Release from Google Sandbox Only to Search the Playground

The Google Sandbox Effect has been discussed at length in ourcase study of a new website first crawled in May by Googlebot.We can now further the case study with indexing comparisonsand discuss interesting Googlebot crawler behavior afterrelease, at the 75 day mark, of the study website from thatvery confining Sandbox.

This case study is not for the faint of heart - those justlaunching a new web business on a new domain name with hopesof instant indexing and immediate traffic may find theirwebsite very lonely for two and a half months - if it is in acompetitive market segment. You may as well plan to stay inthe Google Sandbox for at least 45 days on average. If someearly release stories are to be believed, search phrasesnobody wants to play with are taken pity on by Google and senthome for early release.

Those non-competitive or obscure search phrases seem to beseen as good, quiet little children, playing by themselves inSandbox playground and are sent home early on good behavior.Googlebot probably sees good behavior as playing well withothers, like a good little baby domain and NOT beingcompetitive as some young domains can be. Throwing sand inother childrens' faces and insisting on having your siteindexed, throwing sand out of the Sandbox with your brightplastic toy shovel and bucket will not be allowed.

Now that the site discussed in this study is out of theSandbox, it still lingers on the playground, unable to escapethe community park and leave for the business world to playwith the big boys in the outside world. It does indeed taketime to grow up and be the model citizen in this new searchplayground. Though on the first full day after this first weekof being released from the sandbox, the site has gotten 68visitors referred by searches done at Google, the firstreferred search traffic coming into the site. MSN has sent 8visitors, Yahoo has sent 6, 4 came from AOL searches, 2 fromNetscape and 1 from Dogpile.

The indexing behavior of Yahoo and MSN has been nothing shortof bizarre with numbers of indexed pages increasing rapidlyover the first two months to reflect 6,941 pages indexed until8 weeks into this study and we outlined previously how numberschanged as you click through results pages first upward, thendownward to about half the total of highest numbers listedalong the top of the results pages.

It appears that Yahoo and MSN are playing on the 'slipperyslide' in this playground, climbing to the top of the ladderof results at about 10 week mark showing 8,210 and 6,941 pagesrespectively indexed, then sliding down again to 3,510 forYahoo and 373 for MSN, as of this writing two weeks later onAugust 6. Still, Yahoo will show you only 1,000 (100 pages) ofthose results and MSN will show you only 250 results, or 25pages, no matter how many they claim to index. MSNbot iscrawling the site faster and more consistently than any of theengines, yet shows by far fewer pages indexed than the others.

One of the interesting comparisons between Google and MSN inour Sandbox study is that Google will show you most of whatthey claim to have indexed after you click that link at thebottom of the first page showing only 3 or 4 results when youuse the "" query operator then go to thebottom of the page and click the link under the line reading,"In order to show you the most relevant results, we haveomitted some entries very similar to the 3 already displayed.If you like, you can repeat the search with the omittedresults included."

Go ahead and click that link, then you'll be presented withthe claimed total of indexed pages. That number has verysteadily increased since Sandbox release after 75 days fromfirst crawling of this Sandbox study site. The timing andnumbers of indexed pages at Google goes upward, and ONLYupward with VERY distinct patterns noted from raw log files.Crawling schedules seem to have been established for this siteby Google and indexing changes occur on a very regularschedule.

The first observation of Sandbox release was at noon onThursday July 28, seventy-five days from first crawling byGooglebot when a search turned up 379 pages indexed with a"" query. That number increased later thesame evening to 3,660 pages at a search done around the dinnerhour Pacific time. Oddly, the next day, Friday July 29, thenumber took a slight hop upward to 3,700 pages and on thefollowing Monday, showed 3,770 pages indexed.

That schedule and pattern have repeated on the second week ofSandbox release when a "" query produced5,660 results from from Google for the site on Thursday August4 at just after noon and then nearly doubled at around thedinner hour to 10,700 pages on that same query. A final checkjust now on Saturday shows it at 12,100 pages indexed byGoogle. It should be pointed out to those who wonder about thetotal number of pages that this is a dynamic site with a verylarge archive of articles that increases daily as newsubmissions are contributed by member authors at the site.

Those articles are added through a content management systemon a daily basis by an editor who reviews submissions andprocesses them for approvals or rejections. Those approved aremade live from the home page nightly. We've started doing thison the crawler's schedules as we've noted very regular visitsby Yahoo's Slurp crawler to the site home page just once dailyat around 5pm each evening and Googlebot visiting the homepage only once, at near 11pm nightly, so we've instituted amidnight activation of each day's new article submissions onthe home page of the site so that none of the new pages aremissed by those crawlers. MSNbot seems to hit the home pagemultiple times through the day, so timing is less importantfor MSN.

Crawler activity has been heated, with Yahoo crawling theleast and the slowest, barely seeming to attempt any updatesand the total of indexed pages has not changed for over threeweeks since it peaked at 8,210 pages indexed and then droppedto it's current level of 3,510. As previously stated, Slurpseems to be unhindered by any form of consistency in indexingor crawling behavior. MSNbot has crawled extensively andfairly regularly for weeks, but that odd indexing behavior isa serious flaw in their utility as a search tool.

It should be mentioned here that AskJeeves had been noted tocrawl the site extensively early in this case study anddisplayed a very regular and consistent crawl, but stoppedabruptly three weeks ago on july 13, after hitting most of thepages then available on the site. Teoma, their spider, hasbeen absent ever since and they have not indexed this domainat all since first crawling on May 23, over 10 weeks ago.Clearly, Teoma appears to have the longest Sandbox of all thesearch engines.

Much has been learned in this Sandbox case study about crawlerbehavior, indexing delays, robots.txt requirements and indexupdates at each of the top three search engines. Where thatknowledge leads will, of course, change as algorithms andcrawling schedules are adjusted by MSN, Yahoo and Google. Butvaluable information has been shared that may help otherwebmasters to better understand each of the factors thatdetermine the success of any website.

"Further findings in follow-up articles at the 3, 6 and 9month marks, explore search referrals gained as Google addsmore pages and rankings fluctuations begin to level.Meanwhile, we'd like to encourage others to publicly review their crawler traffic through logs to compare behavior on newdomains to verify findings and disclose indexing behavior and timing for new domains and further document SE indexing as well as crawling behavior.

Copyright © August 6, 2005

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Mike Banks Valentine is a search engine optimizationspecialist

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