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Starting A New Blog? Here’s How to Skip Google’s Dreaded Sandbox

By Chris Lee 23 comments

monoflat_icons_100I recently read something interesting on Neil Patel’s blog, Quick Sprout. For anybody who follows him, you might have read that he’s starting a new project publicly where he’s going to grow a new nutrition blog and take it to $100k per month within a year.

It’s an ambitious goal, but what really caught my attention was his strategy about picking up his domain name and skipping Google’s sandbox.

I think it’s a great strategy if it can work, but he didn’t really go into much detail about it. So I decided to examine it further and put together a guide for anybody who wants to copy his method.

Using a competitor’s domain

One of the most annoying things about starting a new website now is that it takes much longer now for you to start driving traffic from the search engines. Some people call it the “sandbox” and it can take up to 6 months for your new site to finally get some love from Google.

sandbox analytics

People say the sandbox is theory and they’re not completely sure if it exists or not. I can tell you first hand that it is real. With the number of sites that I launch, I definitely have noticed it.

As a result, some people – myself included – have been registering domains, putting up a few pages of content and just letting them sit for a few months before starting to grow them out.

But there has to be a better way than that, right?

When you purchase a fresh new domain, you have to go through the usual process of waiting for it to be indexed, building a few links, and all the other stuff that comes along with it. And it makes sense. There’s no history at all on your fresh domain.

The way to bypass Google’s sandbox for new sites is simply to NOT use a new domain. This idea is actually not new. People have been putting up new sites on expired domains for awhile now with mixed results.

The problem with using expired domains is that they’re a potential risk. Your site has the possibility of behaving as if it were penalized as soon as you launch it.

It’s not always the case, but there were more than enough case studies on the subject reporting the same thing.

Another thing to note is that most expired domains are… expired. The site’s most recent crawl leads to a dead page or a stock page from its previous domain registrar stating it’s been expired and is up for sale.

Some people claim that Google discredits a domain’s strength once it is dropped. We don’t know for sure if this is true, but I’ve experienced it being the case myself.

Instead, Neil’s strategy is to purchase a competitor site that is pretty much dead, but are still indexed and ranking on Google.

By dead I just mean it hasn’t been updated in years. The owner has lost interest and it looks like it’s not even being paid attention to.

But isn’t that more expensive than just registering a new domain?

Not as much as you think.

The reason we’re looking for “dead” sites is so that we can get them at domain value and not site value.

You can pick up these sites for $100-$200, depending on what you’re willing to pay for it and if the site looks worth it.

New domains from sites like GoDaddy and NameCheap are usually around $10.

Would you pay $100 to get a head start with your new site? Would you rather pay a little bit more and skip the dreaded sandbox? Is it worth it to pay a little extra to start on a domain that’s already indexed, already ranking, and already has relevant backlinks from sites in your niche?

For me, it’s a yes every time. There’s no question.

Obviously, I’m not going to spend $500 on a dead site. But $100 is plenty worth it.

How do you find them?

To find these sites, simply do a google search for your keywords.

Don’t look at the first 2 pages because they’re most likely going to be active, get a fair bit of traffic, and from my experience site owners aren’t really interested in selling them.

Just sift through pages 3 to 15.

You’ll want to do the right research before you reach out to the owner and ask for a purchase.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. We’re looking to buy the domain. Not the site.

Don’t be too picky about the quality of their content, how much traffic it’s getting, and what they’re rankings are.

We’re looking for dead sites that we can get for cheap so we can use their domain. Most likely, their content will be replaced entirely.

2. We’re buying the domain to skip the sandbox. We’re not buying the domain to purchase its rankings.

Of course, if it’s ranking well and we can get a good deal on the site, it’s a bonus. But that’s not our main goal with this strategy. We’re buying the domain because it’s already indexed on Google.

Once we start putting up content, it will get indexed and start ranking MUCH FASTER than if we did the same thing on a brand new domain.

