Google Sandbox, Time To Rank a Page and Workarounds
26 votes, 4.54 avg. tacos (89% full)

google sandbox

Update: Keeping in mind that PBNs still work, they currently have a history of being targeted by Google and likely are not the safest option moving forward. This is one of the many reasons why we are going to focus more on creating long term business models that do not only depend on SEO for traffic.  

If you’ve been building out new sites over the past 6 months, having built out sites during 2013 or prior, you will most likely have noticed a significant difference in the time it takes to rank your main target KWs.

If you’re fairly new to the game and have read posts from experienced bloggers talking about making money two months after launching a site and making close to $250 in month 3, do not be discouraged if you have not hit those kind of results because they are VERY rare in today’s game.

We have launched around 150 sites in the first 6 months of 2014 and we are now in a position to provide an update to Hayden’s sandboxing and serp auditions post from February this year and shed a little bit of light on the common question of…


How long does it take to rank?

I had originally intended to write an article for our Interns and participants in our Private Training Courses, but it is so commonly asked that I decided to open it up as a public post.

So, let’s take a look at “typical” ranking patterns and some potential workarounds that we are now testing as part of our pursuit to be at the very forefront of cutting edge SEO.


Introducing months 1-4 of a new site, the most frustrating months of your life

3 month bounce 2

3 month bounce

3 month bounce 3

Pretty up and down, right?


Common traits of months 1-4:

  • 3-5 weeks AFTER launching a site, you will debut somewhere between position 100-200 and sit there for a few days or up to 2 weeks
  • Sudden drop to lower position, or totally out of serps
  • You will often then bounce back again higher than the position you debuted at. If you’re lucky, you have a fairly consistent ride to page 1 from there.
  • Most likely, you will keep bouncing in and out of serps or up and down for approximately 2 months from the time you first appeared in the serps, which is usually about 3 months from when you launched the site and added your first content.


But, there is hope!

Finance term

As you can see, there are wild fluctuations from Jan through to around Feb 24th. The site debuted at approx position 90, dropped to pos 250, back up to 90, bounced out of serps completely for a few days periodically, came up to page 2 for a few days in mid Feb, down to position 250 for a few days and then hallelujah, back to page 2 and has since climbed steadily to position 3. A rough ride, but we got there.


Some notes on the above

  • We link build our sites from as soon as we have the main target page on the site SEO’d to our liking and approximately 7500 words of content on the site overall (less for a one page site)
  • With the exception of one page sites, all our sites are 7500+ words of content, most are far larger than that (we’re not talking old-school shitty MFA sites)
  • We link build at a rate of 2-3 links per week
  • All links are PBN links which are pretty much all DA28 and above, average probably around DA35


Workarounds for faster rankings & traffic

Explaining workarounds is a whole series of posts on it’s own, so I’ll keep the information here brief, but we WILL be providing plenty of information on this topic in the near future.

  • The ranking patterns above are for MAIN target KWs only and you will often still generate traffic to your site from LONG TAIL KWs. This is KEY information > You can rank for the long tail stuff (which we loosely define as anything 1000 LMS or below) much quicker by carefully structuring your pages to include lesser terms.
  • Launching a site on an expired domain MAY provide a benefit, but we don’t have enough data on that yet. It does appear that you need to continually link build the site, despite it already having some prior links pointing to it
  • Adding content to existing sites that are already aged 2-3 months will likely provide you with a better short-term ROI than building out new sites
  • We do not target KWs on our home pages as the overall trend is that internal pages rank faster


Your thoughts?

Let us know in the comments below what you are currently experiencing with rankings in the first 3-4 months of your newer sites!

