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New Web Sites and the Google Sandbox

Launching your new web site and playing in the Google Sandbox.

So, at this point in the process of creating your on-line business, you have created an SEO-friendly navigation menu, written great title tags, meta tags and keyword-based, intriguing text content descriptions for all of your products and services. You’ve worked like crazy getting to this moment, or have paid handsomely to have this work done for you by a professional web designer. The big day has arrived, at last. You launch your website….and nothing happens. You’ve typed all your keywords into the Google search box. Searched for your business name. You’ve even typed the complete URLs of your specific pages in and Google’s results indicate that your site is nonexistent, as far as they’re concerned.

At this point you panic and either start searching the Internet for an answer as to why your web site isn’t appearing in the Google search results, or you call up your designer, frantically demanding to know what’s going on. Hopefully, though, the designer you hired is a professional, and has prepared you for this in advance, telling you that it’s going to take a bit for your website to be found and crawled by the bots.

How long this process will take depends on the competitiveness of your industry and the rapidity with which you start to get backlinks from outside sources pointing to your website. The quicker Google finds such backlinks you’ve earned, the faster your website will be indexed. It may take 2 weeks. It may take 2 months. There is no hard and fast rule, but is basically based upon the efforts you start making from the day you launch your website to get notice taken of it.

Beginning to achieve the high rankings you are hoping for is likely to take a bit longer than simply being indexed. This delay phenomenon resulted in people in the search industry coining the term ‘the Google Sandbox’.

What is the Google Sandbox? Does it really exist?

SEO professionals continue to debate the existence of this thing called the Google sandbox. You see, an SEO’s whole job is to try to learn as much as he can about the various search engines algorithms (the equations by which the engines determine what’s valuable and what isn’t). The Big 3 search engines, MSN, Yahoo! and Google all have slightly different algorithms and no one actually knows exactly what they are. We make the best educated guesses we can, based on experience.

One thing that has been noticed fairly consistently is that it takes a while for a brand new web site to begin enjoying the search engine rankings it will eventually achieve. It appears to some SEOs that Google needs to begin to trust the legitimacy of a website before awarding it good rankings, even when the site owner is making efforts to get backlinks. Whether this is an accurate description of what search engines are doing or not, we always warn new clients about this beforehand, so that they do not panic when their new website fails to appear on the front page of Google the day after we launch.

Accomplish 2 main tasks while you wait for the Googlebot to take you seriously.

You’re going to want to get good at these 2 things, because you’re going to continue doing them for the life of your on-line business. The first is content writing. Yes, more content writing. Now that you’ve got all your products written up nicely, it is time to dig deeper yet and start creating the type of worthy content we described in the last section of this guide. Create content. Create more content. Keep at it…

The second task at hand revolves around getting inbound links to your web site. Inbound means that they are links pointing to your web pages from exterior sources. Google’s algorithm currently places tremendous focus on the number and quality of links pointing to a web page. The more links you win from others, and the better those links are, the better your web pages will rank.

Reciprocal Links

It’s important for me to devote a paragraph to this subject, as it seems to be an area of great confusion for new small business owners. My clients continue to receive emails entitled “Link Exchange Request”. Little by little, I’m training them to delete these. Once upon a time, Google’s algorithm enabled websites to boost their rankings via reciprocal linking (I give you a link and you give me one). I’d say this all changed in 2005/2006. The system was being so badly abused that Google swept across the Internet and began devaluing reciprocal links to put a stop to the abuse of the system. Nevertheless, some people still haven’t gotten the message on this and continue to pursue reciprocal linking as a valid SEO practice. It just isn’t. Though a few reciprocal links won’t hurt you, and often, they occur naturally here and there, don’t waste your time on this outdated practice.

One-way Links Work!!!

One-way links are links that point to your site without your website pointing back to the giver of the link. Every one-way link to your site counts as a vote for your website’s popularity and value in the eyes of the Googlebot. Some of these links will be completely voluntary if your web content is so good that people link to it because they deem it important. For example, if you had a super article on your website teaching people how to build a birdhouse, step by step, you could potentially win a bunch of one-way links from birdwatchers who like your plans and think others would, too. Beyond the purely voluntary links, there are the one-way links you actively attempt to win from others by writing to them.

