The sandbox: About as real as PageRank is vital.

I’ve been looking through some posts on this whole sandbox issue, because I know that it will get yet another mention in the organic listings session at SES Chicago.

I find it to be mind numbing just reading around the forum threads what people are saying about this non issue. By that, I mean a non issue to those brands, products and services that are loved and cherished by both their audience and search engines alike

I wrote a piece over at ClickZ some time ago trying to explain in simple terms what is usually confused as “the sandbox – and that’s the fact that your website is crap and nobody is interested in it.

Because, you see, if you do have anything that any search engine end user wants to see or know about – the search engine better damn well make it available, or the end user will simply go somewhere else and look for it.

Now before anyone takes umbrage at what I’m saying, let’s a have a sweet moment of honesty. Take a look at your web site. Yes, I know that you’re all proud of it because you had something to do with it, or you built it, or whatever. But try and remove yourself from these emotional feelings about your work, or the product of your own management and see if you can come up with answers to these short questions:

What makes this offering any different to anything else online?

What is it on this site which would literally, compel people to talk about it and link to it?

Why do I honestly believe this site deserves to be in the top ten rankings at search engines?

Now. Go the competitor’s web site which is ranking in the top ten (in the case of where you’re not) and ask the same questions. Now compare the answers (providing you’ve been honest) and you may find the answer to what you believe to be the “sandbox”.

And I guarantee it’s a business solution you need and nothing at all to do with any magic code or indexing issues.

Let me pose another question here. Go around the forums as I did, (if you can endure a lot of pap with the frequent little gem of intelligence – the usual constitution of forum posts) and tell me this: How many of the posts said something like “I’m the webmaster of the [place hard worked for, well marketed and recognised brand name here] and I’m in something called the sandbox at Google.”

Couldn’t find one, huh?

No neither can I. But I can sure find a lot of people whinging about this whole (non) issue who think that because they have a web site – repeat, web site, not good business model – that it should automatically do well because the pages have the keywords on, and everything.

Here’s a thing, linkmaster Ken McGaffin, discovered a while back when he was doing some research that, the Financial Times had hidden links on its home page.

Now, according to webmaster guidelines, that’s a bit of a no-no at Google. But, hey, guess what… No ban, no problem, no big deal.


Because if I do a search for just those two important letters “ft”, if I don’t find the Financial Times right up there – I’ll go to Yahoo! to find it.

Let’s assume for a moment that, the Financial Times launches a brand new mini site to promote its free pocket guide to the fastest growing European companies. Yes, they bought the domain two months ago and the site is coming straight out of the blue sky… Do you think that they’ll even notice this so called “sandbox” thingy, whatever…

Let me have a quick stab at what I believe, is the only slow-down process for a new site. In particular, a site which is attached to an already successful brand, i.e. it’s a site which, like a new calf, is born with legs to stand on in minutes anyway.

Let’s talk about how search engines use cache to reduce overheads. Let’s think about how much easier it would be if, instead of interrogating the inverted index for every single query (even the inverted index method can use a lot of overhead if it’s used for every single query), what if answers to certain popular queries were cached, and in fact, what if a search engine could use a predictive method of prefetching query results according to the time of day and user behaviour analysis?

To do that you’d need a tiered index. And you’d need a lot of user behaviour analysis. I’ve written about this before. And I’m about to embark on a white paper (as I still struggle with this damned third edition of my book) on methods of reducing the overhead and quickening response time for queries by having different tiers of indexing and different levels of caching at search engines.

How long would it take to get into the “tried and tested results for a popular query” cache?

I’d like to tell more right now. But as I’m still an amateur blogger and there’s an Italian restaurant beckoning…

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