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Is it the Sandbox?

The myths and legends which are growing up around Google are becoming more and more bizarre as the years go by and their power grows and their eccentric PR tactics dribble half clues and hints into the public domain. When they were just a rising star amongst several powerful a players their reticence was respected along with their commitment to serving the best possible search results but now that they dominate the natural search results for many businesses we have become more nervous.

And yes Google driven traffic is not a sound basis on which to build a business and if your livelihood depended on it you wouldn't go there. On the other hand the opportunity to use it as a source of feedback and testing of website developments is overwhelmingly attractive. In the long run a combination of natural and paid for search is the answer but you have to have an attractive well positioned sales pitch before the paid for route has any chance of viability.

The sandbox is a construct which Google observers divined last year where it appeared that younger sites were being subjected to re-wighting, sometimes called filtering, to keep them out of the top pages of the results because of the way in which their content had been optimized. Apart from the newsgroup chatter there is a site which offers a test which attempts to discern the symptoms of Sandbox for a site. Tried it yesterday and we came out with a relatively low probability but as they point out the results are not definitive not least because Google are thought to amend the criteria for inclusion from time to time and the test might not keep up.

We owe all this nonsense to the greedy 'black hats' who try to bluff and bamboozle Google's algorithms into giving them high ranks. Google's core idea about the use of links from authoritative sites to relevant content as an indicator of quality has been particularly susceptible to abuse of this kind but they have fought back bravely. Unfortunately some of us seem to be getting hurt in the cross fire. On the other hand it may just be that our pages are particularly susceptible to some minor adjustment in the main algorithm that has knocked us off the top spots - we have three different types of page design on our site and it seems unlikely that all three would have been impacted at the same time - so we get drawn back to the sandbox idea again. In any case the wise advice is always - don't panic - continue to develop and improve the content of your site for the benefit of visitors rather than the search engines.

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