The Search Engine Sandbox | Does it Really Exist?

SMS Text

I admit that I didn’t know this technical term existed till somewhat recently.  The Sandbox.

That’s what it’s called. The sandbox. Really. The sandbox is the period of time that a new website owner blogs adds content, feeds their site but has nothing or almost nothing to show for it. The site is muddled, mired, bogged down in the sand.

Question: Is there a search engine sandbox?

Answer: From my experience. Yes, there is.

Playing in the Sandbox

I have numerous examples from my own experience where I plodded along, faithfully adding relevant content to my web site and seeing so little to show for my effort. Read – minimal traffic. Then suddenly a jump. I wouldn’t exactly call it playing. Perhaps to the search engines, I appeared to be playing around.

Case Study

I will share the experience of just one of my students who saw the sandbox phenomena with her own new site.

Search Engine Sandbox

Search Engine Sandbox

Notice the flat line at the beginning. The site did not exist. Starting from zero. Ready set go. That sort of thing. (This site is different from the image in the header.)

Day after day, regular updates (about three times each day) she updated her site and had very little to show for it. At one point I could almost hear her thinking, “My professor is an idiot. I am doing everything he tells me and it is not working.”

All of a sudden – something happens. A jump. A big jump. Then growth. Steady growth.

More Questions

Questions: What happened? Why?

Short of the search engines telling me the answers to those two questions can only be conjectured.

Answers: I’ll take a stab at answering them.

Most new sites, especially blogs are abandoned within the first 3-6 months. Why should a search engine give priority to a web site in the rankings if it (the search engine) isn’t even sure yet that the web site will be around in a couple of months?

Granted, there are one page wonders but they are not the norm.

Prove Your Presence

Web site owners need to prove with consistent high quality updates that their blog will be around for the long haul. When that happens the site gains respect/credibility from the search engine which translates into a higher ranking by virtue of just being around. That higher ranking results in findability = a jump in traffic.

Content Marketing Connection

What does this have to do with content marketing? The sandbox phenomena causes me problems

One of my biggest problems, okay, my biggest problem is getting the client to make a commitment to stay the course till they (the client) get out of the sandbox.  The client understands that it takes time because I explain it to them. Actually, I show them case studies to drive the point home. But they are afraid to make the commitment.

Related to the problem is the client who doesn’t want to invest in their site (read more content) until they are out of the sandbox but won’t get out of the sandbox until they invest more into it. A classic Catch 22 for the content marketer. Too many clients make a half-hearted attempt at content only to conclude that it doesn’t work. What happens is they don’t give the content marketing strategy the effort it deserves.

Related to those two problems is the client who gives up before their site catches on. Two, three, four or more months of effort with no visible results and the client often decides I am nuts. My conclusion is that they didn’t stay with it long enough. For sure, there may be other variables but giving up too soon is the biggest.

Why Businesses Fail

The number one reason why businesses fail is because the business owner gives up before his/her idea catches on. Divorce. Supplier goes belly up. Run out of money. Landlord raises the rent. Those are all reasons for giving up. Giving up is the end result.


Content marketing will work if you don’t give up.

It takes time. It takes patience. It takes an investment. It takes know how for a content marketing strategy to work.

Play long enough and before you know it, you’ll be out of the sandbox. If you don’t give up.

Write well, get read.

Screenshots taken in April ’14 by

Bill Belew
Professor, Speaker, Author, blogger, all-around old man. Having taught a full 48-hour MBA course in Marketing with Social Media at a graduate school in Silicon Valley, Bill delivers insights from recent, real and relevant case studies. Bill has been working in social media for more than 8 years and has more than 90 million unique visitors from organic search to his network of sites and in a variety of niches. He knows what works, what doesn't, what can kill a site, and what can cause it to grow. Bill has a network of 5000+ Meetup followers in the heart of Silicon Valley. He is a paid, professional, international, in-demand speaker.
Bill Belew
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  • Mike

    Sandbox definitely exists. I also had tried before such kind of thing with sudden increase. Its you can say that it’s only a name where your site remain before getting crawl or tested before. Great post Bill 🙂

    • Bill Belew


      I’d love to learn more details about your experience. The more content we have the more there is to find. Pretty simple.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill Belew

  • Soumya

    Hello Bill, This is the second time I am writing on your article on Search Engine Journal. Now when I first wrote on your article on this blog site I was pretty confused about whether it would work or not, means content marketing. But somehow I managed my time and wrote few articles on SEO. Surprisingly I am getting traction now from search engines. You are absolutely write a blogger or a site owner must be patient and consistent in writing good and valuable contents for his targeted audience. I am into SEO industry for last 6+ years and also into SEO training but honestly saying after reading your article I doubted the trick but followed you half heartedly but now after seeing the results I am very sure and more ready to write good article regularly. I would like to add one line from my past and current experience that Well researched, informative, regular and optimized contents with quality links from authority sites are the best strategy to rank higher on SERP. Thanks Bill for educating me on this.

    • Bill Belew


      You are very kind and generous with your words. This is encouraging to me.

      I’d love to learn more about your experience. Please feel free to reach out to me via email.

