The Google Sandbox effect. What is it?

According to the theory of the sandbox effect, links which may normally be weighted by Google’s ranking algorithm, not least improving the position of a webpage in Google’s index, may be subjected to filtering to prevent their having a full impact. Some observations have suggested that two important factors for causing this filter to come into play are the active age of a domain, and the competitiveness of the keywords used in links (Anchor Text).

Active age of a domain should not be confused with the date of registration on a domain’s WHOIS record, but instead refers to the time when Google first indexed pages on the domain. Keyword competitiveness refers to the search frequency of a word on Google search, with observation suggesting that the higher the search frequency of a word, the increasing likelihood that the sandbox filter effect will come into play.

While the presence of the Google Sandbox has been long debated, Google has made no abject disclosure on the matter. However, as the sandbox effect almost certainly refers to a set of filters in play for anti-spam purposes, it is unlikely Google would ever provide details on the matter.

Google has long been aware that its historical use of links as a “vote” for ranking web documents can be subject to manipulation, and stated such in its original IPO documentation. Over the years Google has filed a number of patents that seek to qualify or minimize the impact of such manipulation, which Google terms as “link spam”.

Link spam is primarily driven by search engine optimizers who attempt to manipulate Google’s page ranking by creating lots of inbound links to a new web site from other web sites that they own. Some SEO experts also claim that the sandbox only applies to highly competitive or broad keyword phrases, and can be counteracted by targeting narrow, or so-called long-tail phrases.

Reverse sandbox effect

A “reverse sandbox” effect is also claimed to exist, whereby new pages with good content, but without inbound links, are temporarily increased in rank—much like the “New Releases” in a book store are displayed more prominently—to encourage organic building of the World Wide Web.

David George disputes the claim that Google applies sandboxing to all new web sites, saying that the claim “doesn’t seem to be borne out by experience”. He states that he created a new web site in October 2004 and had it ranked in the top 20 Google results for a target keyword within one month. He asserts that “no one knows for sure if the Google sandbox exists”, and comments that it “seems to fit the observations and experiments of many search engine optimizers”. He theorizes that the sandbox “has introduced some hysteresis into the system in order to restore a bit of sanity to Google’s results”.

In an interview with the Search Engine Roundtable website, Matt Cutts is reported to have said that there are some things in the algorithm that may be perceived as a sandbox that do not apply to all industries.

I’ve been sand boxed, what can I do?

The short answer is it depends….  I know that’s not what you were looking for here, but unfortunately it is what it is.

If your website has been penalized for back linking, and you have ALOT of them out there, you may not be able to recover. You may be better offer starting over with a new domain… When Google Panda went live many people tried to remove a lot of these back links, or even out weigh them by varying the Anchor Text on the back links.

Google’s algorithm that it uses to rank websites is vary complex, and if one factor (such as back links) is carrying all the weight, Google sandboxes that website.

People claim that you can pull out of the sand box effect by;

  1. correcting HTML errors on the website pages.
  2. Having different Meta Titles & Descriptions on each page of the site
  3. Having Meta Tags that fit Google’s parameters (Titles = 70 | Description = 156 characters)
  4. Having your sitemap reflect an accurate assessment of how often the page changes.
  5. Having the amount of pages of your website grow within your sitemap with original non spammy content
  6. Have a landing page that changes frequently (via blog postings perhaps).


Written by

Tom Strubinger was raised in the Mid-West and has lived in South Florida since 1995. He got his first exposure to computer maintenance and programming in 1988, and has been the friend and neighbor everyone relied for computer help, ever since. In 2001 after 911 tragedy, he went back to school and started doing IT Support professionally. In 2004 SoFla Networking was incorporated as a LLC and has been thriving ever since. SoFla Networking now offers Complete IT Solutions including Web Design, SEO, and Social Media Marketing.

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