Taking Advantage of Google’s Sandbox Effect
By Bradley James
Most new sites submitted to Google (at least within the last year or so) encounter a peculiar phenomenon known as the “sandbox effect” within about 2 weeks to one month after appearing in the index.
Sites may very well rank relatively high in the index at first if the keywords associated with the site are not highly saturated. After about 2 weeks to one month, however, the ranking of most new sites drop significantly. In fact, it is not uncommon for a new site to appear in the number one position for a specific keyword or phrase (typically similar or the same as the website title) up until this drop-off point. For the next 2 – 3 months, new websites are said to reside in the “sandbox,” an abstract realm where new, fledgling websites are kept aside from older, mature websites in the index.
Many believe that Google instituted this sandbox effect to cut down on rampant spamming. Webpages with very little content, specifically created with the intention of trying to sell someone something (or provide links to an affiliated business), were appearing in the Google index at an alarming rate. Although many of these sites were eventually banned, they often obtained top positions for lucrative keywords for perhaps a month – sometimes longer. The spammers were able to make enough money off the sites to justify having to buy new domain names and building one site right after the other. The sandbox effect drastically cuts down on this practice since almost all new sites are effectively on a probationary period that can last as long as 3 – 4 months. Most spam sites can be eliminated during this time, while meaningful, high-quality sites simply wait it out – or continue to improve.
It is important to mention that the sandbox effect is quite different from banning. Google may ban a website for multiple reasons, but the end results is always the complete removal of the site from the index for an unknown amount of time (perhaps indefinitely for some). Sandboxing almost always happens to new websites, and does not result in the sites being entirely removed from the index. If your site has been relegated to the sandbox, this means that, in general, its ranking for any given keyword has gone down significantly. It is not uncommon for a site to come up on the first page of results for the first two or three weeks in the index, and then drop to position 100, 200, or lower after one month or so. Being in the sandbox, however, is not permanent, and it may in fact provide you with the time necessary to improve your website and build connections/ partnerships to make your site successful in the post-sandbox environment.
As mentioned earlier, your website can be in the sandbox for up to 4 months – although the average length of time appears to be around 2 ½ – 3 months. During this period of time, the most important thing you can do is continue improving and adding additional content to your website. Take a look at what other websites with similar content have done to attract and retain a steady flow of visitors. Original content is a given, but perhaps adding news (via a blog, RSS feeds) or a community forum (using a bbs system or chat program) would be a good idea as well. These extra features aren’t right for every website, but for many they can offer your visitors a reason to keep coming back. In addition, most blog and forum programs automatically produce webpages that can be indexed by Google and other search engines. It isn’t difficult to double the size of your website (with content that may actually be useful) within a couple of days by using these programs. Once your website comes out of the sandbox you should have a well- designed website with many webpages and plenty of useful content (the more webpages a site has, assuming they are useful, the better the site’s PageRank will be, all other things being equal).
In addition to simply building your site, take some time to analyze the webpages and different areas of your website that you have already constructed. Do you have particular keywords that you would like your site to rank well on Google? If so, make sure that you use these keywords in whichever webpages they are needed. This is not to say, however, that you should saturate your webpages with keywords to the point that they look unnatural. You want the keywords to blend in with your content as much as possible (Google doesn’t seem to like keyword super-saturation). In addition to keywords, take a look at your Meta tags, title (does the title contain your website name w/ the right keywords?), loading time (no one wants to wait around for 30 seconds while your webpage loads), and overall optimization. The sandbox is a great time to fine-tune your website and employ as many fair SEO (search engine optimization) techniques as you can.
The final thing all new websites should do while in the sandbox is acquire partnerships and establish connections with other websites with similar topics. Go ahead and send out some e-mail, politely asking the webmasters of established websites to exchange links with your site. Also, submit your website to the big directories, including Zeal, Yahoo!, and DMOZ. Getting listed on these three directories alone will improve your PageRank and provide a healthy amount of exposure for your site. But don’t stop there. Consider providing content to established websites in exchange for a free link to your website. Anything you can do to persuade high PR websites to link to your site is probably worth some time and effort.
If you follow these simple suggestions, we think you will find your website’s time in the sandbox less of an annoyance, and more of a chance to improve and establish your website. Once out of the sandbox, you will be very glad that you did.
About the Author:
Bradley James is a Masters student at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro. His main area of focus is on studying the search algorithms used by engines like Google and Yahoo! and learning how they impact a company’s search marketing techniques.