Software Marketing Resource Articles: Google Sandbox

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Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Google 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 now 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 will still show in the result pages, but it will not rank well regardless of how much original, well optimized content and regardless of how many quality inbound links the site may have. The filter restrains 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 the webmaster did with their new website. The filter is merely an initiation period for new websites.

The sandbox filter also affects more 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 keywords.

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 traffic that a top listing in Google can bring. The filter was not implemented at random, however, and there is some good reasoning for the filter existing.

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. Search engine spammers would setup websites that were in clear violation of Google's policies with the knowledge that eventually their website would be banned from the listings. This, however, did not matter. If a search engine spammer could get their website to rank well in Google for even one month, the profits they could make from that one month would justify the cost of building the site in the first place. All they needed to do in the future was to rebuild their spam websites with different domains and slightly different content. The idea for spammers was a simple one. Capitalize off of Google's traffic for as long as they can (before they get 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 (they are now indexing sites 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. They would still index websites quickly, attempting to get as much new, fresh content out to the general public as possible, but they would not trust new websites implicitly as they had in the past. All new websites that were launched would be put on probation. As time passed, and as the sites continued to pass any spam filters they ran, the website will not be held back from performing well in the rankings. Eventually, after quite a bit of time had passed, a 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 they had 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 their rankings will remain the same.

While your website is in the sandbox, you should use this time to build your traffic using regular traffic building methods such as writing articles, building a strong community of visitors, and partnering with websites that offer some synergy to your visitors. During your time on probation, you have an excellent opportunity to build all the elements that cause websites to perform well in the search engines. When you finally do leave the sandbox, your website 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 website has been placed in it. Determining whether or not you are in the sandbox is a relatively easy task to do. First, being placed in the sandbox is different than having your website banned.

If you do a search for your domain in Google and they return 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 see Google visit their websites, 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 spam. 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 opportunity to build your traffic 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 traffic building such as building a community, or building strong inbound links through partnerships. However, if you establish traffic sources outside of search engines, when you finally leave the sandbox, you will see a welcome increase in your traffic levels.


Google has been going to great lengths to cut out on search engine spam. Some have faulted them on the lengths that they are going to claiming that it is effecting legitimate sites as well as the spam websites. While this is probably the case, as an owner of a website you need to place yourself in the position of Google and ask yourself what they are really looking for in a website. Google is looking for websites that offer quality content. Google still relies on the natural voting system that was first used to establish pagerank. They may change the way that they qualify content or inbound links, but the basic elements of a quality website will always remain the same.

No website owner in their right mind will "like" Google's sandbox. However, a smart website owner will use the sandbox as an opportunity to build a website that Google simply cannot refuse.
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Lease Ninja said...'s like hell week at a frat house but way longer. Why is Google messing with my livelihood?
Lease Ninja said...'s like hell week at a frat house but way longer. Why is Google messing with my livelihood?
Uncle Sam said...
Well detailed article, thanks for sharing the information.
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