How to Recover a Website from Google Sandbox

Building Trust and Escaping the Sandbox

The sandbox is an effect of trust. Essentially, when your trust is low, you have to spend time building it up before you can rank properly. High trust sites have an easier time ranking, while low trust sites have an uphill fight ahead of them. So, how do you build trust?

Fortunately, building trust with Google is easy, all things considered. If you break Google’s trust by using black hat techniques, it stands to reason that you build trust by staying firmly within their guidelines. Unfortunately, this is a long process and can take several months, depending on how deep in the hole the site is to begin.

Step 1: Check for any SEO penalties.

If you haven’t paid much attention to SEO, or if you’ve contracted a black hat company before, you may have existing penalties on your site. If you bought a new domain, that domain may also have existing penalties from the previous owners. If you catch these early, you can have them purged; if not, you may have to hit Google with reconsideration requests.

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If you have any existing penalties, you need to take the steps necessary to fix them as soon as possible. Of course, you may still be in the sandbox without penalties; it’s hard to tell when you’re suffering without the comparison of previous success.

Step 2: Clean up any old black hat remnants.

There’s a lot that a black hat company may have done to your site. Check through the code of your pages and look for anything that’s cloaked and hidden from the view of the average user. Cloaked or hidden content is generally a sign of something negative going on. Additionally, clean up any spam, bad internal links, broken links, keyword stuffing and other such issues. Essentially, you’re performing a complete site audit and removing anything that violates one of Google’s guidelines. You may also consider removing anything that comes too close or that may be deemed too close to the line in a future update. This helps future-proof your site and helps build greater trust faster.

Step 3: Disavow harmful links.

Poor link building is a common reason for sandboxing. Even if you just bought a new domain, run a link audit in case a previous owner build bad links. Any link you don’t want to claim as your own, disavow using Google’s tools. If you want to take more time, you can also contact the host of the links you’re disavowing and get the webmaster to remove them.

Step 4: Purge duplicated content.

There are a few legitimate instances of duplicate content, but they are few and far between. If you have one, you can simply use canonicalization to fix them. If you have issues with duplicate content from off-site content scrapers, or if your content was scraped or spun from another site, deal with the problem. If your site was a scraper, remove the content, no questions asked. If your quality content has been scraped, report the scraper pages to Google. If you have low trust, they can be harmful.

Step 5: Build up or replace thin content.

Thin content is generally an issue when it comes to trust; Google vastly prefers detailed, quality content. Identify any cases of thin or low quality content on your site. For each page, you have a decision to make.

• Remove the page. This option is best used when the page has no incoming links, as Google doesn’t like broken links.

• Build up the content. This is generally the best option, as you can take an existing page and add value until it’s a useful page to have.

• Merge with another page. This is typically useful when you have several small subcategory pages that can be merged, or if you have an FAQ with different pages for every question.

Step 6: Publish new, valuable content.

This is the most time-consuming part of the entire process. You need to take up the mantle of a white hat SEO webmaster, which means content. Quality content published frequently on a regular schedule, relevant to your audience, is the only way to succeed in this business.

Once you’ve cleaned up any outstanding issues, all you can do is work to build trust, an audience and a base of valuable content. Over time, your trust will grow and you will escape the sandbox. The boulder takes a lot of effort to move, but once it’s rolling, it will build up speed.