The Google Sandbox Effect And What It Means For Your Niche Sites

Filed in SEO by on July 23, 2014

Google Sandbox

This is a special day for NicheHacks as it's the first ever guest post to be published and what a great first post it is, I hope it's the first of many!

The post is by Dan Thompson.

Dan is a niche site builder & local SEO consultant. He also runs Domain Colosseum an expired domain market place.

I urge you to check out how Dan can help you build niche sites that rank and make money.

In the article he gives his take on Google’s Sandbox and strategies to avoid it.

 

(P.S. If you'd like to download a free list of 220 profitable buyer keywords click here or the image below)

 

 

The Google Sandbox Effect And What It Means For Your Niche Sites

 

If you’ve been building niche sites for a while you’ll be well aware that things evolve quickly.

Testing and iterating is everything, because at some point Google will make an algorithm change that will impact your business.

I’ve yet to have a website crushed but I have several close friends (including Curt, the co-founder of Domain Colosseum) who have had sites earn $6,000 in one month and barely net three figures the next.

Constantly testing new link building methods and on-page SEO is the best way to make sure you're not wiped out as a result of an algorithm change.

Consider this one of those tests.

Recently there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the Google Sandbox.

It isn’t a new concept but it seems that sites stay within that sandbox for a prolonged period of time.

Basically, instead of ranking sites in a couple of months, Google lets new sites sit, seemingly stuck, off of page 1 for awhile.

It's likely to discourage small site builders who are just looking to make a quick buck gaming Google.

For the majority of my sites, they sit in this sand box for four, five or even six months at a time...just a few more links and I'll get there...OK a couple more...ugh, OK 10 more...oh come on! Sound familiar?

Site A

My latest website (let’s call it Site A) managed to earn $250 last month (June) and as of July 15th I’ve made $278 and I fully expect it to have a $400+ month.

Not bad for nine pages of content and three months of work.

 

Domain 18+ earnings

 

I registered that website on March 25th, I put my very first piece of content on April 4th.

So in two short months it had paid for the cost of registration, hosting, the link packages and now it’s paying for it’s own articles AND the next site I'm building out.

 

Site B

Meanwhile a site that I’ve put far more work into (let’s call it site B), has far more content and has (way) more inbound links is sputtering along.

You can see the dramatic difference in traffic in the analytics screen shots below.

 

Site A: Profitable In Two Months

Site A: Profitable In Two Months

 

 

Site B: Sputtering Along

Site B: Sputtering Along

 

 

Before I get into the differences between those sites I wanted to address one critical mistake that I see happening over and over again.

The worst part of this mistake is it will cripple your ability to test (and thus profit) - because it's insanely time consuming.

Content is NOT king in the niche building game.

You are not Neil Patel and your content marketing probably isn't effective. 

If you’re building Amazon or Adsense niche sites and you’re getting bogged down in writing content instead of building links or focusing on solid on-page SEO, chances are you’re not having a lot of success.

The most time consuming part of building a niche site is writing content. Before I invest a ton of time and money into a niche I make sure it’s going to rank.

Content only matters when a visitor has reached your website.

Google isn’t an English teacher, she doesn’t give a shit what you write about so-long as it’s of adequate length, it’s not duplicated and the on-page is solid.

I know I've probably ruffled a few feathers. I am not saying good content doesn't matter - I'm simply saying write 10 articles then get to work link building & structuring the site.

Don't worry if the articles aren't formatted, don't worry about placing amazon links.

Once you've established some traffic, that's when it's time to revisit your content and add additional high quality content (and lots of it).

But always keep in mind, for an Amazon site your goal is to take as many visitors from your site over to Amazon.

If they spend two minutes reading your review and then they head over to Amazon perfect.

If they spend twelve seconds and then click on the big call to action button that sits front and center on your page that also works.

Your website did it’s job. Your bounce rate may be a little bit uglier but that's OK.

At the end of the day the goal is to score conversions.

