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Field Notes

Field Notes #019: Patience is Overrated

patience is overrated

How long do SEO results take? 

It’s one of the most common questions we get, particularly from marketing executives without hands-on experience in the field. 

If we’re talking to someone with SEO experience, we skip this question. We know, they know: results may vary. 

But to executives, we’ll often give an answer that is true in utility, and that is: probably 6-12 months.

But that’s not true literally. We say this because it couches expectations in the channel for the long term; SEO, half-invested, is going to be a failed endeavor. It’s one of those things you have to commit to, as it has increasing marginal utility (i.e. the marginal costs go down and the marginal benefits go up with increased inputs). 

So here’s the paradox: the largest rewards come over the long term, but winning over the long term often requires an urgency that feels impatient. 

To paraphrase, “impatience with action, patience with results.” 

I’ve found that, in pitching prospects, I need to do two things: come up with a plan that is extremely exciting over the long term, and eminently pragmatic over the short term. 

In other words, in 5 years this needs to be a major contributor to leads. But in 5 months, we need to see feedback that the plan is actually going to come to fruition.

This, by the way, is a key to getting buy-in in whatever domain you’re in. When I ran experimentation programs, I had grand visions for the program. But my first few experiments were always on low-hanging fruit, showcasing my ability to actually get results. 

In content: come up with a plan that, on a forecasting model, can contribute a significant portion of your company’s leads (depends what’s exciting to you, but above 10% of the overall lead attribution for content would be great for many).  

Then, focus on early results: index on low-difficulty keywords, content velocity, links, and distribution. Publish at 5X the pace you think you can publish, solely focusing on 0-500 MSV terms. Look for feedback signals – are you ranking? If so, you can be certain that with sufficient time and inputs, the tip of the iceberg will crash through the surface, uncovering low-cost leads at an accelerating pace. 

But don’t fall for the “patience” argument. Those who win commit, and even if content is a long game, they play it fast. 

Even as a thought exercise, ask yourself the Peter Theil question:

“If you have a 10-year plan of how to get [somewhere], you should ask: Why can’t you do this in 6 months?”

It’s obviously unreasonable, but you’ll certainly find a few limiting assumptions and bottlenecks that are preventing your (faster) success.

1. “SEO results take 6-12 months” debunked  – a great LinkedIn post by Jonas van de Poel covering why this idea is wrong. 

2. Amp it up! – Frank Slootman’s legendary essay (that turned into a book) on his three key principles for driving insane growth at companies. I apply these on a granular level as well: narrow the focus, increase the velocity, and raise your standards. Apply these to SEO and watch your growth curve accelerate.

3. Content is a long game. But if you want to win, play fast. – I wrote this a few months ago after realizing our most successful clients weren’t patient; they wanted to commit to SEO and content, and they were ready to ship at a faster pace than their competitors. Even though content is a long game, that doesn’t mean you should be patient. Amp it up!

Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.