The alleged existence of a Google Sandbox is one of the more debated topics amongst web and SEO experts.
The presiding theory is that the sandbox effect is when “Google temporarily reduces the page rank of new domains, placing them into what is referred to as its sandbox, in an effort to counter the ways that SEOs attempt to manipulate Google’s page ranking by creating lots of inbound links to a new web site from other web sites that they own.”
In other words, just like you wouldn’t take advice from a toddler too seriously, Google may not trust you to rank competitively for terms until your domain is old enough to warrant trust.
While this may be sad news for your newly created website, you shouldn’t despair because the Google Sandbox is not as definitive as it seems.
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What is the Google Sandbox?
The Google sandbox is a filter (which may or may not exist) that supposedly keeps new websites in a probationary period that prevents them from ranking high on Google’s top results.
Developers have debated the existence and the theoretical parameters of a sandbox on Google’s platform since 2004 when developers noticed that new websites would not rank high on Google’s results for a few months despite keyword optimization efforts.
The main theory surrounding the Google sandbox effect is that the active age of a domain (not to be confused with its initial date of registration) can keep a new webpage from blowing up first-page results before it’s proven.
Because a restrictive sandbox would almost certainly be a measure against spam, Google executives have made no commentary about its existence or what it measures, so bots and spam can’t get around precautionary restrictions.
How long does a sandbox period last?
The typical sandbox period could be as little as a few weeks, but most experts believe it lasts 6 to 9 months.
Your time in the sandbox is variable, depending on circumstances. Rand Fiskin (SEO mastermind and founder of SEOmoz) explains it like this:
“Google‘s sandbox is neither mythical nor cartoonish. It has spelled traffic doom for thousands of sites. Although the causes of this frustrating filter (and the solution) are still unknown, webmasters should be paying attention to potential signs of danger. If pages on your site can’t rank for obviously navigational queries (particularly those that include your brand name), you might want to look for solutions to Google penalties.”
Why don’t new websites rank right away?
Before you worry about how to make your time in the sandbox shorter, be sure to check out the following reasons to see if your content efforts are actually making your time longer.
The E-E-A-T Factor
One reason you may be stuck in the Google sandbox is because you lack relevance and authority.
“The days are long gone when you could pop up on Google overnight. To rank well on Google, you need to nurture your brand by building its expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.” (Ian Booth, SEOMoz)
Don’t forget that “Expertise,” “Experience,” “Authoritativeness,” and “Trustworthiness” extend to more than just the text you publish.
It’s important that you optimize images (both filenames and size for performance), ensure that links aren’t broken, and link only to credible websites.
AI, Plagiarism, and Spam
“The growing popularity of AI-generated content sounds appealing, but it does come at the cost of authority. SEO today genuinely looks at who is writing your content, not just at the content itself.” (Crystle Swinford, PR Newswire).
AI can be a very useful tool, especially for brands just starting a blog or creating other content. However, before you ask AI to make you a 500-word blog on the benefits of your product, remember that Google penalizes plagiarism, and AI content tends to be plagiarized.
Instead of generating an entire blog in AI, consider using AI to outline what headings you need for a blog, which keywords to target, and to generate content ideas.
Be sure to avoid writing spam and familiarize yourself with the purpose of content marketing. You don’t want posts to directly sell and inform about products — you want your content to be so useful that customers and Google recognize your authority.
Keyword stuffing is the practice of writing low-quality content with a higher-than-average frequency of the same keyword.
The goal of keyword stuffing is to try and trick Google into ranking a web page higher in the SERP (search engine results pages). The issue is that not only does keyword stuffing not work, but Google will penalize you for this lazy attempt at writing.
SEO wizard Marcus Sheridan explains that “content marketing is no longer about keyword-stuffing and link-building; in fact, using those tactics today gets your page shuffled to the bottom of the heap. Quality content is the key to success.” (Finding Peak Podcast)
Check out this blog to determine how often you should be referencing a keyword to avoid stuffing.
5 Tips for Reducing the Sandbox Period
Don’t get too comfortable in the sandbox; here are some tips on how to reduce your sandbox time.
1. Consistently publish medium to long-form content.
Short-form content or not enough content can penalize your website in the eyes of Google.
Remember, you want to seem like an authority on your given content subject, but if you say too little, you will instead look like a novice who can’t or won’t give enough information.
However often you decide to publish, remember that consistency is key. If you publish a blog on Wednesdays, you want to be predictable for both your customers and Google.
Remember that you can always scale bigger or smaller after you’ve been taken out of the Google sandbox.
2. Focus on quality over quantity.
While consistently publishing content is important, you shouldn’t publish fluff just to have lots of content.
In an “Ask Me Anything” Reddit thread, John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, said, “Personally, I prefer fewer, stronger pages over lots of weaker ones — don‘t water your site’s value down.”
One easy way to identify what content you should write about is to ask yourself, “What is no one else in my industry willing to talk about?” and then create an entire blog answering that question.
This may look like finances (pricing, margins, etc.) or questions to ask before purchasing a product. Check out this free academy lesson on how to create engaging blog content.
3. Improve your credibility with press releases.
There are many reasons to publish a press release, such as improving SEO or getting ahead of an organizational crisis.
When it comes to the Google sandbox, a well-crafted press release in the right hands could mean improving your authority with Google.
“The goal of a press release is to get your desired message into the hands of the journalists who are most likely to be interested in it – and gain positive media attention for your organization. Done right, press releases are an essential part of your communication strategy.” (PR Newswire)
4. Network to create solid backlinks.
Backlinks are another way to improve your credibility in Google’s eyes and reduce the amount of time you spend in the sandbox. Backlinks are the instances in which other credible sites link to your content or website.
“That‘s because a link to another website is more than just a link — it’s a vote of confidence, a recommendation, a way for publishers to say to their readers: ‘Here’s a source I trust. Go check it out yourself.’” (Irina Nica, Hubspot)
You will likely need to network with other content creators to get credible backlinks. Consider emailing people already in your network when you have a blog that’s useful to their organization, and see if you can link to one another.
5. Perfect your content distribution plan.
There’s no better time to work on your content distribution plan then when you are in the Google sandbox. Not only will it focus your efforts and lead to better engagement, but a solid plan could also limit the time you spend in the sandbox.
Keyword strategy should be an essential part of your distribution plan because once you start getting organic traffic from keywords, Google will take notice and reduce your sandbox period.
There are many different content distribution channels, and having similar messaging on several channels can increase your authority. Check out this ultimate guide to content distribution for advice on how to formulate your plan.
Forget About the Google Sandbox and Go Play
If all the possibilities of what can keep you in the Google sandbox have you feeling overwhelmed, remember that these are just guidelines, and ultimately, you determine where your content will go.
SEO expert Joel Klettke advises, “Part of the problem is SEOs want to have this rule book for what makes content work when, in reality, these are nice guidelines, but you have to pick and choose. Sometimes, not having the keyword in the headline means you can have a more compelling headline, which means more people are going to click, read, and engage.”
In the end, it’s important that you aren’t afraid to take risks during your time in the sandbox; it is a period dedicated to learning, after all.