A new Google phenomenon emerged around March of 2004 where new sites started to be held in an apparent state of limbo where they will not rank well for any competitive keyword phrases until a probationary period of time has passed. This has been dubbed The Google Sandbox Effect. A variation of this is where some sites initially rank well, only to discover that they can no longer be found in Google’s listings after a few weeks. To new Web site owners who are anxious to see their sites rank well, the Sandbox Effect can create quite a bit of anxiety because a site owner’s first reaction is that they must have done something wrong.
The length of time that new sites remain in the Sandbox varies from site to site. Most reports indicate that the period can range from three to six months, after which the sites emerge and begin to rank normally. There have been reports of sites that appear to stay in the sandbox for much longer periods, and also reports of a few older Web sites where the site owners believe they have been dumped into the Sandbox, but these situations are more likely the result of either a poorly designed web site or a penalty that has been applied to the site.
There are also a number of new sites that rank well soon after being set up, which implies that the Sandbox Effect is not applied uniformly to all new sites. However, these sites tend to be focused on keyword phrases that are not very competitive. It is also possible that the domain names may have been previously used by another site owner, which means the domain name already has some prior history in Google’s database, and thus may have bypassed the Sandbox.
Google Sandbox Theories
Numerous theories about the Google Sandbox have emerged, including these listed below.
- New sites are placed on probation to prevent search engine spammers from flooding the Internet with new or temporary sites intended to deceive search engines by providing links to other sites.
- There is a filter placed on inbound links for a period of time. Because inbound links are important for good rankings in Google and other search engines, the filter reduces their effect, which dilutes the effectiveness of aggressive linking programs intended to artificially boost the rankings for a new site. The idea here is that the inbound link value has to mature to reach full effectiveness.
- A dampening filter is placed upon the keyword phrases that represent a site. The more competitive the phrase, the longer the dampening effect is in place. Non-competitive phrases show almost no dampening effect.
- A new site is placed in the Google Sandbox to discourage site owners from using spammy techniques or any techniques intended to artificially boost the site’s rank positions. Many site owners will be so desperate to see their site rank well in Google that they will make sure that the site is “squeaky clean” and spam-free.
- Delaying the proper ranking of a site prevents an optimized site from gaining high rankings quickly. This delay causes site owners who have used professional SEO services to doubt the effectiveness of optimization.
- Mature web sites are more worthy of higher rankings.
- The delay in ranking is intended to drive new site owners to Google AdWords ads, which increases Google’s revenue.
There is another phenomenon that we’ve seen with Google for some time that may or may not be related to the Sandbox. New Web sites may initially rank very well after Google first indexes the site, only to be sent to the back of the pack in a few weeks where they have to work their way up to their natural ranking positions. This may be related to some type of aging filter kicking in after the site is indexed. It is, however, another source of major stress for hopeful site owners who watch their new Web site drop off the cliff in Google.
Some people do not believe the Sandbox exists, but the effect is merely the result of poor Web site design or spammy search engine optimization techniques. That is clearly not the case, particularly because an overwhelming number of new Web sites experience this phenomenon.
None of the theories definitively explains the Sandbox Effect, although most are logical assumptions. And none of the theories explain why Google would treat a new web site as guilty without any evidence that they have violated Google’s guidelines. Furthermore, Google’s very straight-forward official Webmaster Guidelines do not mention any probationary periods.
Whether you are a believer or a disbeliever that a Google Sandbox Effect exists, it is clear that some type of phenomenon—be it a new filter or a probationary period—does exist, which tends to dampen the rankings of many new web sites set up since March of 2004.
What should a site owner do if a new Web site is in the Sandbox?
If you have a new site that appears to be sandboxed, use that time wisely to continue to build quality informational content and quality inbound links from sites in related industries. A site in the Sandbox will eventually emerge, and if you spend the time making improvements, you will likely be much better off.
The worst thing a site owner can do is to panic and overreact, such as engaging in spammy techniques and aggressive linking programs that the Sandbox might be there to discourage. If this is indeed a probationary period, use the time to make sure the web site, content and product presentation are the very best that they can be.