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The term “sandbox” was coined by webmasters to represent the time that a new website must wait before it is listed for a competitive keyword in Google. Much like how children first play in the safety of a small sandbox, Google also forces new websites to do their time before joining the older kids on the rest of the playground. The sandbox process is difficult to explain, since Google claims it does not officially exist. But tests by webmasters have confirmed its existence and effect on newly created websites.
The first thing that happens to any new website in Google is what some call the “fresh boost”. This is when the website is allowed to rank freely among the other sites often on the first three pages of the search results. This fresh boost usually lasts for about a month or two and is monitored by Google to see how well the site performs and how much it grows in terms of content and backlinks.
If the site passes Google’s fresh boost test it is allowed to remain in the rankings. The problem is that 99% of sites fail this test and are sent into the sandbox for a period of time that can last for nine months or more. No one really knows what needs to be done in order to pass Google’s test, but there are many ideas as to what Google is looking for. These often include authority back links from established and trusted sites such as DMOZ or Wikipedia. Basically, the idea is that if the bigger kids allow you to play with them, you get to stay. If you can’t manage to gain the trust of Google and authority sites in the allotted time, you are sent into the sandbox as an un-trusted or spam site.
Once in the sandbox there is no proven way out. Many say they have gotten out by a mass flood of links, but building such a massive amount of links can get a site banned from Google altogether. Many webmasters would rather wait and do their time than get banned, since it is extremely hard to get a domain un-banned from Google. The best thing you can do is continue to go about building your site and ignore the fact that you’re even in there. Use the time to add content to your site and continue to build back links from other websites. Once your time is up, you will have proven to Google that your site can be trusted and will be allowed to rank for highly searched keywords once again.
While in the sandbox you will still be indexed and listed in Google for non-competitive keywords and low-search volume terms. The sandbox only affects certain keywords and certain pages within your site, so you will still receive traffic from Google just not as much as you will in a year’s time. If you’re trapped in the sandbox, don’t worry. You will get out some day, and while you’re waiting for Google to trust you remember there is always Yahoo! and MSN.
Lower PageRank has been a hot topic in SEO forums and blogs over the last couple of weeks. Many highly regarded sites experienced drops in PageRank and in some cases, the drops are significant as reported on SearchEngineLand last week. Complaints about lower quality search results have sent Google back to the algorithm in a real battle with spam sites and others who would take over all the top search spots and lower PageRank for some is the result. The prime targets of Google’s efforts have been directories, blogs and other advertisers that are providing links for money.
Along with falling PageRank have come reports of significant drops in the rankings for some sites. Interestingly, there is not a clear one-to-one relationship between lower PageRank and falling search engine results rankings suggesting that Google is discounting the value of PageRank in their algorithm.
This comes as no surprise to some who claim that PageRank has actually been devalued for some time now in favor of Trust Rank — a method of evaluating links based less on quantity of links and more on quality of links. In particular, paid links from directories and blogs are expected to become less valuable to search rankings in the coming months.
So, why am I not worried? Because any good link strategy will cultivate inbound links with the idea of getting traffic – not just ranking – and because ultimately, content is still king. As search engine algorithms improve the quality of results, a well-designed site with good quality content will always rise to the top.
Alternate spellings of words sometimes yield different results in search engine results pages. So, when keyword targeting your pages, how should you handle plurals and misspellings? What should you target? Do a search on “plural vs. singular keywords” and you will find conflicting advice. Some say: “Target the plural because it contains the singular”. Others say: “Target the singular because it’s less competitive”. In fact, deciding which strategy to choose is a complex issue and depends on both the keyword and who is searching for it.
First, which form should be keyword targeted can depend on the word. In most cases, a plural keyword has a different meaning than a singular keyword (although the difference is often slight). In general, the singular refers to the abstract while the plural is used for the more concrete meaning – “The dog is man’s best friend” as opposed to “Dogs are nice”.