My Site Was Sandboxed And How I Climbed Out Of It

by on June 27, 2011

You’ve probably already seen the link building service experiment that I’ve been running for the past four months.  If you haven’t, be sure to check it out.  So far it’s been a fairly steady rise in the search engine rankings for most of the four sites, but with the Build My Rank site outpacing the others fairly well.

Until last week that is.  Suddenly at the start of week 13 the Build My Rank homepage and one subpage dropped out of the top 200 for my keywords in the Google index.  And not long after the LinkAloha homepage was also gone from the top 200 too.

What happened?  I had gotten distracted and not posted any articles to the three article services in the test for almost two months.  But that’s not what caused the drop.  I finally found the free time to start up again and hired a freelancer to do some article writing for me.  So I cranked out some articles in rapid succession.  Here is my BMR article submissions to date:
8 on 2/20/2011
8 on 3/7/2011
8 on 3/17/2011
8 on 4/2/2011
10 on 5/29/2011 targeting my main keyword
20 on 6/1/2011 targeting two sub-keywords

And then boom.  On June 3rd I checked my stats and my BMR homepage and two subpages I had targeted on those last few submissions were no where to be found!  One of my other sub pages that I had never built links to was showing up at position 76 for my main keyword but not the home page which used to rank.

How could I tell?  Check out my instructions on what to do when your site is deindexed by Google.  My site wasn’t completely gone, just partially.  That’s good.  When I searched for the URL doing a site: search, it came up first.  Same with a direct URL search.

But when I tried doing a content search I could see something had happened.  I took a full sentence from my site that should have been completely unique and searched for it in Google.   There were around 176 results, and the first 175 were results with SOME of the text I had searched for and the very very last one was my page with the exact text on it.

Something in the Google algorithm said even though this one page had the EXACT text I was looking for, it’s not worthy of anything but the very last place.  The page had been automatically penalized by the Google algorithm to the depths of the results, essentially deindexing it.  People talk of the famed Google Sandbox, some deny it, some swear by it.  And here it appears that my homepage was trapped in it.

So what did I do?  I waited 10 days to see if the site would reappear.  If you look through my list of major Google penalty causes, one of them is site speed or site going offline.  I figured a week  would be enough to be reindexed if this was the case, but nothing.

So what’s left that makes sense for why those pages were deindexed?  Many people do link building blasts far larger than the 30 BMR posts I made over three days.  Many people max out their BMR submissions of 10 per day for months on end and aren’t penalized like I was.

To stay true to this experiment, I’ve done no other link building on that site other than through BMR.  Unlike other people who have sandboxing issues, I could isolate the problem!  I had a sandbox of my own to play in so to speak.

So what does this tell me?   The rumors that Google has a check for unnatural link profiles are likely true.  I had built about 62 links total to this site, and out of those I only made one or two not keywords stuffed.  For example, my link text before the 30 article dump while I was ranking well were about:

  • 22 best seo experiement
  • 2 google search experiment
  • 2 seo link building
  • 2 here
  • 2
  • 2

Note, those aren’t even close to my real keywords of course but it gives you a sense of the length and type of keywords I was going for.  Early on, I had made a couple non-keyword links early on to make my backlink profile look more natural.  I figured that if Google profiled a bunch of known good sites, there would be a number of typical natural links like the direct URL, the site name, and some words like “here” or “this site”.

But in my 30 post drop at the end of June it jumped quickly to:

  • 40 best seo experiement
  • 10 google search experiment
  • 10 seo link building
  • 2 here
  • 2
  • 2

So this tells me that there is VERY LIKELY a threshold somewhere in the Google algorithm for keyword stuffed backlinks.  That as soon as a page goes over a certain percentage of keyword stuffed links for one or two keywords, Google attaches a lead weight to that page.

