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How to Avoid the Google Sandbox Effect, for Startups

There's something called the Google Sandbox Effect for new websites that can affect how your website shows up in search results

Ever heard of the Google Sandbox Effect? We hadn’t either, up until very recently. And, by the time we learned about it, it was too late for us to avoid it. That’s why we’re inserting this blog post earlier into the timeline for our step-by-step guide on how to start a small business. This way, you’ll have a chance to avoid the sandbox.

The sandbox can be a deadly thing. It basically makes it hard for Google users to naturally discover your website for about six months. This delay can be devastating to a small online business with limited startup funds. If you’re not careful and budgeted too tightly, you might have a difficult time keeping your business afloat during those months.

To better understand the Google Sandbox Effect, you’ll first have to understand a little about how search engines work. So let’s start with that.

How Search Engines Help You Navigate the Internet

Most people don’t even think about this anymore. To find anything on the internet, we just go (mostly) to Google or Bing or Yahoo (which is powered by Bing). You type in what you’re looking for, and, voila! You see the results.

What most people don’t know is that Google and Bing and all the other search engines actually keep a huge, proprietary database of everything they can find on the internet. When you do a search, you’re actually searching their database.

There are two ways new material on the internet can get onto these databases. The slow way is to wait for the search engines to find you. The faster way is to tell them you exist.

Either way, once the search engine finds you, they read (called crawl) and categorize by keywords and other code (called index) on each page of your website. Once this is done, the search engine sort of knows what your website is about and what information your webpage gives. You’re then officially “on the internet” and people can find you.

Without search engines, can people still find you? Yes, but not by random strangers. To get to your website, your visitors will have to know your exact domain name or IP address and type that into their web browser’s address bar.

What Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is About

Even though the search engine makers try hard to make their code intelligent enough to understand what your web page is about, the algorithms are still far from perfect. So, an entire industry has sprung up to help you make your web pages more understandable to the search engines. This is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO.

SEO tweaks each of your webpage in two major ways: through the actual words on your page and through some unseen codes. You typically need to do well in both categories to rank high on a search result.

And you’ll need to rank high to bring people to your website, so you can sell them your goods or services. If you rank top five, then this is fantastic. If you rank first page (typically top 10), then it’s still excellent. Second page is still OK, but anything lower than that, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get organic search traffic.

The exact number of click-throughs for the top five search positions changes every year, but here’s a Forbes article giving some insight.

There are too many SEO tips and tricks to talk about here, and we’re certainly no expert. If you wish to learn more about SEO, these four seem to be the preeminent experts in the field:

Just read their blogs to learn more about SEO. Some of them have free plans if you wish to try out their software.

We use Yoast to improve the SEO of our website. They’re also an excellent place to learn about SEO.

What is the Google Sandbox Effect?

The Google Sandbox Effect is, as the name suggests, a Google thing. But, since Google has the majority of search shares in the world (87% as of this writing), if you want to be found on the internet, you’ll need to please the Google search engine.

The Google Sandbox is actually quite controversial. Some SEO experts swear it exists and others swear just as vehemently that it doesn’t. For those who think it exists, the sandbox isn’t a category that Google puts your website in. Instead, it’s a cumulative effect that acts like a sandbox. Hence, it’s called the Google Sandbox Effect.

It is well known that Google’s search engine algorithm categorizes each webpage using 200+ factors. (But folks don’t know all the factors or exactly how Google weighs the factors).

For a new website or webpage, you simply do not have enough information on these factors for Google to evaluate the site or page. So, the Google search engine can’t weigh the needed factors to place you in the search results. Erring on the side of caution, Google pushes your site or page down, way down, in the search results.

This is the Google Sandbox Effect. It affects new websites.

How to Tell if You’re in the Google Sandbox

One of the clearest signals that you’re in the Google Sandbox is that you’re ranking well on Bing but tanking on Google.

You might be using the best SEO practices and have a super-fast website and aren’t trying to compete with the leading sites for your industry. But you’re still ranking very low. If you have a new website and this is happening, then you’re probably in the sandbox.

For example, as we write this post in early October, our website is still in the sandbox. According to the Lighthouse testing software, our pages score 90+ on SEO practices. We pass Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. And we have a very fast website hosted in the cloud. (We still like and recommend Hostgator for beginner websites, but we decided this website needed to be faster).

Right now, our average rank on Google is 68 but it’s 12.2 on Bing. We’re a new website. It’s pretty certain that we’re stuck in the Google Sandbox.

How Long Does the Google Sandbox Last?

Most SEO specialists say the Google Sandbox lasts from 4-6 months but maybe as long as a year. You start counting when your website goes live with actual information for the Google search engine to crawl and index. Some graphs suggest that, when you get out of the sandbox, you’ll see a surge of search impressions and organic visits to your site.

