What Is The Google Sandbox?
The Google sandbox theory has been around since 2004. At that time Google started penalizing new sites that contained potential spam links. There were a number of sites owners that noticed that their websites weren’t appearing in the top ranks for competitive keywords and could only rank for less competitive ones.
However since 2014, this filter seems to be affecting all new websites regardless of links. If your website is new then you can be sure that it will be ignored by Google. Why? The possibility is that your site is lacking good content as you are still learning. Google doesn’t want people to do a search and find your half-built, under construction site. Almost all good sites are at least a year old. By that time they are established and may have become an authority in their field. Rightfully Google focuses on bringing good sites to searchers. Your site, being new, has a really high chance of not being good, therefore Google ignores it.
As a result, your site goes into in what is called a “sandbox” at the beginning. It doesn’t matter that your site is optimized for certain keywords and is the best match for what is being searched, your site will still not appear in the results. Google does not trust you. And the only way to establish trust is through time with positive actions.
There is no exact figure, but it is estimated that to get out of the Sandbox takes at least 6 months (it varies for different niches). After that period your site should start receiving the traffic it deserves from Google.
Does Google Acknowledge The Sandbox Effect?
No. But interviews with Google staff have acknowledged that perhaps some of their anti-spam algorithms may cause an effect similar to what is described in the sandbox theory. Some sites seem to be affected more than others.
Although Google has never acknowledged the sandbox effect, it is known that all new websites appear to be stalled in their SERPs for a period. This is probably due to a number of factors, and as soon as you address these will move you on your way;
- Low level of content – limited amount
- Lack of articles on similar themes i.e. low level of authority
- Lack of links (related to limited content and promotion)
- Lack of a social presence (new site will evolve over time)
It has been suggested that Google doesn’t use the registered date of the domain name but starts from when the first inbound links are developed (i.e. the content is produced).
Competitive keywords seem to be affected more than the less competitive ones.
What Do You Do To Get Out?
Just because your site has been sandboxed doesn’t mean that you stop work. There are a number of things that you can continue to do so that when the site is released, it would start ranking better immediately for all the posts.
- Continue producing good quality, long-form material with long-tail keywords so that when you are out of the sandbox there is plenty of content to start ranking.
- Work at improving the rank of existing posts as well as producing new content. New posts and links may be delayed slightly in their ranking.
- Continue building your links.
- Don’t be tempted to use any black hat techniques such as buying links because these will definitely not help ranking at all.
- Use social media to drive traffic and prove to Google that everything is genuine.
- Make sure your website host is reputable
Acquiring backlinks from authoritative sites may help to move the site out of the sandbox quicker, but these are not easy to get for newbies.
You may be thinking about giving up at this point and think that you will never be ranked. This isn’t the case. Sandboxing usually only affects popular high traffic keywords, stick to long tailed keywords and continue ranking highly for these terms while you wait.
Remember, the purpose of sandboxing is for Google to see which are genuine sites and which are spam, so if you stop producing content, that could be an indicator to the search engine that your site isn’t genuine.
Using Social Media to Drive Traffic
Social media continues to play a large part in marketing and it is particular important for new sites who are looking to get established within their niche.
It is important to remember that search engines are not the only form of traffic nowadays, online marketing is about using more than just SEO techniques and getting ranked. There are many marketers who still manage to acquire significant amounts of traffic to their site without ranking in Google at all, using mostly social media.
Social media shares and likes can also be another way to tell Google that the links you have on the site are your own and are legitimate.
The easiest way is to focus on creating plenty of good quality content. Write juicy stories that people will want to share.
A great example is Melyssa Griffin’s Pinfinite Growth. Melyssa used this strategy to get to 300,000 monthly visitors from Pinterest. One thing that I learned from her free webinar is that Pinterest, despite everyone’s belief, is more of a search engine than a social media site and if you use it accordingly, you will be a lot more successful.
Can You Speed Up Getting Out of the Sandbox?
Seems like using expired domains with history helps.
The main impact of the sandbox phase is that competitive page rankings will be suppressed.
Using long tail keywords and what is sometimes referred to as low hanging fruit keywords can be a way to avoid this.
Low hanging fruit are the low traffic, low search keywords. These may not bring in much traffic but they will enable your site to rank highly for some searches, even during the initial sandbox phase.
By producing content using low hanging fruit phrases this will also achieve the following;
- Google sees the site developing content in a specific niche area
- You can use these pages to link internally to other more competitive keyword pages that are not currently ranking.
- You can still promote all your posts on social media which can bring traffic to your site.
It can be frustrating trying to get traffic to your site at this stage because the search engines will contribute very little to this process.
- not to get too hung up on post ranking position, because as you can see from here that doesn’t mean they won’t show in actual search queries, which is what really matters.
- stay focused especially in the beginning, spreading yourself too thinly across different topics will make ranking harder as you have no real authority (i.e. other content) to support you.
- monitor your site using different tools.
- You need relevant followers – thousands of indifferent followers is not much use, few regular customers will go a lot further.
