Avoiding the Google Sandbox

Avoiding the Google Sandbox

Court recently talked about the Google Sandbox on his blog. If you’re not familiar with it, read his post. He gives a great introduction to it. I don’t want to be a Monkey See, Monkey Do like RT talked about recently but I wanted to expand upon my comment on Court’s post. In that comment I mentioned that this sandbox isn’t a simple on/off switch but the combined effect of several different flags and algorithms that are used to limit where new or otherwise suspicious web sites appear in search results.

While there is probably quite a lot of code behind the sandbox algorithms that take into account perhaps hundreds of different parameters, there are 4 main factors that seem to have the most weight in determining if, how long and how much a domain is in the Google sandbox.

1. Domain Age

Baby and Stork

The first is domain age. Of course, one of the easiest and well known ways to avoid the sandbox is to buy an aged domain. Google does give a pass, of sorts, to aged domains. If things click just right, this is the way to go but don’t depend on it. 

Buying an aged isn’t always practical. It can be hard to find just the right aged domain name that fits with your blog’s branding strategy. The price, particularly for a domain with a high PR or desirable name, can be too high. The domain might have been blacklisted for some reason in the past so you should do research before buying. 

Also, keep in mind that an aged, but dormant, domain that sudden gets a lot of links and/or has a recent ownership change can also trigger sandbox algorithms.

2. Speed of Link Growth

Fast Train

Next, the speed and number of links that a site acquires is a significant factor.

It is well known that if a new site shows up and suddenly has 10,000 back links in a few days or even hours that Google will probably put it in the sandbox for years if not deindex it entirely as a spam site. A large number of links so quickly just screams “black hat“. In your link building you must build slowly and somewhat naturally. That means a link here, a couple of links there. Unnatural, rapid, large scale link building rarely works for very long although there are some exceptions. 

3. Trustworthiness of Links


Google’s algorithms consider is how trustworthy or important the site linking to a new site is. This is how certain commercial viral marketing sites have avoided significant sandboxing. They get links from a trusted parent site, like a movie studio, or buy a lot of trusted links via paid reviews and the like.

If you currently own an aged and trusted authority domain then working natural links into it for your niche blogs can help them avoid or lessen the impact of the sandbox. If you don’t own one, then there are some other techniques you can use to develop this kind of link although buying them outright is a bit risky although this is often more true of the seller than the buyer. This is why Google gets so aggressive about going after PR selling, it sells trust in the quality of a site and breaks their algorithms.

4. Anchor Text Variety


Lastly, Google looks for variety in your backlinks. If you suddenly have 500+ backlinks with the same anchor text, guess what, you will stand a very good chance of getting sent to the sandbox. Even established sites can get bit by this one, just ask John Chow. That’s why directory submission services rarely provide a great value. If they submit your niche blog with the same competitive term anchor text, for example, “car insurance“, all they’re doing is heaping sand upon your head.

A good backlink mix seems to be no more than about 30-50 percent using your primary keywords with the rest consisting of long tail term links that point to individual post pages. This variety, particularly when spread out among what Google considers to be trusted sites, seems to be the most effective way to limit the sandbox effect.

If you have anything to add about the Google sandbox or have any questions, feel free to ask. I just go by what I’ve observed with my sites and sites where I’ve had a consulting role.


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Comment by RT Cunningham
2008-03-09 14:43:56

This is not quite a monkey see, monkey do kind of article, Frank. :-) There’s enough new information that even the most jaded blogger can appreciate it. I like how it reinforces what others have merely touched on.

Comment by jfc
2008-03-09 20:24:22

Thanks RT,

I try to find new spins on things when I can, based on my own testing and experiences.

Comment by seo man
2008-03-09 19:19:43

I don’t think sandbox even exists any more. I had sites rank for very competitive keywords withing a few weeks.

Comment by jfc
2008-03-09 20:32:05

Hi seo man,

There is some confusion about it because it isn’t a single, binary, switch but, from estimates I’ve read, nearly 200 separate algorithms that make up what is referred to as the sandbox. While that makes it more difficult to directly game it also increases the loopholes and exceptions that can let a site rank well in spite of being new. Authoritative links and uniqueness of information seem to help a lot with this.

Comment by Grizzly
2008-03-12 08:49:11

Correct as usual Frank and Amen.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
Comment by jfc
2008-03-12 09:55:20

Thanks for stopping by Griz.

Asia’h was a great example of the uniqueness of information idea. Too bad she got sent home early.

EDIT: Clever use of the Top Commentator plugin BTW. I didn’t know it did that.

Comment by Cheap Anime Games
2008-07-14 00:54:51

Can I ask what you’re referring to here? I have some questions about the Top Commentator plugin, but am having trouble finding definitive answers.

Specifically - what is the field that identifies the top commentators? I assume one would have to keep the Name consistent (so, Cheap Anime Games in my case) but is it possible to vary the link, thus also sending links to an interior page?


Comment by Cheap Anime Games
2008-07-14 01:03:55

Just answered my own question … did a little more reading on your site and found your post with the “fix” for Top Commentator plugin.

Comment by Terry Didcott
2008-03-12 06:43:33

A quick addition to the sandbox flag triggers here - I’ve noticed that usually, a new site that slaps a load of monetization too early on can trigger the flags and get itself send to the naughty boy’s room too!

