Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Google Sandbox

One of the most common questions I get asked is ‘what is the Google sandbox?’ or ‘How can I get out of the sandbox?’, so in this guide I’ll aim to dispel some of the myths about what the Sandbox is, why it’s there, and how you get out of it.
What is the Google sandbox?

To begin with I must say that the Google sandbox is a ‘theory’. Google has never confirmed its existence, so until they do, it will remain a theory. The Google sandbox theory is extremely simple. Around February of 2004 Webmasters of new websites started to notice that their websites were not ranking well in the Google results for their targeted keywords, but they were seeing good results in Yahoo! and MSN, or they found that their site ranked well for a couple of weeks and were then dropped to the 8th page of the results.

The reason for Google doing this is not known for sure, but there are a couple of theories:

The first theory is that Google may delay the inclusion of brand-new websites to encourage Webmasters to build quality, content-based websites instead of building poor quality sites providing information that is available on countless other websites. The delay might encourage webmasters to focus on the content of their main website instead of building useless mini sites. So in essence, rather than the search engines being full of poor quality but heavily SEO'd (search engine optimized) websites, they would get a better quality of website prevailing for the more popular keywords.

The second, more under-handed theory is that Google makes most of it profits from its sponsored listings, so if your site gets relegated to the 8th page of Google, then the only way you can get listed is by paying for a sponsored listing. Obviously if Google sandboxes every new website, and a company has a large advertising budget then they will have no qualms paying 20p to get people to access their website. Since the Sandbox was introduced Google has announced record profits from its AdSense advertising program.

Regardless of the actual reason behind the introduction of the sandbox, it has had advantages and disadvatages. The advatage is for the users of Google; they can now be assured that for any popular keywords they enter, they will be seeing quality websites, not just websites that are good at search engine optimization. The disadvantage is for the search engine optimizers and producers of new websites as it means all their efforts will not be rewarded for eight months.
How do I know if I’m in the Sandbox?

Perhaps the easiest way is simply by looking at the age of your site. Most websites come out of the sandbox after 8 months or so, so if you have a website that more than a year old that is fully optimized and has a lot of quality backlinks and you are still listed on the 8th page of the results, then chances are your website is receiving some kind of penalty.
What can you do to get out of the sandbox?

If you have a new website, then you can expect that it will be fully listed within 6-8 months in Google from the time when Google first indexed your website. While you are waiting, don't just sit a twidle your thumbs, add content to your web site, get good incoming links and make sure that your web pages are optimized for Google. But be careful not to over-optimize or you could end up doing more harm than good! See the Avoid Getting Banned tutorial to check you aren't over optimizing your website.

In order to reduce your waiting time in the Sandbox, as soon as you have registered your domain name create a few temporary pages and link to it from a couple of other websitse to make Google index your website. The 6-8 month delay seems to start with Google's first contact with your website. The sooner Google knows about your website, the sooner it will be listed.

Remember, Google isn’t the only search engine on the Internet, Yahoo and MSN don't have such a delay so don't focus all your efforts on Google alone but also optimize your web pages for these search engines.
Can you speed up the whole process?

It seems that there's nothing or very little that can be done to speed up the sandbox process. Some webmasters advocate that getting inbound links that point to different web pages of your website ( not just to your index page) can speed your your time spent in the Sandbox. Others suggest trying to get quality links from .edu or .gov websites.

The sandbox is Google's attempt to prevent spammers from creating web sites that are just after quick gains. Google aims to return high quality web sites with good content in its result pages. So while you’re waiting for your site to emerge you might as well spend your time productively; write good content for your website, and try to get good quality, one-way backlinks, and before you know it the 6-8months will be up.

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