The mysterious Google Sandbox.
You've heard about it but you're not sure what it actually is.
Or whether it really exists, right?
It's a bit like the Loch Ness monster except with more conspiracy theories surrounding it. 😛
Well the Google Sandbox probably does exist.
And it's a relatively simple thing to understand when explained.
So let's jump right into that now...
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.
Even if you're new to this you'll have likely seen from blogs, forum posts and Facebook groups the continual fear from niche marketers about a Google update that could affect their site.
That's why 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?
So in a nutshell:
The Google sandbox is simply an evaluation period where Google doesn't rank your site, even if the link's it's gained mean's it deserves to rank.
Because it wants work out if you're the real deal and in it for the long term.
And figure out if your site is actually legit and worth ranking on their first page long term.
So it's a waiting game to begin with.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
- 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
- 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...