So far, doing the same with an aged domain doesn’t seem to raise the flags as long as it doesn’t draw attention to itself by some of the points you already mentioned.

But as to whether it even exists - oh yes it does! I’ve had enough experience with suddenly de-indexed new sites for it to be otherwise.


Comment by jfc
2008-03-12 09:27:55

Hi Terry,

I’ve been wondering about how big a factor quick monetization is. My observation is that it depends a lot on the keywords used and the type of ads.

Using Adsense seems to be a “kiss of death” to some sites/niches. I have one niche blog that I monetized (too) early with Adsense and Google still steadfastly ignores pings from it even with Adsense removed.

But if you use an affiliate offer, like a Clickbank or CJ product, or product feed, like BANS or an XML feed, you don’t seem to get hit as hard, if at all.

Comment by Manick
2008-03-12 20:35:45

Great article Frank. But, I have a basic question. How do I know whether my blog is sandboxed or not. Is there anyway to find this? If a blog has been sent to sandbox, is there any quick way to fix the problem?


Comment by jfc
2008-03-12 23:41:24

Hi Manick,

There isn’t any sure fire way to detect this with precision but, in general, if you are no longer ranking well in search results for terms where you once were ranking well then you’re in the sandbox. The degree of the sandboxing can vary as can the time you’re sandboxed based on the factors I mentioned above as well as others.

Getting out quickly for your target term generally isn’t possible although I suppose if you picked up some high powered links, for example, links from several well known and older news sites, you could break out early. Other than that unlikely scenario, you just have to live with it. Also, I’ve found that if sandboxing happens that de-monetizing (getting rid of Adsense in particular) and switching to alternative and long tail keywords seems to lessen the effect to some degree.

2008-03-13 01:16:47

[…] Must Reads The Scourge of Web 2.0 ( A real GEM!!!) Avoiding the Google Sandbox […]

Comment by Brett Wilson
2008-03-24 16:27:54

Hey SEo Man…i think it definitely exists…why? Because we’re in it

2008-07-14 01:22:46

I’ve been sticking to aged domains and so far, touch wood, it seems to be keeping my sites out of the sandbox.

Comment by mike
2008-11-12 21:56:50

Hey great article,

I’ve had my share of problems in the past with the sandbox, and decided that an aged domain strategy was the way to go.

The biggest issue is of course being able to find aged domains that are keyword rich to your niche.

I found this free website that allows you to search multiple keywords at a time for a domain, and then get this. It shows page rank and the age of the domain.

Apparently some of these nearly expired domains have existing page rank.

Actually you can search for all types of aged domains, but I only search the “buy now” domains with a price of $5.

Among my finds so far was a 2 year old domain with a page rank of 4 ! and a 9 year old domain keyword rich. Both were $5.

The website is at http://www.aged-domain-finder.com

There are probably other websites out there offering similar things, but I haven’t found a site that has a comprehensive search capability and then shows automated age and page rank.

Gee I sound like a fan, don’t I :)



Comment by partoba
2008-12-18 03:20:15

My blog now, I supposed, is in Sandbox. And it’s because this domain is new and aged just a month. Now I can’t find it anywhere for my keyword, and even for the domain name itself. It’s annoying for sure but many suggestions to keep building the site that one day it’ll come up the deserved ranking. I hope so.

Comment by Funny Junk
2009-02-02 16:25:19

Getting in the sandbox basically sucks, but most sites will eventually make their way out of it. I believe that sites that do get sandboxed though, usually makes it more likely for the owner to quit since his site won’t be getting as many visitors. I have been sandboxed before on some of my sites, and it does suck.

Comment by Lorecee
2009-04-12 12:38:45

Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz has an interesting case study on a well-funded startup that couldn’t rank for its search terms despite its PR5. Fishkin says he has it straight from G’s mouth that the sandbox does exist:

I fought for a long time to gain any credibility (as most established SEOs did not believe in its existence until later on), but owe a debt of thanks to Aaron D’Souza from Google who, during a meeting at my first SES San Jose conference, confirmed its existence and effect (though he was naturally coy about revealing any particular details). He also indicated that inside Google, it had a different name (though I still don’t know what that was/is).

There’s still some confusion among beginners about the difference between actual sandboxing (where no matter what you do or what your PR, you can’t rank for any competitive terms), and the natural drop-off in the SERPs after initially ranking high due to the Quality Deserves Freshness part of Google’s algorithm that Justin talks about on his SEO tips blog. New sites will land on page 1 after two weeks in existence and the owner thinks it’s a cakewalk to rank on page 1. Then when they get bumped down to #100 as newer content comes up and takes their place, they mistakenly assume they’re sandboxed.

Comment by Elene Parker
2009-06-11 07:46:48

This is actually good to hear. The message I’m walking away with is “Your search engine traffic may be low for the first 6-12 months, but don’t worry, it will get better automatically.”

Comment by jfc
2009-06-11 07:56:48

Hi Elene,

It seems to depend a lot on the competitiveness of the keywords you’re targeting. If you’re trying for something like ‘weight loss’ or ‘forex’ it will take you a while to establish a ‘trust rank’ with Google. But, if you’re working long tail terms or lower competition niches you may gain trust and keyword authority much quicker, in weeks rather than months or years.

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