Does the Google sandbox exist?
Hi, my name is Cameron and I run I Want a Credit Card, an Australian credit card review site. I think I’m doing everything I should be to get good Google traffic. I have loads of unique content and lots of incoming links (some from PR7 and PR8 sites).
I get about 20-30 Google visitors per day, mostly from very specific keywords. I don’t show up anywhere in the first 300 results for credit card’ or ‘credit cards’ on Google Australia, which is frustrating because I think my site is a good resource (certainly more relevant than some of the sites in the first few pages of results).
I’ve read countless articles on optimizing my site for search engine traffic and I’ve tried to follow all the appropriate principles (SEO-friendly URLs etc). My site doesn’t contain any content which may cause it to be penalized (gambling, porn etc) and I have no outbound links to bad or PR0 sites. Google Webmaster tools reports no problems. What am I doing wrong?
The existence of Google Sandbox, the (ageing) filter put in place by Google spam team to fight web spam, is debatable. While it did exist in the past, many SEO professionals now believe that it no longer exists but Rand Fishkin wrote a post which proves otherwise. I believe that you are trying to hint at the fact that the website’s inability to rank for the keyword ‘credit card’ or ‘credit cards’ is because of Google Sandbox effect. However, a brief analysis of the website did not show any potential signs of the ageing filter playing a role in the website not being able to rank for these keywords.
Since you have been reading around the subject, I am sure that you would have come across various resources detailing search engine ranking factors. The important thing to remember here is that these factors change with time; new factors get added, some lose their sheen while others gain prominence. With this background knowledge, I would like to give you some potential reasons for low ranking and suggest a better approach.
While analyzing your website, I could spot a couple of flaws which will hurt its potential to rank high on search engines. Many of the web pages seem to be using the same (duplicate) ‘title’ which is not healthy. Page title is one of the most important on-page ranking factors and it is imperative that each webpage has a unique title, which is in sync with the keywords being targeted for that particular page. In addition to this, the website’s back link profile looks very unnatural. While building links, it is essential that you rotate anchor texts and use semantic variations of the targeted keywords. It has to be a proper mix and I am afraid to say that it is not at the moment because more than 95% of the links have ‘credit card(s)’ as the anchor text. Also, majority of the links come from a handful of websites. The existing back link profile is bound to raise red flags and many links will be potentially devalued or already are by search engines.
Ranking for competitive terms such as ‘credit card’ or credit cards’ will require concerted efforts for a prolonged period of time. It is pertinent to add that domain authority, trustworthiness and age play a crucial role in ranking for competitive terms; something that cannot be built overnight and will come with time. I would therefore recommend that you adopt a slightly different approach.
You can begin with targeting less competitive keywords like ‘credit card comparison’, ‘compare credit cards’, ‘low interest credit cards’, ‘student credit cards’, ‘low rate credit card’, etc. Keywords which are 3-5 words long are not only easier to rank for as compared to generic term like ‘credit cards’, but also are more likely to convert better. The best part of this whole approach is the fact that as you work towards ranking for less competitive but better converting keywords, you gain significant link equity and domain trust. This in turn will help you rank for more competitive and generic keyword like credit card. By adopting this approach you would accomplish your end goal and in the process achieve high rankings for a wider keyword portfolio.
I hope this helps.
Further reading: Why it Makes Sense to Target Longtail Keywords First