SEO and the Google Sandbox

I've been asked by many friends and media folks about the Google Sandbox phenomenon. I will use this post to explain what it is, although more importantly, how to use this knowledge to best capitalize on an effective SEO strategy.

What is the Google Sandbox? (Also called an Aging Filter)

Wikipedia has a basic explanation, yet I will go into a bit more detail. Yes, it is not something I've seen or heard Google talk about publicly (although Matt Cutts has commented) however, given my experiences, I am convinced it exists. There is also some recent empirical evidence as published by SEOmoz.org on the topic. Clearly there are different opinions about the Sandbox's existence.

At a basic level, the Google Sandbox is a novel set of filtering technology used by Google on new domains (www.newsite.com) to protect the Google index from so-called "black hat" spam strategies. It is designed to prevent a bunch of new sites to suddenly appear and do thematic tactics (ex. Bulk link purchases, duplicate content, link manipulation, etc.) to quickly rank in the Google index for specific keywords.

New domains (regardless of who or what they are) go into the sandbox with a PageRank of 0 and forcing limited rankings for competitive keywords. Its a probation period that allows Google to observe the site and figure out many things about it. Below is a listing of specifics related to the Sandbox:

1) Being in the Sandbox has nothing to do with how well the site is optimized.

2) Sandbox is only a Google thing, not the same for other engines. In my experience Yahoo and Bing update rankings rather quickly … Ask.com is slower.

3) Typical time frame in the Sandbox is three to eight months. Usually a longer time frame for sites with more competitive keywords.

4) There is no consistency with how and when sites come out of the sandbox. I've heard that Google does like to "release" sites from the sandbox in quantity … basically a bunch of sites at a time. So, if two sites get started on the same day it is very unlikely they both will come out of the sandbox on the same day.

5) Sandbox only effects new domains. If you've taken over an existing domain or created a sub-domain on an existing site (ex. Blog.xxx.com or xxx.com/blog) you should not be affected by the sandbox.

6) You can be in the Sandbox and rank well for less competitive keywords.

What now? Yes – there are things you can do … see below:

1) Get started right away and plan long-term and over time you will never think about the Sandbox. This has always been my philosophy to media executives when consulting or with friends. Product development on the web begins when the site is live and customers tell you what they like with their clicks. If the site works well – or is feature rich – you've waited too long to make it live.

2) Get your SEO strategy in order, fast. This takes smart thinking, a good tool-set, analysis, and persistence. In my consulting practice we promote a simple "three-legs-on-a-stool SEO strategy.

a) Great Keyword-Targeted Content
b) Smart Architecture (including On-Page Metadata)
c) Inbound linking in Scale

A much longer conversation here – for another post.

3) Buy some Pay Per Click Keywords. There is evidence among SEO experts that doing some PPC advertising pushes sites out of the Sandbox quicker. Rational is that if a new site (s) is trying to game the system with black-hat strategies PPC advertising is not the desired path.

How long did it take for your site to come out of the sandbox?