Google Sandbox – Does it Really Exist?

Playing in the Google sandboxIf you were to ask Google’s Matt Cutts, he would insist that the Google Sandbox is nothing more than an urban legend which some people have come up with to try and explain away their own poor efforts at SEO. Ask many SEO professionals and they’ll insist that there either is or was such a thing as the Google Sandbox. The answer, in my experience is somewhere in the middle of all this muck.

The Origin of the Sandbox

The origin of the concept of the Google Sandbox was that brand new websites didn’t do too well. The idea was to prevent new sites from popping up, spamming the Internet with thousands of links and then disappearing quickly. While Google never acknowledged the existence of the sandbox and in fact insisted it didn’t exist, many webmasters and SEO professional swore up and down that the Google sandbox effect existed and that new sites, with good content were getting penalized.

The Google Bounce

The original definition of the Google Sandbox effect definitely does not exist at all anymore. That’s because of the so called Google Bounce or Google Honeymoon (don’t you love all these imaginative terms we come up with for SEO concepts?).

The Google Bounce refers to an effect (also never officially acknowledged by Google) whereby a brand new website which has just been indexed gets deliberately placed higher in the rankings for their chosen keywords. The idea is supposed to be for Google to let the Internet community decide on the quality of the website and then to rank it accordingly – if it gets plenty of backlinks, it’s useful. If it’s ignored, then it goes to the bottom of the pile until it can prove itself.

Where the Sandbox Still Exists

Okay, so much for the original Google Sandbox theory. That is dead and buried and long since gone. However, there is another, more generic use of the term Google Sandbox, which while Google has acknowledged that they engage in, though they don’t refer to it as the sandbox.

In essence, when a website is found to violating Google’s rules, they are deliberately ranked lower in the SERPs. This happened after the New York Times found that JC Penney seemed to be getting artificially high rankings for a number of popular keywords and it’s another thing Google is pretty secretive about.

It’s Not De-Indexing

Note that this is different from being de-indexing of a website. If you type site:jcpenney.com into Google’s search bar, they still show up. Instead, the site has been deliberately re-evaluated to take away some of the artificially high bounce that they got from black hat SEO techniques.

Bottom Line

No, the Google Sandbox doesn’t exist – at least not in its original form. However, the more generic usage of the term Google Sandbox does exist and has even been acknowledged by Google to exist, though they don’t use that terminology for it.

10 thoughts on “Google Sandbox – Does it Really Exist?

  1. I stopped listening to cutts ramblings long ago… I laugh at his little followers.
    Do you really think he would give valid data?
    I’ve been doing web dev for 15 years… Never been sandboxed, I’ve been penalized, but no sandboxing.

  2. Yes I firmly agree that Sandbox exists. For many clients, we have witnessed that they get to top positions very quickly, then rankings are dropped for 1-2 months (minor changes) and then it again regains top positions.

  3. This is true for most sites, though I think it has more to do with getting lots of SEO work done at the beginning…

  4. Well you’re certainly entitled to your opinion. Personally, I see nothing wrong with paying attention to what one of the senior engineers at Google has to say.

  5. Yeah True Eric.. But what I believe sandbox if for those sites which raises flags and they are raised initially. If they see heavy link building going on permanently, they don’t flag it. Same is the case with email marketing. Looking forward to your thoughts.

  6. Interesting concept. I think it needs to be a gradual thing. If you jump in with heavy link building on a brand new site, it looks suspicious. On the other hand, if you gradually build it up to heavy link building, then it simply looks natural…

  7. Who’s to say what looks suspicious though? I mean, if a website goes viral for whatever reason, it could easily accumulate tens of thousands of links in a day.

    I wouldn’t guess that those sites ever get penalized…but who knows.

    I think Matt Cutt’s job is to throw people off, but I kind of like reading his stuff now and then…at least it’s fairly entertaining.

    1. This is true as well. There is no way to say for sure and the fact is that all of this is just educated guessing, even on the part of the engineers who don’t really know that something is spam — they just make a reasonable guess that it is. However, as I said to another commenter, take everything with a grain of salt, but at the same time, don’t get too paranoid about it either.

    1. This is true of course, but you have to work within the bounds of available information. Thus while you should obviously take anything a big corporation tells you with a grain of salt, you should at the same time try not to look under every stone for a conspiracy theory. Otherwise you could go nuts…

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