Sandboxing of New Sites – SERP Auditions?
1 vote, 5.00 avg. tacos (84% score)

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. This is why we now focus on creating businesses that don’t solely rely on SEO traffic. Interested in learning more? Click here to check it out.

For the last while there has quite clearly been a sandbox period for new sites (especially PMDs with homepage targets).   Google has been nice enough to be fairly consistent with how it’s treated the sites, and it’s gone a little like this:

  1. Site gets launched, ranks somewhere in the top 200 almost immediately.
  1. Site gets a few stronger backlinks from a PBN, and shoots way the fuck up into what I believe is an audition placement (rank checkers usually show this as high 2nd page, a couple years back this used to be the 6th or 7th placement).
  1. If it fails the audition it falls way back for about 2 months.
  2. After 2 months it starts popping up in the top 50 and you can link build a bit more heavily.
  3. After 3 months you’re in the top 10 or 20.
  4. 4 months and you’re where you belong in the top 5.


Before I go into each of these steps and how to approach them in terms of link velocity and strategy, let’s go over a couple caveats:


  • The sandbox seems to be targeted more heavily at homepages.
  • The sandbox seems to vary based on the LMS of the term (you can rank for long-tail immediately, and it might not be as long for a 1000 LMS term).


Keep those two points in mind when you’re doing your initial keyword planning and domain build-out.  Ok back to the good stuff.


What’s an Audition?

When I think of the word Audition, I think of two things – a strange cultural phenomenon in which people willingly put themselves into nerve-wracking moments of approval-seeking, and a really disturbing Takeshi Miike film involving a whole lot of unexpected torture.  Sadly, both  are true in the case of Google auditions.

Basically when Google suddenly discovers a new site with some stronger links pointing at it, it will shoot you up the SERPs to see if you deserve a spot in the limelight.   Your rank checkers will probably show this somewhere in the 2nd page, but I’m guessing it’s showing it first page for a collection of users and tracking those user’s behavior very closely.  This is where I feel user behavior has a clear role in Google’s algorithm.  My guess is it’s looking at the following:

High CTR rates

That is, higher than the average in the SERPs.  Write that fantastic page title and meta description brother!

User Stickiness

Staying on your site and not returning to the SERPs and clicking on another result.  Over-deliver on the promise you make in your page title and meta description.  Have videos, calculators, anything that makes user click around and interact.

Social Sharing

That’s right.  Another area I think Google pays attention to heavily in very specific circumstances such as this one.

So keeping all the above in mind, before you start link-building your site you should make sure the site is ready for the limelight.  This means that aside from the good on-page stuff you have to do, you want to take extra steps to make sure your site gets shared, and gets user interaction.  In the next internship I’ll be playing with some like baiting templates (and probably a little bit of social circle-jerking) to test if rankings will stick. Friv2Online site is a dynamic game studio that specializes in the development of high-quality online games that are accessible to players all around the world.

Help !  My new site just disappeared from the top 30!

Doh! You just failed your audition.  Take a deep breath, keep your head held high, fight the tears.   Fight the pessimistic reaction to yell “SEO IS DEAD” and then flame a bunch of bloggers.   There’s opportunity here!  Take it easy, you have a couple of months to SLOWLY link build and expand your on-page.  You’ll rank, don’t worry, just understand that at this point you can’t really rush it.   I see a lot of people throwing a ton of links at their sites during this phase, which is a real waste of link equity.  Just go slow and steady with 1 or 2 links a week and within a month or two, assuming you’re targeting non-competitive keywords, you should pop into the top 50.  NOTE: If you haven’t followed my on-page guide, you may have disappeared because of some over-optimization penalty.  So make sure you’re not over-optimized as well!  Once you’re back in the top 50 you can go a little more nuts with your link building.   Do some social again as well.  Within a month or so you’ll be in the top 10.

Once you’re in the top 10, LINK BAIT so you can naturally garner more links without needing a PBN.  More on that later.



Sandboxing of New Sites – SERP Auditions?
1 vote, 5.00 avg. tacos (84% score)
    • Tung,

      I have actually had great success with that. I have bought domains and then had to put a project on hold due to whatever issues arose. When coming back to the project (months later) I had a much easier time with ranking the site

  1. Hi Hayden,

    this is exactly what happend to my last stroller site. I set it up, got some good rankings and than it dropped for about two month. Thought about rebuilding it, but it just came back and is ranking well now.

    Good to know I’m not the only one noticing this behavior. Thanks.

    Ou and what does the short term “LMS” stand for?

  2. Exactly what i needed to read at this moment..I was all frustrated not to be able to rank for some really easy keywords even with pbn in place…Tnx Hayden

  3. Hi Hayden,

    about your caveats: do you think that EMDs with homepage targets have a sandbox period which depends on their local search number? I mean shorter for big kws and longer for smaller ones as if these were crushed under the EMD’s power? In the assumption that these sites are extremely low optimized.

    I hope it makes sense. Thank you.

  4. Have you been tried building links to longtail pages by linking to the home page and an inner page from a pbn article? Just wondering if you’ve noticed if the entire site gets sandboxed or just the optimized home page.

  5. Hayden,

    This isn’t really lucifer — I was trying to be funny! I have a question or two. I have some websites I’m trying to rank. I have a small PBN of 30 sites. What I do is create 30-40 manual no-follow blog comments for each site. After a couple weeks, I give each site a link from every site in my PBN.

