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The Ultimate Google Sandbox Guide

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What is Google Sandbox?

Google sandbox is a probation period set by Google to observe new websites for a while before sending any significant amount of organic traffic.

During this period most new websites receive near to none organic traffic. Google analyzes the new websites with test traffic that are driven from the random search terms that are usually not the targeted keywords on pages.

Does it really exist?

When it comes to the existence of Google Sandbox there are opposing opinions.

One part of the SEO community is certainly sure it exists, while the other part thinks it is just another SEO myth.

Here is John Mueller‘s response to a question asked him about the topic.

John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google

With regards to sandbox, we don’t really have this traditional sandbox that a lot of SEOs used to be talking about in the years past.

We have a number of algorithms that might look similar, but these are essentially just algorithms trying to understand how the website fits in with the rest of the websites trying to rank for those queries. […]

It’s always kind of tricky in the beginning when we have a new website and we don’t quite know where we should put it.

Although the existence of this time period has never been acknowledged by Google, the idea of its presence is well respected in the SEO community. Because there’s a lot of convincing evidence to think so.

Here is Google’s Gary Illyes response on Twitter to a question asked by an SEO about Google Sandbox.

Here is John Mueller’s response to a question asked about the sandbox effect on a Webmaster Hangout, streamed on Feb 23, 2018.

Why does Google need a Sandbox?

In the early ages of search engines, there was almost no filter holding new sites back ranking in high positions on SERP.

Spammers built “churn and burn” sites to rank on Google by using blackhat techniques. They built these very low-quality websites overnight and blasted with quickly built backlinks.

It worked well for a while. Many SEOs made good money by using shady SEO techniques. However, times have changed. Google learned from its experiences quickly.

We know Google uses today artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve its algorithm. However, nothing is perfect and Google’s algorithm is not an exception.

Google wants to take its time before making a decision about a new website. The sandbox period becomes very handy at this point. It acts as a spam filter that holds the suspicious websites back quickly achieving high search engine ranking positions.

What is the most valuable thing Google wants to protect?

It is Google’s algorithm. Google wants to keep its algorithm intact without exposing spammers to benefit from its vulnerabilities.

Technology is developing quite fast. Google doesn’t want another advanced AI to test and find the vulnerabilities in its algorithm.

Hence, it likes to bring the time factor in the game to create a little bit of randomness. It doesn’t want to exhibit an apparent pattern for other AI to quickly decrypt its script.

Google cares very much about its own reputation. Hence, it doesn’t want to serve untested/unproven results to the users.

Knowing all these facts, and observing the experience of many new websites reinforces the idea of the existence of the Google Sandbox period.

I want to share with you the initial traffic stats for two of my websites.

New website (Case study-1)

new website case study-1

The above screenshot is from one of my websites Google Search Console. As you can see, the site is almost 3 months old. Although it has about 50 pages of content on the site, it still receives only a few organic clicks from Google daily.

I have submitted a few guest posts for this site and shared the content on social media channels. Other than that I haven’t done any significant link building campaign.

New website (Case study-2)

new website case study-2

The above image is another screenshot from my Google Search Console.

This website is 2 months old with about 50 pages of content on it. As you can see the only organic traffic I have received so far is 28 visitors. It is less than a single click a day.

Why am I sharing these examples here with you?

Because you may have the similar type of experience of mine. You should know it is very normal not seeing any significant result for content marketing efforts at the beginning.

Embracing the Google sandbox period is motivating for content marketers to stay focused on their new websites.

What can be expected during this period?

Websites during the sandbox period are still indexed and crawled. More surprisingly, it can even rank for very low competition keywords.

However, until it gets out of the Sandbox, it won’t show up often in search results.

Google wants to ensure that the website is legitimate and not just a “fly-by-night” project set up with bad intentions before it is prominently displayed on SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

Did you know that websites change domain ownership usually subject to a drop in rankings?

The same Google Sandbox principle applies here as well. Google assumes a change in domain ownership maybe a change in intent no matter how good the site is optimized.

What Experts Think About Google Sandbox?

I want to share the opinions of SEO experts that may help you to understand this period better.

Rand Fishkin stated earlier that despite its perfectly natural strong backlink profile, SEOmoz had been sandboxed for 9 months.

Rand Fishkin, Co-founder Moz

SEOmoz is finally sandbox free for the first time since our move to this domain 9 months ago. We aren’t alone, either. Many folks had sites escape, and I’m happy for all of them. It looks like our 12,000+ all-natural links (never link built for this site, just link-baited) finally paid off.

