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Second podcast – Is there a Google sandbox

Hello, everyone. This is Barak from SEO Explorer. In this second podcast, I’m going to elaborate on what I spoke about in the first podcast.

Just a quick recap. I spoke about the lessons from buying a new domain, and that causes my site to be in a sandbox. I checked the analytics, and apparently my site is from December, 2019 I opened it for Google. It means it’s about seven months.

What is Google sandbox?

What do we know about the sandbox? Of course, every information is from people’s experience, and there’s no official stance from Google. Now, people that write about the sandbox, they say Matt Cutts, the old web spam team at Google said this, and John Mueller, the new guy, said that. Sometimes it’s conflicting. There’s no official information, which is what Google does best, is FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Deception. Google would like you to think that they know everything and you should always obey their terms.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t obey their terms, but I don’t think they have the ability to know everything and to see everything. Of course, they are getting better all the time, and stuff you do today can be found a few years in the future and can come back and haunt you. But what I know about artificial intelligence and algorithms, it’s impossible to know everything.

Is there a Google sandbox?

Is there a sandbox or not? I saw two conflicting stances. One said, no. There’s no sandbox beyond one or two months. It means your site is bad. Your content is bad. You don’t have backlinks. It’s your problem.

The other stance says, yes, there is a sandbox. Google doesn’t want to give credibility to new sites, especially on hot subjects. And they usually give the example of a medical site that comes out of nowhere and starts to write about hot topics. Why would Google trust that content?

GPT-2 and SEO

Also because of the emergence of AI, it’s possible to generate very good articles with AI. It is known that news outlets are using AI to generate some filler articles. Like if there was a sports match, the AI would write a description of this sports match and not a real human. The AI are getting better and better. The latest model was called GPT-2 and it have 1.5 billion artifacts. Now the company, OpenAI, have just released a new model that has 175 billion artifacts. They are licensing it as API, so I don’t know how good it is, but I assume it’s pretty good.

You can just create a new site and pay for good content, I think, or use an AI, just to be first in the ranking. Google doesn’t want that, it wants to see it’s a real site, it’s a real business, and not somebody trying to make a profit. So they will put it in a sandbox, and it means for the duration of the sandbox, the site will not be able to rank for any keyword beside maybe the brand name.

Google sandbox duration

The time of the sandbox. Some people say between two months and half a year, some say between half a year and one year, and some people even say that there’s an extra sandbox that you may be able to rank on a low difficulty keywords, but on high volume of searches, you won’t be able to rank even after one year.

That’s the two stances on the sandbox. I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong, because everybody’s speaking from their own experience, their own websites. It’s possible that one kind of vertical have a sandbox, or even a longer duration sandbox. And one vertical has no sandbox or short duration sandbox.

Google search intent

Google search intent

Now let’s speak about my own site, because that’s where my pain is. It’s about seven months available to Google, and I’ve written some articles with low competition keywords, or even some phrases that are very specific, that not many people search. Even though it should be, at least in the first page, they are not appearing in the search results. Now, it’s either there’s a sandbox, or another possibility is that Google doesn’t think it satisfied the search intent.

So what is the search intent? Search intent means what the searcher was looking to find. Let’s say you’re searching for, “How to train my dog.” The results should tell you how to train your dog. If the result shows, I’ll be radical, “How to train a cat,” obviously that’s not what you searched for. But with more complex search queries or search queries that aren’t common, sometimes Google can make a mistake with your search intent.

What is Google Bert?

They changed the algorithms in October, 2019. They call it a BERT update. BERT is the name of one of the AI algorithms. It wants to detect your search intent. Let’s say you search for, “vacation in Madrid”. Up until then, people would use the keywords, “vacation in Madrid”, “holiday in Madrid”, “hotel in Madrid” in a lot of variations that Google may have showed you based on your search results. Or if you search, “vacation in Madrid”, the page with the title, “holiday in Madrid” may not be relevant, or “hotel in Madrid” may not be relevant.

With the BERT update, Google knows that all three phrases are actually “holiday in Madrid”, and will be able to show you those pages. For common questions, like “holiday in Madrid”, or “how much do my dog weigh?” or stuff like that, it works.

But most of my search queries are technical, and I’ve noticed that there’s a drop in the quality of results from the BERT update, because what I search for, Google doesn’t understand the intent very well. It is possible that for the phrases I chose, what Google interprets as the intent is not the real intent. It doesn’t think I answer … my articles answer the searcher’s queries. That another option. And it can also be both.

How would I know that? When I pass the one year mark without changing any of the content, I will see if something begins to rank or not, and I really hope it will rank because if not, it means that I just wasted all that time waiting for Google.

What am I doing meanwhile? Meanwhile, I’m getting visitors from another places. Quora is one of my favorite place, and more places that I get users from. This is also good because it shows Google that even though he’s not sending me any traffic, I’m still getting users. It’s showing user signals.

Podcast summary

To summarize this podcast: I was talking about the Google sandbox and whether this sandbox exist or not. I don’t think anybody really knows if it exists or not. The results people saw out from their own experience, and there was no real empiric test to show if there’s a sandbox or not. I think there is. What I experienced it with another site I had, and when the one year mark will pass, I will know if I was right or wrong, at least with my own site. Even if I was right on with my own site, it doesn’t mean that it’s right along for somebody else’s site.

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