Understanding Google Sandbox 2.0

      14 Comments on Understanding Google Sandbox 2.0

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.

graph showing search engine market share

Google hold the leading market share of search engine traffic (Desktop figures according to netmarketshare.com Oct 2015)

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.

Google Sandbox

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?

Anti-spam Filters

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Keyword stuffing – often the content doesn’t make sense as it’s just a list of keywords in an attempt to get ranked.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

Image google sandbox

Waiting for the green flag to appear in Google’s sandbox can mean a wait of up to 6 months for some sites.

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.

screenshot SERP results

Graph from SERP showing ranking positions on this site -popular keywords such as Backlinks, SEO, content and keyword are being ranked for this site showing that it isn’t sandboxed.

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.

  1. Continue producing good quality material so that when you are out of the sandbox there is plenty of content to start ranking.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Use social media to drive traffic and prove to Google that everything is genuine.
  5. 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.

social media image

Using social media can reflect positively with Google

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.

Summary

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.

  1. 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.
  2. You can still develop strong content and use popular keywords in anticipation of when the site is released.
  3. 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.

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.

14 thoughts on “Understanding Google Sandbox 2.0

  1. Martina

    Hey there! Would this explain why my site hasn’t been seeing nearly as much traffic as I would expect? Does the amount of time that sites spend in this sandbox vary? Also I’m not sure if you’ve head of the plugin Shareaholic? But I use it for my social media and I think one of it’s features is to automatically put in affiliate links into the website. Would Google see this as unnatural links? Is this a problem for my SEO?

    Reply
    1. Marie

      Hi Martina I’m not sure how Google views third party apps, it does tend to take the age of the site into consideration as well as the amount of content. So a brand new site with few pages and lots of links will be given less status than a more established site with lots more content. So in short there is no right or wrong method of using social media apps but make sure it’s balanced with lots of new and original content also being added to the site.

  2. Chris

    That’s very interesting really – and it makes perfect sense if you were a search engine looking for quality. A lot of black hat seo’s make up new sites on a daily basis and churn and burn them with backlinks. They don’t last long but they do make a lot of money off them. This sandbox looks like a way of locating them and eliminating them!

    Reply
    1. Marie

      Hi Chris very true, although Google don’t officially acknowledge the sandbox effect they do nonetheless give new sites a hard time, mainly to check whether they are legitimate and providing quality information to clients (Google’s).

  3. Debbie

    This is a very interesting article – I didn’t know about this, but did notice my rankings going down some. I saw someone else mention it and they were referred to this article so I checked it out. Good to know that it is usually temporary! I know this makes me feel better. I appreciate this info very much!

    Reply
    1. Marie Post author

      Hi Debbie, I know it can get a bit depressing in the beginning! but if you just keep adding content eventually it will pay off. In the meantime focus more on social media as a way to drive traffic as well as promoting your site in any discussion forums for your niche.

  4. rufat

    In August 2015 I lost a considerable part of my traffic and it dropped from 300 a day to 100. I first was lost and thought my site was placed in a sandbox. Then I figured out that it was because one of my top ranked pages lost its popularity. As for Google’s sandbox this is really a bad experience. As I know to find out if your site got into the sandbox or not you can check it through Google webmaster, manual actions. If it says “No webspam actions found” then your site is free from the sandbox.

    Reply
    1. Marie

      Hi Rufat I agree rankings and position can fluctuate quite a lot especially if you pick a new topic and then lots of others start writing on it, and Google thinks they have more authority or recognition. However part of the aim of blogging is to build up your own followers, people who will return to your articles not because of where they are ranked, but because they relate to your way of writing.

      Search engines are important to recruit new members but it is always easier to work towards retaining existing followers than to be constantly seeking newer ones. Eventually word of mouth and Backlinks can bring in natural organic followers that hopefully will stay with you.

  5. Uwais

    Hi,

    Wow, the amount of ways of making money online is endless. when you just think you know it all – there always pop up something you don’t know. Its the first time I came across Google Sandbox. I found this very interesting and informative

    I guess I have a lot to learn hey 🙂
    Thanks,Uwais

    Reply
    1. Marie

      Hi Uwais, thanks for commenting and yes there is always something else I agree!! Obviously if you’re promoting your website on social media this doesn’t affect your sales as much, but for organic traffic it is a big hurdle. – Marie

  6. Peter

    Hi Marie,

    An interesting article about the Google Sandbox. I noticed this when I started my site a while a ago. At first I wasn’t ranking anywhere for any keywords, but little by little things improved and after 6 months I had some good Google rankings.

    I find it a little strange that Google doesn’t admit to the sandbox, because to be honest, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. If it stops black hat SEO tactics, it can only be good.

    Your advice to keep developing content seems to be the right approach, although it would be nice if newbies were warned that it might take a few months before they have the Google rankings they deserve.

    Thanks for the useful info.

    Reply
    1. admin

      Hi Peter thanks for your comment, I agree it can be off putting for newcomers not to realise that rankings may be affected, that’s why I think getting support and linking in with others can be a useful way to get this information or having a more experienced mentor.

      I’m not sure why Google doesn’t admit it but I think they are quite closeted about a lot of their anti-spam tactics and like you said that’s probably not a bad thing.

      I’m glad to hear you’re getting traffic now, this site is probably only just out of the sandbox and I have another one at that stage as well so I’ll keep monitoring the changes.

  7. Tom

    Great piece on the supposed Google Sandbox technique.
    I wasn’t aware of this so I found this article really helpful.
    I will certainly take everything into account while working on my own websites. Obviously it’s always the aim to produce quality input but also the part about SEO and uniqueness of keywords was quite interesting and will definitely help me.
    Keep up producing quality content!

    Reply
    1. admin

      Thanks Tom I’m glad to have hopefully contributed to your own site development. As you said keep focused on producing solid quality content with genuine links and Google will eventually have to acknowledge you, that is the best strategy.

      Best of luck with your own site and I will definitely aim to keep producing quality content of my own so hopefully I’ll see you again soon!

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