BrightLocal Webinar on Local Reviews

Today I had the pleasure once again of speaking on a webinar put on by BrightLocal.  It’s part of the InsideLocal series of webinars that’s been going since July, and that will continue through the end of the year.

The one today was all about reviews.

Here’s the video, and below it is the slide deck.



Thanks again to Myles Anderson for inviting me, and to Don Campbell (fellow speaker) and Linda Buquet (Q&A moderator) for a great job.

Any questions?  Thoughts on review strategy?  Feel free to leave a comment on Linda’s forum, or right here.

How Long Does Local-Search Visibility Take?

The question I get asked more frequently than any other is: “Roughly how long until my business ranks well in local search?”

(“Ranks well” usually refers to being on page one and “local search” usually means the Google+Local results.)

People have at least a basic idea of what is involved in getting a business to rank visibly in local search if they’ve talked with me for a few minutes or have been to this site or others that deal with local search.  Or, to the extent they’ve done some “homework,” they may have a very solid understanding of what the main moving parts and to-dos are.

But the question of how long a local SEO campaign takes doesn’t get nearly as much attention, and fewer people have even a rough idea of the answer.

That’s why recently I asked some of my fellow local-search aficionados how long it takes them to help get their clients visible in local search.

The following pros took the time to offer some eye-opening insights:

Mary Bowling

Linda Buquet – Admin, Local Search Forum

Miriam Ellis

Matthew Hunt

David Mihm – President,

Dave Oremland

Mike Ramsey

Darren Shaw – Creator, Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder

Adam Steele

Nyagoslav Zhekov

(Plus me, Phil Rozek)

I asked the above people 3 specific questions about “how long local SEO takes.”  And boy did they answer (as you’ll see in a second).

Their commentary – though superb – does not make this a “scientific” post.  There’s no such way to answer this question (or many other local-search-related questions, for that matter).

Rather, I wanted to know: to what extent is there a consensus – among people who do this stuff all day long – as to how long it takes to get good (typically first-page) local rankings?

Do you want the shortest of short answers – the “consensus” in a pistachio-sized nutshell?  Well, here you go: local SEO usually takes anywhere from a month to a year.

If all you wanted was a rough number, you just got it.  But settling for that is like going to a 5-star steakhouse and only eating the bread.

Plus, rough numbers don’t give you a sense of the particulars – like how much time it might take in your situation for your business to get more visible in local search.

So, if you’d like the insights from thousands of man-hours and woman-hours of local-SEO experience, read on.

Question 1:  When a potential client asks “Roughly when can I expect to see results?” what is your typical answer?

“I usually tell them 3-6 months, depending on the level of competition in their location and industry.”– Mary Bowling

“When I was doing optimization services I was very conservative in setting expectations with potential clients. I always try to under-promise and over deliver. But this, in a nutshell, is what I would tell Dentists:

“Ranking in Google local takes a well optimized Google+ Local page AND a well optimized web site to match PLUS the right local hooks for Google to tie it all together, so ranking is a 2 stage process. (In my process – that’s the way I did it.)

“1st I’ll optimize your Google+ Local page. For 2nd tier keywords like ‘[city] teeth whitening’, ‘[city] dental implants’, ‘[city] laser dentistry’ we can usually get significant results in less than a month because those keywords I can typically impact when I optimize your Place page. (That’s if they didn’t already have those KWs in G+ Local categories.) Most of my clients move right up to page one, but of course there are no guarantees and it depends on the competition in your market for each of those keywords.

“For your core keywords like ‘[city] dentist’ and ‘[city] cosmetic dentistry’ – just optimizing the Place page normally won’t move the needle, as those keywords are the most competitive. To impact ranking for your core keywords will take the on-site Local SEO and Local Hooks changes I need to do. After those changes are complete we normally start to see an improvement in about a month. But then rankings can gradually improve for awhile after that.

“(Note: I no longer personally do optimization – stopped a few months ago to focus on Local SEO training for other consultants, so no longer offer the above service).”
– Linda Buquet

“While this is dependent on how much work has been done by the client or other Local SEOs prior to the client becoming mine, I reply that initial gains in visibility should occur within a couple of weeks of our first work being complete, with additional gains typically being visible at the end of 6 months. By then, we can be confident of where the work has gotten us because it’s had time to settle in.”
– Miriam Ellis

