The term "Google Sandbox" has been circulating in the SEO communities ever since 2004.
Over time, many website owners and SEO specialists have claimed that the poor rankings of the new websites are due to this phenomenon which is known as "Google Sandbox," or "The Sandbox effect."
While people's interest in this term has decreased over the years, there are still many people who mention this Sandbox effect on various forums and Q&A communities.
Google Sandbox Discussion on DigitalPoint Forums
Google Sandbox Question on Quora
Google Sandbox Discussion on Warrior Forum
Since you are here and reading this post, you are probably also someone who's interested in finding more about the Google Sandbox.
What is Google Sandbox?
Most people describe Google Sandbox as a web spam filter implemented by Google Search to discourage the new websites for occupying a top position in SERP right after the content is published.
The common belief is that any website with age under 3-6 months is eligible for being affected by this sandbox effect regardless of the quality of its content, the posting frequency, backlinks and so on.
In other words, you can't escape the Google Sandbox no matter what you do and only the time will "heal your wounds."
Is Google Sandbox Real?
Even there are numerous discussions about the Google Sandbox since 2004, there is no actual evidence that this spam filter even exists.
Over the years, Google's representants have offered a great number of pieces of advice concerning SEO and how their search engine approaches various aspects. Yet, they have never confirmed the existence of a "sandbox" filter, but they've also never invalidated these rumors.
Different people share different opinions about what Google Sandbox is. Some of them claim that Google Sandbox is real and define it a filter for new sites.
Some people describe it as "an imaginary area where new websites and their search rating are put on hold until they prove worthy of ranking."
And, some say that this term has only been invented by the "fake SEO experts" to explain why they were unable to improve the organic rankings of particular sites.
Signs that a website is in Google Sandbox
According to most people, the most common signs that a website is in Google's Sandbox are:
1. A website doesn't appear in Google's organic search results even after a search for a brandable domain name (for example antreno.com or antreno).
Sometimes, you might try to find your website by its domain name but it's nowhere to be found in the search results.
2. Even though a particular page is indexed, you still can't find it in the search results for an exact-title search query.
For example, if you search for title of the page within quotes like:
"What is Google Sandbox and Sandbox Effect?"
Or, to reduce the number of results, even more, you can try using the "allintitle" expression like:
allintitle:"What is Google Sandbox and Sandbox Effect?"
3. If a page of your site ranks well initially for a specific search term, then at a later time, there's nowhere to be found in the SERP.
Known algorithms that can be confused with Sandbox
It's a known fact that Google utilizes over 200 different factors for determining the position that a page will occupy in the search results. Several of these factors may, however, be confused with the Google Sandbox.
Even though Google might not have a filter called "Sandbox," what is perceived by many as the Sandbox effect, may likewise be the results of all the ranking factors mentioned below.
Google sees the domain names that have an age under six months less trustworthy.
A misconception of this idea is that many people think if they've had registered their domain name ten years ago but didn't do anything with it until today, Google will still see that domain name as a trustworthy site and give it a higher level of trust.
The reality is, however, that if your domain name has been inactive, Google will just treat it like a new website when you start adding content and rank it accordingly.
When your site it's new, it's very hard to make a distinction whether the poor rankings are caused by this search algorithm or because your site is in Sandbox.
Let's see what Matt Cutts, the former head of the webspam team at Google had to say about this.
Google has always relied on backlinks to determine the authority of a website and its position in SERP.
Even after Google has renounced to the concept of PageRank, it looks like the search results still rely in a high percentage on backlinks.
When a new website is new, the lack of quality backlinks might give the sensation of its owner that the poor rankings are due to Google Sandbox.
The content quality
The days when you could easily rank a three-page website on the first page of Google for a competitive keyword are long gone.
Nowadays, the more content a website has, the more authoritative will become in Google's eyes. Of course, the quality of the content it's also very important.
Therefore, do not just throw a bunch of 150-words articles and expect for the rankings of your site to improve.
When your website is new, it will only have a few pages. That can also contribute to the impression that your site is under the influence of Google's Sandbox.
The number of internal links found by Google's crawlers might also indicate the search engine that your website is new and doesn't have enough content.
How long does it take to rank in Google? (Ahrefs Study)
Ahrefs, a company that provides a toolset for SEO & marketing based on impressive amounts of data, in 2017, has published the results of a study concerning the amount of time it takes for a website to improve its Google rankings.
