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How to find out if your website is ‘Sandboxed'

Part 3 - guest article by Brad Callen

Finding out if your website is ‘Sandboxed' is quite simple. If your website does not appear in any SERPS for your target list of keywords, or if your results are highly depressing (ranked somewhere on the 40 th page) even if you have lots of inbound links and almost-perfect on-page optimization, then your website has been Sandboxed.

Issues such as the Google Sandbox theory tend to distract webmasters from the core ‘good' SEO practices and inadvertently push them towards black-hat or quick-fix techniques to exploit the search engine's weaknesses. The problem with this approach is its short-sightedness. To explain what I'm talking about, let's take a small detour and discuss search engine theory.

Understanding Search Engines

If you're looking to do some SEO, it would help if you tried to understand what search engines are trying to do. Search engines want to present the most relevant information to their users. There are two problems in this – the inaccurate search terms that people use and the information glut that is the Internet. To counteract, search engines have developed increasingly complex algorithms to deduce relevancy of content for different search terms.

How does this help us?

Well, as long as you keep producing highly-targeted, quality content that is relevant to the subject of your website (and acquire natural inbound links from related websites), you will stand a good chance for ranking high in SERPS. It sounds ridiculously simple, and in this case, it is. As search engine algorithms evolve, they will continue to do their jobs better, thus becoming better at filtering out trash and presenting the most relevant content to their users.

While each search engine will have different methods of determining search engine placement (Google values inbound links quite a lot, while Yahoo has recently placed additional value on Title tags and domain names), in the end all search engines aim to achieve the same goal, and by aiming to fulfill that goal you will always be able to ensure that your website can achieve a good ranking.

Escaping from the Google Sandbox

Now, from our discussion about the Sandbox theory above, you know that at best, the Google Sandbox is a filter on the search engine's algorithm that has a dampening influence on websites. While most SEO experts will tell you that this effect decreases after a certain period of time, they mistakenly accord it to website aging, or basically, when the website is first spidered by Googlebot. Actually, the Sandbox does ‘holds back' new websites but more importantly, the effects reduce over time not on the basis of website aging, but on link aging.

This means that the time that you spend in the Google Sandbox is directly linked to when you start acquiring quality links for your website. Thus, if you do nothing, your website may not be released from the Google Sandbox.

However, if you keep your head down and keep up with a low-intensity, long-term link building plan and keep adding inbound links to your website, you will be released from the Google Sandbox after an indeterminate period of time (but within a year, probably six months). In other words, the filter will stop having such a massive effect on your website.

As the ‘Allegra' update showed, websites that were constantly being optimized during the time that they were in the Sandbox began to rank quite high for targeted keywords after the Sandbox effect ended.

This and other observations of the Sandbox phenomenon – combined with an understanding of search engine philosophy – have lead me to pinpoint the following strategies for minimizing your website's ‘Sandboxed' time...

Next: Minimizing Your Time in the Sandbox
(Click here for Part 2 - Google Sandbox Explanations)

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This page last updated September 17, 2007

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