Because the sandbox is an effect instead of an actual category, every website will get out of the sandbox at a different time. Google wants to show its users reliable, relevant results. When it’s satisfied that your site gives useful, reliable information, it will show you to its users more.

Can You Avoid the Google Sandbox?

For the SEO specialists who do not believe the sandbox exists, the answer is of course. For the specialists who do believe the sandbox exists, the answer is yes and no.

You Have to Wait it Out

Part of the sandbox is simply the realities of the internet. It’s big and it takes time for Google to crawl and index your site. When Google does crawl your site, it has a time budget. So, if your website is slow or has too many pages, the search engine runs out of time and it goes away without crawling and indexing everything.

If Google can’t crawl much of your site, your site won’t rank well, or maybe at all. The good news is that, eventually, it will index enough of your site to let you out of the sandbox.

You Can Increase Your Site’s Authoritativeness

One of the biggest ranking factors for a website/webpage is its authoritativeness. It’s simply a measure of how many sites link to your site or page (called backlink). The thinking goes: if others link to you, they must find what you said useful and reliable. So the higher number, the better.

Of course, the actual practice is a little circular. How do people find your site or page useful if they can’t find you in Google search results? The SEO specialists suggest that you ask website owners you know or do business with you to link to you, to get your site or page started.

The leading SEO specialists warn against buying backlinks. Google knows about this method, so it will either ignore these bad backlinks or maybe even penalize your site for it. In either case, you’ll have wasted good money.

You Can Buy an Existing, Live Site

One legitimate method many SEO specialists suggest is to go buy an existing website that has fallen into somewhat disuse. This way, Google will know that the website exists already, and you can avoid a lot of time being discovered by Google. However, this means that you’ll be buying a domain that doesn’t fit your business name or brand name.

Some will argue this might be OK. If you buy and you actually sell pencils, why would that be a bad thing? Sure, your business is called Pete’s Pencils, but will definitely bring in customers.

But, eventually and especially if you advertise, people will remember you as Pete’s Pencils. It’ll be easier to associate with your business than So, from a marketing perspective, we think sticking with a domain name that’s a version of your business’s name will work out better in the long run.

How to Avoid the Google Sandbox While Keeping Your Preferred Domain Name

We now finally come to the point of this post and why we’re inserting it earlier in the timeline of our step-by-step guide on how to start a small business.

Set Up a Simple Website as Soon as You Get Your Domain Name

You can save yourself some Google Sandbox time or maybe avoid it altogether if you set up a simple website early. It would work best if you set it up as soon as you buy your domain name.

We don’t recommend you spend too much time putting content on the website. Put up just a few pages—one about your product or services, one about you, and one with your contact information. That’s the minimum.

If you have a little more time, maybe write a few short blog articles about the goods or services you’ll provide. If you’re Pete who wants to sell pencils, you’re probably an expert in pencils already. It shouldn’t take you long to write an article or two about where to find or how to rate great pencils.

Once you’re done, continue to set up your new business. Go line up your suppliers or lease space for your physical store. Go build your “real” webstore.

While you do this, Google will have time to crawl your site and learn about what you do. Once you unveil your real website, Google should already know that your website has something to do with pencils. Hopefully, you can shortcut the sandbox time by quite a bit.

The Process is Even Easier if You Bought Your Domain from Google and Host it with Google Sites

If you followed our recommendation and got your domain from Google Domains, you can set up your website very easily and for free. If you can set up a social media profile, you can set up your website.

What is best is that once you publish your site, Google will already know it should come crawl your site. You won’t have to ask Google to visit your site. (There is a way. We will eventually cover it.) Your wait time to get on to Google’s search engine should be much less.

Now You Can Benefit from a Lesson We Learned the Hard Way

This Google Sandbox thing is a lesson we learned the hard way. We started to build our website in February 2021 but didn’t publish our first batch of articles until May. All the while, we put up an Under Construction sign and discouraged search engines to crawl our site.

What we should have done was to start publishing articles as soon as we finished them and asked Google to crawl right away. Then, once we felt we had enough articles, we could tell our social media and real life friends about this site, to make the Grand Opening splash that marketers like.

By inserting this post earlier in the timeline of our how-to-start-a-business guide, we hope you can benefit from our mistake. We didn’t know about the Google Sandbox because no article on how to start a small business ever mentioned it. It’s a genuine Missed Detail.

But we’re alerting you to the sandbox as early as possible. It’s not too late for you to shortcut it. And it’s not too late for you to budget your operating expenses so you can wait it out without going broke. After all, that’s one of the things this website is about. We want to help you the best we can to avoid mistakes that could sink your new business.

Now, we go back to our regularly scheduled programming on how to start a small business.

Most people don’t like lawyers. Sadly, if you’re going to run a small business, sooner or later, you’ll need to work with one. The next articles deal with How to Find a Good Lawyer.

Interested in starting and running a small business? Here’s the beginning of our step-by-step guide: What to do right after getting that great business idea.

Questions? Comments?