How Long Does Link Building Take to Show Results?

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Last updated on March 5, 2024

You know what’s worse than watching a pot and waiting for the water to boil?

Waiting for your rankings to change after you start building backlinks.

I know, I know. I’m supposed to tell you that your rankings will bust through the roof the day after you get your first high-quality backlink.

That’s what all the other link-building companies are saying, after all.

But I’m not going to lie to you.

Link building takes time. A lot of it. ESPECIALLY when you’re first starting out.

The good news? Once the results start rolling, you gain momentum. Things keep getting better and better (as long as you’re still working on your backlink profile).

But how long does it take for link building to work, exactly?

The classic SEO answer is true in this case: It depends. It depends on a lot of factors.

But I’m not going to just leave you hanging with that. Let’s get specific.

Here’s what you need to know about how long it takes for backlinks to get results. And you can click here learn more about our Link Building Service.
How Long Does Link Building Take to Show Results? Tom Desmond

Total Time to See Results from Link Building

Don’t you hate it when somebody makes you wait for 2,000 words before they give you the answer to your question?

I certainly do. That’s why I’m answering your main question right here. Before we get into how long link building takes to work, I’d like to provide a link for SEO agencies looking for a white-label link building service.

Initial Results from Link Building

No exaggeration: I’ve seen new backlinks get indexed and start boosting clients’ rankings in HOURS.

Seriously. Same-day results.

Is that common? Not at all. But it does happen sometimes.

It just goes to show that the results you get from link building aren’t going to go from absolutely nothing to everything overnight.

Often, you see some initial results from a new, high-quality backlink within the first couple of days. Sometimes a week or more.

When you start seeing results from a new link, you need to keep something really important in mind:

The full effect of the backlink on your rankings has not yet been set in stone. The rankings are going to jump around a bit — maybe for a long time.

But it’s still interesting to watch the initial results, and even if they’re not yet in their final form, they can still give you a nice boost in rankings and traffic pretty quickly.

Anecdotally, most people see the initial boost from newly acquired backlinks within a month. But that’s definitely not the end of the story.

Full Results from Link Building

This is the most frustrating part of what I do:

Showing people their brand-new, high-authority, perfectly optimized backlinks — and then having to wait for MONTHS before they take full effect.

It’s frustrating, but it’s just part of how this all works.

You see: Google isn’t stupid. It might do some things people think of as stupid sometimes, but in general, Google is really, really smart.

It knows that pretty much everybody has an interest in gaming the system when it comes to Google rankings.

So, the Google algorithm is trained to proceed with caution when it detects a new backlink. Yes, that link is a positive ranking signal that SHOULD boost rankings.

But will it permanently boost rankings overnight? Definitely not. Google wants to see what happens with the link first.

Does it stick around or go away? Do people click on it sometimes? Does the page it appears on get traffic?

And so on.

Then, Google might pass on some higher rankings to the page the backlink points to. That could be months in, in some cases.

And it’s still not done.

Google is then going to test your new rankings a bit. It wants to see if people click on your newly high-ranking page. And if they stay on it and interact with it and all kinds of other metrics.

If all goes well, Google might bump the ranking up a bit more — still based on the strength of the backlink you built months ago.

All in all, this can take as long as a year to settle down.

I’ve never really seen a backlink take longer than 12 months to have its full effect.

I HAVE seen the effect of all backlinks pointing to a site change all at once, usually due to a Google algorithm update or manual review of the target site by a Google reviewer.

But in terms of the algorithmic changes to rankings triggered by backlinks, the full effect is usually visible after 12 months.

The (Time-Consuming) Link Building Process

A lot of people ask me how long link building takes to work. It’s not an easy question to answer.

Hopefully, I gave you something to work with in the sections above this. But there’s even more to consider.

First, what exactly do you mean by “work” when you refer to backlinks? Do you mean how long it takes to actually build them?

How long it takes for them to affect your rankings at all (or in full)?

