is to simply hire an in-house SEO expert who can handle all these tasks. If you can’t, it’s on you to handle them all yourself. Either way, the cost can be prohibitive, especially if you’re an emerging small business. Likewise, spending all those hours doing it yourself can tie you up, preventing you from pursuing more productive activities that can’t be outsourced.

Before you make a decision, you need to know one thing: how much time does SEO actually take?

The Short Answer

Honestly, the short answer is that it really all depends. Every company has its own distinct needs, with different customers, competitors, and individual sets of goals. If you’re trying to rank highly for hundreds of different keywords against heavy competition, you’ll need to spend far more time than someone who just wants a better chance at ranking locally.

This is the objective truth, but because I know it doesn’t help the average entrepreneur estimate times and costs, I’ll also explore more subjective tools for analysis. Just remember that there is no single answer that will apply to everyone.

The majority of the professionals that will read this article are small- to medium-sized business owners, so most of the analysis will best apply to these types of companies. Also, the time estimates given may vary, depending on the scope and strength of your campaign.

On-Site Optimization: Setup

One of the first things you’ll need to do in an SEO campaign is set your site up properly for SEO. That means possibly:

  • Redesigning the site
  • Structuring and updating your sitemap
  • Offering an intuitive navigation, including microformatting
  • Implementing proper title tags and meta tags throughout
  • Checking for 404 errors or bad code
  • Improving site speed
  • Improving security 

These are actually only a few of the things you’ll need to do. Listing them all would probably lead to a much longer article. Just know that there’s a massive checklist you’ll need to run through, but you’ll generally only need to do it once. There are a few things you’ll need to check on regularly, which I will address later.

Estimated time: 10 to 40 hours, depending on the size of your site and its current condition. This does not account for design and development time for a brand new site.

On-Site Optimization: Ongoing Monitoring and Troubleshooting

Once your initial setup is complete, the majority of on-site optimization management comes in the form of periodic checkups and adjustments.

For example, once a week or so, you’ll want to log into Google Webmaster Tools to check for any crawl errors or duplicate descriptions that have arisen. You’ll also need to regularly update your sitemap when it changes dramatically. These things don’t take much time, unless a problem emerges that you’ll need to solve.

Estimated Time: About three to 12 hours a week, depending on the size of your site and whether any problems arise.

Content Development

Content development is a tricky area because it’s one of the most fickle. If you’re only writing one post a week, you can get away with spending a couple of hours a week yourself. Trying to make new posts every day in a variety of different formats could easily surpass a full-time job’s requirements all by itself.

Estimated Time: Roughly three to 50 hours a week.

Off-Site Syndication and Relationship Building

Again, this area of SEO comes in many forms. Building occasional links and syndicating them on social media at your leisure won’t be intensive, nor will it require much time. If you’re posting across different social media platforms and are constantly targeting new publishers for potential link building opportunities, you’ll need something much more substantial.

Estimated Time: Between five and 25 hours a week.

Local Optimization and Peripheral Strategies

There are many other strategies you can pull into your overall SEO campaign. For instance, you can focus on earning more local reviews and getting listed in more local third-party directories to increase your rankings in local searches. Doing so is technically optional, but it can help you if you have the time.

Estimated Time: Up to 15 hours a week.

Measurement and Analysis

Last but certainly not least, you’ll need to dedicate some time to measuring the impact of your strategies and analyzing them for improvements. These are in-depth strategy sessions that should not be taken lightly, and will ultimately dictate the success or failure of your campaign. That said, you might choose to do this daily, weekly, monthly, or in some combination of the three.

Estimated Time: One to two hours a week.

The Bottom Line

Even for the small range of organizations I examined here (small to mid-sized businesses), you can see the vast range of potential time spent on an SEO campaign. Added up, it amounts to anywhere between 12 and 104 hours per week. If you put in 12 hours a week, don’t expect to climb to a top position anytime soon. On the other end of the spectrum, if you want the best results as fast as possible, you may need to hire employees, contractors, or an agency.

Take some time to figure out exactly how important SEO is for your business and where your business stands in the competitive landscape. Only then will you be able to accurately estimate the amount of time it requires of you. As with most other strategies, the more time you’re willing to invest, the better payoff you can eventually attain. However, it is possible to overspend when your business isn’t ready for it.


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