Entering a new market is never easy, and there are always barriers that must be overcome. In the world of Google, that barrier is called a sandbox; your new website stays there until it’s mature enough to play with the big boys in the top positions club.
What is the Google Sandbox?
The Google sandbox is an alleged filter that is placed on new websites to prevent them from receiving good rankings on their most important keywords and longtail phrases from day one; think of it as a kind of probationary period that keeps young websites lower than expected in searches, prior to receiving full value for incoming links and content.
To be clear, the Google sandbox only affects entirely new domains, and not “new websites” in the form of website redesigns.
Though Google has never directly confirmed the existence of a sandbox, it has been hinted at by a number of Google employees, and SEO experts have seen for themselves that new sites, no matter how well optimised, don’t rank well in Google but catch quickly in MSN, Yahoo and other search engines.
Even high quality websites with good content and genuine incoming authority links can be adversely affected by the sandbox effect, and SEO experts have predicted that the filter was put in place in order to stop spammy sites from using pre-purchased authority links to rank highly from the date of launch.
In previous years, having a network of inbound links to your website was enough to push you up in Google’s search results. Today though, following a number of algorithm updates and other changes to the way the search engine works, a high number of links pointing to a website can be considered suspicious or ‘spammy’. This is especially true when we’re talking about new websites, as good quality natural links can take several months (sometimes years) to accumulate.
Another possible reason for the introduction of the sandbox is to prevent spammy sites from quickly rising to the top of search results and benefitting from increased sales, before being banned from the search engine and then repeating the process over and over again.
Although any new website can be affected, you are much more likely to be sandboxed if your website is seeking rankings for more highly competitive keywords and phrases. Sites targeting non-competitive keywords and phrases are often left out of the Sandbox altogether as there is little point in applying the filter, but if your website is sandboxed for targeting less competitive keywords and phrases, you can expect to receive a much shorter stay. Hyper-competitive keywords will often spend up to six months in the sandbox, but for most search terms you’re looking at an average sentence of about three months.
Has my website been sandboxed?
How can you tell if you’ve been a victim of the sandbox (aside from the fact that it isn’t ranking well in Google)? Here are some red flags to look out for:
- Your website is being outranked even for branded/direct queries (searches for your business or website name excluding “www.” and “.com”, for example, ‘MA Design’).
- Your web pages do not rank even for exact page title matches.
- Your website ranks well in Yahoo or Bing, but not in Google.
Has my site been penalised or blacklisted?
It is important to note there is a significant difference between being sandboxed and being deleted altogether from Google’s search results. The sandbox is a filter (according to the experts) that prevents new websites from taking up the top spots on Google’s results pages; sandboxed websites are still indexed by and can be found on Google (albeit in no man’s land). Websites that are banned from Google are excluded completely and cannot be found using the search engine at all.
To find out whether your website has been affected by the sandbox, or whether it has been banned from Google altogether, you can perform a site ‘lookup’. To do this, go to Google and search “site:” followed by your web address:
If Google returns the names of your webpages, this means your website has been sandboxed.
If you receive this message: “Your search – site:www.yourwebsite.co.uk – did not match any documents”, then I’m afraid your website has actually been banned from Google altogether. If this is the case, you’ll need to contact Google with an inclusion request, but not before you’ve cleared out all of the elements that might have caused your exclusion in the first place.
How do I get out of the sandbox?
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do but wait to be released. And before you ask, I’m afraid I can’t tell you how long this might take.
What you can do in the meantime though is develop your website by creating quality content and tweaking the site’s design and usability, adding all of the elements that constitute a high value destination. With all of its various algorithms and updates, it seems Google is simply trying to encourage webmasters to build high quality websites that are the best of their kind, so our advice is to keep producing great content that provides answers to the people that are searching.
Your other alternative is to invest in Google AdWords; Google’s advertising platform that can help you to achieve those top-of-the-page positions, if only for a short while, and often at a high price...