“We tell clients they will see improvements immediately.  Which they will.  As for ranking guarantees, we don’t make them.  Typically we see low competition stuff ranking as fast as 30-90 days (sometimes immediately on long tail stuff, if domain is clean, and site has history/age, etc)  All our agreements are month-to-month, but we expect people to mentally commit to 6 months with us before making decision on what they think.  Brand new domains take much longer to rank than existing aged domains.  We look at that for sure before setting expectations.  Example: if you get to aggressive on link building on a brand new domain you’ll sandbox it for 6-8 months.  TIP: Never build more links than you have traffic.  I’ve seen this mistake so many times.  Business owner gets new site live.  It has like 20 unique visitors, then newbie SEO builds 400 links to site with no visitors and history.  This is not usually natural… expect to get slapped if you do this.  On brand new domains it’s best to focus on content creation and social media networking to get buzz going.  Do some light citations and PR’s.  That’s it for the first 6 months.  Then as your site starts to show 1500-2000 unique visitors then start getting links.  Nice and slow and only stuff from high quality sites.  Now if aged site with traffic, you can be more aggressive out of the gates.  Still focus on content 1st, but you can for sure have more fun with backlinking to help boost rankings.  Focus on deep linking most of your stuff.  Focus on the long tail.  Do these things and you’ll get success out of the gates.”
 – Matthew Hunt

“‘It depends’, of course, as you already acknowledged 🙂  If it’s a client in a fairly non-competitive industry who’s never done ANY optimization (e.g. claimed many listings, added custom categories to their +Local page, has no optimized Title Tags on their website), I’ve seen some substantial results in two or three weeks.  Clients in competitive industries who need to start review campaigns, dramatically revise their site architecture (for multi-location businesses), etc., it’s going to take considerably longer.

“So, if you want a full range, I’d say 0.75 – 6 months.  All clients should see *some* results within six months, in my opinion.  That makes the average time around 2-3 months, I suppose.” – David Mihm

“Somewhere in the 6 month range, give or take some months.

“Contingent issues include the following:

A.  Starting point.  Where is the client subject to competition?

B.  What is the status of existing citation/ NAP information on the web.  Clean or not clean?

C.  Willingness of the client to partner and act on substantial link building activities.  I like to build strong links.  But it is often contingent on the client’s willingness to participate.” – Dave Oremland

“I tell them that they will generally see change within the first month. I usually tell them that results are not always top position ranking but change in positions, more organic traffic, more referral traffic. That way they aren’t counting down to page one but seeing progress. Overall, I dodge the question.” – Mike Ramsey

“We typically say 3-4 months, but we assess this on a case-by-case basis. We always do a little competitive analysis before quoting the project so we can set the budget and expectations. A flower shop in a small town with no competition can be ranked easily within a month or two. A brand new hotel in New York City with a brand new website is going to need at least 6 months to a year of hard work.”
– Darren Shaw

“Typically speaking, when potential clients think ‘results’ they think in terms of rankings. With that said, I like to separate organic from Google Local. Organic I can improve in a week’s time. Local however is a different beast, and much slower to react to positive change…especially off page changes like citation building. On-page changes can push a trusted Google Local page pretty quickly, but I don’t like to make any promises here – too random. Thus, with Local I generally quote 3 months to be safe.” – Adam Steele

“I usually tell them the following: ‘It might take anything between 1 and 4 months. Biggest ranking changes in Google+ Local are observed during the business data index updates, which happen every 4-8 weeks. However, sometimes, especially if your ‘footprint’ is very messy, it might take two updates until some significant traffic/ranking increases occur.’ – Nyagoslav Zhekov

“I usually say at least 2-3 months.  Then I launch into a long-winded explanation of how there are a ton of variables, and that sometimes it can take significantly longer, depending on those variables.  Around the time I provide this ‘ETA’ (often beforehand) I usually ask my potential client to fill out my questionnaire, or (if we’re on the phone) to fill me in on some of the details of his/her situation.  The sooner we’re both clear on all the particulars, the sooner I can say whether to expect a smooth or bumpy ride.” – Phil Rozek


Question 2:  When your local-SEO efforts go smoothly for a given client, how long does it usually take for his/her business to reach the local rankings you set expectations for?

“When I get one that doesn’t have a lot of NAP confusion and inconsistency, 2-3 months.” – Mary Bowling

“If it’s a matter of adding categories for secondary keywords that they didn’t have listed in their Places categories before – then just 1 – 2 weeks.(Or however long the category update cycle is at the time.)

“For core KWs that require on-site SEO, normally I would get an average 10 spot jump within a month. Sometimes in 2 weeks. (Once had a site go from #16 to #2 for ‘[city] dentist’ in 2 days which is pretty rare for an organic ranking increase – that was on-site changes only.)

