When Google speaks, the world of online business has to listen. Google’s algorithm changes have come swift and hard in the last few years as the company looks to clean up the tactics that webmasters use to boost their rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs). Website rankings on Googles SERPs are viewed with a great deal of importance, and for years webmasters would use whatever means necessary to land on the first page.

Now that Google is taking serious steps to clean up SERPs and provide users with relevant content, penalties are leveled against those websites that fail to comply with new algorithm changes and standards. However, we’ve found that even when companies adjust properly to Google’s changes, they can still be slapped with penalties. How long does these Google penalties last?

Understand the Penalty

The first factor to consider is the type of penalty that your website has been slapped with. Google penalties will last for differing lengths of time depending upon the type of penalty, in addition to other factors. The two most common offenses are manual penalties and algorithm penalties. The length of time it takes for your website to recover traffic and increase visibility again depends upon the type of penalty your website has been given.

Manual penalties occur when your website has been removed from the Google index of websites. These penalties are handed down for a number of reasons, including spammy links or duplicate content. The result for your website is a severe reduction in online traffic as a result of its removal from Google’s SERPs. In order to get a manual penalty removed, you have to follow two steps.

First, you’ll need to determine what the offending material on your website is and address the issue. Once you’ve addressed the issue, you’ll need to submit a reconsideration request to Google to get your website listed on the index again. The problem for most companies is two-fold.

For starters, Google rarely provides users with specific details that resulted in the manual penalty. This makes it difficult to identify the offending content on your site and address the problem. Additionally, Google does not always accept reconsideration requests the first time around. Some webmasters have to submit multiple requests before they are relisted.

Google makes roughly 500 to 600 search algorithm changes on a yearly basis. Some updates are minor, while others are major. When your SEO tactics run afoul of Google’s algorithms, you’ll notice that your website has tumbled down the rankings on its SERPs. The duration of this penalty depends upon the depth of your site’s offense. According to BlueCorona.com, some companies felt the effects of penalties for two years following the release of Panda and Penguin.

The true extent of the penalty will always depend on the severity of the offense. If your company’s site jumped up the ranking courtesy of poor SEO tactics, it will take longer to reverse the impact of those tactics because you’ll have to clean up all of your SEO, and rebuild your rank through white-hat tactics. Many companies with minor offenses experience improvement within six months.

Multiple Penalties

An even worse situation can occur if your website is flagged by Google with multiple penalties. If your site is nailed with a manual penalty and an algorithm penalty, the duration is compounded by the need to submit reconsideration requests and clean up your SEO tactics.

Average Recovery Time

The fact that Google penalties are unique to each site makes it difficult to identify a universal duration for all penalties. There is no consistent formula for recovery. Major brands tend to recover faster because it is easy for them to identify and address errors, while rebuilding their rank through clean SEO tactics. Small businesses and mom-and-pop outfits tend to suffer for longer.

An October 2013 survey of webmasters conducted by Search Engine Round Table discovered the following about penalty length following the removal of manual actions:

  • 53% saw no improvement, even after a year
  • 14% saw improvement within a month
  • 12% saw improvement within days
  • 8% saw improvement with three months
  • 7$ saw improvements within six months

How to Avoid Google Penalties

For many webmasters, avoiding Google penalties is not a cut-and-dry scenario. Changes occur constantly that challenge SEOs and webmasters to adjust on the fly. We recommend avoiding the following optimization tactics to help lower the likelihood of incurring a Google penalty:

  • Over-optimized anchor text: When too many people link to your site with relevant anchor text, it can actually work against your rankings. If you built good links, keep them. Instead, work to remove links from irrelevant sites.
  • Spammy links: This was one of the original black-hat tactics used by SEOs to boost rankings. Spammy links to your website need to be removed to avoid penalties from Google. Look to remove sites that include low-quality content, offer link farms, or include gambling and adult materials.
  • Build too fast: Believe it or not, it is possible to build links too quickly. Even quality links to relevant content can be built too quickly. You can either take a slow-and-steady approach, or you can tough it out. If you are using quality links, toughing it out will eventually result in your rankings rebounding.
  • Avoid duplicate content: It is better to have less content that is more relevant, than it is to have tons of irrelevant content on your site. High quality content generates strong links to your site and boosts social media shares.
  • User-generated content: User-generated content can work, but Google generally views it as low quality. The biggest problem is that users tend to slip in links to poor sites that include adult materials and gambling.

Conclusion

The simple answer is that your Google penalty will last as long as it takes for you to clean up your website and rebuild your ranking naturally. It takes time to overcome algorithm penalties because you’ll need to build your ranking back using white-hat tactics. Your ability to find the problem and determination to hound Google with reconsideration requests will alleviate the negative impact of a Google penalty sooner rather than later.