The Theory
There has been a theory floating around that Google is now imposing some kind of penalty on brand new web sites or sites that seem to acquire a large amount of links from other sites in a relatively short period of time. It is being discussed on all the search engine marketing forums. Many articles have been written about it. Even several live examples have been presented by frustrated web site owners and managers who can't seem to understand why their sites will not rank well in the Google search engine results pages (SERPs).

The so-called "sandbox" theory suggests that new sites will be added to the Google index and may even show up for obscure searches such as the company/web site name but will not show well for other phrases that are relevant to the site. It doesn't matter if the site is optimized for the search engines either. In fact, those who have optimized their sites can drive themselves crazy making change after change but to no positive avail.

This theory also suggests that established sites who all of a sudden obtain hundreds or even thousands of links from other sites can be sent to the Google sandbox. Obtaining links in these type of quantities is typically the result of either participating in some sort of link trading scheme or buying multitudes of text links on other sites for the sole purpose of obtaining some of the PageRank value they might pass. This type of scenario goes against the natural process of people linking their web site to another site because they see it as a valuable resource or a favorite site to visit.

Sandbox or Aging Filter?
So if a site is sent to the sandbox by Google either because it is new or it is participating in mass link building, what is the time frame that must pass before the site is allowed out of the box? Most search engine marketers that have been discussing and analyzing this say about 6-8 months. As for myself, I don't actually believe that Google is sending new sites to a "sandbox" but rather they may be applying some sort of aging filter.

Scottie Claiborne of Right Click Web Consulting recently wrote an excellent article on this subject entitled "Google's Aging Delay for New Sites". In a portion of that article, she talks about why such an aging filter might exist. To quote from the article itself:

"My own theory is that the age factor for new sites is Google's answer to mini-networks and other multi-site strategies intended to artificially inflate link popularity. Many people divide what should be a single site into multiple sites in order to capitalize on the links that are exchanged between them. Others build a series of small sites that are only designed to add link popularity to the main site.

By delaying the ranking of brand new sites, the mini-network strategy becomes more of a long-term strategy than a quick jump to the top. Site owners who might have started new sites are going to be more inclined to build new pages on existing sites in order to avoid that delay."

This is very good analysis in my opinion. If this indeed be true (Google has yet to say anything on the subject), it is yet another strategy Google has employed in its never-ending war with spammers.

How Do I Play?
So now that we have come to the conclusion that this sandbox, aging filter or whatever you want to call it, actually seems to exist, what can one do that has been affected by it? The answer is "absolutely nothing". That surely is not what many people want to hear and possibly even you the reader question the reasoning of writing an article on the subject if there are no solutions. But wait a minute, there is a solution! It is called patience. Sure that might not be a definite solution to getting one's self out of the sandbox or out from underneath an aging filter. However it will allow them to keep their sanity and in doing so, to look at some alternatives to marketing their sites until the time period lapses. Let us take a look at some of those alternatives.

Pay Per Click
There of course is AdWords, Google's pay per click advertising program. If you have a new site and are finding yourself caught in that aging filter to where your site will not show well in the Google SERPs, why not put aside a budget for an AdWords program? With AdWords, you can instantly gain exposure on Google as well as many search and contextual partner sites. This can bring traffic to your site as a direct result of people searching at Google or one of their search partners such as Ask Jeeves, Netscape, AOL as well as others that display AdWords on their sites.

Sure these will not be the free listings you may get from the organic results of Google but if you watch your bottom line and conversions, you might find that AdWords will bring about a very good ROI. Later on when you start to see your site showing well in the organic results, you can begin to back off of your AdWords campaign. Of course if AdWords is effective for you, you may just well continue both.

Other Search Engines
Don't discount traffic from other search engines such as Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and MSN. If you only focus on Google in your SEO strategy, you might miss valuable traffic that you can receive from these other sites, all of which do not seem to have any type of aging filters. Besides that, sites that have good "on the page" search engine optimization seem to do very well in these engines. Now Ask Jeeves is typically very slow to update its index but Yahoo and MSN are lighting fast about finding new or updated content and including it in their index.

Therefore do not neglect optimizing the various elements of you site's pages that these engines factor in to their algorithms - title tags, meta description tags and the actual html text on your pages. If you optimize these elements properly, you will most likely experience very good placement in these engines and as such will gain a good quantity of visitors.

Take Advantage of Established Sites
One thing we have recently began to test with new sites that we are providing marketing services for is to develop a profile page or pages that will give a brief summary of the client and their product and/or service. These are also optimized to target some of their most important keywords. We will then place this page or pages on an established site such as a directory we own or a case study section on our site -  somewhere where it has the possibility of ranking well and sending the client some traffic. When they do finally begin to rank well in Google with their own site, the page or pages are no longer needed and can be removed.

A word of caution here - in doing this we are careful not to simply place duplicate content on another domain. I say that because I don't want people to think I am endorsing duplicate content or mirror sites. The pages or pages that are created need to be unique and not just copies of their own content.

It is still too early in our testing stage to know how effective this will be. However in the recent past I have seen listings in the SERPs that come from the "Current News" section of our corporate site where we announce new client relationships or directory listings within our own directories. These listings actually show up better than the client's site itself! Most likely, this is a direct result of the fact that our sites are more established than theirs. Of course, this is a temporary solution... not even really a solution but rather a band aid.

Patience Is A Virtue
All in all, be patient. Don't continue to tweak and adjust your site hoping that you changes will thrust you on to the first page. Don't pull all the hair out of your head, cursing Google because they won't allow your site to rank well. Simply accept the fact that if you have a new site, it will take quite awhile before it will rank well in Google. This will allow you to be more at peace with your marketing efforts as well as have the foresight to look at other alternatives.


Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas Forum.
February 9, 2005





David Wallace is CEO and founder of SearchRank, an original search engine optimization and marketing firm based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is experienced in search engine optimization and marketing, pay per click and pay for inclusion management, directory submissions and web site design usability. David is a frequent contributor to various search engine related forums, an active editor of popular directories such as GoGuides.org, Joe Ant and Zeal and has had several articles published on industry related sites. Since 1997, David along with his company have helped hundreds of businesses both large and small increase their search engine visibility and customer acquisitions.








Search Engine Guide > David Wallace > How To Play In Google's Sandbox