Ok, so over the past month or so I've been collecting various search engine
optimization questions from all of you. Today, I'm going to answer what was
the most frequently asked question over the past month. |
(article continued below ...)
You guessed it... What is the Google Sandbox Theory and how do I escape
it? When you finish reading this lesson, you'll be an expert on the good
'ole Google Sandbox Theory and you'll know how to combat its effects. So,
pay close attention. This is some very important stuff.
Before I start explaining what the Google Sandbox theory is, let me make
a few things clear:
The Google Sandbox theory is just that, a theory, and is without official
confirmations from Google or the benefit of years of observation.
The Google Sandbox theory has been floating around since summer 2004, and
has only really gained steam after February 4, 2005 , after a major Google
index update (something known as the old Google dance).
Without being able to verify the existence of a Sandbox, much less its
features, it becomes very hard to devise strategies to combat its effects.
Almost everything that you will read on the Internet on the Google
Sandbox theory is conjecture, pieced together from individual experiences
and not from a wide-scale objective controlled experiment with hundreds of
websites (something that would obviously help in determining the nature of
the Sandbox, but is inherently impractical given the demand on resources).
Thus, as I'll be discussing towards the end, it's important that you
focus on good' search engine optimization techniques and not place too much
emphasis on quick get-out-of-jail' schemes which are, after all, only going
to last until the next big Google update.
What is the Google Sandbox Theory?
There are several theories that attempt explain the Google Sandbox
effect. Essentially, the problem is simple. Webmasters around the world
began to notice that their new websites, optimized and chock full of inbound
links, were not ranking well for their selected keywords.
In fact, the most common scenario to be reported was that after being
listed in the SERPS (search engine results pages) for a couple of weeks,
pages were either dropped from the index or ranked extremely low for their
most important keywords.
This pattern was tracked down to websites that were created (by created I
mean that their domain name was purchased and the website was registered)
around March 2004. All websites created around or after March 2004 were said
to be suffering from the Sandbox effect.
Some outliers escaped it completely, but webmasters on a broad scale had
to deal with their websites ranking poorly even for terms for which they had
optimized their websites to death.
Conspiracy theories grew exponentially after the February 2005 update,
codenamed Allegra (how these updates are named I have no clue), when
webmasters began seeing vastly fluctuating results and fortunes. Well-ranked
websites were loosing their high SERPS positions, while previously
low-ranking websites had gained ground to rank near the top for their
This was a major update to Google's search engine algorithm, but what was
interesting was the apparent exodus of websites from the Google Sandbox.
This event gave the strongest evidence yet of the existence of a Google
Sandbox, and allowed SEO experts to better understand what the Sandbox
effect was about.
Possible explanations for the Google Sandbox effect
A common explanation offered for the Google Sandbox effect is the Time
Delay factor. Essentially, this theory suggests that Google releases
websites from the Sandbox after a set period of time. Since many webmasters
started feeling the effects of the Sandbox around March-April 2004 and a lot
of those websites were released in the Allegra update, this website aging'
theory has gained a lot of ground.
However, I don't find much truth in the Time Delay factor because by
itself, it's just an artificially imposed penalty on websites and does not
improve relevancy (the Holy Grail for search engines). Since Google is the
de facto leader of the search engine industry and is continuously making
strides to improve relevancy in search results, tactics such as this do not
fit in with what we know about Google.
Contrasting evidence from many websites has shown that some websites
created before March 2004 were still not released from the Google Sandbox,
whereas some websites created as late as July 2004 managed to escape the
Google Sandbox effect during the Allegra update. Along with shattering the
Time Delay' theory, this also raises some interesting questions. This
evidence has led some webmasters to suggest a link threshold' theory; once a
website has accumulated a certain amount of quantity/quality inbound links,
it is released from the Sandbox.
While this might be closer to the truth, this cannot be all there is to
it. There has been evidence of websites who have escaped the Google Sandbox
effect without massive link-building campaigns. In my opinion,
link-popularity is definitely a factor in determining when a website is
released from the Sandbox but there is one more caveat attached to it.
This concept is known as link-aging. Basically, this theory states that
websites are released from the Sandbox based on the age of their inbound
links. While we only have limited data to analyze, this seems to be the most
likely explanation for the Google Sandbox effect.
The link-ageing concept is something that confuses people, who usually
consider that it is the website that has to age. While conceptually, a link
to a website can only be as old as the website itself, yet if you have don't
have enough inbound links after one year, common experience has it that you
will not be able to escape from the Google Sandbox. A quick hop around
popular SEO forums (you do visit SEO forums, don't you?) will lead you to
hundreds of threads discussing various results some websites were launched
in July 2004 and escaped by December 2004. Others were stuck in the Sandbox
even after the Allegra update.
How to find out if your website is Sandboxed
Finding out if your website is Sandboxed is quite simple. If your
website does not appear in any SERPS for your target list of keywords, or if
your results are highly depressing (ranked somewhere on the 40th page) even
if you have lots of inbound links and almost-perfect on-page optimization,
then your website has been Sandboxed.