Update 11th June: Just to clarify, this post was not related to all the talk about the 30 day Google Sandbox. I don’t follow Black Hat World. We’ve never paid much attention to rankings in the first 30 days. The post I wrote is actually more just to highlight the huge fluctuations in rankings over the initial 4 months of a site’s life. To prepare you all for the current state of play, stop you from pulling your hair out when your site dances more than this kid:


And really, if it takes a 3-4 months to see some decent rankings and $s, and you’re aware of that, any 30 day sandbox is fairly inconsequential.


Google Sandbox, Time To Rank a Page and Workarounds
26 votes, 4.54 avg. tacos (89% full)
  1. Interesting read. What would happen to your site if you started from day one trying to get traffic from social media etc?

    I wonder if it would help or hinder the site. Would the early visitors be seen as a sign to rank the site sooner by Google, or would it look suspicious and result in a long term penalty.

    • Driving traffic with social media is not gaming the system, it’s generating traffic to a site which is perfectly reasonable > it’s marketing, so wouldn’t hinder it. If the traffic had good time on site, low bounce rate etc that certainly wouldn’t hurt, potentially help. It’s entirely reasonable to think that visitor behavior is a ranking factor.

  2. Nice Research. I found the same. I was thinking since new websites are taking more time to rank than usual. Can we use paid or social traffic during this sandbox time ? So we keep making some money until we are getting enough google free traffic ? Can you guide about paid or social traffic what methods are best ?

    • You could use paid traffic if you had a proven high RPM niche. But for an unknown KW set it’d be a risk. Social traffic is a tactic for sure. We’re making viral traffic a significant focus over the coming months.

  3. This was one of the most effective SEO info I learnt during the internship. Thanks for reminding Greg. Can we say that even if we follow the rules above, there is no ROI in the first 4-5 months?

    • Ugur, the way to get ROI in your first few months is to carefully plan the KWs and your page layout to ensure you have plenty of long-tail KWs throughout your content. The long-term money is in the short-tail, the short-term is in the long-tail. The screen shots I showed in the post are all for main KWs > short tails.

    • Steve, I’ve got this on our list of future post topics. We’ll be teaching it to our current June Interns and our July Interns. Will probably pluck out some training material and post to the blog in the next month or two.

      • Hi guys
        First off, have been a follower of NoHat for quite some time. Absolutely love all the new content you have been creating over the last few weeks.

        Greg, are you still working on this silo post? I would be awesome to learn more about this. I am building out a few sites, and with a limited PBN, I think proper silo-ing could make a difference to my results.


  4. I can completely agree to this. It becomes less easy to rank in the first 1-3 months, so I take my time more to build it out slowly and only think of income after 4 to 6 months after launching the site.

    • Yes, long-term vision is important. Treat your sites like you would treat a traditional business > not many business make a profit in the first few months.

  5. Rob Thomas says:


    All the 5 sites I have launched this year have all pretty much ranked in the top 100-200, then dropped out, and I am now at the frustrating part of waiting to see when/if they come back.

    I was rather aggressive anchor text wise on the first lot, but have lowered it significantly with the latest few. (when I say aggressive I am referring to how much exact anchor text I used last year which ranked sites within 2-4 weeks)

    Anyway ill see how my batch of sites rank and report back on my findings.

    Unrelated question – How much domains are you lot on avg having to go through before finding clean DA 30+ plus domains?

    Before it was not common for me to find clean 30+ domains, however I was finding a decent few.

    Now I am going through lists of 1 million plus domains, all from paid datasets, and it’s extremely rare to find a clean 30+ DA domain.

    Have you lot also noticed a massive drop in the amount of good domains available, or is it my lists?



    • Hey Rob, thanks for the detailed comment. We don’t use any exact match anchors now. You can rank sites without using them so they’re not required, and using exact anchors opens you up for triggering something in the algo. I aim to limit the variables and unknowns with everything SEO… The problem with having used exact anchors is that when it gets to 4-5 months down the track and a site is not ranking, you’re not sure if it was the anchors or something else that is holding the site back. Avoiding exact anchors takes away one potential variable.

