Google sandbox. The very words are enough to make any new webmaster quiver in their boots. The term refers to a theory used to explain why new websites, or rather, those with new domain names, don’t rank as highly as others in search engine rankings. The sandbox, in essence, is like a ‘waiting room’ for new websites – a place where they go until they pass initiation and prove their worth to the giant that is Google. Although the existence of the sandbox has never been officially confirmed by Google, Matt Cutts, a Google employee who writes his own Google blog, has at times, made reference to such a phenomena.
How to get out of it – sand wedges at the ready!
There are several things that webmasters can do in order to drive their way out of the sandbox but it can take time – anywhere between one and six months. Here are some tips to quicken your website’s recovery time:
Increase inbound links. There are many different strategies for doing this and it’s worth researching the free information that’s available from various SEO blogs and forums. Some effective methods include contacting other webmasters who host similar sites to yours and simply asking if they’d mind placing a link to your website from theirs. Commenting on blogs can often provide you with a link back to your site and participating in forums that allow users to place a link in their signatures can also help.
Double check your content. Make sure that you didn’t fall into the same trap as we did and become overly-keen to optimise your website’s keywords. Instead, stick to inserting keywords as tags and focus on good, high quality content that makes your site readable and appealing to users. There’s much debate about exactly how dense a website’s keywords should be but most SEO blogs suggest keeping your keyword density to somewhere between 1 and 4 %. One simple way of checking the keyword density of a particular article offline, is to copy and paste the text into Microsoft Word and use the word count tool to firstly count the number of words in the text. Then by using the ‘Find’ function (Ctrl F), type the keyword you want to check. By dividing the amount of keywords by the total number of words in the document, then multiplying by 100, you can work out the keyword density of the text, for any particular keyword.
Does it only happen to new websites?
A word to the wise: there’s a difference between Google’s sandbox and Google penalties. In our case, we had probably been online for too long to be deemed to have been affected by the sandbox. In all likeliness, we were probably slapped with a penalty after a change to Google’s algorithms. The result was that we started disappearing from Google search results, our page views halved, income depleted and hair turned grey overnight. After some careful analysis using various keyword checker tools, we discovered that our keyword density was 26%, whereas we should have been aiming for 2-3%. Needless to say we were way off the mark.
How to tell if you’ve been sandboxed by Google
Check your page rank using an online page rank checker. New websites begin their lives with a zero page rank but with time, they begin to creep up the rankings. If your website does indeed have a page rank but still isn’t showing in Google for search terms that it used to, then your website is likely to have been placed in the sandbox. It’s not uncommon for new websites to appear high in Google’s rankings then suddenly drop off through time. Try searching for your website in Google using the following text –
Replace ‘yourdomain’ with the web address of your own website. If no results are returned, it’s likely that your website has been penalised rather than sandboxed, however, if some results still show, but much lower in the rankings, then you know you’ve been sandboxed.