      You are right on that last point … it’s not just quantity … you need quality as well.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill Belew

      • Soumya

        Hello Bill, you know, we are experiencing the sandbox effect once again as we launched our new site just a month back. We are creating contents regularly and obviously we are more concerned about the quality than the quantity. But due to the effect the blog is not getting any traffic from search engines as of now. It is the time to work hard, keep patience and consistency.

        The old site is now growing bigger in terms of traffic and conversions. One thing I understood from my little experience (learned from you) of content writing and marketing that we have to keep our website fresh and up-to-date so that search engines find reasons to crawl and index our pages. And if they do so it is just the matter of time to get ranks, traffics and conversions.

        Thanks Bill, thanks once again.

  • Anthony

    Patience is the key to all SEO and online marketing campaigns. The sandbox does exist. It’s how you play in that sandbox that determines how far you’ll go.

    I started out as a simple content developer and manager and that is where my bread and butter truly exists. I also worked for a developer you tanked all their sites with horrible link strategies and black hat programs.

    100% agree with you here Bill, its about tenacity gumption and fortitude. Power through the lows and keep pushing during the highs.

    Good content has to legible, good linking requires hitting the pavement.

    Glad to read quality like this Bill, keep it up, anytime you want to post an article over by me, be happy to have you!


    • Bill Belew


      I LOVE the word gumption.

      Thank you for your very warm words of encouragement. Praise is hard to come by in the online world.

      When things are going well for everyone we have to work hard to beat them. When things are going bad for everyone we have to work hard to beat the demons. Secret is to work hard.

      Thanks for reading. Heading over to your site now.


    • Bill Belew


      Got it.


  • Iteire Apollos

    Your keyword or key point for this post is perfect.”DON’T GIVE UP”. I do quote it alot and i will always say “DON’T GIVE UP UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD”. i believe giving up is not for the living. But sad to say most people who ventured online business lack the patience to wait and worse still they quit just when success is knocking at their door. Thanks for this post, because it is a motivation.

    • Tibor

      Sandbox always existed – new sites if overoptimized will learn about it the hard way. This is why sites with long term seo purposes relied on small growth at the beginning at least. Now it seems that the new sandbox is for everybody between two penguin updates as most positions hardly change and traffic is also stuck at a level until the next update.

      • Bill Belew


        I always suspected there was an incubation period. Now I have solid proof and a term to call it.

        When most people give up … don’t. And you will climb out and leave them behind.

        Thanks for reading.

        Bill Belew

    • Bill Belew


      Right you are! The number one reason why businesses fail is because people give up before the idea catches on. NOT because it was a bad idea …but because they gave up.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill Belew

      • Anthony

        Hey Bill,

        We are still in our infancy of our site and are, as most developers should be, perfectionists so the website will be going under routine maintenance for the next few years (ha ha :-P).

        I will keep you updated on our progress!

        Tony, The Guy in the Grey Hat

  • Jack

    I read about the Sandbox today only. Till now I have no idea about this. So now I am gonna try sandbox for my project too. Thanks everyone for sharing your reviews. Your reviews means a lot to every user or viewer as it work as your support to them.

    • Bill Belew


      Please let me know how things work out for you. I am interested.

      And thanks for reading.

      Bill Belew

  • Holly Day

    Excellent article. I feel like some of your clients at times. In the past, no matter the updates, my sites used to get traffic. However in the past months, the song has changed, lyrics are entirely different and a site that is not constantly updated quickly drops and hides in the sandbox. The fact just makes me want to do something else and not focus on the sites any more. Trends are also a big problem for me, an old fashioned web surfer who enjoys facts, reading, articles properly written and not just infographics and images that are supposed to teach me something. Most people like that nowadays, quick surf, quick read – or no read at all. Feeling often lost and outdated in this land 🙂
    But all I’ve read here makes sense and I could give it another try… Who knows.

    • Bill Belew


      Thanks for sharing your experience.

      I *know* from experience the ups and downs you are referring to here.

      Please let me know how else I might encourage you.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill Belew

  • Victor

    Hi Bill,
    I read with interest your articles since a while – I share many of your ideas and now I’m trying to apply your theory with the content marketing based on regular updates. However, I would like to know if you have some data that this technique works indifferently of the site’s topic. I mean, you have evidences it works on a travel blog in a very competitive niche? How about a site where are published real estate announcements (short and simple text that cannot be considered “quality content”)? I have to say at this moment I’m very disappointed because of Google at its unfair filters that makes almost impossible a small website rank well. I’m just at a step away to give up…

    • Bill Belew


      I have the data. I taught an MBA class for a university in Silicon Valley. I have 40 some odd case studies. I also have my own clients I have worked with. And students who come to me independently.

      You can climb out even in your real estate niche but there is a strategy involved.

      Reach out to me via one of the contact methods in my profile and we can talk.

      Thanks for reading.


  • johnpeter304

    Hey Bill,

    I love to learn New things. I am a regular reader of search engine journal. Thanks for share your experience. I have a one question in my mind could you please tell me how to check my website is On Google sandbox. Is there any Factor i have to follow after my website under Google sandbox.


    • Bill Belew


      Check your day-to-day and month-to-month traffic stats. If it is flat, you are in the sandbox. You will find that suddenly the traffic will increase by multiples.

      If you’d like to discuss this, please email me and we can take a look.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill Belew