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Stuck In The Sand: What Is Google’s “Sandbox?”

Avoid The Google Sandbox With Good Content

What Is Google’s “Sandbox?”

After a number of Google updates in 2004, webmasters began to notice that, no matter how well they optimized a new website, there seemed to be a delay between the time a new site was published and when it began to rank on Google searches. This led to the theory that Google had created a “holding area” for new websites, effectively banning new domains from search engine results pages (SERPs) until they could prove worthy of a high ranking position. Unlike Penguin and Panda algorithms, which Google acknowledges and have named, there is no direct confirmation of an actual “Sandbox” algorithm, though Google employees have hinted at its existence.

Why Does Google Penalize New Websites?

As discussed in a previous post, Google has a vision for the internet: high-quality websites with relevant, original content and organically-formed links coming to and going from each website. The Sandbox, therefore, is Google’s way of discouraging low-quality “spam sites” – websites with duplicate content, lots of “blackhat links” (links that were bought or created for the sole purpose of bumping up the site’s ranking), and temporary websites launched to capitalize on a trend or a promotion – from quickly reaching the top of SERPs. When these poor-quality or “fake” sites trick Google’s algorithms into ranking them in high positions, it deteriorates the quality of search results and destroys Google’s internet-topia; the Sandbox works like a probationary period for new sites, and rewards long-term domains while allowing short-term websites to die off without ever achieving a high ranking position.

How Long Will My Website Stay In The Sandbox?

Though not every website will be Sandboxed, the average time is takes for a new sites to escape is somewhere between six months and a year.

How Do I Get “Unstuck?”

Time, it seems, is the single-most important factor in getting a new domain out of the sand. However, there are a number of things you can do to limit the duration of a website’s Google-imposed probationary period, and it doesn’t hurt to get your website fully-optimized for whenever it finally does begin ranking in the SERPs:

  • SEO experts have found that internal links – that is, links going between pages within your website – are given full SEO benefit almost immediately; make sure these links are relevant and functioning.
  • Instead of attempting to prove to Google that your site is trustworthy by accruing hundreds of links to authority sites as fast as possible, allow these links to build naturally over time. This way, when your website finally leaves the Sandbox, Google will be more likely to view these links as authentic.
  • In theory, domains that have never existed will receive more scrutiny from Google than those that have expired; to avoid an extra-long probationary period, try purchasing old or expired domains.
  • Host your new website with a reputable, well-established host, and be leery of hosting your new site as a subdomain; these sites often receive long-term penalties and can have a difficult time climbing up the SERPs even after they escape the ‘Box.
  • Especially in the beginning, concentrate on optimizing using less popular keywords; you might leapfrog some well-established sites by ranking for these off-the-beaten-path keywords, and research shows that websites optimized for the most popular keywords tend to be kept in the cold longer.
  • In general, make sure your website always contains high-quality, relevant, and engaging on-site content. Remember, the reason your website is in the Sandbox is because Google isn’t sure if it can be trusted; don’t give Google’s Panda algorithm any reason to suspect that your site’s probation may be warranted.