      Re domains > definitely harder to find now. We are buying a lot at auction. Given how hard they are to come by, and how expensive PBNs are to manage effectively, we’re offering access to a PBN for all our Intern and Private Training Course graduates. This allows them to focus on building out sites as opposed to messing around with finding expired domains and setting up a suitable size PBN.

      • Ye I’ve always kept my exact anchor text rather high, even when everyone was telling me not to, however I was ranking sites within weeks with huge returns. I am now going to go the 0% anchor text route I think though.

        Not sure whether I’m happy or not knowing it wasnt just me, but there are just not any good domains available anymore, or very little at-least.

        Ye I applied for a course a week or so ago, no reply yet though. Think I used this email Robthom439214(at)

        Anyway thanks for the reply Greg appreciate it.

        • I sent an email on the 3rd to everyone that had registered interest in the week prior. I just forwarded it to that again and to your ymail used for this comment. Cheers.

  6. Thanks for posting Greg I actually am experiencing most of the above.

    One interesting thing is that I added a piece of content (1500 words targeting a long tail phrase) to a one year old site of mine around Feb this year.

    I am sorry now that i didn’t track its rankings but after posting and adjusting (reducing) the number of times I had the LTKW in the text I then forgot about it.

    I checked it the other day and am sitting on no 2 spot for the main LTKW and also lots of variations of the keyword/niche that were mentioned (not targeted) in the article are on their own first page.

    I plan now to add lots more content to this site as this is obviously the way to go while i wait on any new sites to gather momentum/escape the sandbox.

    Once I add the new content I will track their progress and report back.

    P.s. I never put any links to the piece of content – it ranked all on its own and has more than generated the cost of content etc.

    One last thing do you know if there is any way to retrospectively check how the page ranked like you showed in your images above? I have the site linked to both GGwebm & GGanalytics.

    • Thanks for providing that detail Kevin. Your results there proves the value of targeting long tails perfectly. I hate to think how much money everyone, including us, are leaving on the table from not taking the upfront time to plan out content to focus on the long-tail! We’re addressing that now with a team dedicated to optimizing sites.

      I’m not sure how to retrospectively check page rankings, but if anyone reading this knows a way please drop a comment!

  7. Interesting to read you analysis. From a burn n churn perspective instead, the sandbox effect doesn’t matter. Just wait your new website is completely indexed (more or less 1 month). But that it’s a different strategy, link building process, Roi and timetable.
    Thank you

  8. Hi, thank you for creating such an amazing resource – nohatseo has quickly become my go-to resource.

    I have a question about hosting money sites – do you put them on one shared hosting account (like hostgator or bluehost), or just mix them in with your reseller hosting packages (like hostnine)?


    • Hostnine is a great initial option as you get the unique IPs on their reseller package. IXWebHosting is another, though unique IPs with them are becoming harder to get. Otherwise, spreading hosting across smaller, cheaper hosts that cost a couple bucks per month.

      As your network gets bigger though, you do want to spread out hosting for diversity so that if your host has issues your whole network isn’t impacted. Hosting is painful to manage and expensive. That’s why we’re setting up an Intern/PTC graduate PBN > take away some of the pain! Hope that helps.

      • That does, thanks Greg. Thanks for the new info on ixwebhosting too.

        I have a follow up question – we all know to avoid SEO Hosting because Big Brother’s watching (even though you get different C-class IP’s).

        So how is Hostnine different? Surely it’s just SEO Hosting under a different name? (albeit with a new cPanel on each domain).

        Or does Hostnine provide different A/B classes and nameservers?

        Or am I just being overly paranoid?

  9. Nice. May I ask how do you link to a money site from one single PBN article ?

    I used to place 2 links inside article, one money keyword + naked URL or Image link.

    Then I read somewhere that only first link is important factor for rankings.


