Are you thinking about starting your first website? If so, I have a few words of advice in the form of a short story:

The other day I was out to lunch with my brother, who is a web developer/entrepreneur, and we started talking about what it would be like to open a restaurant. He was certain, despite having zero experience working in the food industry, that he could successfully open and manage a restaurant. I couldn’t disagree more.

We bantered back and forth about this for a while before I played my trump card. I asked him, “Don’t you feel there are a lot of people who say the same thing about owning a website?” He looked at me for a second before realizing the point I was trying to make: just because you go out to restaurants doesn’t mean you can successfully own one.

This same concept applies to websites. Owning and operating a website is not easy and expectations of immediate Internet/search engine domination should be significantly tempered.

I’ve written about knowing your site before you SEO and how if you’re new to SEO then you should start with your site, but now I’d like to step back even farther and discuss initial expectations for your first website (assuming you built your site with SEO in mind).

New websites face the same challenges as new restaurants. You’re up against limited market share and established competition. The timeline I tell people is that about one year after launching your site, you should finally start seeing a return on investment.

The first six months are critical, especially when it comes to offsite link building and promotion, because this is when you will lay the groundwork for long-term success. In the meantime, expect traffic numbers to remain low as search engines have to A) index your entire site, B) figure out what your site is about, and C) rank your site for your targeted keywords.

Moving along the year timeline, the best way to track your site is to shoot for realistic milestones. Initially, ignore page 1 search results for your competitive, high-level keywords. Make your goal to be at the top of page 4 or 5.

Once you’re around page 3, the ranking climb gets significantly harder. Stop gauging your ascent by pages and focus on individual ranking. If you’re ranking 25 for a keyword, it’s a significant win to see a climb to 23 two weeks down the road. Follow this method until you’re on page 1, at which point the climb up becomes even slower. Realistically it could take a month or more to move up one or two spots.

A point of caution: upward movement will also come with some drops. The climb up to 23 you made might be followed with a regression to 25 or 26. It’s unrealistic to believe your keywords will continually climb. It’s this give and take between growth and regression that lengthens (significantly at times) the growth period of new websites.

Don’t allow yourself to be consumed by the belief that just because you’ve created an SEO’d website, you will see significant results immediately. Long-term success should be your goal, so hold on for a year, and at that time take a look back and see how far you’ve come.

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