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Recently we had one of our clients experience what some online professionals call, the Google Sandbox effect. Over the course of almost a month we researched our problem, and the problems of others online, to find out what it exactly was, and what, if anything, we could do about it.

What is the Sandbox Effect?

First there is a lot of debate as to if it exists at all. However we can clearly show, with one of our domains at least, that there was an instance of this phenomenon occurring. A website, with a new domain, in a highly competitive niche, first experienced relatively good rankings for a few weeks. Then, suddenly, the ranking dropped across the board to levels well below what would be expected. In the early stages not a single thing could be done about it. We focussed only on links from highly authoritative sources, but there was not a single movement in position for a few weeks. Matt Cutts has already said something cryptic on the matter;

Q: Does the sandbox exist? A: Matt said here comes the audience part? How many feel there is a sandbox? How many feel there is no such thing as a sandbox? SEOs normally split down the line. There are some things in the algorithm that may be perceived as a sandbox that doesn’t apply to all industries. He knows it works to keep some spam out.

Basically, from what we can tell, if you are in a very competitive industry, you will find some keywords are have built in mechanisms to stop a range of spam. These mechanisms kick in to stop “over optimised” sites from showing up in the early stages.

How long does it last?

In our experience, this only lasted about 3 weeks. Some people have claimed it can last months, but we guess this would happen with spammy sites, or sites that don’t have much content and are struggling with good quality links. The thing you have to remember with Google is that there are less than a handful of instances where a website has been singled out for punishment, or reprieve. If you are in the sandbox, normal SEO and website behaviour will get you out.

How did we get out?

Three key things to getting out;

  1. Time. If you are being blacklisted by Google, then time is the only thing you can rely on. If your content is good, and gets organic links, Google will not keep you in the dungeon for long.
  2. Organic Links. Normal linking behaviour from sites that have good quality signals are what it is all about. If you can get links that look natural, or maybe even actually are, then it is hard for any algorithm to keep punishing you.
  3. Good content. In this instance I am not even talking about a blog entry or two. Good content just means original information that Google can see is worth reading. Make your pages make sense to humans and you will be fine.

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