“(Also I have some tricks to get client sites spidered and re-indexed faster because that’s a problem for local sites. Many of these small biz sites just don’t get much traffic, therefore may not be spidered very often. So if I’m going to go to all the trouble to optimize the site, I’m not going to sit back and hope/wait for the Google spider the optimized content. I force feed her the changes, to get my client’s site re-indexed faster.)” – Linda Buquet

“I never, never promise rankings. In my own mind, I expect to see results within a couple of months, but I am very careful not to guarantee anything, due to the variables of Google’s behavior as well as competitive efforts.” – Miriam Ellis

“First 30-90 days for ranking those ego terms 😉  You know i really hate talking about rankings as a measuring stick.  Here at SBOC we always get success right away because we focus on traffic and conversions as a way to measure success.  We are experts at improving conversions and usually really easy to show success b/c most small business site’s suck and they do not do any A/B split testing.  We always increase traffic out of the gate b/c we are content publishers first before we are link builders, citation builders, etc.  Bigger sites always get more traffic. We focus on building bigger websites first and creating linkable assets.  This gets you more relevant traffic. More relevant traffic = more leads/sales.  Thus success! We do not focus on rankings as a success measuring stick nor should any agency or small business, especially with all the different search results available, between local search results, personal results, etc.  This will drive everyone nuts and (excuse my language) but it’s a piss poor way to measure success.  I am in the business to help small business make more money, I am not in the business to feed SMB’s egos on silly rankings.  Don’t get me wrong, rankings are a good signal to measure SEO, but not a good way to determine internet marketing success.  Measuring traffic and conversions is.  That is all you need to understand as a small business to decide if something is working.  SMB’s should ask: Did my traffic increase? Did my conversions increase?  Ask those questions and do not judge success by some silly ranking for some silly ego term and then you’ll know if you are getting a ROI from your internet marketing.” – Matthew Hunt

“Well, I never promise any rankings.  I try to give people a realistic assessment of where they are based on the point they’re starting from and the market they’re in.

“For a client starting from dead scratch with a brand new website and brand new location, four-six months is realistic.  I recently went through this exercise with my cousin’s group health insurance agency and she has just started to rank well across a broad range of terms (health benefits portland, group insurance portland, etc) after a full-on launch and citation campaign starting in March.  Everything here was very smooth obviously since there were no NAP conflicts and I was in complete control of the process.

“For a client starting from a pretty good position who’s just in need of a little push in the right direction, one month is realistic.” – David Mihm

“Somewhere in the 6 month range.  Always contingent on above issues [mentioned in Question 1].” – Dave Oremland

“Usually speaking we see things happen anywhere from 2-4 months. That is enough time for a lot of fixes to take effect. There are always exceptions though both on the faster and slower side.” – Mike Ramsey

“We’re usually on target with the expectations we set out at the beginning of the campaign. If things go smoothly, we sometimes get results earlier. If there are client delays (as is often the case), it can take months longer than we estimated.”
– Darren Shaw

“Funny you add ‘smoothly.’ Clearly you added this because so often Google Local throws us ridiculous, illogical curveballs. Promises are often mistaken for guarantees…and in my cautious opinion, SEOs should not be making ranking guarantees. Way too many variables, bugs, etc.

“For a semi competitive niche, top 3 rankings (for example) in Google Local will come in 3-4 months.” – Adam Steele

“If the client is a low- to mid-competitive market, it might take 3-4 weeks, but these cases are rare, because business owners that come to me are usually not in easy markets. I’d say that the average is 8-10 weeks.” – Nyagoslav Zhekov

“About 2-3 months.  Sometimes a month or less IF my client has already made some efforts at local SEO and doesn’t have a bunch of different addresses or phone numbers floating around the web.  However, in really competitive local markets (e.g. big-city lawyers), everything takes longer: even a “smooth” local-SEO campaign can take 4-6 months to bear fruit.” – Phil Rozek


Question 3:  For the “trouble cases,” when things don’t go so smoothly, how long does it usually take for your client to get the rankings you expected?

“Short answer 6 months, but it really depends on their budget and/or if they are willing and able to do a lot of the NAP cleanup (with my instructions). Updating directory listings can take an unexpectedly long amount of time, especially if they have been careless with setting up accounts, recording log ins, etc. I have cleaned up unbelievable multi-location messes in 3-4 months, but it was with a big budget.

“I also ask them about what they are doing for link building, because if their domain authority lags behind their competitors’ by very much, it’s a necessary ingredient in the ranking recipe.” – Mary Bowling

“I could almost always get clients ranked on page one with my Google Places and on-site Local SEO techniques, in the time frames above. (I don’t ever do citations or backlinks – just on-page on the Google page and web site.)

