Something most SEO clients always ask is, how long will their link building efforts take to show results? And it is a very valid question, after all, a lot of time goes into making quality links. However, they will not bring you immediate results and are unlikely to give you an immediate ROI. 

Waiting is an important part of the process  – you need to build links, but you also want them to be high quality, without taking risky shortcuts. 

How long does it take to get results?

To be realistic, a link will not exert the full extent of its “link equity” right away. The results will compound over time as you keep building links. It may take months to notice a difference in your site’s visibility. 

Moz says that it takes around 10 weeks to see a jump in rank. The ranking may increase initially but the full effect of your link building efforts will be visible only after a certain period. 

Many factors affect the impact velocity of link building. Links across different niches can also take longer to show effects. This is because the relevance of links depends on its relevance to your website. As long as the links are relevant to your website content, the results from link building will be more far-reaching. We will discuss some of these factors and look at why it takes longer to see the results from link building. 

Here’s an example of an article, owned by a client in the health industry. We were hired back in 2021 to start building backlinks, and we selected some of their evergreen articles to focus on. 

Organic traffic screenshot of one of TLG's client in health industry

In this example, we are looking at the organic traffic on a single nutrition-related calculator page, and from the end of 2021 to time of writing (roughly a 16 month period), we acquired 16 links for this page. 

Here is this same period shown in Google Search Console 

Search Console screenshot of one of TLG's client in health industry

While Ahrefs isn’t 100% accurate and is only an estimation tool, we can use it to get a high level overview of traffic fluctuations and shifts. 

As you can see:

  • We built one link in the latter part of 2021, and we see a slight jump in traffic in the period between Dec 2021 and Jan 2022. 
  • It flatlined a bit between Jan and Sept 2022. However we built 7 more links in this time period. Between Sept 2022 and Nov 2022 we built another 4 links and, it then jumped up by around 66%
  • Between Nov 2022 and the end of Jan 2023 we built another link, and it went up by another 33%.
  • We built another 3 links after this, and it has flatlined somewhat, but we should expect this to increase again. 

This is an evergreen page which also acts as a piece of pillar content, and it interlinks to other articles. So any efforts we make on pages like this, should have a trickle down effect and impact the site as whole, at least to some degree. 

This particular client, overall we have taken from a million visits a month, to over 2 million per month in total and growing, but have built hundreds of links within that time period to various pages. 

Why does it take this long?

There are many reasons which may affect the time it takes for your link building efforts to affect your page’s overall ranking. The jump in traffic happens over some time, and this time can be determined by the following factors:

Search engines need time to index 

Search engines need to find your link before they can rank you higher on their search results. If the site linking to you is a fairly small site with lower authority, it will take search engines longer to index the site, and subsequently, credit that link equity to you. However, if the site linking to you is a popular site with higher authority, the process will become much faster. 

Even aside from that, exactly where that link has been placed will also have an impact. So let’s say you gained a link on a guest post on a target website, where they haven’t internally linked to that page yet – that may slightly affect the speed at which search engines will find that page to index it. 

Subsequently, that affects the speed of the impact of that link. When it comes to third party sites unfortunately, you can’t always control exactly how they set up their site and how they do internal links, but it’s just another factor to consider. 

The matter of indexing was also briefly covered in the Search Off the Record podcast from Google, in June 22nd 2023. 

The interesting part they discuss is here:

Conversation transcript from Search Off the Record podcast
Conversation transcript from Search Off the Record podcast

They essentially admit the internet is so vast, it’s impossible for search engines to index everything. 

However, they say “something that people are actually interested in” andinteresting and viral” – this points towards the popularity of a content having a hand in the likelihood of it being indexed. And by extension, backlinks are a key measure of popularity. So the more links the content has, the higher likelihood of indexing. 

The initial ranking also affects traffic 

If your content fulfills the criteria of the search engine’s algorithm and satisfies the ranking factors they use, it will rank you higher on search results than others. 

However, this increase in ranking also depends on several variables. This implies that if your site is way lower on a search engine’s results page, you will see a higher increase in ranking as compared to if your site was already on the first page of search results. 

This is because if your site is already ranking well, there will be little space to move up. Once you get to the top 10 results, moving up a spot becomes exponentially harder. At this stage, the overall authority of your website and the quality of links determine how you can step over the competition.

For instance, just to illustrate this point, here’s a massive keyword that gets over 753,000 searches a month. 

"spider solitaire" search volume

If we go further down the SERPs to positions 20-25, we can see the number of referral domains at these levels as shown by the red box

number of referral domains shown by the red box

And the results that don’t have a lot of RDs, have a higher Domain Rating. For example, the result at position 21 has a DR of 72, and that’s why they can rank when that page only has 6 RDs. (basically the domain has a good link profile overall)

Now lets go further to the top of the SERPs. 