    My logic is that the blog comments, which usually result in a few hundred no-followed links using “my name” as the anchor, will allow me to make the 30 links from my PBN count. The links I send from my PBN all use different anchors, such as:

    blue widgets
    blue widget reviews
    look at this blue widget
    what is the best widget
    why trees are colored blue
    discounted widgets
    find cheap inexpensive widgets

    Do the no-follow blog comment links basically ‘dilute’ the backlink profile so I can make the PBN really count and not worry about an anchor-text penalty. Also, if the no-follow links do ‘dilute’ the profile, is it for the page or whole domain. For example, if my website has 500 no-follow links from manual blog comments to the homepage that use my name as the anchor, can I hit an inner-page hard with the PBN links and not have to worry about a penalty?

    Does the dilution only count for the page the no-follow comments links point at or the entire site? Hopefully you can answer this question because I’m hesitant to launch another 40-50 sites before I figure this out. Thank you!

    • It depends what you are trying to dilute. The onpage dilution which is url-based would help over optimization issues if you have a lot of the same or similar optimized anchors. Otherwise just having more links overall and a larger nofollow percentage is always smart and helps you with any potential site-wide penalties/filters.

  6. Hi Hayden, great article! I just experienced an Google audition and I’m pretty sure my site failed. It is a newly launched EMD site with an untraditional TLD, LMS around 5,500 and highly competitive. Within hours of launching, the site was bouncing between page 8 and 12 and then totally disappeared after 3 days. Glad to hear from others that this is the new norm.

    Interestingly enough, knock on wood, the site is ranking between position 1 and 4 in Bing and Yahoo with zero backlinks. I had people in NYC, Portland, Milwaukee and DC verify the position. Very strange, hopefully it sticks! Have you seen similar results in Bing/Yahoo?

  7. I’ve seen similar trends. I guess my sites were never ready for the “limelight” to begin with. I normally build a junk site that doesn’t cost me much and then once it’s ranking, I improve the quality.

    Are you suggesting then that if my site is awesome to begin with I don’t have to deal with as much bouncing around? Hmm…i’ll have to test this.

  8. Great post Hayden! What is your thoughts on buying social shares?

    I have bought a few packs off Fiverr, mixed with PBN and web 2.0s and seems to be working right now.

    Also what is your thoughts on “blog” format with new post on the page? I am currently testing this on a few sites with brandable domains.

    I can’t wait to start the internship Monday!! Thanks for the opportunity!

    • I haven’t experimented with bought social shares yet, though I plan on experimenting with it this internship. I’d stay away from web 2.0s though.

      Not sure I understand your 2nd question.

      Welcome aboard!

  9. Hayden, can you share why you don’t build money sites with expired domains anymore? I am talking about building a site based on a related same niche expired domains. thanks!

      • Ah yes, they barely work as money sites anymore. I have actually tried this on a couple of my expired domains, started ranking for a few long tails but never really on the LMS terms. Earn a couple of bucks, but never really worthwhile doing. Is is a better idea just to reuse the expired domains as a PBN.

  10. Hi Hayden, great insights!Have you got experience building a money site using an aged domain (never dropped), and if so are they subjected to the sandbox? I recently bought a few aged domains and am trying to monetize them in the same niche as they had been before. One issue I have with them is they have many 404 pages – would you recommend 301 redirecting all the 404s to a homepage or an inner page, or simply letting them get deindexed eventually?

    • I haven’t tried using expired domains as money sites recently, but I can tell you that there was an entire internship devoted to this ages ago, and only 1 site worked out. So something was up with it. Re: the 404’s use a 404 redirection plugin (it creates 301 redirects to your homepage in your htaccess every time a 404 is encountered)

  11. Great article. Have you covered on the blog what state the site should be in when it goes public i.e. number of pages, having a logo etc.?

    Also do you know what they are looking at in the audition? Is it a manual review?


    • Yes it should have a logo, no monetization, good content (not so much # of pages), be overall very useful.

      I don’t think it’s manual, I think it’s based on user-behavior signals (see post).

  12. I am definitely seeing this for my local clients sites. If it is a site and domain that has been around for a while top spots within a couple of weeks after onsite SEO and some PR links.

    A new site, new domain, taking several months to get to the tops spots for local search terms that should be dead simple to rank for.

    • Matt,

      Currently tracking the same thing. Local keywords that I am ranking #1 instantly with youtube videos while trying to rank a brand new site vs. almost a year old site. I will let you know the results.

  13. How do I know/how long does the sandbox effect my site for? It is a little over 2 months old and is still showing as 500+ in google yet is 9 in yahoo and 12 in bing? As I am a relative newbie link building seems such an effort, any thoughts?

  14. You know this same thing happened to me. New site, PR link, boom spot 12#. 2 days later sent to #36.

    Is there anything in the algorithmic audition that factors in content? As in would a thin site be more likely to “fail the audition” than a site with 10+ pages right off the bat?

    ….my site was thin

  15. Beautiful, this is almost exactly my thoughts on how the sandbox worked. You filled in a few holes in my mind as well, but I’ll have to test those out myself.

    Cheers and thanks for the great read,


  16. Something else that’s interesting is that it seems the harder you pound your site with backlinks, the harder it is to pass the “audition”, which would make sense considering it should fall within a range of natural viral content. J another reason to keep velocity slow until your site has garnered a bit more authority.

  17. For my new niche site should I create static home page or traditional homepage with latest posts design since niche sites target specific keyword so which is best static homepage or latest posts page

    • For a smaller site, I usually I go with a static home page. Use it to internally link to inner pages you want to rank.

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