A few weeks ago,​ I presented myself with a​ challenge – to​ do some Internet sleuthing and get to​ the​ bottom of​ this perplexing condition that newly search engine optimized websites (that’s SEO) face known as​ the​ Google Sandbox. at​ times this endeavor made me empathize with Captain Ahab chasing his white whale,​ but unlike Ahab,​ I’m not going to​ meet a​ watery grave today. provides SEOs with life jackets – so I got that going for me,​ which is​ good. the​ obsession to​ confirm,​ pin down,​ and counteract the​ effects of​ this Sandbox is​ proving as​ difficult and elusive as​ any whale hunt I’ve ever been on.

Before explaining to​ the​ uninitiated just what the​ Sandbox is​ exactly,​ or​ what it’s purported to​ be,​ it​ warrants mentioning that Google officially neither confirms nor denies its existence. So from the​ word “go” we wade into mystery. We’re forced to​ consider the​ Sandbox as​ either a​ modern quasi-myth of​ the​ Computer Age or​ an​ actual no man’s land created by Google where SEOs are pitted against the​ machine. Kinda cool,​ right? This would be a​ limbo,​ an​ undesired waiting room for web properties seeking quality recognition from Google’s Search Engine Results Pages are,​ as​ I like to​ say,​ unSERPable. Incidentally,​ the​ stakes are very high,​ too,​ since higher rankings mean increased revenue.

The effects of​ the​ Sandbox are not in​ question. Websites listing with Google are simply beat down in​ their rankings for no apparent rhyme or​ reason,​ thus leaving the​ afflicted with no avenue of​ redress but time itself – no magic linking is​ known to​ spring sites out. (Though it’s whispered that influential friends at​ Google can pull favors.) New websites and overhauled existing websites (often reworked,​ ostensibly,​ for better rankings) are its primary “victims”. it​ was first noticed or​ acknowledged in​ October,​ 2004. No one outside of​ Google knows exactly how or​ why sites are Sandboxed.

Here are some Sandbox basics: it​ only happens to​ English speaking websites; it​ is​ a​ “.com”-only phenomenon,​ no “.edu”s,​ “.us”s,​ or​ “.org”s need worry; it​ could last from weeks to​ a​ year before release into deserving results rankings; its effects are seen with Google only,​ so you​ can rank high on​ Yahoo and be in​ the​ Sandbox (or even rank poorly – I have little info handy on​ poorly optimized websites mired in​ suspected Sandboxes); the​ Sandbox is​ by no means universal and not automatic. It’s a​ crapshoot.

There is​ a​ minority of​ SEOs who think that the​ Sandbox is​ the​ end result of​ better algorithms and not and specially created punishment. Believing,​ as​ I do,​ that Google has the​ best search results,​ this isn’t implausible.

I believe Google intentionally Sandboxes websites because they can. Google’s search share is​ largely unrivalled and growing strongly. What better way for Google to​ keep separating itself from the​ search engine pack than to​ have websites jumping through hoops in​ hopes to​ conform to​ Google’s semi-secretive algorithmic wishes. And what better way to​ do this than through the​ secret sauce of​ unacknowledged spider block. Google’s engineers keep the​ search world apprehensive and guessing so that SEOs will employ conventional and anticipated optimization methods in​ hopes to​ evade the​ Sandbox.

Talk about your Jedi mind tricks: SEOs are now optimizing in​ a​ fashion that suits Google with much less link bombing and more content emphasis. This aids Google’s indexing efforts greatly. the​ Sandbox,​ being a​ phenomenon oft-alluded to​ and ill-explained,​ is​ totally logical when viewed in​ this light. Fearing the​ unknown (and the​ ire of​ clients) we optimize humbly,​ to​ start.

And I love this. “No one knows” is​ what most SEOs will say about various Sandbox details. Someone knows. Someone besides in-the-know Google engineers always knows,​ but isn’t saying. SEOs will have you​ believe they’re giving away everything but their gym locker combination; to​ the​ point where you’d think that there are no secrets in​ this business. Well,​ as​ in​ any other business,​ information is​ the​ most valuable commodity and there will be nothing that you​ will get for free; nothing of​ a​ proprietary nature will be shared that will not provide its source with either direct or​ back-end value.

It’s tough to​ declare this,​ but I must: no SEO has enough data or​ access to​ solve the​ Sandbox. It’s not even worth trying and the​ best thing we can do is​ compare notes. Pretty sad,​ but it’s all we got. (Or is​ it?)

It is​ widely believed that Matt Cutts,​ an​ engineering guru at​ Google,​ acknowledged the​ existence of​ the​ Sandbox at​ SES NYC in​ March,​ 2018. That’s bunk. He didn’t acknowledge anything,​ but he did answer his questions carefully supposing there was a​ Sandbox. He played with words and said some algorithms “might” affect “certain” websites in​ “some” circumstances that would,​ in​ effect,​ ape Sandbox-like results. Well,​ gee. Thanks,​ Matt. you​ didn’t say anything,​ but legions of​ SEOs rushed to​ the​ messageboards with their confirm reports like they’d just filmed Sasquatch. No free lunches,​ no free secrets. Mr. Cutts just stoked the​ fires- that’s all. Good job,​ Matt,​ but I’ll get you​ yet. Cheers.

Joseph Pratt
Media Analyst

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