The Google Sandbox


Joe Bavonese, PhD

The Google Sandbox is a term which refers to the fact that new websites have a very hard time appearing very high on Google search results. The short version is that Google "punishes" new sites by devaluing them during the first 4 - 12 months of their existence. It's believed Google does this to stop spam-related Web sites that do nothing but link to other "real" Web sites to pump up their page rank.

The Google Sandbox is a filter placed on new websites. The result is a site does not receive good rankings for its most important keywords and keyword phrases. Even with good content, abundant incoming links and strong Google PageRank, a site is still adversely affected by the Sandbox effect. The Sandbox acts as a de facto probation for sites, possibly to discourage spam sites from rising quickly, getting banned, and repeating the process.

The Google Sandbox is very similar to a new website being placed on probation, and kept lower than expected in searches, prior to being given full value for its incoming links and content.

Why did Google institute a Sandbox?

It is thought that the reason Google created the Sandbox new site filter, was to stop spam related sites from adding numerous purchased links, and ranking highly for their keywords from the date of launch. Since Google apparently considers a high number of links pointing to a site from the beginning to be rather suspicious, the links are not considered to be natural. Another possibility is spam sites would use various tactics to rise to the top of the search results, and gain heavy sales prior to being banned for being in violation of Google’s Terms of Service; and then repeating the process continually. As a result, new sites are put into a form of probation, usually referred to as the Google Sandbox.

When did the Google Sandbox first appear?


Website owners and search engine optimization professionals began to notice the Google Sandbox effect, real or imagined, starting in March, 2004. Websites launched after that date were noticed to not be ranking well for their first few months live on the internet. The rankings were seen as poor despite good Google PageRanks, strong incoming link totals, and overall good optimization practices being employed.

Stays in the Sandbox can vary from six to twelve months.

Joining programs like Google Adwords and Google Adsense will have no effect on your site’s duration in the Sandbox. Those paid programs could provide much needed traffic while your site remains in the depths of the Sandbox, however (for tips on using Google AdWords, go to Google AdWords tips). Participation in the various Google advertising programs will not keep your site out of Sandbox, or shorten your stay, despite what some myths would have you believe.

If my website is stuck in the Sandbox, how do I get out?

The only real escape from the Sandbox is time. In the meantime, continue to improve your site, and be prepared to make a rapid rise once the Sandbox probation ends.

While your site is in the Sandbox, it’s an ideal time to continue to add fresh keyword rich content and new incoming links to your site. Adding incoming links will ensure that they also avoid any possible new link dampening filter that might be in effect. They would be well aged, and ready to pass along their full value of PageRank and link popularity, as the site rises from the depths of the Sandbox.

Your website’s stay in the Sandbox is also an ideal time to add more theme relevant content. Concentrate on adding more keyword rich pages, and don’t forget both on page and off page factors. On the page, make sure your title tags match the most important keywords for that page. Add a site map and be sure that all of your pages link properly to one another with link names that contain the main keywords for that page (vs. just "Click here" for all of your links. Don’t waste any of your available site improvement time while in the Sandbox. When the filter is lifted, your improved site will rise rapidly to its proper place at the top of the search rankings.

The Sandbox is also an ideal time to start adding incoming links to your site. Be sure to add strong keyword rich anchor text to your incoming links, and vary it to include several keyword combinations.