SERP landscape for the keyword "spider solitaire"

We can straightaway see larger numbers as we’d expect. Both in terms of RDs, and also some pretty high DR levels. This is also where we’re competing with results like Google Play/App Store and organizations like AARP, which adds a further complexity. 

You’ll also see the same in your own SERPs, and may find once you go higher up the results, you’ll find competing results that are not highly focused on that keyword, are not actively trying to get links to that page, and may not be your direct competitor  – but you’ll have a hard time beating them due to their overall link profile. 

Other than these, there are a few other factors that also affect ranking and the time it takes for a link building campaign to show results, such as:

  • The technical and on-page SEO of the website.
  • The site speed, whether it is fast or slow.
  • Whether the site worked well on internal link building since internal links help pass link authority around the site and into other pages, which then helps those pages rank as well. 
  • The competitiveness of keywords. Easier keywords can rank with minimal use of links but more competitive keywords would generally speaking, need more links to rank. We can see that in the example further up, which was a fairly competitive term – at the top of the results you may be competing against particular authoritative or old sites that have been there for years. 

This client for example, which we have been working with since late 2021, we saw a gradual increase in rankings as shown below. This is showing the period from April 2022 to April 2023, in which we secured just over 160 links. 

Organic traffic screenshot for one of TLG's client

We can obviously see a lot of fluctuation and a gradual increase rather than “skyrocketing”. Some particular things to note here:

  • We were in a very niche game space, where we were going up against very old competitors, some of which had been around for nearly 20 years and had millions of visitors. 
  • Some keywords were held by these competitors for a long time period. The search volumes for our main target keywords were also pretty high, so once we were reaching the top half of page 1, that’s where the swings of traffic from ranking fluctuations would become bigger. 

No two campaigns can produce the same kind of results at the same speed. It differs for every campaign and every link. Several variables can affect the effectiveness of link building. We have examined some of them here. 

The linking website(s) authority

A website’s site authority is influenced by several factors, and they also influence the effectiveness of link building. True authority relates to the website’s relevance in the sector or industry and the kind of audience it targets. These factors play an important role in the effectiveness of the link. 

Note: it’s important to reiterate that arbitrary metrics like DA/DR are not really the true measure of authority, and we’re talking more about actual authority here. 

Link quality

Other than just the authority of the links you’re building, the quality of those links will of course, also have an impact on speed of results.

This is where working with a reputable link building agency will be paramount. Some unscrupulous agencies may try to push you into purely buying links based on an arbitrary metric like DA/DR, saying that you need to purchase a certain volume of links or they pass off campaigns with nofollow links (built via blog comments, forums/forum profiles, directories, social shares ,etc) . The reality is that these types of techniques, and/or very low quality, spammy links even built at large volume – will not guarantee you quicker, or significant results. 

The type of link building campaign

Different backlink methods take different amounts of time to implement. Hence, the type of link building campaign can play a major role in determining the effectiveness of link building. This is because different strategies will provide different types of link, the efficiency at which you can build links, and therefore the volume you can build. 

So let’s say you decided to build a really in depth linkable asset, interactive maps, or some other useful tool. (see some examples of the linkable assets we covered in our article in Foundr.)

A lot of planning and execution would go into building out this asset, and building links to it. This includes planning and creating the asset, getting items designed or coded – and thats before we’ve even started the link building process. 

However, you may find a highly linkable piece, can bring in links at a higher conversion rate, and may even naturally earn links as well – so that time lost in the creation process, would be worth it. At the same time though, highly complex pieces may cost so much time that you could have created “simpler” pieces and gained links more efficiently. Getting the right balance is tricky and is not an exact science. So it’s good to keep a good balance – relying on “good content”, but creating linkable assets from time to time as well. 

This means you can spread your bets, and let’s say a really complex asset doesn’t perform well for some reason – you still have your other content that can bring in a moderate number of links. 

The number of links 

More links will generally equate to a more significant impact on rankings. Results come in fairly quickly if links are from authoritative sources and are high in number. 

However, the key is also to ensure that not only are building links – but that they’re being pointed in the right direction. We’ll discuss that more in the “Target Keyword” section later.

Also Read: How many backlinks do I need to rank?

Link velocity

Tied in with the above point, link velocity – the rate at which a site acquires backlinks – is also a significant factor that can affect the effectiveness of the campaign. Analyzing competitors and their rates of link growth can provide a fair idea of the number of links needed to match. 

Consistently building links and acquiring new and fresh links is another key part of keeping momentum going when it comes to acquiring traffic and rankings. This is because if a competitor has more links but has not been building them for a while  – it could essentially be considered a dated resource by search engines. 

You can look at link velocity both from the domain-level perspective, but also at individual page level as well. 

