There are numerous challenges that a SEO content writer has to face in order to get their content ranked in the search engines. However there is nothing more frustrating than spending hours fulfilling all the SEO requirements and producing good quality content, only to suddenly find that the website isn’t ranking because Google thinks it is too new.
There is a theory (or conspiracy) that believes that Google deliberately places all new sites into a virtual sandbox, where they stay until Google is happy that they are genuine sites. This article explores what that sandbox looks like in reality and what the implications are for newly developed sites.
Google Dominates SEO Thinking
One of the biggest challenges for a new website is trying to get recognised by Google. As the biggest search engine it is responsible for nearly 70% of the global search engine market according to NetMarketShare. The following digram shows the breakdown of figures for desktop users compared to all the other search engines.
For mobile search engine use the share that Google has is over 90% of the market. It is logical therefore to assume that, as content marketing experts, SEO tactics are going to be predominately aimed at Google.
The google sandbox theory has been around since 2004, when Google started penalising new sites that contained potential spam links. Many sites noticed that they were not appearing in the top ranks for competitive keywords but could rank for less competitive keywords.
However since the newer version of Google Sandbox 2.0 emerged in 2014 this filter seems to be affecting all new websites regardless of links. So what exactly is the sandbox effect and how do you notice it?
According to google’s own site there are a number of different types of spam that the search engine is seeking to stop. Whilst your site is sandboxed (presumably) it will be subjected to tests on the following types of spam content.
- Cloaking -or using sneaky redirects that lead people to sites that google doesn’t have the same access to. Sometimes pages can be indexed and accepted by Google and then spam owners add in a redirect.
- Keyword stuffing – often the content doesn’t make sense as it’s just a list of keywords in an attempt to get ranked.
- Site hosting – free hosting may often also host a lot of spammy sites which can work against legitimate sites trying to use SEO and get ranked.
- Thin content – site offers little original content, lots of affiliate links or acts as a doorway site to another product site. Content may be copied or automatically generated rather than original.
- Unnatural links – these could either be from or to the website and occur when links are bought from link farms or sold to link companies to bypass google’s own page rank algorithm. (Google used to rely a lot more on links to determine page rank than it does today)
It is because spammers are using these techniques that all websites are now being scrutinised a lot more closely and facing the sandbox.
Does Google acknowledge the sandbox effect?
The short answer to that question is no.
However interviews with Google staff have acknowledged that perhaps some of their anti-spam algorithms may cause an effect similar to what is described in the sandbox theory.
Who is at Risk From the Google Sandbox?
According to most SEO experts sandboxing occurs to all sites produced after 2004. In addition some sites seem to be affected more than others.
- New domain names are the first target as the filter is trying to stop any potential spam sites from making money before they are banned completely.
It has also been suggested that Google doesn’t use the registered date of the domain name but starts from when the first inbound links are developed (i.e. the content is produced). So purchasing an established domain name is not necessarily an advantage to avoid the sandbox effect.
- Sites that have links are also affected because there is another filter in place that is monitoring links to check for spam sites and these links need to be verified by Google before they are accepted as legitimate.
- Competitive keywords seem to be affected more than the less competitive ones.
- The length of time that a site will remain sandboxed will depend on the niche area and keywords selected.
- Acquiring backlinks from authoritative sites may help to move the site out of the sandbox quicker (in theory).
Checking Ranking Positions
How do you know whether your site has been sandboxed?
There are a number of tools out there that claim to check whether the site is sandboxed, however they probably just look at site information such as age of domain name and Alexa ranking, which you can also check yourself.
Another way is to check with the search engine results page (SERP) with tools such as the free SERP checker. One sign of being sandboxed is that low hanging keywords (which are not very popular searches) will rank highly but popular keywords do not rank.
The screenshot above shows SERP results for several recent posts on this site, which are now ranking well. This would imply that this site isn’t sandboxed.
Working on Your Site Whilst it is Sandboxed
Just because your site has been sandboxed doesn’t mean that you stop work. There are a number of things that you can continue to do so that when the site is released it should start ranking better immediately for all the posts.
- Continue producing good quality material so that when you are out of the sandbox there is plenty of content to start ranking.
- Work at improving the rank of existing posts on established sites as well as producing new content. New posts and links may be delayed slightly in their ranking, according to some sources.
- Continue building your links so that the site can pass through both spam filters (links and sandbox) at the same time.
- Don’t be tempted to use any black hat techniques such as buying links because these will definitely not help the ranking at all.
- Use social media to drive traffic and prove to Google that everything is genuine.
- Make sure your website host is reputable (free hosting is not always good for SEO check out reputable subdomain hosting).
You might be tempted to give up at this point and think that you will never be ranked. This isn’t the case, the site can be released from the sandbox at any time (maximum stay is usually around 6 months but many sites are out earlier). Secondly sandboxing usually only affects popular high traffic keywords, stick to long tailed keywords and continue ranking highly for these terms while you wait.
Remember the purpose of sandboxing is for Google to see which are genuine sites and which are spam, so if you stop producing content that could be an indicator to the search engine that your site isn’t genuine.
Using Social Media to Drive Traffic
Social media continues to play a large part of any digital marketing strategy and it is particular important for new sites who are looking to get established within their niche industry.
It is important to remember that search engines are not the only form of traffic nowadays, digital marketing is about using more than just SEO techniques and getting ranked. There are many marketeers who still manage to acquire significant amounts of traffic to their site without ranking at all in Google.
Social media shares and likes can also be another way to tell Google that the links you have on the site are your own and are legitimate.
In summary sandboxing appears to be a real challenge that all new sites have to work with. This is despite the fact that Google hasn’t officially agreed that it exists and there doesn’t seem to be much agreement about the time and type of delays that sandboxing causes.
However many SEO experts are monitoring the effects of all of google’s filters and suggest that there are still a number of things to remember when working with a new website.
- If the domain name is new it will likely be sandboxed for some time depending on the niche area you are targeting – set the website live as early as possible even without much content so that it can start its sandbox period.
- You can still develop strong content and use popular keywords in anticipation of when the site is released.
- Search engines are not the only source of traffic, since social media and industry forums can all drive your own traffic.
If you are interested in learning more about SEO and digital marketing there are a number of articles that you may find interesting on this site.
- How to write quality SEO content
- 16 strategies to improve content creation
- Learn digital marketing online
If you have any questions or wish to add a comment on this topic then please feel free to do so as I reply to all comments within a short timescale.