What's a reasonable time limit for a new site to begin actually ranking in the SERPs? (not just getting indexed, but actually ranking). If Google is constantly updating backlinks and what not, is their still a period of waiting?
To make it worse, I often find sites ranking up there at the top of the first page which were abandoned (as far as updates go) several years ago (or more). Usually they have been online for years and somehow they keep a high ranking. Probably a lot of inbound links still exist (among other things).
I have that problem with a new site which I created for a friend. Her old webmaster is now in rehab after a long hospitalisation with alchohol related problems. Trouble is that he has never cancelled the standing order to pay for the old site and it sits there at the top of the SERPS. The new site came in at around position 5 within a few days and has hovered around the middle of page 1 ever since but is still nowhere on a few key searches. I have been working on inbounds, for real visits rather than for PR, and the next step will be to look more closely at content to make sure that I am explicitly using key words and phrases in the text (the whole thing was put together in a rush when the old webmaster went AWOL).
As said above the competitive nature of the site pretty much dictates the time. Trying to rank a site for Virga you might as well say 3+ years maybe never but in a specific nitch it may only take 2 days. There isn't a sandbox now (In my opinion) and your site ranks pretty much based on the nitch and competitive nature of what nitch the site is trying to attract traffic.
Trying to rank for a very broad nitch you have to examine the sites that rank now and allow the site you launch the time to gain strength to ever think about ranking. There is not time line here this depends on the amount of work you put into the site.
Now focus on one small part of that nitch examine the competition and you can rank in days to weeks as long as your willing and able to put the effort into the site.