Friday, December 02, 2005
Google Sandbox Effect: What the hell is it ?
A site is sandboxed when it is new and does not rank for keyword phrases that are not incredibly competitive (such as a unique company name) in Google after making the page "search engine friendly" and after being indexed. This phenomenon, the techies describe as Google Sandbox Effect
A sandboxed site doesn't means a site that has not been indexed by Google. That is wrong. Sandboxed sites are very much so indexed by Google, but have a hard time ranking for keyword phrases, no matter how competitive they are.
Origin of the name:
Guys from Search Engine Roundtable found existence of some form of issue with Google and new sites. The first post was named New Sites = Poor Results in Google, that was before it had a name. In a WebmasterWorld thread linked to from the "New Sites = Poor Results in Google" entry, the term "sandbox" came about. Later on, guest author SEO Guy posted an entry here using that title The Sandbox Effect, which helped make its name
Does the sandbox really exist?
Google engineer Matt Cutts has essentially acknowledged that a sandbox effect exists and that it's a product of their algorithm, and at least one other anonymous Google engineer is reported to referred to a "probation" period for new sites. Despite some differences in terminology, the sandbox as an abstraction for a specific sum of parts in Google's larger algorithm is almost certainly existent.
How long are sites sandboxed?
The reported sandbox period is extremely variable; ranging from 3 months to indefinite, the typical range though seems around 6-9 months, and one Google engineer has reportedly stated the actual range is 6-12 months. Many have observed that the period appears to correlate with industry competitiveness/popularity, with the most popular and commercial industries having the longest "probation" period.
10 methods to bypass or escape the sandbox
Note: I've avoided listing methods aimed at only minimizing your time in the sandbox—as opposed to methods of actually escaping it—as those are basically paramount to good SEO practises, which is obviously way beyond the scope of this article.
- Buy out old domains—Even if a domain is low on inbound links, the age factor will almost certainly be enough for it to have expired the sandbox; typically a year is good age to ensure a domain is sandbox free; if possible negotiate with original owner keeping the WHOIS record as similar as possible to prevent triggering a fresh sandbox cycle. Domains never indexed in Google, no matter what how early registration date aren't likely to avoid being sandboxed.
- Buy recently expired domains—Some theory as above, but applied to domains that have actually expired. There is some evidence to suggest very recently expired domains can avoid a fresh sandbox cycle. A good measure might be domains expired but still indexed in Google.
- Collect the low hanging fruit—While sandboxed you aren't going to rank well for competitive terms, but you may be able rank for low traffic ones. Large quantities of low traffic terms can be just as rewarding, and if you target the right ones you'll be strengthening the theme of your site for when your more competitive terms are freed from the sandbox.
- Drag your competitors down to your level—We really don't condone or recommend this; it's listed here for completeness sake, and to make you aware of tactics that can be used against you: If you can't aspire move upwards, the second option is to drag your competitors downwards, into and below the level of the sandbox. StuntDubl summarizes the main blackhat tactics at the disposal of those who willing to cross the line. Even if we did recommend this, logistically it's a non-option since you'll no doubt have hundreds or thousands of competitors' pages ahead of you, not to mention that each one of those competitors can use the same tactics against you.
- Buy your way in—Irregardless of sandbox status, you should almost always consider doing at least one PPC campaign for each of your targeted terms, in order to estimate the ROI before spending resources targeting terms organically.
- Explore non-Google traffic sources—Getting sandboxed clearly illustrates the danger of putting your eggs in one basket. Consider using your time in the sandbox to explore and make full use of other sources of targeted traffic, learn to survive without being at the whim of Google.
- Hijack your competitors rankings—Again, we don't condone or recommend blackhat tactics: Performing a 302 redirect to one of your high ranking competitors from a non-sandboxed domain (preferably of higher PageRank/trust than theirs) can sometimes succeed in hijacking their SERP listings. So that the traffic can be gleaned, the redirect can be cloaked for the benefit of the Google-bot, with regular visitors being redirected to your sandboxed site. Again, we do not recommend this, and only on small number of occasions have such tactics been publicized to work.
- Use subdomain from developed site—According a quite a few experts; since sandboxing appears to be based on 2nd level domain, hosting your site on a subdomain of an already established domain will avoid the sandbox. If you redirect all pages to the new domain once the site appears thoroughly indexed; it should reportedly maintain a non-sandboxed status.
- Acquire "trusted" links—A fair amount of SEOs have claimed to have escaped the sandbox by acquiring enough "trusted," high quality authoritative links. The most often cited source for links capable of freeing a site are high profile news sites; .gov, and .edu sites; and dmoz.org. That this method can immediately free you from the sandbox is somewhat contested, but most seem to agree that it can either a) avoid being initially sandboxed, or b) shorten your stay. At least one Google engineer is reported to have supported the theory that high quality backlinks can negate the sandbox.
- Perhaps you aren't sandboxed after all—Consider and research into the possibility that you aren't sandboxed and instead simply suffering the effect of a very ineffective SEO campaign. For this purpose SEOMoz.org offers the Sandbox Detection Tool.