I mentioned the other day about Google’s Aging Delay and how it affects your Google PageRank (PR). I’ve just been reading an interesting article over on the Digital Point Forums where this process is referred to as the Google Sandbox. This seems a much friendler way of describing it so I’ll adopt that name from now on!
There seems to be some debate as to whether or not the sandbox is still in place and whether there are any ways around it. I’ve read a lot of the links coming off the main FAQ and this is what I’ve found.
Firstly, is it still in place? Well as far as I can see it certainly is. A couple of personal examples of that are the Blogger current affairs posts I was talking about the other day. I was on page one within a couple of days and within a week I was doing a Keyser Sose and had disappeared as if I was never there. Your site is still listed on Google and you’ll still appear in the SERPS but not for competitive keywords. Another good example is one of my main sites. It launched in March and for my main keyphrase I’m #1 in MSN out of 180,000 – I’m #1 on Yahoo out of 2.5M – I’m #232 in Google
Why does it exist? To stop all the made for AdSense (MFA), spam, affiliate, template (delete where applicable) sites getting top ranking position within Google. MFA sites tend to regurgitate the same old keyword heavy copy from article sites, do a bit of stealth SEO including using link farms, existing ‘clean’ backlinks and generally try to manufacture a good ranking. However the content is crap, it adds no value and is a poor experience for the viewer. Viewer gets pissed off with Google for presenting the site on page 1. Google gets pissed off with web publisher and bans them only to see them crop up again elsewhere with another MFA site so they put all new sites on probation. Well, that’s my understanding anyway ðŸ˜‰
Does it affect every new site? Opinion is divided but the concensus seems to be that your site will still get indexed as normal. What the sandbox does, though, is stop you playing with the bigger boys when it comes to competitive keywords. Going back to an earlier post, if your site is about paper clips then the chances are you’ll probably miss the sandbox and get a chance to play with the other kids early. If your site is about home loans, get your bucket and spade out.
How long do you have to sit in the sandbox? Opinion is divided over this one and since Google haven’t gone on record and actually confirmed it’s existence, there’s no definitive answer but I’ve seen 3 months quoted and I’ve seen 9 months quoted.
How do you avoid hitting the sandbox? One theory is to not go mad and try to get as many links as possible when your site is still under 4 weeks old. This seems strange when you consider that one of the key factors of a decent PR is incoming links but it makes sense when you think how Google see it. A 4 week old website with over 500 inbound links? Looks suspicious, doesn’t it? Grow organically and plan your search engine submissions carefully to avoid it looking like you’re buying links.
Another way is to make your content clean, fresh and unique. Don’t try to cram your site with keyphrases early on or use any underhand SEO tricks. In fact put any SEO tricks you’ve learned back into the box. Think about how to market your site without relying on Google exclusively to generate traffic. By concentrating on that, the chances are you won’t end up in the sandbox. Mike Grehan has an excellent post on his blog about marketing your site without falling into the sandbox although technically he doesn’t think it exists! There’s an interesting response to Mike’s post on the SEOmoz Blog, a site which has just been added to my favourites ðŸ˜€
The Google sandbox, or at least the symptoms of it, exist. Any new website will take time to get a good Google PR and top ratings on keywords whether competitive or not. You can either sit there and wait for Google to allow you out to play or you can use that time to hone your site and grow organically. As randfish says on the SEOmoz Blog, Rome was not built in a day.