The results of Ahrefs study are very interesting and may help us to impose more realistic goals when we start a new site.
According to this study, the pages that appear in Google's top 10 (the first page), have 2 years or more on average, and those that rank at position #1 are approximately 3 years old.
Only a percent of 22% of the pages that ranked in the first ten results of Google had less than one year.
The majority of the analyzed pages that managed to reach Google's first page, have achieved that in approximately 61 to 182 days.
Another conclusion of this study was that only 5.7% of all the newly published pages will manage to get in the first ten results of Google within a year (for keywords with a high volume of traffic).
The data discovered by this study confirmes the theory that the rankings of a page will improve after 3-6 months. However, while this Ahrefs study gives us valuable information, it's still not enough to explicitly say whether a Sandbox filter exists or not.
My experience with new sites
I've talked about what other people are saying about Google Sandbox. Now, I think it's time to share my view on this subject and my experience with ranking a new website in Google's organic results.
I started a blog at the end of 2017 and published my first blog post on 29 October 2017. That means that my blog has now close to one year.
Many people claim that three to six months is the average period after which your website starts to exits the Sandbox effect, and, theoretically, your website rankings should improve.
Now, the question is: "did my website rankings improved after 3-6 months?"
The answer is Yes.
Whether I cannot say that this has been due to the Google Sandbox or not, after this period I have definitely noticed an improvement in the rankings of many keywords.
Of course, this change can be explained by the fact that my website is getting older, has more published content and more backlinks.
During the first few months since I've started to publish content on my blog, my indexed pages didn't have a steady position in SERP.
Since patience is not my strong point, I never waited for Google's crawlers to find and index my content. Instead, ever since I started the blog I've used Google's Search Console "Fetch as Google" feature to have my content indexed immediately.
Until not long ago, even though if my content was indexed almost instantly after manually submitting it to Google's index, my pages were still not showing up in SERP for the exact-title search until several days from the submission.
Now, after I publish a new post, it usually appears very fast in SERP for the keywords I target (even though is not on the first page of Google).
Also, the content has started to appear closer to the first page for the keywords that don't have a very high level of competition (unlike the previous period where the majority of my posts first appeared somewhere on the 8th-9th page).
In the first months, I also noticed periods when some pages have entirely vanished from the results (depressing moments).
Now, many of these have appeared on better positions and seem to move forward towards the first page.
According to the search analytics from Google Search Console, the number of clicks, impressions, average CTR and the average position has been continually improving since I've started my blog.
Below is a comparison between Dec 4 - Dec 31 and Jan 1 - Jan 28.
Nobody (except Google) can say for sure if Google Sandbox is real, or it's only something made up by people to explain the poor rankings during the first months of their websites.
However, one thing is clear to me. The content of a new website will not rank as well as the content of an older website, and just like the Ahrefs' study has also highlighted, it will take approximately three to six months for your site's content to start ranking better in Google's search results.
And that's not only something isolated that I've only experienced with this blog. I have also noticed a similar behavior on several other websites I own.
Note that this is only valid for Google and not for the other search engines. Several of my articles have managed to get on Bing's first page within the first two months since I've started my blog.
There are many ranking factors that can only give you a false impression that your website is in Sandbox.
When you promote a product with paid traffic, you need to use a tracking software to collect data, then based on that data, you must tweak your targeting, landing pages and ads to ensure you show your products only to the people interested in your product.
Now, here's the similarity between Google and the situation above.
When a website is new, Google doesn't know anything about it. It can be a site created for spam, it can have junk content, and so on.
Google needs time to collect enough data about your site in order to display its content only to the people who are interested in seeing your content. Also, Google needs time to determine the quality of your site and if your content is better than the content of other millions of websites.
In the first few months, your content will jump from one position to another to allow Google to learn if people want to click on your site (determine CTR of your pages), measure the bounce rate (if people stay some time on your site, or they just hit the back button and get back to the search results), and collect all the data needed.
After some time, if Google notices that you don't do anything shady and you respect the best SEO practices, it will start to display your website better in SERP as its trust score of your site will increase.
Personally, I think the Google Sandbox is only the result of more ranking factors combined and not necessarily "a jail" for new websites as many people see it. If you only write high-quality content, optimize your content properly, and manage to get backlinks only from high-authority sites, you can probably speed up the process.