Is there a sandbox or is there not? Is the question purely one of semantics? Let’s see what Googler Matt Cutts actually had to say:
First, a word of explanation for readers scratching their heads right now and wondering what the heck a sandbox has to do with Google: Since the spring of 2004, webmasters have been noticing that many new sites may take anywhere from 3 months to a year to rank highly in Google for their preferred keyword searches. No matter how well optimized the site, no matter how relevant the content, no matter how many inbound links. The site will rank in the top 10 in MSN and Yahoo, but is nowhere to be found in Google for the same searches. Then, suddenly, as if a dam has broken, the site starts ranking in Google.
This has become known as the sandbox. Or the sandbox effect. Or the “aging delay” or “aging filter.”
What is it? Where did it come from? Why does it exist?
In late 2005, after many months of speculation by webmasters, Matt Cutts said, in response to a question from Brett Tabke of WebmasterWorld, that there isn’t a sandbox, but that “the algorithm might affect some sites, under some circumstances, in a way that a webmaster would perceive as being sandboxed.”
Later, he amplified on that response to state that the sandbox effect wasn’t implemented intentionally, but that the engineers at Google, when they investigated the complaints, liked what it was doing. In other words, the sandbox is a side effect of one or more other factors in Google’s algorithm, probably those having to do with age of domain, age of inbound links, and other time-related factors.
I don’t care to argue about whether it’s called a sandbox or an effect, a filter or a penalty. I only care that sites, good sites with good content, often simply cannot rank well in Google for a period of months, no matter what they do. For the sake of simplicity, I’m content to call it a sandbox, but you can call it Aunt Dora if you like.
The sandbox apparently does not affect all sites. Word on the SEO street is that it affects sites attempting to rank for competitive or spammy keywords, or sites in competitive or spammy industries. Hey, I’m all for sandboxing the spam. Can we box it all up and send it to Antarctica on a permanent holiday? We don’t even want it back.
But does Google really have to ‘box the good sites along with the bad? Aren’t there enough geniuses working at the ‘plex to enable them to box the spammy junk sites but let the good ones bubble up?