The Google Sandbox…
This is a topic that has been covered widely across the Internet on various MMO, Internet marketing and SEO sites, yet there is still a great deal of confusion over exactly what being “sandboxed” means, how to tell if your site is in the sandbox, and the differences between being deindexed, being penalized and being sandboxed. As this is an issue that I personally have dealt with on all 3 levels, I’m going to try to clarify the differences between the 3.
What is the Google Sandbox?
The sandbox is a system Google implemented in order to cut down on spam. It specifically targets sites on brand new domains. Often, when you deploy a new website – specifically for a niche with little competition, Google will give you a very high ranking as soon as you’ve been indexed. This is the honeymoon period, and more of a preview of things to come than an actual reality. After a week or two, in many cases you will go from a first page ranking for your keyword to being completely out of the rankings altogether. Generally, this is the point where you’ve been sandboxed. This is a period of time, which can last as long as 6-8 months, where you will not rank in Google for your keywords. This doesn’t mean you won’t receive ANY Google search traffic, but you’ll likely rank mostly for very long tail searches and receive very little traffic daily. Google does this to give themselves an evaluation period. Spammers are inclined to set a site and forget it, where actual legitimate business are more likely to continue adding content to their site and building links. This helps Google separate the good from the bad. Once you’re released from the sandbox, you’ll likely enjoy very nice rankings for your keyword, depending on the level of competition.
What is a Google Penalty?
A Google penalty is a lot different than being sandboxed. A big difference – a penalty can be applied to a site of any age, not just new sites. In fact, I would wager to guess that penalties are probably more often applied to older sites. A penalty won’t completely remove you from the Google SERPS, instead, it will knock you back about 50 places or more, depending on the severity. Penalties are usually applied because of improper linking, or content issues.
What is a Google Ban?
Being banned from Google is the worst case scenario, and also probably the most difficult to recover from. A Google ban, or being deindexed by Google, means that you’re site has been completely removed from their index altogether. This can happen for a variety of reasons – but the root cause, in general, is that Google thinks your site is spam. You can go from hundreds of thousands of visits daily to 0 visits literally overnight. The only way to get back into Google’s index after you’ve been banned is to request a manual inspection of your site. Most likely if Google banned your site in the first place, it’s going to be pretty tough to pass a manual inspection… But it is possible.
How to Tell Whether Your Site is Sanboxed or Banned
This is where it can get a little confusing. If your site is sandboxed it is quite easy for it to feel like a ban, because you may literally be bringing in no search traffic at all, and be ranking for nothing. The easiest way to tell is by checking to see if your site is indexed with google. The very easiest way is to type www.yoursite.com into a Google search. If it is indexed, it should almost always be the #1 result. The most proper way to tell is actually to use the site: operator. So go to Google and type site:www.yoursite.com. This should return the total number of pages your site has indexed in Google – which if you’ve built a structurally sound site, should be close to the total # of pages in your site. If a site:www.yoursite.com search returns no results, this probably means you’ve been banned, as that would mean you literally have 0 pages indexed with Google. The only time this would not be the case would be if your site was still too new to be indexed by Google, however these days new sites can get discovered and indexed very quickly so this is most often not the case.
What to do if Your Site Has Been Sandboxed by Google
Unfortunately there is no concrete solution to getting out of the sandbox. The main things Google wants to evaluate from a site in the sandbox is whether they continue to build incoming links, and add quality content. So the most obvious solution to getting out of the sandbox is to give Google what they want – naturally continue to build links to your site, and try to add as much fresh content as possible. Doing this will almost always ensure that you WILL come out of the sandbox at some point, but still won’t guarantee it will happen in less than 6-8 months.
The best possible thing you can do is plan ahead. Put up a new domain with a page or two of unique content months before you actually build a site. This will give it time to age, and most of the time will help you completely avoid being sandboxed. Also, if the actual domain name isn’t extremely important, consider buying an existing domain name or site to use. Just be sure it hasn’t been penalized or banned. Buying pre-owned domains is a great way to hit the ground running with a new website.