Mike Grehan says...

Random musings about search marketing, flying around the planet, networking and people watching.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Not the sandbox, again!

I don't usually bother much with search engine forums. I don't have the time. And so frequently it's the same old issues being regurgitated over and over again, as "newbies" enter our emerging community.

One thing I find, which is remarkably noticeable in these forums, is the lack of content relating to actual marketing. It's as if all the contributors believe the only way to rank at a search engine depends on some technical issues which need to be addressed. It's like, we'll do the SEO and then we'll have a look at your marketing!

In particular, I find this whole non issue of the so called sandbox so irksome. Yet, I found myself being drawn into a thread at SEW forums (prompted by an email someone sent me) about the non-existent-for-many sandbox , yet again.

I thought I'd address some of the points, for the final time (I wish!!!) over at my own pad. I really don't want to get into any further debate in a forum thread where you only seem to have a valid contribution if you're wearing marketing blinkers.

The gist of most of this whole badly conceived analogy of a sandbox is that new sites get ignored for a period of time by Google.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Sorry guys.

But if you work with no hopers from the start you'll get nowhere fast. You can call it the sandbox if you want. But I'll tell it like it is.

Awareness campaigns for new brands/sites, using niche marketing into verticals, especially for b2b sites works a treat. If you are a genuine marketer, there are dozens of methods of promoting a web site other than just sitting on your ass in the so called sandbox, waiting around for Google to do YOUR job.

The minute you start creating awareness, driving traffic and increasing demand for a product or service, the faster a search engine notices. And for a good product/service that's where the snowball effect begins.

In said thread, my "award winning" buddy and on the spot conference reporter Barry Schwarz, apologizes a tad for disagreeing with me on the subject. My dear friend Jill Whalen (the Grande Dame of SEO) thinks I'm "plain wrong." And my "we'll get that lunch one day" pal, Robert Charlton thinks I may have erred on the side of "wrong" too.

Do I never see the so called sandbox effect when launching a new site? Barry asks. And the answer is... These days, no!

Is that because I have some special SEO power to hurtle my clients beyond the sandbox into the Google pleasure dome?

No. It's because I've learned to say no. And I learned it from some of the greats in this industry. You don't get sandboxed if you don't take on no hopers.

How could anyone in this business take on a client, tell them not to expect any results for a possible nine months AND expect to be paid?


Paid, to sit around and hope that some technical process might make your website popular with end users?

No, I certainly don't see the sandbox factor with businesses which are prepared to invest in a fully integrated marketing strategy. Those businesses which have more sense of reality than to believe that they can throw up a website and expect Google to rain down cash on them.

Google is driven by the end users and their demands for information. Whether that's research or commerce. And if you are a good marketer (as an organisation or an individual) you'll manage to get your product/service in front of your potential customers and begin to create that demand. And once there is a demand Google will sit up and notice.

When trying to penetrate a new market place, or increase market share in an existing market place, classically trained marketers use a variation of strategies. They can "push" the product into the market place. They can "pull" the product into the market place. Or they can do the ultimate combo of "push and pull".

It's more commonly known as marketing muscle. And if you take on a client new to a market sector and don't perform a marketing audit to discover just how much muscle the competitors have, and by that I mean cross channel, then you do your client a disservice.

If your client has developed a new cola and is now going up against Coke and Pepsi, will pure SEO help him up the charts at Google? Or will he need marketing parity in order to compete? The latter, obviously.

At the future of search session in Chicago, a few weeks ago, Fredrick Marckini made reference to incidents when his clients' TV campaigns still cause a huge spike in their search performance (unfortunately, the clients seem to forget to inform their search vendor about this other marketing activity.)

This only goes to prove how a pull strategy can work in search. People see product/service on TV, want more information, go to Google. That demand in terms of numbers of queries puts Google on red alert. They simply have to give their end users the information they're looking for. For fear of the end user going to yahoo! or elsewhere to find it .

Assume that a brand new player has entered a certain market place and they're on a brand building mission across all channels. Does anyone really think that Google would impose a penalty on them such as a "sandbox" when the end user is screaming for information?

Search engines are not a panacea for marketing. They're simply in the mix.

Without performing a marketing audit of behalf of your new client to discover the amount of marketing muscle you need to have parity in the market place with all competitors, you could be on a hiding to nothing to begin with.

In the thread that sparked this post, regular forum poster and moderator at SEW forums, Marcia, questions an example I gave about the pulling power of TV into search.

Winner of the UK talent show X Factor, Shayne Ward is about to become Shayne Ward Inc. His new song is set to be a record beater and his fan base is in the hundreds of thousands.

He came from nowhere to national superstardom overnight. Marcia asks what competitive keywords will his web site be found on? The fact is, his name is the competitive term. As the money machine swings into action and he gains more exposure, the more queries there will be for information about him at search engines.

As the record company and the dozens of merchandise sites and the concert ticket sales sites and the fan sites compete for the top spots at Google, the harder it will become to crack.

Up until very recently, Shayne Ward as a search term was of zero interest to a search engine. Now, specifically in the UK, because of the sheer volume of queries, they know who he is and have lots of information about him.