 

What Actually Matters and How To Get Out of The Sandbox Quickly

 

There were four distinct elements that I believe helped me get my site off the sidelines and into the game quickly.

Keyword Research, An Expired Domain, Link Building and Site Structure.

 

We Are Trying To Avoid This

We Are Trying To Avoid This

 

 

1. Keyword Research

The silver bullet to making money building niche sites is keyword research.

It’s the first and most important thing you do. It’s also one of the most challenging aspects of building niche sites.

Nichehacks.com does a nice job of outlining various niches ripe for the taking.

And of course there are tools like LTP and Market Samurai that can give you a feel for the competition and how difficult it will be to rank.

So why is keyword research so difficult?

Trying to evaluate the earnings/1000 impressions (EPM) is brutally tough.

If you can find a niche that has low-medium competition with an EPM above $75 you’re going to be in really good shape.

Of course, this is easier said then done.

Site A, has an EPM of approximately $150. As the sample size grows I’m becoming more and more confident that this is a pretty accurate number.

Site B has an EPM of approximately $40-$50 which is relatively low. I need three times the number of visitors to earn a comparable amount!

Not to mention as traffic goes up your EPM goes down. Generally, the first keyword you go after is going to be your most profitable keyword. Almost every keyword after that is less profitable.

The final problem associated with targeting higher volume keywords – the dreaded sandbox.

Earlier this year Hayden from nohatSEO noticed something – generally, the larger the keyword the longer Google is going to stick it into the box.

There are also theories that keywords that target highly manipulated industries (payday loans, forex, making money online etc.) get stuck in the sandbox for a longer period of time as well.

This is the reason that you should avoid $10-$20 products and aim for $50+ products if you’re going the route of Amazon.

The same could be said for Adsense it’s often better to go after a keyword that is only searched a 1000 times, with a high $ value versus a 9900 KW.

Don’t bite off more then you can chew. If you haven’t made a nickel online focus on a smaller niche with fewer competitors.

Generally, my experience has been keywords with 1000 searches or less breeze past the sandbox. Although I have seen cases where this doesn't always hold true.

 

 

2. Start The Site On An Expired Domain

The jury is out on whether or not this tactic helps to avoid the sandbox.

At this stage I wouldn’t recommend starting a site about nail polish on an old irrelevant site about trucks.

That said, if you find a domain with 8-20+ referring domains with branded anchor text you’ve just helped yourself out.

I will always take a more relevant, solid domain name over a high metric site.

You can find an old site in any niche – I laid out the process to do so in this article.

You can also check out Domain Colosseum or ask us for a niche specific site.

 

 

3. Link Building

I build three types of links. Pillow links, slipstream links and high PR links

Pillow links, base links, anchor text diversification. 

I use services that build hundreds of solid brand and generic links.

You don’t need thousands of links. Let me repeat that, you do NOT need to buy spammy packages.

If you’re looking to rank via mass links learn how to use GSA

Otherwise, hunt around, find a service that will build 300-400 links that aren’t complete garbage.

If you're on a shoe string budget, this would be the LAST area that I spend money on.

You can always build these manually, and frankly if you're new to the SEO game it's a quality learning experience.

 

High PR links. (I don’t mean actual PR).

90% of SEO’s who reference “PR” links simply mean quality links.

DA is a simple way to gauge this but it’s only one metric and like every other metric there are some common pitfalls (a topic I'm addressing with a guest post over at doseoyourself in the coming weeks).

You need to get good at evaluating domains, or find someone who is and buy domains from them.

If you have minimal resources using drop lists and auctions is a crap shoot.

If you have $300 to spend on links spending $20/month on Freshdrop is a terrible waste of your resources.

In my experience free tools like expireddomains.net really aren't that effective. If you're looking to build a PBN on the cheap check out our service.

 

Relevant slipstream links. 

