One of the most counter-intuitive aspects of SEO is this: Despite the Internet being all about instant-gratification, nothing in SEO happens quickly.
A good online marketing strategy takes months or years to build, and it's basically impossible for results to happen overnight. Plenty of (shady) online marketing firms try to promise the moon, but it's incredibly unlikely to happen. If they do try to give overnight results, it's almost always using black-hat techniques which Google penalizes and is constantly looking to block.
Whether you're new to SEO, or looking to revitalize existing strategies, managing your expectations is one of the single most crucial elements to success.
Looking Realistically At Your Long-Term SEO Plans
1 - Accept that progress will be incremental.
Yes, there is always a small chance that a particular piece of content will "go viral" and suddenly bring you to the attention of millions. This, however, is basically the SEO equivalent of winning the Powerball. There's no way to plan for it, and with so much content out there, it's little more than luck when it happens.
Aside from those lucky few grabbing their Warholian fifteen minutes of fame, successful SEO and content marketing campaigns are built on time, patience, and a commitment to producing quality work. They produce results slowly and incrementally, with year-over-year results being much more important than weekly trends.
2 - Set progress goals, not result goals.
If you want to stay sane while dealing with SEO, this is one of the best tricks: Don't set absolute goals for results which may not be met. It's easy to say "We want 1,000,000 page views by the end of the year," but it's quite hard to guarantee that happens.
It's better to think in terms of percentages, such as hoping for 5% increases in lead generation from month-to-month or year-to-year. If you don't make 5% one month, well, 4% is still doing pretty good. Progress goals are easier to adjust in the face of reality, whereas strictly-defined result goals are much less flexible.
3 - Make ROI one of your top priorities.
One of the worst traps in SEO and content marketing is companies basing their decisions on metrics which don't contribute to the bottom line. Statistics like page views, social media subscribers, and mailing-list size may look impressive on slideshows... But they're basically vanity numbers. They can be purchased, and it's rarely a good investment.
Focusing on relatively few highly-qualified leads will almost always be more cost-effective than casting a huge net to gather as many poorly-qualified leads as possible. This can even have a wasteful cascading effect. Besides all the money poured into content, PPC, and soforth to get the low-quality leads in the first place, it's then going to require huge additional expenditures on the part of your sales team to sort through them looking for the few who will convert to buyers.
Search engine optimization is about more than just keywords and content strategies. It's also about optimizing your own expenditures.
4 - Target niche demographics and long-tailed keywords.
If you're running a small dog food company, what are the odds that you'll ever displace huge companies like PetSmart at the top of the "Dog Food" search results page? They're very, very tiny. The large existing corporations have those generic keywords tied up, and smaller businesses aren't going to be able to compete.
But how about "all-natural dog food"? Or "dog food for healthy coats"? Or "best dog food for large breeds"? These longer keywords searched by customers with more specific demands\interests, are much easier for smaller companies to grab and dominate. They might be less sexy, but they're far more obtainable.
Only companies with billion-dollar marketing budgets can afford to be all things to all people. Everyone else should look towards niche audiences and establishing themselves as providers for more specific buyer needs. That's where the money increasingly is, and it's where you'll see the best returns if your product lives up to claims.
5 - Keep innovating, and keep optimizing.
Your website, content, social media, and SEO are always works-in-progress. A successful long-term content marketing strategy is continually analyzing its own efforts, watching industry trends, and keeping an eye on competitors' strategies.
Keep track of what content does the best, and look to produce more like that. Revise under-performing webpages to try to boost their performance. Watch consumer-discussion areas like Google+ Groups, Reddit, and other places your audience gathers and pay attention to what they say. Most buyers are continually posting what they do or do not want, and serving those desires will move your SEO along.
In short, good SEO should always be focused on long-term results, and building clear ROI rather than vanity numbers. Companies which can overcome the desire for instant gratification will almost always do better in the long run.