So don’t get too concerned about its current rankings.

3. Look at their backlink profile, but mainly just for spam.

It would be great if the site had a ton of strong backlinks already, but that’s not what we’re looking for here.

This is different from searching for expired domains for your PBN. Don’t get caught up in the domain’s authority and the links pointing at it.

All we’re doing is making sure that the site doesn’t have a bunch of spam links.

Remember, our main goal with doing this is so that we could start a site on a site that’s already indexed and ranking on Google for some of our keywords.

4. Check the site’s age

I would prefer a site age of 5 years old and over, and stay away from domains that only have a history of a year or two.

To check a domain’s age, you can use this free tool. Simply enter in your domain and solve the CAPTCHA code and it will tell you when it was first registered.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.47.13 PM

5. Check how many pages it has indexed on Google

To do this, simply do a google search using their site search.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.52.48 PM

The reason we do this is so we don’t get any surprises. Ten to a hundred is pretty normal – a few hundred is a lot – and hundreds of thousands should throw up warning flags.

If anything looks strange, just go through the pages to make sure they’re all relevant and there’s nothing fishy going on with the site.

6. Check the site’s traffic figures

To do this, I use a tool called Similar Web. It’s free to use, and more accurate than other tools I’ve tried.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.06.28 PM

Obviously, if you see something like millions of visitors, you’re not likely to get a response.

Writing the email / Contacting the site owner

Keep it short and simple. Talk a little about the topic of the site.

Let’s pretend our topic was baking cookies.

Don’t mention traffic and financials

In your discussions, avoid asking for how much the site is making or access to their analytics. Then, you’re making the sale about the site and the owner might decide to hike up the price rather than if it was just an offer to take over a “dead” site.

We already checked the estimated traffic using Similar Web so that should be sufficient.

Here’s an example of an email.

Hello,

My name is Chris and I stumbled upon your site today. I think it’s a great resource but I see you haven’t updated it in quite a bit. May I ask why?

If you’re not interested in running the site, I would love to take over it and grow it out. I’m a cookie fanatic, and love baking and sharing my recipes.

It would be really awesome if I could share my recipes through X.com. To show you I’m serious about it, I’ll even offer to pay $100 to you for the ownership transfer.

Please let me know if this is something you would be interested in. I would love to get working on this right away.

Thank you.

Best regards,
Chris

You might prefer not to offer the money right away and keep it in your back pocket for when they respond. But having it in the first email would probably get you a lot more responses, than if you were just asking for a freebie.

If they’re just sitting there, most people are more than happy to just sell it off for an easy $100. You’ll be surprised at how many sites are out there where the last published post was something like 2006.

Conclusion

The sandbox is what kills a lot of new people entering internet marketing today. They register a new domain, put up their content, and build a few good links.

After 2 to 3 months of getting barely any traffic and not seeing their rankings rise, they get frustrated and order the 5000 link blast packages “guaranteed” to be Google safe.

That’s game over right there.

Instead, if you’re going to start a new site, this is a great method to skip those months of dryness that maybe you haven’t considered in the past.

It may not always be possible to find the right site owner that’s willing to let it go, but it’s a great strategy to have in your back pocket for your next niche site.

Leave a Reply

23 Comments

  • Reply Oddvar Meyer April 9, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    Hi.

    Thanks for great post. I like this idea and will try it out myself.

    My question is maybe a dumb question but how do you see when the site is last updated if it is not a blog with post date?

    – Oddvar.

    • Reply Chris Lee April 9, 2015 at 9:56 pm

      The easiest way is to open up the page with Firefox. Right click on the page, and click on “View Page Info.”

      You’ll see a date next to “Modified:” which should tell you when the page was last updated.

  • Reply Ben April 10, 2015 at 2:55 am

    I also read the post on Neil’s site and was very please to see an email in my inbox to further explain how to find such websites .. I was trying to search for these ghost sites using “daterange” like this: “Keyword” daterange:2448257-2454832 but “daterange” seems to search the sites content not the last update point. Thanks for the article Chris.