I picked this strategy up from Becker over at Source Wave.Essentially, what it involves is building 5-10 really relevant PBN sites with OK metrics (think DA 15-20) and using these to link to your money site.

You then buy 2 or 3 domains that kick ass – DA 25+ and link those to the 5-10 PBNs that are pointing to your money site.

You never link the power domains to your money site. The theory is you can more effectively deliver link juice to your money site via these satellite sites.

One thing I can't emphasize enough is DO NOT over complicate link building

Use a lot of generic & brand anchor text.

Find a solid base package and spend the dough. If you hunt around you can avoid the steep fees that services like The Hoth charge (although The Hoth is insanely high quality)

 

 

 

4. Site Structure

I’m currently experimenting with a few different site structures.

Site A made use of a silo structure, something that I believe is under rated.

In their latest podcast Spencer Hawes, Perrin and Hayden briefly discussed it.

Essentially Hayden suggested that it takes more links to rank a site then it did before, and he believes that some of the weight was transferred from backlinks to on-page factors including site structure.

I could write an entire post (and eventually probably will) on site structure. If you’re not using some form of defined structure for your sites start experimenting and documenting it.

 

A Birds Eye View: Site A

The Backlinks

  • 10 High PR Links
  • 4 Slipstream Links w/ 1 Power Link
  • 1 Relevant 301 Redirection
  • Built on an expired domain
  • 1 $160 Base Link Package

The Site

  • Magazine style homepage
  • 16 Pages most of which were added in the last week (it was 8 during June). Yes only 8 pages.
  • Used Parent/Child relationship for pages, I don’t use posts or categories. For example www.thisisyoursite.com/topic1/subtopic

Plans Moving Forward

The other thing I would strongly recommend that you consider doing is building sites that have a high EPM into massive authority sites.

This site certainly qualifies as high EPM.

Remember, the EPM is going to tank when you start getting visitors for long tails that aren’t buyer phrases but of course the total revenue will go up.

Building out existing sites that have already passed the sandbox is a great way to circumnavigate that issue.

For Site A, I plan on building several resources that will serve as link bait tools to see if I can’t naturally get some quality, relevant links.

I also currently have a writer writing 15,000 words of content for the site.

It’s a seasonal niche so I know after August there is going to be a drop off in the number of units sold.

My main goal right now is trying to position it as an authority in the space for the holiday season.

As for Site B, I've built a ton of links to it, and I will continue to drip links in.

I'm confident it'll rank and has some good earning potential because it's a huge niche.

That said, it sure is nice to see a return in under six months.

If you have any questions about the sites, building niche sites or expired domains I'll be around to answer questions.

You can also find our full list of expired domains over at DomainColosseum.com

 

(P.S. If you'd like to download a free list of 220 profitable buyer keywords click here or the image below)

 

As always I welcome your comments below.

Please let Dan know what you think about his post and his theories on the Google Sandbox.

Have you experienced it yourself and what strategies do you use to get out of it?

Dan's also happy to answer any questions about building niche sites or expired domains.

Ask him below...

 

 

NicheHacks
To date, Stuart has revealed well over 1,500 hot niches.

He's living his dream of being location independent, and having traveled the world, thanks to internet marketing.

The aim with Niche Hacks is to help you live your dream thanks to online marketing, whatever that may be.
NicheHacks on FacebookNicheHacks on GoogleNicheHacks on Twitter

Comments (44)

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  1. Kevin says:

    Thank God I read this. I've been really wondering what is happening to my over 50 days niche site. Its just not ranking and I've been building backlinks manually and I've had to employ a guy to do onpage seo for me.

    I initially used a silos plugin for the site but I've removed it by his advice. Pls can you look at and give an advice or 2?

    • NicheHacks says:

      Hey Kevin, as you may have noticed that was a guest post from Dan and he's given you a pretty detailed answer so I thank him for that.

