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The Google Sandbox Theory

By May 18, 2007No Comments

The Sandbox theory was developed by search engine optimisers to answer different ranking behaviours observed with Google. According to the theory, new websites are put in a “Sandbox”, just like young children are, before they are allowed to play with the older kids (akin to more established websites).

What Is The Google Sandbox?

The sandbox is essentially a filter that was created by Google to avoid spamming of search results by unscrupulous webmasters.

Before the sandbox was created, most new sites could rank pretty quickly, which allowed certain “black hat” SEO professionals to make a quick buck by ranking a new site on the top of Google’s index for a very competitive keyword, and then cashing out before Google caught up with their spam technique. These domains typically were registered only for a short period, exploited some loophole in the Google algorithm and relied on sudden bursts of traffic over their limited life span.

By creating an ageing delay which prevented most new sites from ranking immediately for competitive keywords, Google rather effectively decimated the breed of webmaster who sought to build sites with a short-term gain in mind. Many skeptics have questioned the existence of the sandbox in the past. However, with its last patent issuance, Google has almost admitted that a filter has existed that prevents relatively new websites from ranking.

Which Sites Could Be Affected By The Sandbox?

Most websites under a year old that have a high Google PageRank, a lot of incoming links and are pretty well positioned in the search results on Yahoo! and MSN but do not appear significantly on the Google results for their most important keywords may have been sandboxed.

Sites targeting competitive keywords are more likely to be placed in the sandbox and for a longer duration. Most ordinary sites are sandboxed for only 2 or 3 months. But sites in competitive industries can be placed in the sandbox for 9 months or even a year.

Avoiding The Google Sandbox

Domains that have been sandboxed have little choice but to wait. This period of waiting is not futile though. Everything a site owner does during this period will affect the site’s rank eventually. It is the period during which SEOs should continue to optimize the site with more and better content, and obtain new relevant backlinks to the pages in the website.

Not all new websites get placed in the Google sandbox. Some techniques can help pull a site out of the sandbox earlier:

  • Obtaining a constantly increasing number of relevant backlinks, especially from authoritative websites
  • Adding very useful, rich or original content. Purchasing an old domain and building a new site along the same theme
  • Using 100% ethical SEO techniques
  • Selecting a web hosting company that doesn’t accept spam, porn or doorway pages

Ageing Delays For Links

More recently, Google introduced a new incoming link filter / ageing delay. The recent Google patent explained that when evaluating links it considers their numbers, sources as well as their ages.

A newly created page with a lot of backlinks might indicate link spam if it is done poorly or artificially. However, a new site would benefit with few backlinks could enjoy better ranking than an older page with more backlinks if “the rate of link growth for the former is relatively higher than the latter”.Link growth should always be naturally exponential, rather than in discrete steps. If the number of backlinks for a page grows too quickly, Google will consider it to be link spam and will penalise the site with lower rankings for a period of time.

In either case, though, obtaining new one-way inbound links is always a good thing in the long run. One just needs to keep in mind that the “value” of any link will grow progressively with age.