John Mueller Discusses The Sandbox And Honeymoon Hypotheses
Online businesses invest a lot of time and effort into their SEO content creation strategies to create relevant SEO content that would help improve their search rankings and site traffic. But sometimes, things do not go as smoothly as planned, and content can rank well but then drop in rankings after a short while. Google’s John Mueller explained that this could be due to the Sandbox and Honeymoon phenomenon.
The Google Sandbox
“Google Sandbox” is a term that people made to explain why their new websites rank poorly in the search results. However, there is nothing that can confirm whether or not it exists, and so many people don’t know what to make of it. According to a few SEOs who believe in it, the Google Sandbox was included in the Google algorithm around March 2004.
The generally accepted principle behind this theory is that Google can filter out “flash-in-the-pan” sites from those that legitimately provide high-quality and relevant content. In the early 2000s, several publishers noticed that newly published content could sometimes take a long time – sometimes months or even longer – before it could rank on search results. Their content was seen as untrustworthy, which resulted in poor rankings.
The Google Sandbox theory surfaced in the past when publishers promoted new websites with directory links and reciprocal linking campaigns. It was pretty much the standard procedure at the time, even though it did not work effectively in hindsight. But since everyone was jumping in with the trend, people believed that what they were doing was good for their SEO. The trend led to a mindset that, somehow, Google must be doing something wrong.
The Google Honeymoon Effect
The Google Honeymoon theory works in a way where Google ranks newly published content at the top of the search results to see if the users like it. The search engine will then closely monitor the bounce-back and click-through rates, and if the results show that users do not like the new content, they will reduce the rankings.
An SEO asked Mueller a question which, although not explicitly mentioned, heavily implied the Google Honeymoon effect. The person said that they have monitored their stats and saw a huge increase in traffic after introducing new content, but this was followed by a significant drop in rankings. They also added that they do not expect user behaviour to suddenly change based on how long their content was live, but their article was not in any way time-sensitive. After explaining what had happened, the SEO asked Mueller if he had any idea what caused this strange phenomenon.
Google Has Systems That Make Assumptions About Content
Mueller’s reply seems to confirm that the Honeymoon Period theory does happen with new content. However, there is more to it than what SEOs really think.
According to him, there is a period where Google can recognise newly-published content for a website, but there aren’t a lot of signals for it yet. Therefore, their systems have to assume that the new piece of content is in line with the rest of the site.
However, such assumptions are not that accurate. Sometimes, the search engine would assume that the new content is fantastic. Meanwhile, some assumptions are more on the conservative side in cases where Google is careful about showing the content to a wider crowd of readers.
For this reason, most newly-published content performs well for some time but then settles down again. In other cases, it happens to be the opposite, where a piece of content would perform poorly only for it to rank higher in the days to come. What happens is that Google’s system is trying to distinguish where the new content fits before it receives more signals.
Although Mueller’s initial response heavily implies that the Sandbox and Honeymoon effects exist, his subsequent explanation refutes them. According to him, Google does not actively prevent newer pages from showing up on the search results, nor does it try to promote or demote new content.
Mueller admitted that the search engine just had to make certain assumptions to fill in the gaps in information about the content. Sometimes, their assumptions are correct, and the new webpage’s ranking and traffic do not change for several days. Other times, the ranking becomes a little bit higher or lower than what it used to be.
Sometimes, people look for answers to unexplainable things that may cause changes in their site traffic and search rankings. And when they do not find the answer they are looking for, people invent theories to explain what happened.
Moreover, people are quick to assume that they have done a great job in their SEO efforts when they notice positive results, even if they don’t know the real reasons behind their success. This has something to do with human psychology, as people tend to make biased attributions since it’s easy to take the credit if one performs well instead of when they perform poorly. This leads to scenarios where they unwittingly do things that are actually bad for SEO and end up blaming Google’s algorithm if they get a negative outcome.
This is likely the origin of the Sandbox and Honeymoon theories, where many webmasters and publishers use low-quality SEO practices without knowing that what they are doing is actually bad for their rankings.
Fortunately, Mueller explained what really caused such ranking fluctuations, exposing the Google Sandbox and Honeymoon theories as mere myth.
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