Here’s an example. Let’s say I’ve just launched a website on the subject of folk clothing. I sell patterns for making neat traditional garments from around the world. After launch, I begin to go around the Internet looking for quality blogs that write about culture, fashion, holidays, sewing, crafting and anything else I can think of that ties in with my subject. I then contact each blog owner with a carefully-crafted email saying why I like their blog, and asking if they might find this pattern I’ve developed for making a traditional Indian Kameez blog-worthy? Bloggers are constantly looking for neat things to write about…that’s what blogging is all about. If my email is compelling enough, I may just win a write-up from the blogger and it will contain a one-way link to my website. That’s how this works. It requires LOTS of effort and patience, but truly pays off if you’re working towards better rankings.

The recent explosion of Social Media website like Digg, Delicious, Reddit, Magnolia, etc. have opened up a whole new potential world from which a website owner can win valuable links, but this subject falls under the heading of advanced SEO, rather than the basics we’re focusing on here. Learn the first steps first, and then, begin learning about how participating in Social Media sites can benefit your small business. It’s a brave new world, and it has a learning curve, but offers rich potential rewards.

Paid Links

This is your other option while sitting in the Google ‘sandbox’ or whatever you want to call it. And, this can be a really helpful move for you to make if you want to start getting sales right off the bat, before your web site begins to rank well naturally in the search engine listings. I must reiterate that this has nothing to do with paid linking services (link farms). DO NOT sign up with these, under any circumstances. Rather, I am talking here about setting up pay-per-click ad campaings through a program like Google Adwords.

In this program, you create ads which appear on the right hand side of the Google search engine results pages. If someone clicks on your ad, you pay Google, whether a sale results from the click or not. The beauty of this is that, if you’ve got the budget, you can pay to rank #1 in the paid listings while you are still waiting for your web site to get off the ground and rank well naturally. Even well-established web businesses continue to budget for pay-per-click advertising to highlight sales or special products, or to rank well for a keyword that is just too competitive for them to rank at the top for naturally. The downside of pay-per-click campaigns is that they can be very expensive, and are only worthwhile if you are profiting from them.

The most competitive keywords cost the most to rank at the top for in the paid listings. A web site owner may be paying anywhere from a few cents to several dollars per click, depending upon the competitiveness of the keyword. Google Adwords allows you to research how much each keyword phrase will cost before you create the ad, and they indicate how many clicks you are likely to get each day so that you can set a daily budget that you are willing to expend on having your ad shown by them. You’ve got to do the math here. If you sell rocking chairs and each chair costs $30, and you have to spend $55 a month to rank in the top 3 positions for your ad for rocking chairs, you know that at least 2 clicks per month will need to result in a sale for you to be profiting from your ads. Any sales beyond that will be, as they say, pure gravy!

Google Adwords is a complex program. You can opt to go it alone in creating your campaigns, but my best advice is to hire a qualified consultant to get you started with Adwords. It’s the best way I know of to avoid money-wasting mistakes that novices can easily make. A pro will help you to get the highest ROI and protect you from pitfalls.

A last important note on Paid Links

Google’s position on paid advertising is extremely controversial in the Search industry. Their Adwords program is a paid link program, and yet, they have come out and said that websites caught buying links may be penalized. What are they talking about?

Basically, what Google wants is for paid links to look like advertisements. They don’t want them to look like one-way, voluntary links that vote for the quality of a website. This has made people very angry. Many large companies spend thousands of dollars a year to have their paid links placed by textlink brokers (apart from Google) on high quality websites. While Google doesn’t object to traffic being obtained via such links, they do object to these links passing ranking power (also called PageRank) on to the website being linked to thereby causing rankings to rise. Google wants people to clearly label paid links as being paid for, but people are rebelling against this request, continuing to buy links under the radar, and hoping they don’t get caught and penalized.

Many small businesses are not going to have the budget to buy these types of links in the first place, but some will, and I would suggest doing thorough research into this complex topic before deciding whether or not you will take the risk of buying paid links through any broker other than Google.

In the final section of this SEO guide, I would like to highlight the issues you should consider when it comes to doing all of the above on your own, or hiring a professional to help you.

Next: Go it alone or hire a pro for web design and SEO.

Return to the SEO Guide Outline.