Some data for when it dropped off the map:

  • I had over 65% of my links going to one keyword
  • I had only 6% for my site name
  • I had less than 10% not keyword stuffed
  • I had close to doubled the amount of links in two days

I subscribe to the school of thought that Google is really darn good at finding links, and if the content is indexed, the links count.  But obviously, only a subset of these links could be counted, so don’t take these percentages as gospel.

So after waiting the 10 days I fired off another 10 articles with the intention of making my backlink text profile more natural.  Now it looks like this:

  • 40 best seo experiement
  • 10 google search experiment
  • 10 seo link building
  • 2 seo experiment
  • 1 experiments with seo
  • 2 here
  • 1 this site
  • 1 can be found here
  • 4
  • 3

So after the posts to fix my link profile I had:

  • Brought it to under 55% for my main keyword
  • Brought my site name links over 10%
  • Expanded my keyword stuffed diversity
  • Brought my “junk” link diversity up over 5%

And two days after posting this set of articles to BMR, the site was back in the index right where it started.  Coincidence?  Very unlikely.

I have let the LinkAloha site sit in this state for the past month and it has not magically returned.  I’m going to do a similar exercise to diversify the link profile and see if it also comes back for definitive proof.

Stay tuned!

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole June 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Wow thanks for sharing this. I have ONLY been building links with my target keywords to all my niche sites, not just with BMR but with all my backlink building. I have one particular super easy low competition niche site that I can’t get off the second page no matter what I try. I never thought about the fact I could be getting penalized for not using keyword diversity. Duh! It makes total sense. Now I’m going to spend a few hours building some links with “natural” anchor texts and see if anything happens! BTW I’ve been following your experiment the whole time and always look forward to the updates!

Jerry June 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Another interesting article.

Do you feel that the lack of consistent link building with BMR and then the sudden surge in posts on June 1/11 helped contribute to the problem?

I guess I’m asking…if you would have been consistently using BMR and using your same keywords, would this have happened?

I’m thinking about using BMR, only have 2 different sites and I’ve read mixed reviews about the effectiveness of it after 30 or so posts. What’s your thoughts?


Tim June 28, 2011 at 7:21 pm

I’ve yet to discover the sandbox, but I’ve always had a hunch that is exactly what would be needed to get out. I try to set up projects with an auto-blog type of WP plug-in that I can install to generate some generic backlinks for the site I’m working…sort of easier to manage than doing complex percentages and mathematics. :)

Big fan of yours on WF too btw.

Delfin Joaquin Paris III June 28, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Thanks again for the update – this is totally not unusual, and seems to be just about everyone’s experience.

I’m not sure it was sandboxed, but just “dancing” as Google loves to do.

My site seems to hover around 10-11 for the past month, but today jumped up to 5. I assume it will settle again after a few days back down some pegs.

And I’m doing a TON of articles in blog networks, and also an insane amount of blog commenting (Google has already indexed over 30k of these links within a month).

I would bet your rank goes back up within a week. Keep us posted!!!

Brad June 29, 2011 at 10:21 am

I do not believe that your “sandbox” experience had anything to do with anchor text ratios or anything like that. This is just my opinion, though, and I could certainly be wrong.

I have had a few of my own sites disappear from the SERPs for a month or two, only to return to where they were (sometimes even higher). I never changed the anchor text or altered my linking in any way (typically I outsource all of my linkbuilding, because I am a very “lazy” linkbuilder).

Google is a strange animal, and just like the ancient gods of centuries past, sometimes they favor you… sometimes they punish you. And there seems to be very little rhyme or reason either way.

El Plumber (admin) June 29, 2011 at 12:02 pm

I guess I have a different view of Google than most people Brad. I think of Google search rankings as totally quantifiable. It’s a machine doing regular old MATH, and honestly nothing overly complicated at that. I’d bet that all their algorithms and formulas could be understood by most 12th grade math students in the US if they were ever made public, very likely far easier to understand than a beginner Calculus class. At the root every webpage in the world is evaluated by this formula, thus there is a huge sample size for us to look at and reverse engineer their ranking formula.