Or how long it takes before that translates into measurable improvements to your business? (That’s probably the most important metric, if we’re being honest.)

I’ll give you some visibility into the whole process of building links — from actually soliciting or creating them to seeing their effect on your business.

That should clear up any remaining confusion.

Here’s the time-consuming link building process in five major steps:

Step 1: Building the Links

This one takes two weeks to six months.

In two weeks, you can get all your business directories built out and maybe a guest post or two written.

In six months, you can develop meaningful relationships with website owners in your niche — meaningful enough to encourage a few to link to you.

There’s a lot of middle ground there, obviously. But if you’re just starting out with link building, you can safely expect the flow of links to start by six months.

One key exclusion:

If you’re building content that is meant to be highly “linkable,” that timeline could extend significantly, depending on how long it takes for your new content to rank well or otherwise get distributed.

Step 2: Getting Them Live

Securing the link placements is one thing. Getting them live on other websites is entirely another.

Why? Because other people own those websites.

They have their own publication schedules and editorial calendars. They may be forgetful. It just takes time.

I like to allow at least a month of buffer between when someone agrees to link to a client and when the link actually goes live.

It’s going to vary widely, of course, but the thing to know is this: Build in some extra time for the links you build to actually show up.

Obviously, if you’re in control of the website or particular page that’s going to link to you (such as with a directory profile link), that’s a different story.

Step 3: Getting the Links Indexed

Your backlink is now live — fantastic! But it means nothing.

At least, it means nothing yet.

That’s because Google hasn’t noticed it. It takes time for Google to see the new backlink. And it has to see the link in order to factor it into its algorithm (and your rankings as a result).

How long does this take, exactly?

It depends. Specifically, it depends on a few factors:

  • The type of content the link appears in. Is the backlink appearing in a brand new guest post? That may take longer for Google to index than a link you had inserted into an existing (and already indexed) article.
  • The size and relative authority of the website the link appears on. Does Google crawl the site your backlink is on pretty regularly? It can be difficult to tell, but the rule of thumb is that Google likes to crawl sites that are authoritative and high-frequency publishers more regularly. And the more regularly Google crawls the site, the sooner your new backlink is likely to hit the index.
  • Random chance. Sometimes, Google will take its sweet time indexing new content. It might wait four months for no reason at all. Other times, it’ll pop a new article (and the backlinks within it) into search results in no time flat. It’s often up to chance, unfortunately.

I’ve seen new backlinks hit the index in just a handful of hours, but I’ve also seen it take months. Hopefully you’ll be on the shorter end of that spectrum.

Step 4: Seeing Your Rankings Rise

After all that time, you have everything in place to see your rankings rise as a result of your new backlink. So, how long does that take?

You’re likely to see some increases pretty quickly. In a matter of days, you should be ranking higher than you were before the backlink went live.

But that’s not the end of the story.

The increases in rankings you see should continue over a period of several months. Usually, this progress is slow and steady.

But the pace at which your rankings increase as the result of a backlink will also have a lot to do with where you were ranking before the new backlink.

Were you on page nine of the search results and getting no traffic? You might see a HUGE increase in your rankings right out of the gate. Maybe from position 94 to position 31, for example.

Or were you already high up on page two of the search results or maybe even at the bottom of page one?

In that case, you might see a small bump at first — maybe one or three positions.

But keep in mind:

A small increase in ranking when you’re on page one can have a HUGE effect on your traffic from that ranking.

In any case, you’ll see those results relatively quickly, and they should continue to rise steadily for a few months.

Step 5: Watching the Traffic Roll In

How long it takes for your newfound high rankings to generate search traffic on your website is going to depend A LOT on the ultimate position the backlink has pushed you to.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that almost nobody clicks on something that’s showing up on page three of Google.

So, if you were on page nine and got a backlink that pushed you to page three, your traffic could increase by almost nothing.

Meanwhile, if you were at the top of page two and got a backlink that pushed you to the middle of page one, you would more than likely see an ENORMOUS increase in traffic.