  2. Dan says:

    Hey Kevin,

    A few things stand out, first off the on-page is a little messy. I've given up on posts all together, they give you the category page which is terrific for big blogs, but really unnecessary for smaller sites. Ive used pTypeConverter a plugin for wordpress to convert posts to pages in the past. This will let you do so without changing your URL (which will break a huge # of links)

    If you do keep them as categories at least remove the tags.

    The much bigger issue is the link profile. It's 90% no-follow links and the rest look like article directories and/or follow blog comments. If you're going that route (which is fine) you'll need a LOT more links. That's why GSA is so effective, it can build tons of those styles of links. The alternative is outreach and other "white" hat SEO techniques, purchasing links or building a PBN.

    I don't need to tell you which I prefer :).

    I guess the last thing I would recommend is using generic/brand anchor text for the next bit so your targeted anchor text comes down to 3-4%.

    I wish I had mentioned this in the article, because I've had several guys ask me to do their on-page for them. I always turn it down. Not because I'm a jerk, but because usually it's a better use of resources to spend that $$ on links than on page.

    Focus on link building and you'll be alright.

    • Kevin says:

      Thanks Dan. Thanks for giving up your busy schedule to answer me. Thanks for the comprehensive reply. I'm encouraged again. Now I must go back to work on smark and good link building.

    • NicheHacks says:

      Awesome reply Dan. Thanks for being here.

  3. Melody says:

    This is great, very useful! 🙂 Thanks.

  4. Dom says:

    Really useful article here. I didn't need convincing about the sandbox effect when I heard people mentioning it recently - I'd seen it firsthand over and over again. I'm glad that on site SEO is getting some more weight these days, that's probably the easiest thing for us to control.

    Cheers for taking the time to write this Dan!

  5. massman says:

    Great read, I have used the Hoth and was happy with the quality. I used the overseas writers and the platinum package as my base campaign with generic anchor texts only.

    I have been doing relevant blog commenting and I am building a small pbn in the womens health niche.

    Thanks for the tip from Becker, I'll give that a whirl.

    Also, I have been using some of Brian Deans techniques to get some backlinks every few days on my own, I agree that it is a great way to learn SEO!

    My site in about 4 months using these techniques with a partial match domain targeting a kw that gets about 3k traffic is sitting at 29.

  6. Stew says:

    Hi Dan. Great post! I see you mention using 301 redirecting a relevant niche expired domain. Do you build any links to this domain? I have 1 set up for a new site and was considering running a GSA link blast to it.

    Thanks.

    • Dan says:

      Hey Stew,

      The 301 domain was pretty high quality to begin with so I didn't do any additional link building to it. A GSA campaign would probably be a good idea though! Something to think about for sure.

  7. Ather says:

    Hey Dan, this was a good post! You mentioned a $160 base link building package. Can you please telle where you got it from? Thanks!

    • Dan says:

      Hey Ather,

      I bought my latest package from BHW. Truthfully, the only reason I'm not sharing it is because I'm not 100% comfortable with the package. I'm on the fence whether or not I would continue to use this package. Email me at curtmcdaniel1982 at gmail dot com and I'll send the details your way.

      Cheers,
      Dan

  8. Dan, great post 🙂 But I didn't liked the idea

  9. Dan, great post 🙂 But I didn't liked the idea of buying expired domains. One can't just determine what crap was there prior to your acquisition. I have experienced this before. I also discussed this with Stuart. If you are serious about blogging and business start with a brand new domain. Moreover Google does not give much boost to expired domains with great backlinks as it once did.
    Overall great post, pillow links, slipstream links are new to me. I expect other great posts fom you.
    Cheers,
    Akshay Hallur.

    • Dan says:

      Hey Askshay,

      Archive.org/majestic/Ahrefs/OSE give you a pretty darn good idea of what was on the site before. But you're right, if i was starting a new "blog" I wouldn't do it on an expired domain. Niche sites are generally more churn and burn then blogs, I don't think it makes you any less serious about your brand or your business its simply you have more of them then you would if you were to build 1 blog.

