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Sandbox of Mystery

Posted on 8.06.2006

The Google Sandbox is one of the great mysteries of Search Engine Marketing. Or is it? Its existence has been debated, mulled over and debated again. But, real or not, its significance to webmasters is unparalleled.

The Sandbox is a theory proposing that new sites are given some type of penalty or are put in a probationary stage when they are initially created. SEO professionals often explain the Sandbox as a filter placed on newly registered domains by Google. This filter causes a domain to experience poor rankings for some of its most important keywords, regardless of site optimization and link building efforts. The length of time spent in this Sandbox is generally agreed to be between 90 and 120 days. During this period of time, the sites are monitored while Google determines a more accurate assessment of its value. For example, is this site really what it claims to be, or is it just spam?

Although widely accepted by many, a debate still rages on about the existence of the Sandbox. This argument developed in part to observations of some webmasters that a new domain may show up almost immediately under certain searches. For example, a search for the exact domain name may yield a top rank. This seems to go against the idea of the Sandbox. But closer analysis demonstrates that for less obscure phrases rankings are still not to be found.

Since its existence has not been verified by Google there will always be room for debate —is there a specific filter or can the effect be explained by simpler ideas? Does anyone care? Arguing the Sandbox concept is akin to debating whether or not Google would use a complicated method to score websites.

In March of 2005 Google filed a patent that discussed generating a score for a document (Web page) based on one or more types of historical data. They also became an ICANN approved domain name registrar. Patent excerpts show simple examples of how Google could use historical domain name data (Whois information) for ranking:

“…a document’s inception date may be used to generate (or alter) a score associated with that document” and “…the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain…”

So if Google uses extensive methods to rank websites and if simple observations verify a delay in new domain rankings, then whatever label is attached to it is unimportant. What is important, however, is how webmasters respond.

A lot of articles offer advice to get out of the Google Sandbox. That’s a slippery slope, and webmasters should use caution. Google’s declared goal is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” They can’t do this if every website created today gets ranked today, or even this week. To know a website’s worth is, in part, to know something about its history. So whether the Sandbox is an actual filter or just the result of other factors, it is a result of Google’s efforts to bring forward the best search results. Trying to circumvent this is not recommended.

As with most things Google, the overall approach is to play nice, bring quality, and let things happen naturally. Trying to force a specific result can risk a fate beyond the alleged Sandbox. No site wants to be considered spam or be blacklisted, plummeting your hard work into oblivion. So patience, natural link building, basic site optimization techniques and the further development of products and services are the best strategy. When a site is noteworthy in its own right, people will talk and Google will notice. In the meantime, while waiting in the dunes, an AdWords campaign might just do the trick to get your site noticed and on solid ground.



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