Google has a knack for introducing the world to unique terminology for its algorithms and processes for cleaning up the Internet. Those of us working in the world of search engine optimization are familiar with terms like Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, and others. How many of you have heard the term “Google Sandbox?”
The concept of a Google Sandbox has existed since 2004, generating heated debate among SEOs and webmasters since that time, but no official confirmation has ever been received from Google. This leaves a vacuum of information that allows for additional conversation and speculation about what the Sandbox is, what effect it has on websites, and how long that impact can last. In this post, we’re going to address these questions and concerns.
The Google Sandbox
In simple terms, the Google Sandbox is viewed by many as a probationary period forced upon new websites that prevents them from shooting to the top of search engine results. In more complex terms, Google’s Sandbox is believed to consist of a filter program placed on its search engine that impacts only new websites that its bots crawl.
The result of the algorithm allegedly prevents new sites from receiving good rankings by devaluing the primary keywords, keyword phrases, and link structure of the site. Regardless of the quality of the content on the page, number of incoming links, and ranking with Google PageRank, sites are held back by the Sandbox effect.
In its effort to clean up search engine results, the Sandbox reportedly arose out of a desire to prevent spam sites from rising quickly in SERPs, forcing Google to ban the site, and then repeating the process with a brand new site.
Why Does Google Have A Sandbox? An In-Depth Look
The Sandbox is all part of Google’s effort to clean up its search results and provide visitors with results that offer the greatest value. Panda and Penguin punish websites for black-hat techniques in SEO, but there are still backdoors that allow some webmasters to get around those systems. The problem Google found was that SEOs learned to purchase valuable links, put together pages that were easy to navigate, and create visually appealing websites.
Unfortunately, many of the websites that have such an impressive structure and clean image offer little in the way of valuable content. It’s all about providing value to web users. It is possible to use white-hat techniques and still offer visitors little in the way of relevant content, and that is where the Sandbox comes in. Google considers any new website on probation, waiting to determine the value of the content in the eyes of users before allowing a page to surge to the top of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
Overall, the battle over the Sandbox effect, as it is known, is one of new domains and old domains. Generally speaking, old domains have an easier time gaining rank on SERPs. New domains struggle for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Google Sandbox. SEO Chat notes a few examples of the Sandbox effect that highlight the battle between old domains and new on the web:
- Ranking non-optimized domains with old content: When old domains with outdated content that is not optimized for search engines start to make SEO adjustments, they rank higher, faster, because Google is already aware of the content on its site. As long as keywords and phrases remain the same, this site could climb quickly.
- Ranking old domains with new keywords/phrases: If the same website mentioned in the first case is purchased by someone else and its content completely overhauled, it could end up in the Sandbox because you are taking the website in a different direction. If the domain has authoritative links already, but you take the content in a different direction than Google is accustomed to seeing on the pages, you can end up in the Sandbox.
- Ranking new domains: A new domain will end up in the Sandbox almost immediately, on principle alone. If Google allows a new domain to simply set up shop and shoot to the top of its rankings, the quality of its SERPs will be called into question with the potential for spammers presenting irrelevant information.
Impact of Google Sandbox
Like many Google penalties, SEOs and webmasters want to know how long they can expect to struggle for traction in the Google Sandbox. Unfortunately, like those other algorithms of Google, it is impossible to place an exact timeframe on your stay in the Sandbox. Generally speaking, websites experience average stays in the box of one to six months. So what impacts the length of your stay?
For starters, the competitive environment for your search terms and keyword phrases will have the biggest impact on your stay. If your domain is built around highly competitive keywords, you can expect a longer stay in the Sandbox as Google keeps a close eye on the value of the content you are offering visitors. Conversely, if your domain is built around less competitive search materials, your stay could be as short as one month.
The length of your stay will also be impacted by your reaction to landing in the Sandbox. The worst thing you can do, according to most analysts, is overreact and try to excessively optimize your site. Google wants time to familiarize its systems with your website, inbound links, and the quality of your content. With every change you make, you extend the length of your stay in the Sandbox because Google sees more new content.
Similar to accidentally stepping into quicksand, the worst reaction you can have to the Google Sandbox is to struggle wildly. Much like your body sinks faster in quicksand when you struggle, your stay in the Google Sandbox will only get longer if you struggle and try to fight back to get out. The only reaction you can have is to roll with the punches. Give Google time to familiarize itself with the content on your domain and wait for your site to be released from the Sandbox.