Brad, your sites disappeared from the SERPs for a reason, every single time. Check out my post on What To Do When Your Site Drops In The Google Search Results for a pretty comprehensive list of what will cause your site to do the so called “Google Dance”

There is always rhyme and reason, it’s just that most people never bother to figure it out. It’s about the same level as a high school science fair type experiment, which is a lot of work. And those that do usually are smart enough to keep their mouth shut about it. Apparently that’s not me. ;)

Phil July 3, 2011 at 11:36 am

I think the most important for SEO is that it should look natural. I have always focused on user experience so I haven`t faced with any ranking problems. By the way, over 20% of links which are pointing to my main sites are natural social links so this means that users value the overall content.

Colin Armour July 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Hey there….

Well I can say that I’ve just suffered from exactly the same swoop of fate.

My site has (this week) followed exactly the same pattern as yours…been static at around pos 4-3 for my main keyword and then POOF! Gone!!!!

It is now buried somewhere on the 246th result.

I shall be applying your tactics and hopefully, will be able to ‘revive’ it back to its former glory, just like yours!

Keep up the great work.



Nicole July 14, 2011 at 11:04 am

Well I have a site that is about a month old and its been stable at position #1 for 3 weeks. The day before yesterday it went to #2 for a day and then it went back up to #1 and #2 (different page of the site), so it was dominating the top two positions in Google for the main keyword. Last night before I went to bed my site and every single keyword it was ranking for (over 10 that I know of) totally disappeared from the top 200. The site’s pages are all still indexed though. I went through every reason why this could have happened and the only possible one is that my link building diversity was bad. I’m going to take your suggestions and build a bunch of random anchor text links today and hopefully it will work. I honestly never believed the sandbox was real before it happened last night. It’s never happened to me before. I know I shouldn’t get emotionally attached to my rankings but it’s hard not to because this particular site was making good money.

Musings August 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm

As to trying to see what keyword is doing best, I have never done that. With my blog I have just been doing musings and reviews with the articles being submitted by ping to the big three engines and to twitter as well. Traffic has been steadily building for the past 10 month with no advertising cost at all. My only costs so far have been that of the hosting and so far banner ads have paid for that. Sure I would like to see the site make a lot of money but I also don’t want to piss off Google with anything wrong, so I stay totally above board constantly gaining traffic from the engines.

terry September 14, 2011 at 8:56 am

How do you know the exact links that goes to your site? My sites got slapped but I don’t know how to know the exact % per anchor text.

El Plumber (admin) September 14, 2011 at 5:06 pm

In this case Terry, I had created all the links myself and tracked them so I could see what percentages seemed to cause the issue and at what level it came back.

Now I can’t say 100% for sure since you can never be sure that a search engine has found and counted your link.

You can use a tool like Yahoo Site Explorer or Majestic SEO to find at least a sample of the backlinks to your site.

terry September 15, 2011 at 4:08 am

Thanks! Really appreciate your feedback. Last question. Just curious on your UAW test. I think I read somewhere that you only submitted 1 article -> equivalent to almost a hundred submissions. Are all of those using 1 anchor text?

I suspect that my sites were sandboxed because of sudden increase in links due to aggressive UAW submission.

Rud October 22, 2011 at 11:55 pm

I am very glad that I found this article. My site was in the #1 on the second weeks. but when I boost the BMR post, it’s completely gone from top 1000. It’s not deindex.

Luckily i found this website from WF and used your technique… it works like charm. I don’t really count the %, I just add new different keywords everyday and the site crawl back to where it belongs. #1

Stu November 10, 2011 at 7:24 am

Thanks for the advice and the great blog. My website was on the 2nd page.. I built about 60 links to two different URLs, it climbed to #8 then bosh. gone. Its been bitch slapped back to the stone age by Google. I’ll try the link diversity thing, but gonna give it a few days to see if returns naturally by itself. It does make me worry that if I ever get to #1 in Google that someone can just buy a shit-load of cheap-ass links for $30 and obliterate my site? :-(

El Plumber (admin) November 10, 2011 at 10:53 am

There are a number of articles out there that outline how you can derail someone’s site ranking using tens of thousands of keyword stuffed junk links. But in reality the site would need to be very weak in terms of backlink diversity to begin with to be vulnerable to it.