- social media is about interaction and providing value to others, not just self promotion (people will get bored with you very quickly)
- different types of people use different social media, but don’t try to do everything try to pick two or three that work well for your niche
Unfortunately having a site that makes money is a lot of work with little reward in the first 6 months.
The first two months will go by fast. Excitement drives you forward. Everything is new. Your new site is born with high hopes. Following all your dreams about how successful your site will be, you work late into the night and through the weekends. You learn something new every day and your site slowly grows.
It does not concern you that you have little or no visitors, or that you are not making any money. Building the site, writing content, the new challenges are exciting enough. You keep getting new ideas.
By months 2 and 3 your site is more or less complete. The design is done, a lot of content has been written and it is now time to shift your focus on getting traffic. You visit forums, leave comments on other blogs, write articles.
The period after this is the worst. Your site is now fully grown and functioning, but there is no perceivable progress – It’s like a mall that has been built but no one is coming to shop to. For several months you have been working on your site and promoting it. But traffic just does not happen; revenue is either zero or not much. Maybe you have a subscriber or two, maybe a small sale…
Most people give up at this point. They put in all that time and effort with no result. No reward, no money, no feedback. You are all alone, working for nobody to see it. This is the point where you need to start using social media and this will give you success. Keep going, you will be out soon…
How Do You Know You Are Out Of The Sandbox?
The key is in your Google Search Console account.
The “Total Clicks” number in “Search Analytics” will start increasing and the graph that belongs to it will slowly unstick from the zero line.
Below the graph where you see the search queries, you will see the number of queries increase daily and you will see clicks for these keyword phrases.
If you have a plugin like Jetpack, you will see post subscribers showing up daily. The site gets 5-10 subscribers every single day, and on its best day it got 70 (!) new subscribers.
Make sure you submit any new content you write or update to Search Console. Go to “Crawl”>”Fetch as Google”, enter your page URL, press “Fetch”, then press the button to request indexing. With this method the new post that I just wrote showed up in the search results, on page 3, in as little as 3 days.
Special Niche Site Case Study
I am going to show you a very interesting example of how you can get traffic through social media (Facebook) if you know what you are doing.
I recently started a very specific religious niche site that has no competition from other sites on the main keyword, which is highly unusual. At this writing the site is 1.5 months old and it started from absolute zero – no backlinks, zero TF, CF.
It is a two-word domain and the organization concerned doesn’t exist legally and doesn’t have its own website. The members are very emotional about the subject and all I did was post in two Facebook groups. I did no link building, I only made about 5 comments on relevant blogs.
I am not going to post any links, because this site is a completely different niche and I don’t want to mix, but you can see the URL on the screenshot. This is also going to show you how useful (or useless) some of the backlink checkers are.
After 12 months I have 12 posts and 6 pages, which contains the usual privacy, etc pages.
SEO SpyGlass says I have zero links. It’s good for analyzing domains, but it is pretty much useless in detecting changes in link count.
Moz and its DA feature is also useless for new sites. Here is a screenshot of Open Site Explorer:
Now look at Google Search Console:
This is a perfect example of the sandbox. Despite all those listings you see, in positions #3 and in the 20’s the site cannot be found in search results at all. Google is blocking it.
However there is no sandbox in Bing or Yahoo! (I did have to submit the site in Bing Webmaster Tools.) Look at this screenshot – it’s ranking #3 on the first page for the main keyword:
But see what Majestic says, this was my biggest surprise:
As you can see, Majestic is way better at tracking changes. 236 backlinks and a trust flow of 13! And the CF/TF ratio is well below zero, which is usually not the case for most sites, as low quality backlinks usually put the Citation Flow significantly above the Trust Flow.
Other stats include 2,400 total visitors since launch, 457 best ever daily views, 50 percent do-follow links.
And I am pretty sure even this is not exact, as Majestic reports 2 pages indexed, when I have 18 pages and they are all indexed by Google.
I must also say that I didn’t work much on this site at all. I could have posted far more. However the content I provided was really juicy, lots of shares on Facebook and some on Twitter. The escape story was a huge hit, people were sharing it everywhere.
I put a lot more work into YourExpiredDomains.com and I spent 4 months on it so far, and even though I have a lot more quality content than the other site, I got a lot less done in terms of traffic and promotion. I wasted about half of that time by doing the wrong action. On the plus side, I can now take all the high-quality content I wrote, make sure the pages are monetized, and start promoting.
Obviously you will spend the first period of your website digging yourself deep into your niche, finding out more, plus creating a number of content pages. In this time period there is no point ranking in the search engines.
Concentrate on writing epic content. Target your posts with long-tail keywords. Look at sites that are successful and follow what they do!
Once your site looks like a real site, concentrate on your social media promotion. Build up your Twitter followers, Pinterest, Facebook.
I have read suggestions that it is enough to post once a week, or even less. I disagree. For an establish site, maybe.
For a new site, write several posts per week with juicy content, share them in your Facebook groups, forums, etc. This will keep your traffic going. Just make sure your posts include monetization, sign-ups for your mailing list.
Now I pretty much figured out the traffic aspect of websites. The next thing I need to figure out is monetization.
I would be interested to see in the comments how YOU got through your sandbox period or how you are doing in it.