      Cheers,
      Dan

  10. Jake says:

    Greetings Dan,

    Thanks for the wonderful insights. I am not sure if you've noticed but this sandbox effect also applies to old sites .... One of my old site which ranks in the top 5, I built some new high pr authority links back in May but till now the site hasn't moved at all (stagnant- not going up or down). I heard that the sandbox is applied to old sites getting new links... Do you think this holds true?

    • Hmm I was wondering the same thing. I have a site that has good rankings and lots of traffic, but I hadn't built new links to it for a long time, and hadn't added much new content.

      I added a new page recently and got quite a few links to it, but it does appear to be sandboxed (the page). It's indexed, but nowhere to be found in Google two weeks later, even though I've done on site SEO and got internal links pointing to it.

    • Dan says:

      Hey Jake,

      This is a really great question! I wish I could give you a more solid answer but basically I'm not entirely sure. I'm going to take this back to my mastermind group and see what they say. I'm also expanding on one of my first sites that I had ever built so this will give me a good indication.

      A few more thoughts on this...

      It wouldn't surprise me particularly for new content & /new links on an old site. Although I'm sure this is highly dependent on how authoritative your site was to begin with. Generally speaking if you stop building links things start to go downhill so I've always continued to drip a few links every month to each of my sites.

    • Hey Jake -

      I'll jump in here and give you a bit of data from my end.

      While I think adding content to your established site has been shown to get you more traffic quickly than building a whole new site, I think there really is something to the idea that the higher the Keyword search volume and competition, the higher the probability of being sandboxed.

      For example, I rank #1 for an 880 search/month Keyword. The site happens to also rank Top 5 for some pretty good (14,800 search/month) Keywords, completely by accident. This is to say that Google sees the site as authoritative and valuable.

      I have continued to add articles for small keywords, and they seem to do well pretty quickly. However, I also decided to target an even bigger (22,000 searches/month) keyword on that same site. I started out on Page 4 when the page was indexed, but it has been a LONG 3ish months of slow climbing followed by stagnation.

      The page in question is currently ranked about 15, but it has been bouncing between 15 and 19 and has been for probably a month now.

      All that to say, I think adding useful additional content to your site (more reviews for your main product for example, on an amazon affiliate site) is a good way to increase your visitors, I am a pretty firm believer that larger keywords still get sandboxed, even on established, authoritative sites.

      Hope that helps,

      Curt

      • NicheHacks says:

        Thanks for the in-depth comment Curt. I am my readers appreciate it. Good to get your insight. This is gold right here!

      • Jake says:

        Thanks Dan & Curt. I definitely agree that an old site with a new page/new links will go through a sandbox depending on authority. My site has good authority (DA 32 & PA 40). I think further analysis with your mastermind group & case studies will provide more answers. In my scenario, the old site (home page) ranks in the top 5 for a lot of keywords but I decided to build more high pr links (one of them is a PR 6) to to target extra keywords. Also note that the site already ranks for the targeted keywords naturally within the top 10, so that's why I built more links to get them to rank in the top 5. But after 3 months of waiting, the keywords targeted haven't moved an inch further! They all remain in the same position. That's why I think that old pages with stable rankings might also be affected by the new links sand box. Basically new links to an old page won't have any impact on the rankings for a set amount of time, in my case it's already been 3 months. I also agree that adding new topical content around your main keywords can do the trick as google might have turned up the on site metrics & lowered the link factors for ranking. I appreciate your thoughts on this...

        Thanks in advance

        • NicheHacks says:

          Thanks for your comment Jake. Hopefully Dan or Curt will be along to answer your questions soon enough.

        • Hey Jake -

          Interesting to hear that it's just the one page you're talking about, rather than the case to which I referred above, where I added a new page to the site.

          What is your on page like? For the keywords that you are trying to rank better for that haven't moved in 3 months, what kind of on page presence do they have?

          And what are your link anchor texts like?

