The Google Sandbox Effect is a topic that is controversial. Some people believe it exists, while other s do not.
For those who are not familiar with the Google Sandbox Effect, it might be useful to read the background information found in Theories About the Google Sandbox Effect. While that article covers the theories regarding why Google applies a Sandbox filter to new sites, this article will focus on what may trigger the Sandbox.
There has been much speculation about the Google Sandbox Effect ever since the phenomenon appeared in March of 2004. It is probably the single largest factor that creates the most anxiety with new site owners who desperately wish to see their sites rank well with Google. Some sites do appear to escape the Sandbox, but these are typically sites that focus on keyword phrases that are not very competitive. These also tend to be sites that do not pick up very many inbound links naturally.
Reports from several SEO professionals who attended the recent Search Engine Strategies Conference indicate that Google engineers unofficially acknowledged that a Sandbox filter does exist, and they believe the six months to one year probationary period placed on new Web sites adds quality to the Google listings. According to the engineers, delaying the ranking for a new site allows Google’s algorithms to study the site to determine how users react to the site.
It has been speculated that "over-optimization" can trigger the Sandbox filter. Over-optimization is more closely related to the stuffing of keywords in alt attributes, overuse of heading tags, hidden keywords, and other techniques intended to give a site a boost in the rankings. While these techniques could very easily delay a site’s ability to rank well, the delay may be more closely related to any of numerous penalties that are applied to a site because a Googlebot spider detected the use of the techniques.
The statement made by an engineer indicating that the delay period allows Google to determine how users react to the site clearly implies that the Sandbox filter is most likely triggered by factors external to the site, such as the number of inbound links to the site that are detected by spiders over a period of time. What does this mean? If this is indeed the factor that triggers the Sandbox Effect, or it is a factor that prolongs the probationary period, it therefore becomes important to build links to a site slowly and gradually, because that it the way that most sites naturally collect inbound links.
Most search engines today will not index a site unless it finds links to the site from other sites. A link to a site is viewed as a “popularity factor” or a vote for the site it links to. While it is critical to obtain a few links to any new site, excessive link building may be the issue that triggers the Sandbox filter. Link building has been considered critical for the ranking success of a new site for the past several years. It is very likely that any link building program that does not appear to be natural can delay a site’s ability to rank well in Google and may also suppress its ability to rank as high as it should even after the filter has been removed.
While this is still speculative, the linking tactics that would most likely appear to be unnatural include the following:
- Building the number of inbound links very quickly can be an indication that the site owner is purchasing links from link vendors.
- Interlinking of sites on the same Class C IP block. This indicates that a series of sites most likely on the same server (or run by the same site owner) are interconnected.
- Reciprocal linking, or the exchange of links between sites. Easy for a spider to detect.
- The purchase of site-wide links, or a link from every page in one site to another site.
- Large number of links from sites in unrelated industries. Many search engines do apply an “industry theme” to a site. Large numbers of links from unrelated sites could be another indication of a link-purchasing program.
- Large numbers of links all containing a single keyword phrase in the hyperlink text. This issue showed up as a penalty in the January 2005 algorithm change. It is another indication of a link buying program, because multiple sites linking to a site in a natural way would include a range of different keywords in the hyperlink text.
If link building is the trigger for the Sandbox Effect, it should be possible to minimize the effect by building inbound links very slowly. This would probably mean adding no more than one or two inbound links to a site each week.