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Google's Giant Sandbox

By Mark Daoust

What is the Sandbox?

Before we get too far into an explanation as to what Google’s sandbox is, it must be noted that not everyone even agrees that the sandbox exists. The sandbox is actually nothing more than a theory developed to explain what many different SEO experts have witnessed with their listings. Whether or not the sandbox really exists is actually irrelevant when we know that the effects of the sandbox exist.

Google’s sandbox is a relatively new filter that appeared to be put in place back in March of 2004. This happened after the widely publicized updates of Austin and Florida, and the implementation of what is known as the Austin update. If you are not sure what those are, there is no need to worry as those updates are for the most part in the past. The sandbox filter seems to affect nearly all new websites placing them on an initial “probation” status. The effect of this is that new websites may get into Google’s SERP’s (search engine results pages) relatively quickly and may even perform well for a couple of weeks. When the filter is applied to the new website it is referred to as being put in the “sandbox”. The new website still appears in the result pages, but it does not rank well regardless of how much original, well optimized content it has and regardless of how many quality inbound links it may have. The filter keeps new websites from having immediate success in the search engine result pages.

The sandbox filter seems to affect almost all new websites, with very few exceptions. It is important to note that the filter is not a punishment for anything a webmaster does with a new website. The filter is merely an initiation period for new websites.

The sandbox filter also affects competitive keyword driven sites more than sites that key in on less competitive keywords. If your website focuses on very competitive keywords, you are likely to remain in the sandbox for a longer period of time than if you focus on keywords that are relatively non-competitive.

Why Does the Sandbox Exist?

There is a lot of debate as to whether the sandbox filter is a good thing for Google to implement or not. Obviously webmasters who are trying to get their sites well positioned in Google do not like the sandbox filter as it prevents them from receiving the huge levels of traffïc that a top listing in Google can bring. The filter was not implemented at random, however, and there are some good reasons for the filter’s existence.

As the SEO community figured out the basic elements of Google’s ranking algorithm, inbound links, original content rich with keywords, and the proper use of anchor text, search engine spammers began to take advantage of these elements, setting up websites that were in clear violation of Google’s policies with the knowledge that eventually those websites would be banned. This, however, did not matter. If a search engine spammer got a website to rank well in Google for even one month, the profïts justified the cost of building the site in the first place. All that needed to be done in the future was to rebuild the sp@m websites with different domains and slightly different content. The idea for spammers was a simple one – capitalize on Google’s traffïc for as long as possible (before being banned), then do it all over again with a new website. The method was extremely effective and easy to implement.

What made this all the more easy to accomplish was Google’s extremely fast indexing. While other search engines would take several months to index a new website, Google could index a website in as little as one month (sites are currently being indexed within a few days). Search engine spammers were living large off of Google’s generosity.

To solve this problem, Google determined that it would compromise by continuing to index websites quickly, attempting to get as much new, fresh content out to the general public as possible, but new websites would not be trusted as implicitly as they had been in the past. Instead, all new websites would be put on probation. As time passed, and a website continued to pass any sp@m filters, it would begin to perform well in the rankings. Eventually, the site would be allowed to “leave” the sandbox and join the rest of the established websites.

How Does This Affect My Website?

If you have a new website, there is a good chance that you will be placed in the sandbox. This should be expected, but it should not change the way you build your website or market it. You should use the sandbox filter to your advantage.

Google still ranks websites in much the same way that it did in the past. Websites are judged on the quality of their inbound links and the quality of their content. Google will continue to change how they evaluate inbound links and content, but the basic elements of ranking will remain the same.

While your website is in the sandbox, you should use the time to build your traffïc using regular traffïc building methods such as writing articles, building a strong community of visitors, and partnering with websites that offer some synergy to your visitors. During this probationary time, you have an excellent opportunïty to build all the elements that cause websites to perform well in the search engines. When your site finally does leave the sandbox, it should be very well positioned within Google.

Is My Website in the Sandbox?

When webmasters learn about the sandbox filter, their first question is always whether or not their websites have been placed in it. Determining whether or not you are in the sandbox is relatively easy.

First, being placed in the sandbox is different than having your website banned. If you do a search for your domain in Google and it returns zero results for your website (and you had been previously listed in Google), there is a chance that you have been banned. One of the best ways to determine if you have been banned is to look at your log files to see if Google is visiting your website. Banned websites typically do not receive Google visits, regardless of who is linking to them.

If you have not been banned, but do not rank well with Google, you should look at the quality of your content and the quality of your inbound links. You should also see if you rank well for non-competitive keywords. Remember how the filter affects competitive keywords more than less competitive keywords? Well, you can use this to determine if you have been sandboxed. Finally, if you rank well in all the other major search engines, but do not show up at all in Google’s rankings, you have probably been sandboxed.

Is There A Way to Get Out of the Sandbox?

The quick answer to this is yes, there is a way out of the sandbox, but you will not like the answer. The answer is to simply wait. The sandbox filter is not a permanent filter and is only intended to reduce search engine sp@m. It is not intended to hold people back from succeeding. So eventually, if you continue to build your site as it should be built, you will leave the sandbox and join the other established websites.

Again, if your website has been placed in the sandbox you should use this time to your advantage. It is a great opportunïty to build your traffïc sources outside of the search engines. If you have a website that does well in the search engines, you may be tempted to ignore other proven methods of traffïc building such as building a community, or building strong inbound links through partnerships. However, if you establish traffïc sources outside of search engines, when you finally leave the sandbox, you will see a welcome increase in your traffïc levels.


Google has been going to great lengths to reduce search engine sp@m. Some have faulted Google for this, claiming that legitïmate sites are being affected as well as the sp@m websites. While this is probably the case, as an owner of a website, you need to place yourself in Google’s position and ask yourself what it is really looking for in a website. Google is looking for websites that offer quality content and still relies on the natural voting system that was first used to establish pagerank. Google may change the way it qualifies content or inbound links, but the basic elements of a quality website will always remain the same.

No website owner in his right mind “likes” Google’s sandbox. However, a smart website owner will use the sandbox as an opportunïty to build a website that Google simply cannot reject.

About The Author
Mark Daoust is the owner of This article originally appeared at

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