  10. What about sites that were built some time ago and not linked built to. Does the sandbox come into effect when links are built of it is just based on when the site was put online. I have a few that were setup sometime back (6-8 months) and were never linked to. Most get some traffic but have no links to them.

    • Haven’t specifically tested that Rohit. What we are seeing is content on established sites ranking a bit quicker though. One thing we are doing now though is when we have an idea for a new site, we get it live with some initial content to let it age a a bit.

  11. This isn’t the new sandbox effect. Your site basically went through the same pattern any new site has done for years because it was built and linked to prior to May 14. On May 14 some new kind of filter went into effect that affects link age, such that no matter whether your domain is new or old, building links to it will not move your ranking upwards. Tons of people are talking about this on BHW.

    • Placed an update at the end of the post Jon. This post has nothing to do with the new sandbox. But the pattern our sites are going through now is quite different to what we were finding with our sites launched around July-Sept last year. For whatever reason.

  12. I think it all depends on the level of competition for the target keyword. I launched a site the other day and by the next day it had been indexed and was ranking on page 3.

    • Let us know how it goes Sean by way of staying at that level or dropping down or out of the serps. Agreed lower-competitions KWs, specifically lower LMS KWs appear less affected.

  13. we have close to 300 sites in our network. We do have some very good high DA domains. However, we also have some lower DA sites. Would you say not to use those lower DA sites at first? We have a good many in the 15-20 range. These are from the days of buying straight off PR. Should I only use those on established sites?

    • I tend to prioritize the higher authority stuff. There could be a case for prioritizing relevance over authority though.

  14. Greg,
    You say that hitting good results fairly quickly is very rare in today’s game.
    Would you say this applies to the English-speaking market, and particularly to the global/US market?
    Most of the other geographical and language specific markets seem to be years behind, thus it may be fairly easy to rank faster as it was with the global/US market before?

    • You might be right Francisco. We’ve found it across english-speaking markets, haven’t tested non-english. Go test it and find out!

    • As far as what we have seen now, this sandbox effects also affect German, French and Italian SERP, but not much on Danish, Swedish or Dutch markets. Haven’t tested on the other language markets yet.

  15. Thanks Greg, good stuff. We’re also seeing very new Facebook pages and YT videos ranking fast and seemingly evading this new links sandbox. Still doing a lot of testing though.

    • Thanks Terry, funny that I literally just came off of your blog and came across your comment here. First time visitor there and impressed. Look forward to staying in contact and YT vids in particular sounds very interesting!

      • Jatin Chhabra says:

        Would love to reply on this thread as 2 genius are on it…

        OK Google is discouraging web pages that are targeting more than 1000 LMS that what will happen to viral posts which attract 1000’s of links because of their content. Will they also be a hunt for Google 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 month sandbox???

        I personally believe that there is no sandbox and its a strategy to divert SEO to paid platform. Yes targeting a short tail KY isn’t a nice strategy in 1-2 month old site but still Google won’t segment pages as per KY targeting that one which is targeting Low LMS will skip the SB period and above 1000 won’t.

        Terry RRF theory is something which is justified and still I will always target long tail for 1-2 mth

        • Thanks Jatin for the detailed comment. Short term rankings are definitely in the long tail. Whether it’s 1000 LMS or a bit either side or even related to LMS who knows, there is something at play that slows down rankings for main KWs. Adwords advertiser competition may even be part of the equation.

      • Jatin Chhabra says:

        Well I am aware of one thing for sure that “There is always a solution” I prefer to rank low vol KY in a new project and than go for the real money. As I am just entering the game of Aff marketing, I think I need to stuck with the same policy of conquering small wins before the big money KY.

        Overall thanks for the post Greg and I really loved tour insights as they are on test.. Keep up the good work… :)

  16. nice post,

    you say your sites are 7500+ words,

    what does that mean,

    how many words are the articles on your site

    how many pages do you start with

    • Our main pages are usually 1500-3000 words. Lesser pages are as low as 500, but usually 1000+ words. Depends how many KWs are being targeted on a page. Initial 7500 word site might be main page + 3-6 other pages, just depends on the KW set.