No sandbox for Shayne sites. Just think how many disappointed teenagers Google would have if they had to sandbox their new idol because his web site wasn't old enough to be noticed.

The thread was started by Dave Naylor, a leading expert in SEO tactics (and my closest SES neighbour!).

Both in the conference session that sparked the thread and the thread itself, Dave has meticulously explained a way of using a technology approach to getting out of the so called sandbox. And I couldn't disagree at all with what he says. It certainly seems like a "quick fix".

But there are more ways to skin a cat, as they say.

I simply prefer my own method of a good old fashioned, long lasting integrated marketing strategy.


  • At 2:17 AM, fthead9 said…

    So much of the "sandbox" debate comes down to semantics. Clearly Google factors in the age of the site for competitive, i.e. money terms. However, as you so accurately point out, it doesn't matter how well you optimize your new cola site you can't reasonably expect to rank ahead of Coke and Pepsi even when they commit fatal SEO sins, flash, graphics, etc. Online marketing doesn't exist in a vacuum, and no amount of sandbox hand wringing will change that.

    By the way where the hell is the add to MyYahoo button so I don't have to remember to visit?

  • At 3:59 AM, Monty Loree said…

    Bravo Mike,
    I love your discussion on real advertising.

    After Google Update Jagger I am starting to exercise all of the other methods of website marketing.

    Never again do I want to put full control of my marketing into the hands of free search engine results.

  • At 5:18 AM, qwerty said…

    Mike, you know you're always welcome at the HR forum. We like people who know that marketing means more than PageRank. We've even got moderators who aren't SEOs.

    And I'm sure Jill would be happy to have you visit.

  • At 1:53 PM, Brian Turner said…

    Although I disagree about the existence of the sandbox as a technical process, as posted on your earlier entry, I think your objections are rightly originated in excellence:

    "How could anyone in this business take on a client, tell them not to expect any results for a possible nine months AND expect to be paid?

    Paid, to sit around and hope that some technical process might make your website popular with end users?

    Search engines are not a panacea for marketing. They're simply in the mix."

  • At 7:26 PM, randfish said…

    I think I may have taken your post a bit personally, Mike.

  • At 11:09 PM, Michael Martinez said…

    When Matt Cutts indirectly confirmed that there is an identifiable effect, he indicated that it was unintended and does not happen to all sites.

    Whether you have figured out the reason or not remains to be debated endlessly well past the next generation of Google development, Mike.

    Maybe people should be watching Big Daddy to see if it still has a sandbox effect.

  • At 6:47 AM, Andrew Goodman said…

    It appears that one of the phenomena that search engines can look for is burstiness.

    At least I think that's what you might be implying, among other things.

    Marketing muscle surely creates bursts of interest. If a SE is worth its salt, it should let you out of the sandbox(-like effect) upon clear recognition of broad user interest in your site/page.

    Honestly, though, the sandbox myth has been great for the PPC business. ;)

  • At 5:21 PM, Content Marketers said…

    Mike I think you make some excellent points about cross channel marketing. However I have 20 sites and sites of clients and I know there is a sandbox effect and many other filters.

    I come out of the advertising world and know the marketing you refer to is primary applicable to big corp. brands with millions if not billions of dollars to spend on advertising. Therefore they can afford multichannel marketing.

    For small businesses we need more creative ways to create buzz primarily from article, blog, RSS and content marketing.

    I use insights from my own experience and people like John Reese who create deep content creation which draws traffic and visiblity from the search engines.

    I instruct my clients that there is a sandbox effect with Google for about 9 months but also here is a program of using article, blog, RSS, and content marketing to establish your business on the web until your company starts getting top rankings from Google.

    This is how I get paid.

    In some instances blogs, RSS feeds, and content marketing start to show up highly in MSN, Yahoo, and even Google via Feedburner in 2 to 4 weeks after launch.

    I also tell them to put up a preliminary site right away to get the clock ticking in our favor.

    I think suggesting creative ways for small businesses to get search engine visibility is something I would like SEO gurus to focus on rather than telling them how unsophisicated they are.

    This approach in my opinion is much more constructive than the current critical remarks.

  • At 9:38 AM, SEO BB said…

    You entirely miss the point, Mike. People trying to climb the Google Mountain of existing established competition will find their sites are in search engine limbo until Google establishes to its own satisfaction the provenance of a newly discovered site and decides where in the existing heirarchy (the SERPS) it should be displayed.
    If someone wants to optimise for a new term, there won't be any competition. There won't be any mountain to climb, as there won't be any pre-existing sites to beat to the top of the rankings. They, and those who optimise for the term around the same time, they will be the mountain for those who come after. That's why there won't be any sandbox effect, not right away, for Shane Sites. Try it in a year, though. Try it in two years. By then there will be an existing heirarchy into which Google will have to position the site, and a necessary period of Google head-scratching on that subject will ensue. Hallo sandbox.


  • At 7:18 AM, Elmer said…

    Nothing much to comment about the content.. but only the way it appears on my Firefox browser. I wonder if others have this issue.


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