It’s just how people use search engines — they click on the stuff that ranks highly. That’s the whole point of SEO, in the first place.

Factors That Influence How Long Link Building Takes to Get Results

If you’re in a hurry, all of my descriptions of how long it takes for link building to work might make you want to give up entirely.

I get it. But I’ve got some good news for you:

You CAN speed up the results you get from link building. Well, you can in most cases.

It’s all about taking control of the following factors that affect how long it takes:

Your Campaign

There’s more than one way to build links. And each way takes different amounts of time.

First, ask yourself whether you’re willing to buy backlinks.

If you are, you can get backlinks MUCH faster. Usually, you just buy a guest post placement or niche edit, and the link shows up a week or two later.

You still have to wait for Google to do its thing, but getting the link published on the internet faster significantly reduces the time it takes for link building to work.

If you’re not going to buy backlinks, you still have some options for getting backlinks faster.

That’s because each type of backlink takes a different amount of time to build. Here’s the breakdown, from fastest to slowest:

  • Links on websites you control. Backlinks from directory listings are as fast as can be. You simply add them and hit “Save.”
  • Niche edits (backlinks inserted into existing content). The time it takes to get a niche edit depends on how fast you can convince a website owner that they should insert a link to your website in the content they have already published. You don’t have to wait around for the content to be created, which makes this method faster than guest posting.
  • Guest posting. This method takes somewhat longer than niche edits simply because you have to not only find suitable websites on which to publish, but actually create the content, which could take a considerable amount of time.
  • Building linkable assets. Creating link-worthy content and publishing it on your website is the longest play. That’s because you have to wait for the content to be created, wait for Google to index and rank it and THEN wait for others to notice and link to it.

To be clear, you really need a mix of link types. But you can get a sort-of snowball effect going by starting with the fastest links and building up from there.

The Total Number of Backlinks

If you engage in a link building action or campaign that gets you a single backlink, that’s a good thing. But it’s a better thing if that campaign generates 100 links (given that they’re all of equal quality).

So, when you’re wondering how long it takes for link building to work, consider how many links your link building efforts are likely to yield.

If the number is high, the needle on your rankings is likely to start moving more quickly. If it’s low, expect a slower response.

It’s just how Google works. If Google suddenly sees links pouring in for a particular page, it’s likely to think that page is super important, timely, relevant, etc. And it will rank it well accordingly.

Meanwhile, a single link here and there will still send a positive signal to Google. But it’s going to spark a lot less urgency in the ranking algorithm.

Metrics of the Linking Site

If the website where you’re getting a backlink has really strong domain-level metrics, the link is more likely to have an effect on your rankings faster.

Meanwhile, a link on a small or new site with lacking domain metrics might take longer to show an effect.

Why? Because Google likes to crawl more powerful, more authoritative sites more frequently. That means it will notice your backlink on a more powerful site more quickly.

What metrics am I talking about? Really, it could be a lot of stuff. But the most important metrics are probably total organic traffic and the actual size of the site.

That can be harder to determine for a site that isn’t your own. But you can approximate it with Domain Rating, Domain Authority, Authority Score or whichever version of that metric your SEO tool of choice uses.

SEO tools made up these terms in order to enable discussions about the relative SEO power of the various websites on the internet.

Google isn’t measuring domains’ authority, but you can still use this metric to get a glimpse of how powerful Google might think a particular site is.

Here’s what that looks like in Semrush:

The Content You’ve Created

How good is your website? How good is the content you’re trying to get other websites to link to?

The better your website and content, the better for your link building efforts.

Why? Because it’s easier to get people to link to high-quality websites and content.

I’ve seen this hundreds of times. Website owners want backlinks, but they’re not willing to invest time and money into improving their websites or creating great, link-worthy content.

The results they get are slower. And the sites that DO link to them have lower standards. After all, they’re willing to link to a low-quality website or piece of content.

What do I mean by “high-quality” when I’m talking about websites and content?

