Google’s Sandbox is a very live and working filter within Google’s current indexing and ranking structure. You will commonly see me refer to this as “Flux”, as customers are VERY worried about the term “Sandbox” and it is difficult to explain it properly to your average shop owner. That being said… Lets explain it, find out what causes it and lastly give you some tools to help you overcome it, perhaps a bit more quickly.
Wikipedia defines the Google Sandbox as follows:
The phenomenon that people have claimed to observe is that Google temporarily reduces the page rank of new domains, placing them into what is referred to as its “sandbox”, in an effort to counter the ways that search engine optimizers attempt to manipulate Google’s page ranking to bring sites to the top, by creating lots of inbound links to a new web site from other web sites that they own before creating that web site. A “reverse sandbox” effect is also claimed to exist, whereby new pages with good content but without inbound links are temporarily increased in rank, much like the “New Releases” in a book store are displayed more prominently, to encourage organic building of the World Wide Web.
Many have claimed that this sandbox filtering by Google is not applicable to all sites and furthermore that this effect is just another piece of the algorithm which Google uses for evaluating a website’s trust. I believe this, as this is what I have experienced first hand. Many believe otherwise, and until Google sends a webmastergram telling us exactly what this is and isn’t this will be our working theory at PRO Webs.
Why Does Google Do this?
Very simply, Google uses this filter to remove (sandbox) pages which are very new or much content on a site has been changed. The thought process is to encourage new and fresh content, whilst protecting the index from spam. Yes, this is a test… A trust test.
Common Google Sandbox Behavior
The most common experience many have had with Google’s Sandbox effect is upon launching a new site. It goes down like this —
Months of hard work and development have come to a culmination of the project and finally it’s launch day for your new website. You unblock it or turn it on… whatever the case may be, sit back and wait with extreme anticipation. Boom, a few days to a week later Google has indexed some of your site.. YEAH! A few weeks/months after that you are ranking very well for some great terms. Few weeks/months later some or all of your site’s pages have been removed from the index… UGH. This is in fact the dampening of the sandbox filter.
This sandbox filter was/is designed to weed out spam in Google’s index. It actually functions pretty well, in my estimation. What happens is to your new site is textbook for Google’s behavior on trust.. and one other claim to famed metric Google adores — FRESHNESS.
Your site is initially ranked and performing well simply on its “Fresh” factor. You see Google’s “claim to fame” is the freshest results. We know that Google will rank websites whose content is both fresh and maintained well… We even know why. Google simply wants the best results for their customers, the searchers.
Google also knows that many have sought to game Google’s algorithm and many more create spam. So, to battle this, site’s with specifically low authority and TrustRank are boxed for a bit, perhaps to determine their true intentions… Perhaps to cause the webmaster to provide the content and link support to be trusted. (Trust is earned??)
This sandbox filtering is not only for new sites. Many sites have reported (and I can attest to this behavior as well) that Google will pull pages from the index that have been live for some time. This works in exactly the same fashion. If you have changed a large percentage of your site’s content, you are likely to be visited by the sandbox. I have also seen this dampening filter or something very similar indicated for a seemingly small site wide change…. Navigation. Site wide navigation changes for large websites seem to bring the filters running as well. I have seen site moves, even with same urls, cause this briefly…. The fact is Google is only trying to do their job.
How Do I Escape Google’s Sandbox?
While there is no — ONE — answer to this question, we have some idea of the things needed to shorten your sandbox time. These are things you should be doing anyhow, so dig in and show Google you ARE to be trusted.
- Create new content… Regularly, on a schedule. Don’t dump 500 new pages in and then no content for 2 months. Stage your new content on a regular schedule and commit to keeping the schedule.
- Continue to build links to your pages from great, relevant sites. (You are doing this right??)
- Verify your site in Google’s Webmasters Tools and create a search engine sitemap to submit to Google.
- Make sure your robots.txt and other page factors are not inhibiting — or worse preventing Google’s crawls.
- Improve your navigation and spend some time on usability.
What do all of these tasks have in common?
They are all things you DO. You see, having a website is probably not that hammock lounging Margarita drinking dream you may have thought… It’s really hard work and only the dedicated survive. Google is not required to index or rank your site. This is completely at their discretion and frankly, you must earn it.
One last note —- IF a large change or redesign has brought the Sandbox effect to your doorstep, the VERY last thing to remedy this is to chuck the changes and go back. Once its here, just deal with it…. Better yet plan ahead for it and be very happy if the sandbox doesn’t visit you.