Google Sandbox Playing Favorites?

    December 7, 2006

I don’t write as much as I used to or would like too. Web development takes up most my time these days.

My awesome and most humble boss takes care of most the editorial duties around here. Yet that is what inspired me to sit down and write this very article.

My boss, Jeff Phillips, has been doing some blogging on the company website concerning SEO tactics and practices we see a great deal of people overlook. We build quite a few sites and do pretty well in the search engines, but we also understand true SEO is a bunch of leg work and even more patience. That doesn’t mean we can’t advise others how to get off on the right foot and have a solid search engine friendly foundation. That has been the theme of his writing.

Back in my WebProNews days, I can remember when the Google Sandbox theory broke. Then, it went from being theory to a provable fact. Finally it just was something that site owners came to accept and plan around. As I started with C.A.D. Website Design, I can remember advising new clients that their site, worst case scenario, might not show up in Google for up to six months after we launch it. Google’s sandbox had become just part of the web development environment. Then my boss started blogging.

We don’t run our blog through Blogger. We don’t use any of the main tributaries into Google to post our articles. We don’t dump an RSS feed to Google News. We didn’t even start to ‘tag’ anything till yesterday, 12.06.06. We simply host our own PHP based blog (WordPress) on our own server. So when Jeff posted SEO Best Practices When Designing Your Website Part 2 we expected to sit on our site for a brief time before we saw it in the Google index. However, a few hours later, in came a Google Alert letting us know that very post has just been indexed. Not long after that another alert came in to notify us that a link to the article had been indexed.

How could this be? We run a program we developed called RSStatic. Basically, it will take RSS feeds and generate static pages using each item and description from a feed. Sometimes these pages would take months to get indexed. Google loves RSStatic pages, but the sandbox effect was still in play with them. I’ve known for years that Google has a heart-pounding love for blogs, but this was unprecedented.

I’ve watched over the past year as our sandbox time slowly decreased. However, I couldn’t have expected it to become non-existent. So why then, are we seeing a sandbox of hours and not days, weeks or months? It’s simple really. Have you ever heard the saying “It takes money to make money”? Google is a capitalistic search engine so with them it should be changed to “It takes rank to get rank”. We’ve seen this for years.

Some people these days like to claim PageRank is for entertainment purposes only. My guess is they say that because they don’t have any. PR plays a big part in who we link to and who we want linking to us. Any web master will tell you the same. No one wants to throw away their PR on some newbie fresh onto the scene. Conversely, those same newbies are fighting over those scraps from the well-ranked, established sites. Rank begets rank.

At first I thought it was multiple factors that led to the reduction of our sandbox. I though it was a mixture of site age, established links and an established, spam free host. But through deduction I realized our site has a lot of new incoming links. RSStatic is used on a bunch of sites and each page it creates has a link back to I also remembered that we have recently switched host from Datapipe to Rackspace. So unless Google takes into account who the host is and not how long the site has been hosted there, that factor is null as well. That leaves us with it simply being an established site. has been around a long time and the whole time it has been owned by a single entity (Jeff and his wife, Lucinda, are very close). Not only that but it has ranked well since I’ve worked here. I’ve seen it go from being ranked #16 for a tough term, website design, to our peak at #4. Currently we rank anywhere from 4 to 8 depending on which datacenter you hit. As I’ve seen us climb, I’ve see our sandbox dwindle. So is Google giving “props” to its favorite sites? Is it bending the rules for those who been around awhile and haven’t gotten kicked out of the club? Does it take rank to earn rank? I think it’s hard to disagree.

Google’s sandbox used to be look upon as a penalty for being a new site. We might consider re-thinking that and looking at it as compliment for being established and remaining atop the rankings. It’s like becoming a partner at a law firm. Once you’ve not only paid your dues, but done the labor to work your way up, you are granted certain privileges that the interns are left envying


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Scott Harris a former graphic designer for iEntry and currently the design manager for C.A.D. Website Design and RSStatic