Google Sandbox - The Basics

By: Danny Wirken

Introduction

Google's Sandbox Effect has been a matter of controversy since an article appeared on Search Engine Round Table about how new sites ranked low in Google as early as April 2004. This was before the term "sandbox" was even used to refer to the phenomenon. The term sandbox effect came into being when a guest writer on the Search Engine Round Table wrote an article entitled The Sandbox Effect. In the article, the sandbox effect meant that a new site can not get high ranking immediately by depending on PR and back links. This is because the author felt that "PR and back links (pure link popularity) credit is placed in a reserve- called the sandbox- for a period of time before it is applied to ranking and has an effect" with the purpose of preventing PR and link purchasers from getting a very high rank in Google right away and dominating the field. Although the term caught on quite rapidly it became highly debated since many SEO experts considered the term sandbox as inaccurate or, at least, lacking when it comes to describing the phenomenon. Despite the differences in opinion among SEO experts on the terminology as well as its definition and scope, everyone agreed that the sandbox effect did exist and was a matter that caused SEOs and website owners huge problems.

The sandbox phenomenon was difficult to define earlier because it affected such a wide and varied range of websites and affected their ranking for a different length of time. And since Google never officially commented on the sandbox effect the most that SEOs could do was observe and note the possible factors that could possibly be one of the reasons for being sandboxed. It wasn't until 2005, when the sandbox effect has been in place for sometime that a good definition of the phenomenon was written in an article called 2005 Analysis of Google's Sandbox. In the article the sandbox effect was described as:

"The observed phenomenon of a site whose rankings in the Google SERPs are vastly, negatively disparate from its rank in other search engines (including Yahoo!, MSN & Teoma) and in Google's own allin: results for the same queries."

This definition was more general and inclusive taking into account all the different observed sandbox phenomena that different websites experienced.

Websites Affected

The sandbox effect, as it was first noticed, affected and still does affect a large number of new websites starting from the websites registered after 2003. It has been observed that it affects entire top-level domains instead of just web pages and directories and sub-domains. The most common websites also affected by the sandbox effect were those that used search engine optimization tactics such as meta data and link building efforts. However, ordinary websites such as blogs, whose owners don't even use such tactics, were still affected by the phenomenon. It was also noticed that the sandbox effect mostly affected websites in English with only a few reports of websites in other languages experiencing the effect. Dutch and Italian language websites were particularly free from the sandbox effect. In addition to these low quality sites as well as spam sites, affiliate sites, and websites carrying AdSense were affected more frequently than sites that did not have those features. However, not all such kind of sites was affected by the phenomenon while other more organic sites were sandboxed. It was and is pretty clear that whatever kind of website was put up there was no guarantee of not being sandboxed since there was no clear cut criterion for being sandboxed. The only websites that did escape or were exempt from being sandboxed were the .gov, .mil, and .edu websites. This meant that the sandbox effect could be experienced by any commercial and private sites.

The Effects

While the sandbox effect was felt by nearly all newly registered websites with such varied characteristics, the effects of the phenomenon itself is easier to enumerate since they are very evident.

As mentioned in the definition the effect of being sandboxed on the websites is a temporary lower ranking on Google's SERPs (search engine results pages) as compared to their ranking on other search engine results. Note that the effect ought to be temporary. Sites report being "waiting to get out" of the sandbox for anything from one month to a year. The sites which take longer to get out of the sandbox are generally of low quality.

The websites' rankings are also affected, as the definition states, only on Google's SERPs. New websites that rank low as well in other search engines and has been attributing their low rank on the sandbox effect are mistaken. Website owners of such sites should concentrate on improving the quality of their site and make some SEO efforts to improve their rankings since the low rank might very well be well deserved.

There were also misconceptions that the sandbox effect discriminates according to the competitiveness of keyword phrases used with a greater effect on highly competitive keywords and phrases. This is actually untrue since the effect could be felt by many sites even for non-competitive terms.

Getting Out of the Sandbox

Undoubtedly, SEO experts have tried their very best to come up with a way to get their clients of out the sandbox. Unfortunately everyone agrees that there is no way to get out of there until Google decides to "free" a website. However here are some suggestions from the 2005 Analysis of Google's Sandbox article aimed help prevent new sites from getting sandbox. These tips are not fool proof and do not guarantee that the resulting website won't get sandboxed.

&bull Target "Topical Phenomena" & a Non-Commercial Audience
&bull Build Natural Links & Avoid Getting Blogrolled
&bull Get Noticed in the News
&bull Build Exceptional Quality Sites

For those whose sites are already in the sandbox there is no option but to wait. However, you can make sure that the waiting time is productive. Tweak the parts of your website that needs improvement so that when it gets out of the sandbox it'll be of even better quality but don't bang your head trying to get your rank to go up while still sandboxed. You can also focus on doing well in other search engines. Google is not the only search engine out there that will bring traffic to your site. For more ideas on how to make sure that the time spent by your website is productive do read David Wallace's article on How To Play In Google's Sandbox.

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