"We are often asked how long it will take before an optimized website will start showing up in the search-engine results," writes Lauren Hobson at Five Sparrows, "but of course that's a difficult question with a complicated answer." (Deep breath, kids.) The truth is, Hobson says, it all depends on factors like these:
The number and importance of your inbound links. According to Hobson, Google isn't just looking for quantity, it wants quality. "For instance," she notes, "inbound links from an authority site with a topic related to yours will benefit you way more than reciprocal links or links from a site that is unrelated (or worse—a link farm). And paid links are a big no-no altogether."
The number and importance of your competitor's inbound links. "If the top-ranking websites have 10,000 inbound links and your site has only a few," she says, "you have some work to do." In other words, as good as your inbound links might be, they must still outshine those of your rivals.
The competitiveness of your targeted keywords. "[Y]ou may want to do some research and optimize for similar but less-competitive variations," suggests Hobson, "at least to start with." Once you gain a foothold, she continues, you can add the most common search terms back into the mix.
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