The Google Sandbox is a metaphorical term to explain why most new websites have very poor rankings in Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS). Very few people know for sure if the 'sandbox' actually exists, but it seems to be a filter added to the Google algorithms sometime around March 2004.
What is the function of the Google Sandbox?
The generally accepted principle behind the Google Sandbox is that it enables Google to filter out 'Flash-in-the-Pan' websites from those that offer good quality, up-to-date content. It is within Googles interest to ensure that the results it displays to its users within the SERPS lead to highly relevant, up-to-date, useful websites Relevancy is key to the search engines success so it will take all steps it can to ensure the relevancy of its search results. Filtering out new websites and monitoring them may allow them to provide more accurate results within the real SERPS.
Indentifying the Sandbox?
How do you know if your website in in the sandbox? Most new websites under newly registered domains will get relegated to the sandbox once Google knows about the site. Google will find the site by following an Inbound Link (IBL) from another site that the Googlebot crawls. You will then see the website in the normal Google SERPS if you search for the actual domain name, but the website is unlikely to be listed for any of its keywords. Google also won't show signs of any other websites linking to your website, nor will it display pages related to yours. In addition Google won't list any pages other than your Home (index) page.
If you track your websites visitor stats whilst it is in the Google Sandbox, you will see that the Googlebot comes crawling fairly regularly and that it does crawl, and therefore catalogue, all of your pages. Google does know that your pages exist and knows what they contain, but doesn't list them in the main SERPS. In other words, because your website is new, it is under probation in the 'sandbox'.
How Long Will My website Stay in the Google Sandbox?
It is difficult to say how long a website will stay in the Google sandbox as this seems to depend on the types of keywords it will be completing for in the real SERPS It can be up to 6-8 months and the only way to get out of the sandbox is to wait.
The Google Sandbox isn't all bad news. If your site contains good quality relevant material it will find its way out of the sandbox and will get the rankings it deserves in the Google SERPS. I even have some theories that may mean that your time in the sandbox can be used wisely to actually improve your final rankings.
You also shouldn't forget that Google isn't the only search engine out there. MSN is widely used and with the might of Microsoft behind it is likely to become a bigger player in the search engine world in the new future. At the time of writing, MSN or other search engines such as Yahoo! and Alta Vista don't have a 'sandbox' filter and your new websites will be listed in the quickly and should start driving traffic to your site.
Alan Cole runs http://www.pixelwave.co.uk, a one-person web design studio. His aim is to provide cost effective website design production and maintenance by offering professional web solutions that stand out from the crowd.