Age of the website

The age of the website plays a significant role in determining how effective link building campaigns will be. It is believed that search engines like Google have a “sandbox”, which suppresses new websites in terms of rankings until they have proved their quality. While this may or may not be true, newer sites indeed have a harder time ranking higher than those which have been around for a while. They mainly rank for non-competitive keywords. 

Therefore, building links for a fresh website may not have very quick results, but it will demonstrate your site’s legitimacy to the search engine and speed up the process of ranking. 

This is also why some people speed up the process at which they can acquire results, by building a new website on top of an expired domain. This is a wider topic that goes outside the scope of this article, but, this would ideally involve you getting an aged domain that is in your industry and has a pre-existing quality link profile, and then essentially, leveraging the power of that link profile, and directing it to the website you’re now building on it. In theory, you should gain results quicker than you would do, if it was a completely new domain.  

Current ranking across search engines

The current ranking of your page on a search engine will also determine how effective your link building efforts will be. If you’re lower down on the SERPs, you may see a significant rise in rankings. As described earlier, this is because competition for lower-ranking pages is not as much as that for higher-ranking pages.

According to this study by Moz which tried to examine the effect of a single link, an article on the second page jumped up ten spots, while articles on the first page usually see only one place jump. However, a single link will not be sufficient to form a significant profile increase, and it’s really going to take the compounding effect of building multiple links over time. 

Content 

Your content will have a far-reaching impact on your ranking across search engines. Content can be the definitive factor that can drive up your rankings as a result of your link building campaigns. Good SEO-oriented content, appropriate keywords, a good website experience and other factors also play a key role in ranking higher across search engines. 

For example, if a well-written SEO-oriented content piece with appropriate keywords is used for a link building campaign, it will produce great results. The same campaign will not be able to perform well for content that is written poorly and not SEO-optimized. 

Search engines like Google, may also try to test out your content in the SERPs, and reward you with a higher ranking to see how users interact with it. (This is often why you may see sudden ranking increases or the ‘Google dance’). 

If they interact well, you’ve satisfied their algorithm and you’ll stay there, or continue to move up the rankings. If not, you’ll likely get demoted back down the rankings. 

Links do still play their part, but it’s generally unlikely that you can make “bad content” rank, through the sheer force of high quality links, or link velocity. So it’s important to always scrutinize the quality of your content, and your on-page and technical SEO. 

Target keywords

The target keywords as well as the site authority of well-ranking pages will have an effect on how well your website ranks. It takes much longer to view tangible results from link building for highly competitive keywords. 

Therefore, if you are targeting these keywords, you have to consider a long-term view. As described before, they may have acquired much more links to that page over time, they may have been around much longer, or they may have just satisfied the intent of the searcher better (that may go outside of the scope of link building if that’s the case.) 

So you may be best served to look at all the keywords you’re targeting, and go for the lower hanging fruit – i.e. keywords that are less competitive and where a smaller number of links will create a larger swing in traffic. 

Let’s say we were going after a keyword like “best meal delivery service”.

SERP landscape for the keyword "best meal delivery service"

We can see it is dominated by roundup pages written by publications like Forbes, NBC and FoodAndWine. Even aside from the number of RDs some of the pages have, we’re going up against highly authoritative sites. If we attempt to build links to our target page, even if we’re well optimized and it’s a good article – it may be a very long time before we can compete. 

It won’t be a waste of link equity since any link is going to have some trickle down effect and will impact your overall link profile. But, you would be better placed using your resources to target other pages/keywords. 

For instance, for the keyword “meal delivery for one person” 

SERP landscape for the keyword "meal delivery for one person"

While this is also targeted by roundup pages on some authoritative sites, we also see more moderate sized/smaller competitors here as well. Some of those pages as indicated by the red boxes – either have little referral domains, or have a fairly low to moderate DR level. For us, that should mean it’ll be easier to go for a keyword like this – provided we have an appropriate page which targets the keyword. 

If you can accumulate more and more of this lower hanging fruit over time, it will help you gain more authority  – and eventually, you’ll be in a better place to compete with some of the more competitive and lucrative keywords. 

How Long Does it Take to Increase Domain Authority (DA) or Domain Rating (DR)?

If you are not only basing results on your traffic or ranking increases, you may even be looking at your domain metrics – i.e. the DA or DR

These are primarily calculated based on the number of links that you’ve built, so they are going to be reliant on these tools actually detecting your links, and adding it into their algorithm calculations. 

Moz is constantly updating their database and crawling the internet. They have not indicated exactly how long it takes them but they have said of their link index data – “We currently try to re-crawl all high-quality pages at least every 90 days. Most links in the index come from pages that were crawled less than 6 months ago.” 

Ahrefs have stated it takes them around 2 months to crawl their entire database. 

But by and large, if you are building links that are giving you traffic and ranking increases, the DA/DR should also go up in tandem. 

