How Long Does Google Punish a New Site: Google Sandbox

Filed under: Internet Marketing — Brian

When a brand new site on a brand new domain is launched, it gets put into what SEO professionals have dubbed the Google Sandbox. Essentially Google is punishing the new site in search engine rankings for a period of time, lowering it’s ranking for keywords.

The Google Sandbox effect has been well documented by SEO professionals, and the Google Sandbox has even been indirectly confirmed by Google themselves, in a video by Google’s Matt Cutts discussing the relevance of domain age. In that video Cutts said:

“The difference between a domain that’s six months old vs one year old is really not that big at all. As long as you’ve been around for at least a couple of months, you should be able make sure that you can show up in search results.”

He went on to suggest that if you’re planning to launch a new site, you should first put up a welcome page describing the site that will be coming soon — then by the time you finish developing your site months later you should be able to rank.

But in those first couple of months, you’ll be struggling to rank well for competitive keywords, even with great SEO practices.

How long does the Google Sandbox punish new sites?

The Google Sandbox effect lasts somewhere between 1 and 6 months. The negative effect on rankings is very strong for the first couple of months, and by the time you’re past three months you should be pretty good. By the time your domain is at six months you’ll have very little Sandbox Effect at all.

As Matt Cutts said, there is some difference between a domain that’s six months old and one that’s 12 months old, but the difference at that point is incredibly small. The important thing is to wait out those first few month.

The Google Sandbox is for new domains, not new sites

It’s worth stressing here that while we often talk about the Google Sandbox punishing new sites — it’s really punishing new domains (domains that Google hasn’t indexed before). If you have an existing website that ranks well for various keyword phrases and then you decide to do a complete site redesign, you will be just fine.

A site redesign does not get you placed in the Google Sandbox. The Sandbox Effect is just for new domains.

Why the Google Sandbox Effect exists

Put simply, the Google sandbox punishes new sites as a way of combating black hat SEO practices. A lot of black hat SEO techniques involve building hundreds or even thousands of sites overnight through an automated process to build large volumes of backlinks to the sites for which they want to rank. If their first process (say, a link pyramid) didn’t work, they then reconfigure those thousands of fake sites in a different way in an attempt to get more links.

The Google sandbox makes those black hat practices much harder in two main ways:

  • By punishing new sites by placing them in the Google Sandbox, the black hat SEOs have to wait months before they find out if the scheme of the day actually works. If it doesn’t it will take them months more to experiment with another loophole idea. This also makes it impossible to launch a brand new site with a thousand low-quality backlinks overnight and start outranking legitimate sites.
  • By creating this waiting period, Google buys times to algorithmically detect and discount these various link-building schemes before they actually do damage to search results. So the black hat SEO builds a thousand fake sites in a link building configuration, but has to sit in the Google Sandbox for a few months first. During that time Google figures out what the SEO is doing and adjusts its algorithm to ignore the benefit of all those links.

You can still rank well, even in the Google Sandbox

Just because Google is punishing your new site by placing it in the Sandbox, doesn’t mean that you can’t rank well. You can absolutely build a brand new site on a brand new domain and still rank well in Google — but you’ll have to pursue keywords for which there is relatively low competition.

I even tested this recently by grabbing a domain and building a site collecting information about leather books. That site with no backlinks and a domain less than a week old was ranking on page 1 of Google for a handful of legitimate terms (meaning they bring traffic) and page two for another dozen. The key is that though there was competition, the competition was low.

The thing to remember is that Google is still indexing your site, even while you’re in the Google Sandbox. You’re still a part of their index, it’s just that the Google Sandbox is artificially devaluing your site. However, just as we saw with our test site in the Grizzly Equation, it’s all about beating your competition, not hitting any artificial target of links or optimization or domain age. Even in the Google Sandbox, you can still rank for low-competition keywords.

In other words, let’s say I launch a brand new site tomorrow called Brian’s Awesome Shoes. It has brilliant SEO, tons of fantastic original content, and I got some great quality backlinks coming to me right out of the gate. Despite all this I am not going to be able to rank well for “shoes.” It’s just too competitive. But I might well be able to rank for “Graffiti Art High Top Shoes.”

So if you do have a brand new site on a brand new domain launching without having put that placeholder page in place months earlier, one of your best bets is to try to attract some longtail or less competitive keyword phrases.

Also,  spend time building links and collecting referral traffic. Don’t forget, it’s not all about the search engines!

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16 Comments | Leave a comment

  • I think I may be in the sandbox… But here is the weird thing. Within about a week or two of putting my site up, I was ranking really well (like number 2) for “Brian Johnson Design,” the name of my company. And now ever day it has gotten a little worse, and now I am on page three. I don’t get it!

    Comment by Brian Johnson

  • That sounds more like the Google Honeymoon effect; however, you are currently ranking #2 for that phrase.

    Comment by Brian

  • Good to know. It seems the sandbox is taking longer than average these days.