Eric Sachs, CEO Sachs Marketing Group

Yes absolutely. I completely believe that all new domains experience a “proving period” before they have a shot at organic visibility in Google’s SERPS.

That’s dependent on so many different factors. It definitely cannot be a “set it and forget it” approach. The more development one does (content, links, content, directories, Search Console, content, social signals, content, local directories, content, local citations, etc.) the better. As a general rule, I’ll go out on a limb and say 4–6 weeks.

Bill Sebald, Owner Greenlane

I never thought it was a specific “found a new site; let’s suppress it until we know it’s not a fly-by-night site” type filter. But yes, a new site, be it a start-up or a microsite for an established domain, struggles to get visibility until it proves its importance to Google.

If getting out of the sandbox means ranking on the first page, the answer depends on the time put into improving the signals vs the competitiveness of the existing sites. It could be days, months, or years. You get out what you put in. But if getting out of the sandbox means getting indexation, that shouldn’t take more than a few days (unless something is wrong).

Andy Crestodina, Co-founder Orbit Media

1. The way search works, new domains have a big disadvantage. They just don’t have a Domain Rating high enough to compete for much of anything. They may get indexed and rank for the brand, but that’s about it at first.

Just like a newborn baby isn’t someone you take advice from, a new website isn’t something that Google considers to be credible, even if there is no actual “sandbox” built into the algorithm.

2. New websites are easy to get indexed but hard to rank. We all need to set our expectations carefully.

Crawled: Set up Webmaster Tools and “Fetch” and you should be crawled within a few hours.

Indexed: Search for your URL in Google and you should see yourself appear in the index within a day or two.

Ranking for the Brand: Unless your brand name is common to lots of other business, you should see your site ranking for the branded keyphrase within a week or so.

Ranking for ultra-low competition, long tail phrases: Especially if they are the titles and headers for a nice detailed page, this should start working within a month.

Ranking for high-competition, high-volume phrases: If you work hard and work smart, you’ll get there in just 3–5 short years. Never give up! It’s worth it.

How long does it take to get out of Google Sandbox?

Google Sandbox period depends on the selected niche, amount and quality of the content, the existence of social signals, and citations.

Even two websites in the same niche with the same amount of content can perform differently to start having a consistent amount of traffic from Google.

Websites need to prove to Google that they are worthy of ranking, which takes time.

The way to establish trust with Google over time is doing the right things within the right order.

The most important factor new websites should be concerned with is publishing a ton of high-quality content consistently.

I mean the type of content that is SEO-optimized by looking at the competitor sites with a perfect content length, and keyword density.

For this goal, I would recommend using the SEMrush Content marketing toolkit since it guides you in creating super high-quality content in the shortest amount of time.

Great content pushed on the web regularly will naturally generate inbound links and social media activity ( likes, shares, comments, etc.)

Over time the new sites age and earn the trust with Google, they increase their chances to get out of the sandbox.

Here is a very rough estimation of how long it would take

Competition Level Sandbox Period
Low competition niches 1-3 months
Medium competition niches 3-6 months
High competition niches 6-12 months

Obviously, the exact time we can never know. However, it will depend on the selected niche, amount of content published, and the implementation of right SEO practices.

Is it possible to skip this period entirely?

Let me picture you a perfect scenario.

You buy a brand new domain. Then you set WordPress on it, and publish 20 pages of perfectly SEO optimized content.

Why 20 pages? Because it is a round number and represents a fairly good amount of content to start a niche site.

Your content is 2500 words on average. That means you write relatively longer than many other pieces of content on the web.

Right after you publish your first 20 pages of content, you visit the Google search console and submit your pages to Google index. I assume you have already submitted your site map earlier.

Then you share the URLs of your recently published content on Twitter and Facebook to ignite its visibility.

After that, you bookmark your URLs from high PR bookmarking sites.

Later you submit a few guest posts to publish on other people’s blogs.

Guess what, no matter what you do your site is not likely to get a significant amount of organic traffic that is consistent.

There is almost no way to completely skip this period!

Google Sandbox is real and it exists. It is frustrating for the many new site owners, but it is what it is.

Which strategies may help to get out of the sandbox?

Here are a few strategies that may help you get out of it faster.

Don’t start with a brand new domain

Unless you don’t have specific branding concerns, I don’t see a good reason to start with a brand new domain.