Just bear in mind that its possible to have these third party domain metrics increase with low quality links – with no correlation to the traffic and rankings. 

While we are focusing here on the speed of link building results – it’s important to also keep in mind other caveats, and myths that continue to plague this area.

Quantity vs Quality

We alluded to this earlier, but the quality of the links being built, will often determine if your estimation of potential results from your link building efforts, are in the right ballpark.

Building spammy links, by and large, are not a shortcut to success – if your competitor has been building better quality links. Now, to quantify this isn’t straightforward, but you can analyze your profile against your competitors, by the DR or DA buckets, and also combine this with data like TF and CF (or Trust Ratio) to get a gauge on the “quality gap”. By knowing this, you know what you’re up against, and need to match, or preferably, beat.

Here’s an example of us running analysis for a client, against 10 other competitors, based on the DR and TF buckets – and after filtering out links that don’t meet certain criteria on metrics like DR, Domain Traffic and Trust Ratio.

running analysis for one of TLG's client, against 10 other competitors, based on the DR and TF buckets

The 6th row down (with 306 links), is our biggest one to beat, and armed with this data, we can see why, at least from a backlink point of view. What’s interesting is that the 7th row down, was the competitor with the most backlinks, but, after filtering, it quickly chopped down the numbers.

Now, if the landscape of your niche is such that most of your SERP competitors have spammy profiles, you can probably get away with more (i.e. this may hold true for vaping, CBD, casinos etc.) – but for most niches, it really does pay off in the long run, to focus on quality. 

Besides, when the next algorithm update comes up, you may find you can quickly overtake those competitors with the larger, but spammier link profile. 

The “get rich quick” mentality

Quality link building, and the benefits derived from those links, will not happen overnight, and won’t happen without a lot of hard work and/or resources behind it. 

Here’s why: 

  1. Link strategy is a creative process, and you need to create ideas based on relevant linkable audiences and based from your understanding of target audience. 
  2. A lot of time has to be spent on content ideation, or researching any existing assets that can be leveraged.
  3. Prospecting lists requires a lot of data scraping and filtering through the lists to weed out irrelevant or low quality targets. Not to mention the contact finding.
  4. Outreach, though it can be semi-automated, will have to accompany some kind of personalization or segmentation, which requires human input.
  5. Replying to email threads, creating guest content, doing follow ups and chase ups with editors – will be an ongoing daily process.
  6. Even if links go live, you won’t see the full link equity benefit straight away. Google still needs to index the link, and it takes on average, about 10 weeks to see the full equity from a backlink.

Paid links are a shortcut

It can be tempting to rely on paid link strategies, if you have some cash to burn. It seems easy enough and its why people spend so much money on the large link brokers for their link building – spend x amount and you’ll get x number of links, to close your link gap. 

However – the quality issue will always rear its head, if you solely rely on paid links.

It’s important to note – being able to buy a link doesn’t directly mean the site is low quality, but it is often the case that many low quality sites are selling links. And if you are with an unscrupulous link building service, or are not vetting the sites internally – you may run the risk of acquiring low quality links. 

So try to diversify your link building strategies – use other tactics like guest posting, resource pages, HARO link building, digital PR, so you can maximize the overall quality of your link building. 

You can still do it without any links

There is an ongoing battle of wills, between the link building purists and the content or technical SEO fanatics – to say that you don’t need links anymore. 

And the evidence used – is that they outranked a competitor without doing any link building – so it proves that links are not important.

This is in fact, a gross simplification, and false advice. 

Yes, it’s possible to outrank a competing page with more links, or that has higher authority, but that’s because there are many ranking factors at play. 

For instance:

  • Which site served the intent of the keyword better?
  • Which site has more/less topical authority on that topic?
  • Which site provides a good overall user experience?
  • Which site has internal links pointing at that page?

And a multitude of other factors.

The question though is what happens when competitors are fairly evenly matched – which is often the case with even moderately competitive keywords and niches…

That’s where links come in.

Links will help Google in its determination of the popularity of a page – and that will set you apart from the competition.

In Summary

While setting goals for your link building campaign, it is important to be patient and realistic. While it certainly takes time for backlinks to show their effort, it is well worth the wait. You should always take a long-term view of link building efforts as it is dependent on several factors, and it may take longer, or happen quicker than you initially thought.

So, link building should always be a continuous process. Let’s say you reach the stage of dominating the SERPs and most of your keywords (as we have done for many clients) – you would still want to continue building links for freshness, and in order to maintain some link velocity. 

Moreover, link building is just one of the ranking factors search engines take into account. It helps to have well-researched and SEO-oriented content with appropriate use of keywords, on-page optimization and internal link building for a website to rank high across search engines. 

But, if you’ve done everything else, have reached a ceiling, and need links to reach the next level – that’s where The Links Guy can come in! Just shoot over an email, and let’s see how quickly we can get you results.