What Happens to Your Rankings if You Do No SEO Work for Over a Year?

Today, we are revisiting a case study that we did for MozCon 2019 on the process of going from zero web presence to ranking hyper-locally, From Zero to Local Ranking Hero. This was an 8-month-long journey of a business growing its digital footprint and analyzing what worked (and didn’t) along the way to discover exactly what impact different strategies have on local rankings. Over a year later we want to know, where are their rankings now?

In this Whitespark Weekly episode, we’re investigating what happened to their rankings after the local SEO work was done and NO additional SEO work was completed. Do they still rank in local results? Watch or read along to find out!

Video Transcript

Hey there, Darren here with another Whitespark Weekly video. These videos are to help you understand local SEO, give you new optimization strategies and keep you up to date on all the latest in local search. If you’re new here, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and make sure you sign up for our newsletter. Every time we publish one of these videos, we’ll send it out and you can keep up to date.

Today I want to talk to you about the presentation I gave at MozCon back in 2019 (From Zero to Local Ranking Hero). I gave this really interesting presentation where I took a business, with absolutely zero online presence. They had no GMB listing, no website, no citations, they basically had done nothing on the web at all since they started their business. I took them from nothing to ranking pretty well in about eight months.

It’s really cool research because I was able to step through every activity in isolation and measure the impact of each activity. Below I’ll recap the different things that we did.

December 20, 2018 – Signed up for GMB Listing
First, we created a brand new GMB listing. On December 20, 2018, I registered the listing, it went live on January 11.

The whole process to get the postcard, then the listing actually showed up on January 10th I think or something like that. The very next day, they were ranking.

They were only ranking like for that very specific key phrase, and they were only ranking when you were searching really close to them. But regardless, it was interesting to show that you could rank right away.

January 12, 2019 – Created a GMB Website
I stepped through all these different things. So, by January 12th, they had some rankings showing up already. Then I started with a Google website, I wanted to see if the website in GMB would have an impact. I created the website, using the free website builder within Google My Business. You can create a custom domain, so I did that.

January 15, 2019 – Build 100 Citations
Then I built 100 citations in January. I checked the rankings about a month later to see if the citations had any impact. So within one month, there wasn’t much impact.

February 24, 2019 – Started Daily Google Posts
We were doing daily Google Posts, that was another thing that we did and tried to measure the impact. We didn’t see a lot there. I think a lot of people have talked about the impact of Google posts on rankings, they’re not really much of a ranking booster, they are more of a conversion factor.

March 6, 2019 – Add Content to GMB Website
We added some content to the GMB website. Before, it had no actual text content. That actually seemed to show some blip in the organic rankings, which was interesting.

March 7-15, 2019 – Getting Reviews
Then they started to get some reviews in March, which was helpful. We saw a little bit of a ranking boost from the reviews. From March 15th to March 30th, you can see the rankings start to pick up a little bit once the reviews started coming in.

March 19, 2019 – Get Backlinks
Then we got some backlinks, actual real links – real-ish links. We used OutReach Pete, a company that does guest post link building. They got us placements on some blogs. I also gave him a link from the Whitespark website. I cheated a little bit there. But the links actually had a pretty significant impact.

They got the one link on March 29, the second one on April 1, and then boom, they really took off in the rankings after getting a few links. And I think that’s interesting. It’s like, does a business really exist? Does it really have any authority? Should we rank it until they get some links? We know Google thinks links are pretty good. You can really see the impact those links had. So that was cool.

We thought “Okay, great. Let’s build a bunch more links.” We built a bunch more links, but they did not seem to have much of an additional impact.

Those first ones? Great. The next ones? Not much of an impact. Twelve extra links didn’t really do much over the course of the year. We’re getting pretty close to when I was going to present at MozCon. We were kind of running out of time to measure the data.

July 10, 2019 – Built & Launched New Website
The one thing we did in early July was build and launch a whole new like proper website. And so we’re running a little tight on time. But we did see some impact before I went and presented at MozCon.

That’s a recap of basically what we had to start with, what we did and where we got over the course of that case study.

What happened to their rankings after that?

I’m going to show you! Have a look. This is what happened from the beginning of our work until MozCon. You could see they didn’t have much rankings in the beginning, we could see a little boost where the links came in. And then you know, it’s mostly steady from there. They had about 203 terms ranking in total. This is what their rankings looked like.

February 8 2019 to MozCon July 2019

This is important, no additional SEO work was done. We totally stopped. I was like, “Okay, well, you’re on your own, I did my case study, good luck to you.” And no SEO work was done after that point, not a bit of it. They got no new links. They got no new work done on their website. They didn’t add any more content to their website. Nothing at all had changed. We didn’t do any additional citation building. They did get one new review. But over the period of the last year and a bit, really nothing else happened.

Look what happened. Oh my God, look at look at the rankings, they basically went from, you know, this point here, this where we stopped doing SEO work. This is where I presented a MozCon to like doubling or tripling the number of rankings they have now. It’s really awesome to see that impact, like what the heck?!

July 2019 to Now

Leads are also way up too. Whenever their contact form on their website emails them, I get a notification as well. And they’re getting really solid leads. They only build two or three houses a year anyways as they’re a fairly small operation. But they’re now in that luxury position where they can pick and choose from leads. And so, this whole thing was massively successful for them. They’re doing great.

Why did their rankings keep going up? I’m trying to figure this out. I’m looking at it, I’m thinking about it.

Do things just need to age? Does it just take time for that stuff to simmer? Like a like a fine wine or something? Does fine wine simmer? I don’t know. Is it the age of the website? Like, Google is aware of the website but doesn’t fully trust it yet. It maybe takes time for the website.

Age of GMB listing is a known local search factor.

