You started a website a couple of months ago, thoroughly researched the keywords, published great content, and you still don’t get any traffic? You are likely experiencing what is called the Google Sandbox effect in SEO.
If your website is struggling to gain traction with Google keep reading to find out what you can do to beat the sandbox effect.
The most certain way to find out if your site is in the Google sandbox is to look at the traffic / exposure you get with other search engines such as Bing!, Yahoo or Yandex etc.
New websites tend to show up much quicker on these search engines. If you don’t see any impressions on those either, then it is more likely that you have other SEO issues going on in the background too (on top of being in the Google Sandbox).
What Is the ‘Google Sandbox Effect’?
It is used to describe the lack of organic traffic most new websites experience in their first months. Although Google have never admitted it’s existence (and probably there isn’t a blank rule in the algorithm that simply looks at the age of a website as a ranking factor), probably every website owner has noticed the effect of it.
It is more like a combination of certain ranking factors ultimately serving one purpose: to prevent an untrusted site taking over ranking from trusted sites by using various grey-hat / black-hat SEO techniques.
Especially in the past, it was relatively easy to game the algorithm that determined ranking (hello, link-building). The sandbox effect was (is) probably aiming to take the wind out of the sail of black-hat SEO warriors, especially in certain niches.
How Long Does Google Sandbox Last?
It depends on the niche and geography really. SEO experts mostly agree that YMYL (“your money, your life”) topical sites have had harder times getting ranked. Since the middle of 2018, when Google released the so-called ‘medic’ update of the search algorithm, the focus shifted towards expertise and trustworthiness.
Nevertheless, the length of the Google Sandbox Effect (based on experience) can be anything between 1 month and 1 year, most often around 4-6 months.
This is where website owners start to see the first few posts they published finally starting to get search volume (impressions) and a slow increase in rankings on Google (while there may be good ranking positions for the same posts in Bing and Yahoo). Posts, that were published later, would gain momentum and reach position sooner and sooner. On a website that’s older than 6-8 months it should not be surprising to publish a post that ranks well almost within a week.
There is an element of search volume as well, that affects how long your website will stay in the sandbox. If you target low search volume, low competition (or local) keyword phrases, it is likely that the sandbox effect will be shorter. But it’s not because Google may have a black-list of niches, quite the opposite: it is because how easy it is for you to demonstrate authoritativeness in a (sub-sub-sub-)topic. (The way to build up authority could be the topic of another post, although there are no certain methods that guarantee success).
A site I have in the outdoors niche had experienced very little negative effect. In fact, I am not even sure if it was a ‘Sandbox’ as such, or just the time I needed to publish enough content that would make my site worthwhile for PEOPLE to visit. With 10 posts in the first two months I can hardly decide if I did not rank because of the ‘evil algorithm’, or simply because there was not enough good quality content.
Does Google Sandbox Still Exist in 2019 and Beyond
It definitely does. Since 2018, most website owners and SEO experts are obsessed with ‘E-A-T’: Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness; and how to demonstrate these three factors through the content of the website.
And it takes time to build those up and make Google (and their human evaluators) believe that your website is worth showing in the search result.
Until then, Google will be VERY cautious showing any search results from your website to the users. That’s why you don’t see many visitors. As more and more people click on your site over this looong period, Google would analyse their behaviour whilst they are on your website.
- How long do they stay?
- Do they read the article they clicked on, or they click away?
- Do they comment?
- Do they get a reply from you?
- Do they click on other articles on your website?
- Do they go back to the search results page after they left your website?
This effect will feel like if you were in a sandbox.
On top of visitor engagement and behaviour, there are factors that can establish authority not just in the eyes of Google, but in the eyes of people who are visiting your website too.
How to Beat Google Sandbox?
There isn’t a proven ‘method’ to beat Google Sandbox. There are hacks though that you can do, some of will have a more impact, some of it will have less impact on the time your website will spend in the Sandbox.
As I said before, a lot depends on the type and size of the niche you are in, but in general, if you implement the tips below, your site much likely will gain traction with Google.
Buy old domains with an existing Domain Authority (for pro users, as this can backfire if that domain had been blacklisted due to blackhat SEO done by the previous owner(s))
Focus on keyword research: target low competition keywords (a keyword tool will come very handy at this stage. There are free and paid for keyword research tools that you can use. However, don’t rely on those solely, the data can be unreliable sometimes. This can lead to you omitting keywords that have large search volume and low competition but the search volume does not show on the keyword planner. More on this in this article I wrote)
Create helpful content, regularly (twice a week minimum). If you don’t know how, there are a few tips in this post I wrote: How To Get On Google Page One – Create Content That Ranks
Work on your link juice, starting with internal linking, and linking to external sites.
Work on your E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthyness)
- Have a great About Me page, that tells readers why they should trust what you say
- Research your topic as well, not just the keyword. Refer to (and link to) pages that already established authority within your niche.
- Write guest-posts, take part in collabs with other authors within your niche
- Participate in forum discussions, be part of the community of your niche.
Don’t try to come across as a salesman. You should be an expert – even if its only everyday expertise (as a user of a product), not and agent for any product. Try to minimize (or even forget) ads on your website for now.
Post regular updates on social media. ‘Force’ Google to show you website. If hundreds click across to your site from a social media platform, that sends a signal to Google that your site can be trusted.
Why My Website Still Does Not Show Up in Google?
Apart from the fact that you are still in the Google Sandbox, there may be other technical issues that can prevent your site from showing up in search results.
- Your website is not indexed
- Pages on your website or excluded from indexing
- Google is unable to crawl (discover) your website
If your Google Analytics and Search Console is properly set up, then you can easily check if the pages on your site have been indexed and crawled by Google already. (If you have set up Analytics and SC, your website is already indexed).
To be frank, I find Bing’s webmaster tool more useful for this purpose. If you are not set up on Bing Webmaster, do it now: you can use your Google username and password to log in, and you can import settings from Search Console with one click. So it is no hassle at all.
Then you can crawl your website as Bing, and it will show any crawl errors you might have with a severity rating from Low to High.
Start fixing the High priority crawl errors.
You can do the same using Google’s crawling tool. You will see that Google crawls pages differently and what Bing finds as an ‘error’ may not show up in Google SC as an error at all.
But to remain on the safe side, I suggest you check your dashboard regularly for any errors, especially if you publish frequently.
All in all, Google Sandbox is a phenomenon that every owner of a new website experience. It is not the end of the world, but can be frustrating that you put in the work for months and months and you don’t see the result.
This is not how most people is wired, and I must admit that this delayed recognition from Google is probably the primary reason why lot of people just throws the towel in after a few months.
On the other hand, this might be the primary purpose of the Sandbox: the natural selection of new blogs and website. The weak will drop off after a few months, and only the determined, serious players will remain on the playing field.
So if you struggle and wonder why your website does not show up in search results, and you think you are in the Google Sandbox there is one thing you MUST do before everything else:
YOU MUST KEEP DOING what you are doing. Google will notice you.