Issues such as the Google Sandbox theory tend to distract webmasters from
the core good SEO practices and inadvertently push them towards black-hat
or quick-fix techniques to exploit the search engine's weaknesses. The
problem with this approach is its short-sightedness. To explain what I'm
talking about, let's take a small detour and discuss search engine theory.
Understanding Search Engines
If you're looking to do some SEO, it would help if you tried to
understand what search engines are trying to do. Search engines want to
present the most relevant information to their users. There are two problems
in this the inaccurate search terms that people use and the information glut
that is the Internet. To counteract, search engines have developed
increasingly complex algorithms to deduce relevancy of content for different
How does this help us?
Well, as long as you keep producing highly-targeted, quality content that
is relevant to the subject of your website (and acquire natural inbound
links from related websites), you will stand a good chance for ranking high
in SERPS. It sounds ridiculously simple, and in this case, it is. As search
engine algorithms evolve, they will continue to do their jobs better, thus
becoming better at filtering out trash and presenting the most relevant
content to their users.
While each search engine will have different methods of determining
search engine placement (Google values inbound links quite a lot, while
Yahoo has recently placed additional value on Title tags and domain names),
in the end all search engines aim to achieve the same goal, and by aiming to
fulfill that goal you will always be able to ensure that your website can
achieve a good ranking.
Escaping from the Google Sandbox
Now, from our discussion about the Sandbox theory above, you know that at
best, the Google Sandbox is a filter on the search engine's algorithm that
has a dampening influence on websites. While most SEO experts will tell you
that this effect decreases after a certain period of time, they mistakenly
accord it to website aging, or basically, when the website is first spidered
by Googlebot. Actually, the Sandbox does holds back' new websites but more
importantly, the effects reduce over time not on the basis of website aging,
but on link aging.
This means that the time that you spend in the Google Sandbox is directly
linked to when you start acquiring quality links for your website. Thus, if
you do nothing, your website may not be released from the Google Sandbox.
However, if you keep your head down and keep up with a low-intensity,
long-term link building plan and keep adding inbound links to your website,
you will be released from the Google Sandbox after an indeterminate period
of time (but within a year, probably six months). In other words, the filter
will stop having such a massive effect on your website.
As the Allegra' update showed, websites that were constantly being
optimized during the time that they were in the Sandbox began to rank quite
high for targeted keywords after the Sandbox effect ended.
This and other observations of the Sandbox phenomenon combined with an
understanding of search engine philosophy have lead me to pinpoint the
following strategies for minimizing your website's Sandboxed' time.
SEO strategies to minimize your website's Sandboxed' time
Despite what some SEO experts might tell you, you don't need do anything
different to escape from the Google Sandbox. In fact, if you follow the
white hat' rules of search engine optimization and work on the principles
I've mentioned many times in this course, you'll not only minimize your
website's Sandboxed time but you will also ensure that your website ranks in
the top 10 for your target keywords. Here's a list of SEO strategies you
should make sure you use when starting out a new website:
Start promoting your website the moment you create your website, not when
your website is ready'. Don't make the mistake of waiting for your website
to be perfect'. The motto is to get your product out on the market, as
quickly as possible, and then worry about improving it. Otherwise, how will
you ever start to make money?
Establish a low-intensity, long-term link building plan and follow it
religiously. For example, you can set yourself a target of acquiring 20
links per week, or maybe even a target of contacting 10 link partners a day
(of course, with SEO Elite, link building is a snap). This will ensure that
as you build your website, you also start acquiring inbound links and those
links will age properly so that by the time your website exits the Sandbox
you would have both a high quantity of inbound links and a thriving website.
Avoid black-hat techniques such as keyword stuffing or cloaking'.
Google's search algorithm evolves almost daily, and penalties for breaking
the rules may keep you stuck in the Sandbox longer than usual.
Save your time by remembering the 20/80 rule: 80 percent of your
optimization can be accomplished by just 20 percent of effort. After that,
any tweaking left to be done is specific to current search engine tendencies
and liable to become ineffective once a search engine updates its algorithm.
Therefore don't waste your time in optimizing for each and every search
engine just get the basics right and move on to the next page.
Remember, you should always optimize with the end-user in mind, not the
Like I mentioned earlier, search engines are continuously optimizing
their algorithms in order to improve on the key criteria: relevancy. By
ensuring that your website content is targeted on a particular keyword, and
is judged as good' content based on both on-page optimization (keyword
density) and off-page factors (lots of quality inbound links), you will also
guarantee that your website will keep ranking highly for your search terms
no matter what changes are brought into a search engine's algorithm, whether
it's a dampening factor a la Sandbox or any other quirk the search engine
industry throws up in the future.
About the Author:
Brad Callen, Search Engine Optimization Expert - Learn How To Get A Top
Google Ranking In Under 28 Days With This Breakthrough New SEO Software!
May 24, 2005