Is it the age of the links? Maybe Google is aware of these links, but isn’t sure they’re going to stick around so it doesn’t give them full value until later? Possibly?

Maybe the age of citations? Citations are interesting one to me because you have to think about this: when you build 100 citations, you don’t immediately have 100 citations. It takes a dang long time for those citations to actually impact your SEO campaign.

The day that we build 100 citations, 25 of them are live immediately. Another 45 of them will be live within about a week. This is because you submit to the sites and then there’s a moderator that reviews the submissions and approves them or declines them. Sometimes it takes a week for listings to go live, sometimes it takes a month, sometimes it takes three months. And then you also have to think about this; we’ve seen citations take like six months to a year to finally get moderated and go live. We monitor the email accounts and get those notifications that say “Your listing is now live” after they approve it and put it live on the site.

In order to get the actual impact of 100 citations, it does take up to a year and a half. Not only does it take time for the citations to be moderated and go live on the site, it also takes time for Google to find those listings. We’re talking about really deep, big websites that don’t have a lot of domain authority. Google’s crawlers are taking a long time to actually find and index those citations. The typical timeline of a 125 citation campaign can be up to a year and a half before all of the dust has settled and all of the value of those citations has come in.

Think about that in terms of what happened here with no additional SEO work. Citations kept trickling in over the course of the last year and a half, so it’s not like no SEO was work was done completely because there were still citations coming in – more and more links from these directories. And we know the directory links are not awesome. But if I think back to when I published this study, it raised a lot of questions like, “Has the value of citations gone away?”

I question that. This is extremely speculative and inconclusive… I’m not saying for sure that citations is what increased the rankings without additional SEO work. It could have been age of website, could have been age of the GMB listing, could have been many other things. But when you think about citations, you can’t evaluate them on the same time scale. It takes a long time to evaluate the impact of citations. And this is interesting to see how these two charts look a little similar.

I’m not saying that the citations caused that ranking boost. It could have been anything, but it does make you think. It is very interesting. And I love to see that impact when basically SEO work stopped and they still continue to grow. It’s quite fascinating.

And I’d love to hear your thoughts about it, too.

  • What do you think?
  • Like is there something I’m missing?
  • Why do you think that their rankings kept going up so much even after all the SEO work stopped?

I’d love to hear your take.

If you’re looking for a great rank tracker, all the screenshots from the presentation were from our Local Rank Tracker. I personally think is the best, but I’m a little biased, of course. We’d love for you to check it out. If you any questions or any feedback, comment below on what you think may have caused those rankings? I’d love to hear it or you can email us at localq@whitespark.ca.

Thanks a lot. We’ll see you next time!


Darren Shaw

Darren Shaw founded Whitespark in 2005. The company specialized in web design and development, however, Darren's passion and curiosity for all things local search led Whitespark to focus primarily on local SEO in 2010 with the launch of the Local Citation Finder, followed by the Local Rank Tracker.

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13 comments on “What Happens to Your Rankings if You Do No SEO Work for Over a Year?

    • Hey Peter,

      The content on the website covers about the business, the building process, about the owners, reviews from clients, and then pages for the neighborhoods that the company develops infill homes. You can check out their website at https://fcdevelopments.ca/

  • Those citations likely DID help – and I agree it takes time. Many of those citations likely had links, albeit small amounts of link juice… but it all adds up. That combo (+ age + a review) seemed to do the trick in this case 🙂

  • Hi Darren, do you think that the ranking increase after July was helped along by your talk at MozCon and the resulting attention, traffic, discussion & links it generated?

    • Hey Steve,

      We believe that the behavioral signals driven by the views our post got, and the clicks through to their site would have provided an extremely minor impact, if anything at all. Certainly not enough to explain their huge gains in rankings over the period.

  • Hey Darren! loved the type of content whitespark provodes!
    i have built a website like a month ago and now need to start link building, any recomendations about “type&amount” of links to start with the first month?

  • I think there could be a review effect. GMB reviews do have a ranking factor. I see there are 6 GMB reviews – all 5 star. Did you consider that these came over the year since launch?

  • It seems like at least one other experiment would be necessary to determine what might have accounted for the continued growth post-SEO efforts. All we can gather is that there was a delay in the SEO value of (presumably) the off-page resources. It could be the citations, or the reviews, or the links, or was it UX? This was a very interesting experiment. Thanks for creating it.

  • Hey Darren!
    Was the outreach to blogs locally targeted so the site location (on site) were in the same country, province/state and city. I found this seemed to push local rankings more than others outside the “region” with city seemingly having more than country. If so was there schema with address included? As usual outstanding work!

  • Very interesting case study! Thanks Darren!

    It’s so tough to analyze things in SEO because of the 200+ factors that Google looks at. So, I always appreciate someone taking their time to do something like this.

    The increase after backlinks makes sense to me not from a juice perspective but from a legitimacy perspective as you mentioned. I do agree that Google determined it was a real business at that point, especially since there was no effect from links after that.

    I might argue that the reason they were able to continue to rank so well for so long was because the industry and location themselves, based on my limited research, seem to not be very competitive in terms of rival businesses in their city competing for SERP space. I’m admittedly not very familiar with CA so is that correct?

    If so, it makes sense to me that they stayed ranked for that long. I think in a competitive city (100,000 population +) in a competitive industry, it’s likely they would have dropped. Would you agree?

    I think it’s also likely that they ranked “well” relative to their starting position. They did see a drop toward the end, even in a (again, assuming) low competitive environment. I think that highlights the need for ongoing SEO, even in a low competitive environment, which was very interesting to me. I think I could have made a case for ongoing SEO in a high competitive area but even in a low competitive area, this case study makes it look like it makes sense.

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