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The mission of Google is to provide users with authoritative and high-quality content. Hence, the search engine makes use of algorithms that select the most appropriate websites out of the wide offer that can be found on the web nowadays.
In 2004, SEO experts discovered the consequences of the now known ‘Google Sandbox’. They wondered why their websites did not perform well on the Google ranking at first despite all the SEO standards being respected.
Google Sandbox refers to the observation that Google doesn’t rank websites, whereas other search engines like Bing and Yahoo are already indexing them in the result pages. Although Google has never officially confirmed the “sandboxing” of websites, it can be assumed that there is a probationary period in which websites have to pass Google’s filters in order to rise in the ranking. These filters are associated with fulfilling anti-spam purposes.
How long does Google Sandbox last?
While newly launched websites usually get indexed quickly, most SEO professionals have to face the fact that their websites are confronted with ranking problems as they are “in the Google Sandbox” at first. The Google Sandbox can hold back websites for a few weeks or even up to several months. Once this probation period is over, your website will be able to rank for the targeted keywords on Google’s first result pages.
What websites can get into the Google Sandbox?
Not only newly launched websites experience sandboxing. Domains that were inactive for a long time can get into the Google Sandbox as well in order to regain authority. Besides, the sandboxing effect can also occur for websites that undergo a reoptimization of content or a sector change. That is why redesigned websites may end up in the Google Sandbox and are not able to benefit from the domain’s authority prior to the redesign.
How to detect if your website is in the Sandbox
There are several reasons why a website doesn’t achieve high positions on the SERP.
If you are wondering whether your website is indexed and ranks properly on the Google SERPs or is experiencing the sandbox effect, you can look out for the following indicators:
- Pages don’t rank on Google: If you are indexed but your website’s pages don’t rank on Google despite searching for the exact match, the site might be trapped in the Google Sandbox.
- SEO efforts are made: If you made all of the best SEO efforts to optimize your page and it is still not displayed, this may also indicate that the website is undergoing Google’s filters.
- Overcompensation: While it is crucial to optimize your website, having too many backlinks and over-optimized content can lead Google penalizing your site and possibly placing it in Google Sandbox.
- Pages rank on other search engines: The fact that your website ranks on the first result pages of other search engines like Bing or Yahoo but not on Google indicates the effects of Google’s probationary period.
- Recently launched website: For newly launched websites it is normal to be in the sandbox for 3-6 months on average. Therefore, if your website has only recently been launched, it is very likely that it is still prevented from ranking on Google.
- Major redesign and restructuring of the website: Did your website undergo major changes due to website redesign or restructuring content? This fact can also contribute to the sandbox effect.
Sandbox check: Helpful SEO tools
Google Search Console and Google Analytics are helpful SEO tools when it comes to checking if your website has been sandboxed. In the Google Search Console you can analyze the ranking positions of your pages. If the ranking for your website is very low even though it is well-optimized, sandboxing might be the case. You can double-check this observation by viewing your organic traffic developments using Google Analytics. If there has been a considerable traffic drop it is likely that your website got sandboxed by Google.
By recognising the presence of the sandbox effect, you can initiate steps to get out of the sandbox.
How to get out of Google Sandbox
Here are 5 measures that you can apply in order to escape the Google Sandbox.
Build authority with quality link building
Increase your website’s authority and invest in high-quality backlinks from old domains that already enjoy a high authority score. Your link building efforts will eventually result in a better domain authority and trustworthiness of your website which will lead to it ranking better on Google. While building up a strong link profile you should be careful not to grow it too rapidly to avoid Google penalisations. Instead it is useful to focus on white-hat-linkbuilding and to generate real backlinks step-by-step.
If you notice that a spammy website is linking towards your website, you can disable harmful backlinks by asking the linking website to remove it or by filing a disavow request in Google Search Console.
Avoid Google penalization
Make sure that you don’t receive any penalisations – whether they are manual or algorithmic. Your focus should be to resolve them as fast as possible to prevent any ranking issues.
The Google Search Console presents an overview over your manual penalties by Google. Additionally, Google provides you with advice to follow in order to overcome the penalty and request a reconsideration afterwards.
You can detect algorithmic penalties when looking at the website’s traffic over the last months. Significant drops can indicate algorithm updates. In this care it is advisable to inform yourself about the update and make website improvements accordingly.
Publish high-quality content
Another tip to escape the sandbox faster is to enrich your website with content. The focus should be on quality over quantity, meaning that your texts are based on keyword studies, well-written and optimized. You should avoid stuffing your text with too many keywords. Instead focus on a few targeted keywords and create long and interesting articles that offer added value to readers. As a result, Google will perceive your website as engaging and relevant.
Target low competition and long-tail keywords
Choose the keywords you focus your content on wisely. Since you are interested in ranking high on the Google SERP with your new website, it is best practice to target low competition and long-tail keywords. These will help you get out of the sandbox quickly whereas highly competitive and short tail keywords will be harder to rank on.
Generate website traffic with social media
While your website is being sandboxed you can make use of social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok to drive traffic to your website. Posting viral social media content that links to your website is a great way to achieve high traffic numbers even within the first few months after launching it. As traffic is an important ranking factor, you should increase your chances of escaping the Google sandbox.
The reversed sandbox effect
While the unpleasant effects of sandboxing are discussed thoroughly amongst SEO experts, there is also a phenomenon which can be seen as the reversed sandbox effect, the so-called “honeymoon period”. It refers to the period right after the launch of new webpages in which Google will position them at the top of the SERP. This temporary spike in rankings can be understood as the probation period in favor of the new content. Newly published content gets displayed as a better result in order for Google algorithms to analyze its CTR and bounce rates thereafter. The honeymoon phase ends when the content doesn’t perform as expected and falls behind in the rankings on Google.
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