For websites, I’m talking about things like the following:

  • Fast loading times
  • Easy, user-friendly navigation
  • Clear and coherent content throughout
  • A well-produced about page
  • HTTPS — not HTTP
  • A contact page with multiple contact methods, as well as a business address

And for content, I mean:

  • Actually serving the reader (not just writing for Google)
  • Adding something to the topic rather than just regurgitating what’s already on Google
  • Using images and videos where applicable
  • Relying on authoritative and trustworthy sources

The Age of Your Domain

The supposed “Google Sandbox” is super debatable. This is the idea that new websites won’t rank well for a period of time, something like six months. They’re in the “sandbox,” according to some SEOs.

Google hasn’t copped to the sandbox thing, but anecdotally, it DOES take new sites a while to start ranking.

That means that, if your website is new, the backlinks you build may not have much of an effect.

At least at first.

But over time, those links will start to matter more to the algorithm.

If you are indeed in some sort of sandbox, those links may start to have a big effect once Google lets you out of it.

If there is no such thing as the sandbox, the links may just not look that trustworthy or legitimate to Google until your domain has reached a certain age.

In any case, the age of your domain does appear to affect how powerful backlinks will be for you.

The Keywords You’re Trying to Rank For

If you’re trying to rank for a highly competitive keyword, your links will take longer to have an effect than if you were trying to rank for a less competitive keyword.

This is why it’s always a good idea to take a look at your targeted keywords for opportunities to make them more focused (and therefore less competitive).

Here’s what I mean:

Say you’re a personal injury law firm and you’re trying to build backlinks so you rank well for “personal injury lawyer.”

That’s a keyword that’s about as competitive as it gets:

It’s going to take years to rank for that. I’m not going to lie to you.

So, could you get a little more focused to speed up the ranking effects of your backlinks?

Definitely. You’re a personal injury law firm in this example. You’re probably not national. So, what about your service area? Could you add that to the keyword?

For the sake of the example, let’s say your firm serves Austin, Texas.

Here’s what that keyword looks like:

That’s A LOT less competitive. It’s still competitive, but it’s attainable. And I guarantee you’ll see faster results from your backlinks than if you were trying to rank for “personal injury lawyer.”

Your Current Rankings in Google

Where do you rank for your target keyword right now?

If you’re already on page one, your backlinks will take longer to show as much of an effect.

If you’re on page 10, you’ll see a much faster effect.

That’s because there’s a lot less competition for the positions past page one of the rankings. A single backlink could make your page look a lot more competitive to the eyes of Google.

Meanwhile, in the gilded halls of page one of the SERPs, most of the top pages have dozens of backlinks (if not more), as well as a bunch of other positive ranking signals.

That means you’ll need more backlinks and more time for them to mature in order to move past these giants.

The Type of Backlink

Quick refresher:

Nofollow backlinks contain an HTML attribute that tells Google not to pass ranking authority through them.

Dofollow links tell Google to pass ranking authority.

So, if you build a nofollow backlink, that is going to have no real effect on your rankings (at least on paper).

I’ve seen clients SKYROCKET through the rankings when they’ve gotten nofollow links from Wikipedia, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and so on.

It happens all the time. But those are crazy good links that take a LONG time to build. In general, nofollow links won’t move the needle for your rankings.

But dofollow links will move the needle. And they’ll do it much faster than a ton of nofollow links on lower-authority websites.

Patience + Persistence = Success in Link Building

How long does link building take to get results? That’s going to depend on a lot of factors.

But here’s what matters most:

Link building DOES get results. And that’s what you want — results.

That’s why patience is one of the most valuable attributes when you’re doing SEO. That and persistence.

Wait and don’t give up, and you will see results from your link building efforts. (That’s assuming you’re doing it right, of course.)

Yes, there are ways to speed up the process. And you absolutely should leverage them if they’re within your means and skillset. But ultimately, link building is all about patience and persistence.

Keep reading: Filtering Out Bad Websites For Link Building

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