Here is how this question usually comes about: We build the customer a shiny new site, everything is tested and works well, the site goes live.
Customer is filled with intense and profound glee.
2 days later we get the (somewhat panicked) email from same customer: “Why are we not showing up in the Google search results for XYZ Product?” or “Why are we not on the first page of Google?”
Now, we do go over this in our contracts and our customer intro phone calls but most customers quickly forget about this (because, let’s face it, for most people this stuff is pretty boring) so we want to cover this in a little more detail in this post.
“Why is our website not showing up in a Google Search”
There are a few things going on here, and you should become familiar with 2 terms:
Sandbox and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). I’ll explain these a little more in depth later but first let’s talk briefly about Google…
Google: how it works and why you should care.
Google is a search engine, and by far the biggest one out there.
You simply type a search keyword in a box and you get a list of links that take you to relevant pages on the internet.
Now, in order for Google to stay relevant as a search engine it is ESSENTIAL that they serve the absolute BEST results for your search.
The more relevant and reliable the search results are the more likely you are to continue using it. The more you continue to use Google the bigger they get and the more ads they can sell (which is the main way Google makes money).
So how does Google know what order to rank their search results in?
Well, nobody knows all the factors that go into Google rankings but some of the main ones are:
- Visitor interaction and bounce rate: Does a visitor browse around and interact on your site or do they visit and immediately leave (in most cases immediately leaving a site after you visit it means that the content is not relevant to your search). The more people that visit your site and immediately leave, the higher your “bounce rate” which will lead to you ranking lower (or not at all) for those search keywords.
- How many links are “inbound” to your site: if you have some really great content on your site that is very relevant you’ll often see other blogs or websites link to your content. This signals to Google that your content is relevant and authoritative and will in many cases make your site rank higher in the search results.
- Is your content original? Google indexes and sorts pretty much all content that is posted online. If you copy content off an existing website and Google finds out about this they will typically rank your content lower than the originally posted content (or in some cases not at all). This is to prevent people from simply copying a website that ranks at the top of Google and then duplicating their content.
There are many other factors that go into how a website ranks on Google but those are a few of the main ones. It is important to understand this in order to understand what the Google Sandbox is
Google Sandbox: Every new site’s nightmare
I won’t go into great depth regarding the Google Sandbox but these are the basics. (If you’d like to really dig deep and learn lots about the Google sandbox visit https://blog.linkody.com/guides/google-sandbox-guide)
Once your new website goes live our NerdySpider team will submit your site for indexing to Google Search Console.
This is a Google interface where you can track which keywords your site ranks for as well as request that Google “crawls” or “indexes” your site. We do this for every new client site we publish.
After submitting your site for indexing Google will eventually crawl your site to figure out what your website is all about. This can happen within 2 days or they may not look at it for 3 months, nobody really knows the exact time it takes for them to crawl your brand new site.
Once they’ve figured out what your site is all about Google will slowly start introducing your site into the search results. If your content performs well for specific keyword searches you will start to show up more and more frequently for different search keywords. If your content and website remain relevant you should slowly start to rank consistently for more and more keywords.
This whole process is called the SANDBOX period, where Google “protects” itself from displaying low quality search results by not immediately ranking your site for every keyword on your website but rather tries to figure out if you have relevant and unique content for it’s users PRIOR to adding your content to search results consistently.
The PROBLEM is that this process can take 3-6 months, it really is up to Google and we are pretty much powerless in being able to rank your new site instantly on Google.
We have seen some of our own sites (and some customer sites) rank very quickly if we have multiple other sites in a similar niche that all link to the brand new site shortly after it launches. This can also backfire however if Google thinks you are trying to “game” their system and it may lead to lower or absent search rankings.
Hopefully this clears up confusion about why your brand new website is not immediately at the top of the search results immediately after going live.
This brings us to our next topic which, although similar, is not the same.
“How can I get my site to rank higher in the search results” is typically a question we get from new or existing customers after they’ve had their website ranking in Google for a while.
“How Do We Improve Our Google Rankings?”
So you know the basics of the Google Sandbox, what about SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization: basically the process of how you can rank your site higher in Google and similar search engines.
As mentioned earlier, a LOT goes into how Google determines how high to rank your website and for which terms.
SEO is a bit of a nebulous term that means slightly different things to different people. If you do a few Google searches on the topic you’ll find all kinds of SEO witchcraft and sorcery out there, each one promising to rank your site at the top of Google.
Before you purchase any of these “SEO Ranking Rockets”, STOP.
No matter how convincing they are, NOBODY except Google knows exactly how to rank your website at the top of Google. They’ve spent many years developing and improving their search algorithm and there are hundreds of factors that go into how well your content ranks. Anybody that tells you they know the Google secret is lying. Period.
Now, we do SEO work for clients based on previous SEO case studies and best practices and typically get great results for our clients but it really boils down to these three things:
- Make sure your site is built properly. If you’ve built it yourself be sure to have proper title and heading tags, photo descriptions, site hierarchy, meta descriptions etc. Make sure it loads fast and consistently. This is the first and one of the most important steps. If your site is a slow loading, unorganized and unstructured mess Google won’t be able to sort out what exactly your site is about which will lead to poor rankings. This is always the first step and the foundation for the rest of your SEO work.
- Provide THE MOST valuable, relevant content for the readers. Although Google has many ranking factors for a site, the bottom line is this: are you providing quality, relevant content for their customers search queries? If not, you won’t rank no matter how hard you try (there are some “blackhat” SEO techniques that sometimes work for a period of weeks or months, but Google almost always ends up figuring them out). If you have a blog post or page titled: “How to Winterize Your Speedboat” but then go on to talk exclusively about that terrible contact dermatitis you had last summer when visiting the Finger Lakes Google will soon learn that this page is not relevant to folks looking to winterize their MasterCraft and you’ll soon de-rank for “How to Winterize Your Speedboat”.
- When developing content for your site, always keep user intent top of mind. Providing the most relevant and valuable content does not always mean long form blog posts or extensive product reviews. For example, if someone types “online mortgage calculator” into Google this individual is probably not looking for a wordy blog post on the inner workings of online mortgage calculators. They are looking to simply input numbers into an online mortgage calculator to see what kind of payments they can afford. In this case it is likely that the mortgage calculator widget will rank higher than the longform copy about online mortgage calcs. This just goes to show that remembering user intent is crucial when building out the content on your site.
Now, there are lots of other subtle nuances that we’ll get into in future blog posts, but if you simply keep the above three things in mind you’ll get a long ways in your SEO journey!
Although the Google Sandbox and SEO are related the one is relevant to new site owners and the other is more relevant to existing site owners looking to improve their rankings.
Questions? Comments? Reach us at email@example.com and we’ll be happy to discuss!