Julian November 26, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Hey Electron plumber. I just have another quick question for you, if you don’t mind.

I am curious what has become of your Linkaloha site. You said it had been thrown into the ‘sandbox’, like the others, and you were going to try to revive it using the same method that you used on the BMR site.

Have you had a chance to attempt to revive the Linkaloha site using this method? Thanks in advance.

Spam King December 5, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Thank you

Your blog is very Informative.

Amit December 23, 2011 at 12:07 am

Your theory makes sense. A sudden avalanche of inflated links will never go without consequences. And unlike many, I believe google can pick them up instantly.

Julian January 6, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Hello again, El Plumber, Haha. It is a shame that you have not been able to answer my previous comment before I ended up back here again, but you are likely very busy, and I understand. I just had another quick question for you regarding this post. It is funny because this exact same situation has happened to one of my webpages. I guess I slipped up and ended up sending too many links that were stuffed with keywords and not enough “siteurl” type links.

Now it was about 6-8 days that my webpage was penalized. I checked and it was definitely penalized. So after 6-8 days with the penalty i sent about 20-30 links all with “junk” anchor text, so to speak, such as “sitename” ect. It has probably been around 3 days or so since i sent the “junk” links to even out the anchor text profile. Now, i will most likely have everything back to normal by the time you get to answer this, but at least others can gain from this comment anyway right? What i am seeing is quite interesting. Since the “junk” links hit and evened out the anchor text profile for the webpage, i have checked and the penalty is definitely gone from the page.

What i am seeing seems like a gradual shift in the ranings. The page was ranking for about 14 or so keywords all on the first page from positions 2-7. So far since the penalty has vanished about 4 keywords have returned to positions slightly worse than what they were when the penalty was first applied. All of the other keywords are still anywhere from position 385-785 in Google. It seems as if the keywords are slowly returning to their formal positions one by one.

I am not sure how your page was setup, but it is interesting to see what is happening day by day since the penalty has been lifted. I am wondering if possibly the penalty has actually hurt the rankings since it has been in place for so long. I am wondering if you experienced the same “gradual” return of your rankings, and if they were affected negatively or positively since the penalty was lifted. With all of the keywords stuffed links that i had smashing this page when the penalty was applied you would think the rankings for this page would return holding #1 spots in Google. It is funny because, for about a full month during the linkbuilding campaign for this webpage, the rankings had all hit the first page but seemed to be stagnant for a full month, while other pages receiving the same type of promotion were flying up the rankings.

I just try to learn everything that i can as i move along, and in the process maybe others can benefit from deciphering these types of things. It would be nice to have the whole Google algorithm uncovered, but in reality the closest we can get as Internet marketers to that is little bits and pieces of information. I look forward to your reply.

Kristjan March 21, 2012 at 9:26 am

Hey there

I’m making my first attempt at building a website from scratch, having done some work as writer for the web and dipped my toe here and there. I decided to have a go at building a dedicated site for this new lottery launching in Europe this week.

I seem to have been sandboxed, initially having made the first page for the name of the lottery and then hitting obscurity overnight. Googling in desperation I found this post and have applied some of your advice, having gone over things I think I built links too fast and too focused on specific keywords (experimenting with UAW), forgetting to include ‘click here’ and such.

I have since tried to create more link variation as you suggest but have not succeeded in bringing the site back. In the meantime I’ve found myself frequenting your site to read from the endless wealth of material on offer and come to notice that you sometimes give people’s sites ‘a look over’ – offering insights and advice. Should you find yourself with a bit of time on your hands, I would be most grateful for any tips you could offer on mine.

Many thanks for the site, it is great!

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