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Google sandbox effect

What is the Google sandbox effect?

Google sandbox (aka Sandboxing or the Google Sandbox Penalty) is an SEO hypothesis that new websites are prevented from ranking by a filter, even though they are well-optimized and have backlinks[1]. The sandbox filter is assumed to be Google’s measure to fight spam, since in the early 2000s, website owners used directories and link schemes to promote new websites.

The concept of Google sandbox is very much debated in the SEO community since it is hard to confirm that the filter really exists[2].

How did the theory of the sandbox effect appear?

The sandbox effect has been mentioned since 2004 when SEOs observed that it was harder to rank a freshly launched website rather than an old one.

In 2012, responding to a question on Google Webmaster Help forum, John Mueller mentioned that “it can take a bit of time for search engines to catch up with your content, and to learn to treat it appropriately”.

Yet in 2021, John Mueller directly commented on the sandbox and honeymoon theories[3], refuting their existence. However, this comment was related to the issue of new pages rather than the whole new domains.

Among SEOs, there have been many attempts to confirm or debunk the theory of Google sandbox. Another quote from John Mueller came about saying: “With regards to sandbox, we don’t really have this traditional sandbox that a lot of SEOs used to be talking about in the years past. We have a number of algorithms... that might look similar, but these are essentially just algorithms trying to understand how this website fits in with the rest of the websites”.

So, even though there is no special anti-spam filter, websites might experience the Google sandbox effect when they lack quality and trust signals.

How do you notice the Google sandbox is taking effect on a new domain?

There are no special Google sandbox tools that would tell that a website is under a filter. There are, however, some signals that a new domain is struggling to rank but has not yet reached its full potential, which could be attributed to the sandbox effect:

  1. All pages do not rank in top SERPs; this can be proved with a simple rank checking with tools like Rank Tracker.
  2. As pages do not rank, they have no impressions and clicks in Google Search Console, even though all pages are indexed.
  3. New website’s pages might have already ranked in other search engines, such as Bing and Yahoo, but are not yet easily discovered in Google.

How to avoid the Google sandbox effect?

When you decide to launch a website on a brand new domain, make sure to do all pre-launch activities and prepare a well-optimized website. You will find more details about pre-launch preparations in this 28-step guide to launching a new website.

Alternatively, you can try buying an expired domain and building your new website. It is better to pick up an expired domain that was in the same niche as yours, as it probably has backlinks relevant to your niche. However, one should check that such domain has not been penalized for doing black hat SEO, such as link spam, PBN networks, comment spam, etc.

After the launch of a new website, to ensure that the website has not stuck in the Google sandbox[4], proceed with the following:

  1. Do a post-launch audit to reveal any indexing, crawling, or UX issues.
  2. Build a high-quality backlink profile, adding links from citation platforms, Google Business Profile, etc.
  3. Produce a positive user behavior on your pages: share them on social media and email campaigns, invent activities to retain your audience.
  4. Improve content quality by adding more articles targeted around long-tail keywords, adding citations from high-quality sources, covering missing topics, etc.
  5. Develop content to add more value and better formulate your unique selling proposition.
  6. Create your content in topical clusters and do internal linking.

How long does the Google sandbox effect last?

Assuming the sandbox exists, it may last from 2 to 8 months, as stated by different SEOs on forums. Also, it may depend on the niche and location. It means the span between when a site went live to when it started ranking normally.