“The only exception was, if it was a really competitive market and they were really low to begin with. So let’s say I took a client from #26 to #12. That’s a nice 14 point jump – BUT not enough to get to page one. So at that point after I’d done everything I could ON-PAGE, if it wasn’t enough to get to page one, they would maybe need some off-page help which I would refer out. Only had to do that a couple times though.” – Linda Buquet

“It can take many months, or even more than a year for really bad problems to be resolved. I was just looking at a thread today in which a business owner had sent 123 emails to Google demanding resolution of his merging problem. Think of that!”
– Miriam Ellis

“30-90 days usually.  Depends on what the issue is.  Example, duplicate listing can get cleaned up in 60 days.  Deleted and black listed Google Places listing may not be able to come back at that phone and address again.  Or recent Doctor/Professional duplicates, can’t get rid of b/c Google Places is allowing the practice and the professional to each have a listing.  Local search, especially Google Places can be a hot mess and often out a Local SEO’ers hands.  Hopefully, one day Google Local will get their shit together. My guess it won’t happen until they monetize it, as we all know Google doesn’t like providing any real support unless it’s a paid product.” – Matthew Hunt

“It can honestly take years.  Mary Bowling and I have a joint client who’s had all kinds of NAP confusion and clusterf*cks that we are still trying to help about 30 months after I first started with them.  Luckily, they had a pretty good idea of how tough their situation was before they hired us, but these kinds of situations can take constant vigilance and results are not always going to happen if the cluster was corrupted a long time ago.” – David Mihm

“Cleaning bad results and building rankings could add 6 months roughly to the process.” – Dave Oremland

“We have some that have been 6 months to a year. Usually due to duplicate issues or really bad NAP information when things can’t stick. Some listings constantly hop in and out of rankings. That can happen for years at a time.” – Mike Ramsey

“This is so variable, it’s really tough to answer. I have some mystery cases where everything looks good with their website and their Google+ Local page, and they have more citations, reviews, links, etc than the competition, but they’re still not ranking in the local results a year after we started working with them. Some cases can get resolved after cleaning up problematic NAP consistency issues, and the time it takes to do this work is quite variable as well. Sorry I can’t give any solid timelines for you on this one.” – Darren Shaw

“Depending on the severity, problems that CAN be sorted out, typically take another 1 or 2 months on top of the 3-4 months.” – Adam Steele

“The only cases when it never worked smoothly were when the client was not doing what I was ‘recommending’ them to do. In these cases we usually terminate our relationships as soon as I realize there is no hope.” – Nyagoslav Zhekov

“6 months or more.  On the one hand, there are any number of “issues” that can throw a wrench into your local-search efforts, so sometimes even ~6 months isn’t enough time to stick in your hand and fish out all the wrenches.  But on the other hand, progress only comes really slowly if my clients for whatever reason don’t what needs to be done on the website, are unwilling even to ask customers for reviews, etc.  When my suggestions are implemented (by me or by the client – just depends on our arrangement), it’s rare for there not to be at least significant improvement in local rankings after ~4 months – if not for the rankings to reach the levels we both expect during that time.” – Phil Rozek

Additional comments from some of the experts:

“What I’ve found, working in Local Search, is that every case is different. There is no standardized template for success, not only because each business is unique, but because Google’s behavior is erratic in its local products. Imagine the different results you might expect working with a local hair salon vs. a local auto dealership. Competition and scrutiny are going on at very different levels. Some verticals are so under-served and under-optimized that you can literally take a client to the top in a couple of weeks. But not if your client is an attorney in a metropolis; in such cases, there will be many months of effort ahead to outrank competitors, if that’s even possible. So, every new client is a new and interesting challenge, and in my opinion, results should never be guaranteed. We don’t control Google. We only control our own efforts, with the expectant hope that things will turn out well and the realistic caution that, sometimes, they don’t.” – Miriam Ellis

“After all is said and done, with Google as you know, a new issue could arise with glitches.” – Dave Oremland

“Overall, I am really moving away from only selling or focusing on ranking and trying to take a much broader approach to services we offer. I don’t sell strictly Google+ local optimization anymore. We tend to want to focus on maps, organic, content, conversion, etc. I think that this allows for us to produce quick wins and constantly show progress. Diversification helps the client and also our relationship with them.”
– Mike Ramsey

“It is hard to generalize any part of the SEO process. Delivery of results is one of the variables that depends on more than one factor, and is thus largely unpredictable. In the Google+ Local world everything spins around the index pushes, though, so the 4-8 weeks period is a potential target checkpoint.” – Nyagoslav Zhekov


All fantastic insights.  Except for what that Phil Rozek guy said.  What a goofball 🙂

A HUGE thanks to all the great local SEO-ers who offered their time and first-hand knowledge.  Each of them is worth following and learning from (or even hiring) if you want to get some more local-search visibility for your business.

What’s been your experience so far, in terms of how long local SEO “takes”?  Leave a comment!