Many well-known SEOs have stated that an aged domain starts receiving organic traffic much faster than a new domain.

If you can find an expired domain with a few niche-specific backlinks and without any history of spam, you may drastically shorten the sandbox period.

Create a good amount of initial content

If you are in a low competition microniche you may do well by publishing 10-20 pages of content. Because this may be sufficient enough to establish your site as an authority in that niche.

However, if you are in niches like fitness or make money online, you will need a much larger volume of content to establish your site as an authority. I am talking about a minimum of 100 pages of solid content you need to publish to be competitive in these niches.

Building a Versatile Link Profile

Earning high-quality links from various sources is very helpful to establish trust with Google faster.

I don’t recommend you go and build those cheap links easily obtainable for everyone.

In my opinion, links should come naturally without you try working them. However, this is not possible for most new websites, hence you may consider submitting a few guest posts to give initial traction to your website.

Keep in mind, earning links that are easy will not do anything good for your site. Links hard to earn are the ones that will pay off the most return for your business.

Anytime you build a link, ask yourself how much it is likely for someone else to build the same link you have. Quality does really matters than quantity when it comes to backlinks.

One of the smartest ways to find great backlink opportunities is checking your competitor’s backlink profile.

For this goal I use SEMrush, here you can sign up for a 7-day free trial.

Having enough of Social Signals

Social signals are a part of Google’s algorithm. Google assumes if your content is not shared anywhere else it is not good enough.

However, the common mistake most people do is blasting a new website with social signals. They do not only share their content in their branded social media accounts.

They rather buy social signals from Fiverr or use automated software to share their content in dozens of social media accounts.

Google is aware of a website gets no organic traffic cannot have viral social sharing. If your Google analytics tells that you get 10 visitors(direct, referrer, social, organic traffic combined) a day you cannot get 100 sharings on social media.

Hence, use social media without going overboard.

You should set up your brand on the major social media platforms(Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest). Share your content in those accounts as soon as you publish them.

Connect those accounts with your site, by linking from your site to those accounts. Also, link back from those accounts to your site as well.

However, buying signals and trying to show your social engagement different than what it is will not help your site consistently.

Having Citations and Brand Mentions

It is an underestimated SEO factor that hardly anyone understands its potential. Google expressed the importance of linkless mentions (brand mentions) for SEO.

How does it relate to getting out of the Google Sandbox period?

If everyone on the web mentions your brand name even without linking to your site, it may help to boost the authority of your website.

Most SEOs are caught up with link building and don’t understand the power of linkless mentions.

Here Google’s official Garry Illyes expressed Google’s look on branded mentions.

Google’s Gary Illyes, @ Brighton SEO in September 2017

Basically, if you publish high-quality content that is highly cited on the internet – and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding, crap like that. Then you are doing great.

Hence, I would recommend you working to extend the citation footprint you have that may help you get out of the sandbox faster.

Having consistent user signals

Google prioritizes websites that provide the best user experience. We should target creating an engaging website that is very sticky for the users.

Google Analytics doesn’t lie about those engagement metrics that may hold your website going out of the sandbox.

I recommend constantly working to improve the metrics like time spent on site and, bounce rate at a minimum.

Building the website on a subdomain

Another option is to place a site on a subdomain of a developed site, and after the site is developed and well-indexed, 301 redirect the site to the new location.

Although this option is not viable for everyone. I wanted to mention it as an option to keep on the table.

Renting & Buying Websites

Placing pages on a long-established, well-trusted domain. (through buying sites, renting full-page ads, paying for reviews.)

This is not directly related, however, if you can rent certain pages or an entire well-established site you set yourself automatically out of the sandbox.

Know Your Competition

If you are in the content marketing business you should be well aware of your competition.

Making good keyword research and finding those keyword gaps that your competition left open may provide you the greatest opportunities.

You cannot target a keyword simply because of your competitor target. Each domain has a different authority level that can rank for certain keywords.

Targeting very high competition keywords too early may leave you in the dark for a long time.

In fact, one of the best ways to get out of the sandbox is targeting low competition keywords that you can rank and potentially gain a featured snippet.

Most SEOs make the mistake of ignoring the keywords that literally “low hanging fruit” since the keyword tools don’t suggest there may be enough amount of search volume.

Final Thoughts

It is not a pleasant experience to be in the Google Sandbox. However, it is a part of the maturity process that every website goes through sometime.

You may look at it as Google’s parole period to separate websites that have serious intent than websites built to achieve short term goals.

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