  17. Great testing! When do you start link building? From the first day the site is going live? Do you build links only from PBN? Do you use other sources like blog commenting, Press Releases? In what order? Thanks.

  18. Greg.

    I am facing similar problem with my new site 3 month older now. My question is do i need to build links even if it vanished or drop to 250+ in serp for my targeted KW?

    • Shan, I suggest looking through to check that you’re not over-optimized for a start as that could be the reason you’re still outside top 250 after 3 months. Around the 3 month mark is when I start to look for potential causes of poor rankings.

      If nothing stands out as an issue after reading through the above article, suggest building some links on a consistent basis for a few weeks. Should start to see some improvement. Hope that helps.

      • Greg, I checked and found there is no over optimization for the page. As i am trying to rank inner pages. This is the 2nd month of link building and my site just vanished after i built 5 high pr links 3Pr 3 and 2pd 2 so total 5 high pr links to that page within a week. I think i need to build more links but slowly now

        • Pretty normal to drop out of serps in the second month. Just keep building links at a steady rate of 2-3 per week and add content to the site and it should bounce back and climb sometime in month 4.

  19. I was wondering what tool are you using to plot your website rankings on your post. Thats pretty cool. Been trying to look for something like that for a while.


  20. Interesting results. I was one of the lucky ones, I guess, as the blog I started this spring broke $200 in June, which was only its 3rd full month of content. However, I blogged nearly every day to make it happen, and if I hadn’t switched niches a month into the effort, I probably wouldn’t have cracked double digits…

    I’m currently working on a new blog while keeping the established one going and will be interested in seeing how long it takes to start showing profits.

  21. Leon Peeters says:

    Very interesting post. I read:
    We do not target KWs on our home pages as the overall trend is that internal pages rank faster.

    How long is your homepage article? Does this mean that your homepage article is short and general target only secondary kW?

    • We don’t target any keywords on home pages Leon, we just use them to set the toe for the site and spread link juice to inner pages. We go through it all in our Internships and Private Training Courses as part of on-page SEO week.

  22. Hey there, great post again! Very helpful, I’m currently in the process of building my first proper site, as around 9000-10000 words of content and about 9 pages. My question is in terms of link building, you say you do 2-3 a week, are all these links built to the homepage? Or do you build links to individual pages at an even rate?

    Thanks a lot and look forward to reading more content from you!

  23. Hi there

    Excellent post! This is very helpful as I have just built my first proper website and am trying to rank it at the moment. A question on the link building, when you say you build 2-3 links per week, are all those links built to the homepage? or are they built to all your pages evenly?



  24. Hi,

    Well this article gave me hope that maybe next month a miracle will happen in my website. I have no clue whats going on to it.

    I was ranking well, and decided to do a 301 redirect to a new and better domain, bad mistake. I lost all rankings. Its pretty upsetting.

    Now i have starting working on a new domain for over a month. I will continue to build it once more.

    One can fall down, but its a must to get back up and keep going, if one REALLY wants success in this life.

  25. Thanks for this wonderful post I learned a lot about sandbox effect, I was searching for this since it is happening with one of my new niche sites and I was having no idea what so ever and was unable to find the reason for it because I am using PEMD, and my domain name is 3 month old so I don’t know what is the main reason, If something not happens after 3 to 4 months then certainly It’s not sandbox effect which will then lead to Google EMD penalty so what should I do then should I change my PEMD to other new domain as this will

  26. OK so this is an old post and I googled “6 months old site bouncing in and out of serps”.

    Can somebody tell me if it’s normal for a site to bounce in and out of serps even after 6 months for the main terms.

    When the site is in serps it sits at page 3 usually but after a few hours it just vanishes from SERPs. Really frustrated about this. I would like to know if this is normal?

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