    Comment by John

  • The Sandbox is only a factor for competitive terms.

    Comment by Mike

  • Hey, Thanks for the info. I’ve gave you a Google +1 for your good content. I am experimenting with a few new sites also and I am gradually building links. For a site that moved from page 10 to page four and then all of a sudden i could not see it anymore within the 30 pages. I think I’ve built links to fast and it got sandboxed but I will wait and see.

    Comment by keyword ninja

  • I have made my site three months back and I see slowly my articles ranking well for some targeted long-tail keywords.

    Comment by pagetron

  • How can you tell if a page on your site has been sandboxed or penalized? I have a page that was about 8 or 9 months old and was ranking on the 1st page of Google for a number of my targeted keywords. All of a sudden it vanished for all of the keywords. It’s not banned because when I type in the domain in the search box it shows up.
    I have continued to build links to it in hopes that it will reappear, but I get more and more concerned as the days tick by.
    So is there a way to know whether to just wait out the storm or file a reconsideration request?
    Thank you for any help!

    Comment by Victoria

  • The very first thing you want to do is log into your Google Webmaster Tools account and see if you have any messages — Google has been sending out messages much more often when a manual penalty applies.

    If you don’t have a message indicating what happened, most likely you got caught in some kind of algorithmic penalty or change. If you could give us your URL and one or two keywords that you used to rank for, I can take a deeper look to see if there are any flags that might have got you caught up on the algorithmic side.

    But definitely check Webmaster Tools first to see if any of those links you’ve been building were caught by Google.

    Comment by Brian

  • i think my site is in the sandbox also was ranking on the 3rd page and had only posted a couple of articles and now its no where to be seen.

    Comment by johnny

  • I think that the KataK, Inc is amazing and you should start selling those products for real 😛
    Now serious talk, I agree with you first thing I would do is check the competition, but what got me to your site is that the site mentioned in my comment info has been penalized I think! it’s new since 2 months but I was ranking for lots of keywords (Arabic adwords, arabic ppc, arabic email marketing, arabic digital marketing agency… and many more!)that doesn’t have big competition and just yesterday (after two) months suddenly it stopped ranking for any!!
    I was recruiting an seo company to help me SEO what they did is creating a report with Page ranks for keywords etc, nothing more yet… that’s the lates activity I had on my website but it couldn’t be the reason right? if that’s so anybody could penalize any website!
    any guidance?

    Comment by Arabic SEO

  • If you were ranking well and suddenly vanished from the rankings, that usually indicates either: you had low quality backlinks and those backlinks have been removed from the link index (and indeed open site explorer shows zero quality backlinks for your site); that your site has duplicate content, spun content, shallow content, or too many ads and has run afoul of Panda, or is suffering a manual penalty.

    The first thing you want to do is log in to your Google Webmaster Tools and look at the messages section, and see if there is any message regarding your site. If there is not, then make sure you have original content of decent length on all the pages of your site. If you do, then just build some quality links and you’ll be fine.

    Comment by Brian

  • I am glad I am not the only one who believes in the sandbox. There are a lot of SEMs going around saying they can by pass the process by unless the domain is pre-owned I would say you pretty much will definitely get sandboxed.

    Comment by Jason Kelley

  • I think the Google sandbox effect is a lot more subtle than once it was; however, it definitely exists. A site with no links that’s brand new will have a tougher time ranking than a year-old site with no links — it can still be done, especially for non-competitive terms — but it’s more work.

    Certainly if you’re thinking of building new sites from scratch it’s worth tossing them out there to age.

    Comment by Brian

  • I have just put a new domain live and have been watching in google analytics for the last 3 weeks. It looks like the site is being tested, as I am seeing a batch of search queries getting clicks one day and a different batch of search queries the next. All relevant to E Liquid, which is what the site is about, but as if Google is testing various terms. Maybe testing for bounce rates, time on site etc. And gradually in webmaster tools data appears to be collecting on the various terms. I am hoping that in a few months the data they need will be complete and all search queries will gain impressions at the same time.

    Comment by E Liquid UK

  • Importance of sandbox approach of Google has only increased. I don’t think it is really possible to rank well with a brand new site. That is the reason why i rely on expired domains with good page rank.

    Comment by Aaron Conner

  • Of course building links in the first place long term for the target site. Because what you do is build some links to the third party page and that then links to your target site. In time once the target site gets trusted something changes here. Now say you have 6 third party pages you have ranked or tried to rank for a variety of related terms/phrases. Now down the road your target site has trust. Of course you used good anchors on the third party pages. You also built some links to each third party page giving them power. Now each third party page becomes sort of a “powerhead” trasfering a lot of link power to the target site. This will really boost up the target sites rankings at that point, better so then just a buch of direct links. What you describe is actually proper link building that provides stop gap traffic during the sandbox phase.

    Comment by Vivek @pinterest code

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