          Finally, what does the first page competition look like for the keywords you want to rank for? It's a lot easier going from 30 -> 11 than from 10 -> 1, so it is indeed possible that where you're used to 10 links boosting you 10 spots, it will now take 30 or 40.

          Either way, let us know. Generally though, I think the sandbox is a real thing and it may well be that you're in it. But of course each keyword and niche and sometimes even day can be different, so it's all about continuing to push and test.

          Best,

          Curt

          • NicheHacks says:

            Thanks for coming back to give a response Curt.

          • Jake says:

            Greetings Curt... Thanks for the continued support. On page is pretty solid (good visitor engagement with 2000 words of unique/helpful content, Q&A page etc- bounce rate is low), keywords around 1% within copy & related synonyms. Links with exact anchor text for targeted keywords is around 4%. Top 10 Serp Competition is average, most are internal pages ranking due to domain authority. The site that ranks 1st pretty much copied my site in terms of structure/layout & other internal pages. I used to hold the no 1 spot 4 months back but lost the position once the competitor took over. My site & competitor has almost the same backlink profile (he also got links from the same places that I got).

          • Hey Jake -

            Without seeing your site, sounds like things are set up fairly well. Definitely sounds like it could be sandboxed. There are those times when you do the exact same thing to a site that has worked on previous projects and in this particular niche or for this particular keyword, it just won't budge.

            The Big G is a fickle dance partner, to be sure.

            Hope you see an improvement in rankings. In the meantime, I'd continue to throw good links at it with related, but non-exact match anchors and give it some more time.

            Best,
            Curt

  11. Josh Shogren says:

    Great post and I liked that you talked about EPM. I really like that way of tracking sales and seeing the value in a niche!

    • NicheHacks says:

      Thanks for commenting Josh. Just checked your site. Enjoying reading your niche journey.

  12. Max says:

    Thanks for the awesome content!
    I wanted to ask you who you don't use categories in menu type structure ? Would you recommend avoiding this structure ? I hear people saying that it is much harder to rank. I wanted to use this structure for product review site where I would have a menu with only categories in it and different posts under each category and single post reviewing a single product.
    Thanks in advance!

    Max

    • NicheHacks says:

      Glad you like the content Max. I will let Dan or Curt answer this.

    • Dan says:

      Hey Max,

      I don't personally use categories, I prefer setting up a site in a silo structure with sub URLS so http://www.yoursite.com/dogs/chewable-dog-toys or something of that nature with pages. I'm still experimenting with this and it seems (remember this is an extremely small sample size!) to be more effective then using posts and categories.

      Best,
      Dan

      • Max says:

        Thanks for the quick reply! The best way is to test of course 🙂 Currently I am studying on how to use widgets inside posts so that I will have a page under each category and under the pages content a table of content of the different posts related to the category. That way you can rank the page for each category + have the benefit of category in menu and posts.

        Thanks!

  13. Jake says:

    Thanks Curt & Dan! Let's hope for the best... In the mean time I will continue to build good links (non-exact match) while also adding more content for secondary keywords supporting the main. Hopefully we can have another case study or an update regarding this issue.

    Keep in touch!

  14. Carlo says:

    Wow this was great information. I finally built my first niche website finally after 2 weeks and got my first sale. 4 bucks! but it was the most rewarding 4 bucks ever. If anyone is reading this, i would also love some advice on my on page seo. I felt like i spent way too much time trying to make it look cool

  15. Arun says:

    Excellent post! Stuart, could I email my list the link to this page? The info here is awesome.

  16. phil says:

    Finally, someone who tells it the way it is for newbies!

    ...Content is NOT king in the niche building game.

    You are not Neil Patel and your content marketing probably isn't effective. ...

    This is just a quick post which I will follow up later with more points.

    Thanks

    Phil

    • NicheHacks says:

      Hey Phil, sorry for the delayed reply. Glad you liked Dan's guest post, really gets into the nitty gritty about what's working now in niche site building.