    • Reply Chris Lee April 10, 2015 at 5:04 am

      Thanks for reading, Ben.

      I’m not familiar with that search parameter, but it sounds interesting and could be a nice way to filter out the sites we’re looking for. I’ll have to look into it. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Olli April 10, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    Hey Chris,
    Valuable stuff.
    And there is a question, maybe stupid – supposing someone started his site on new domain for example. He used some not from organic search traffic gaining methods that you have already mentioned or described in your blog: StumbleUpon, Quora, niche related forums etc. So does this strategy help to reduce domain’s time of being in Google’s sandbox? Or in other words does Google consider presence of social signals or other related factors to be a strong reason for perceptible acceleration in getting site in index?

    • Reply Chris Lee April 11, 2015 at 5:13 am

      Hey Olli, not sure if I understood your question, but links from quora and niche related forums aren’t social signals. They’re still backlinks even if they’re not that powerful for ranking your site.

      What we’re talking about in the article isn’t about getting indexed. It’s easy to get a site index, and you really don’t have to do anything really. Google will automatically crawl your new website and index it as long as you didn’t do something weird with your robots.txt.

      What we’re talking about are rankings and your site starting to rise in rankings and pull in long-tail traffic. Social doesn’t do much there. And backlinks, too do help, but it’s still a matter of freshness of your domain, having no history and only being registered and active for only a few months. That’s what we’re trying to solve here.

  • Reply Bhuboy January 21, 2016 at 6:23 am

    It sad I didn’t saw this before I started my new domains, but it will be useful in the future if ever I would like to start a new site.

  • Reply Nick March 24, 2016 at 11:24 am

    Great advice and I’m loving all the information you put out, Chris.

    I went down the expired domain name route instead and managed to find a domain in just 5 minutes that makes perfect sense for the niche, was first registered in 2005, is indexed, has no spam score, and has a DA of 11 and PA of 23. Just a couple of backlinks, but that’s not important.

    I’ve got a couple of questions I would appreciate you answering.

    I’ve read that you recommend high traffic kws (50k – 100k including variations). Is this for just a single kw or for all kws that make up a site? Finding these kws that also have low competition on the first couple of pages can be very tough, particularly when it’s in a niche that I really have no desire to write out.

    Also, I’ve read you recommend turning sites into monsters. Say for example the niche is curling (haven’t investigated it, just a random example) and there isn’t a whole lot to write about – maybe 50-100k searches in total covering the topic.

    Would you try to become the authority in curling, or have a more general sports site where curling is one of the categories?

    If it’s the latter I can see a few disadvantages: lose relevancy, substantial time investment for such a broad topic, competing with very well known sites, some other sports may have very tough competition etc.

    Thanks, Chris

    Keep up the good work!

    • Reply Chris Lee March 24, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      Hey Nick, the 50-100K is for a single page. Not a single keyword or the entire site.

      For something like curling, I would do my research beforehand to see how much the topic of curling can be expanded. If it’s a limited niche with few high search volume keywords, I would lean toward a more general site.

  • Reply jeff May 26, 2016 at 4:33 am

    Chris, seriously you should expand this topic and make it static on your site.
    Its VERY Important to know for the new site owners.
    And i can tell this post has the potential to go viral and it will be evergreen.
    I already shared it in my facebook.
    Look forward to this topic expansion.
    Thankz man

    • Reply Chris Lee May 28, 2016 at 4:40 pm

      Glad it was helpful! Thanks Jeff.

  • Reply Tom May 29, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    I tried to implement this and I have to say this is not as easy as you say! First there are HARDLY any websites that are outdated and look like personal websites not company sites.. I used scrapebox to find all websites where they havent posted anything this year first, than found all the CMS platform type of website and sorted them by any measurable backlinks.. Out of around 5000 scraped I was lucky IF I got about 5-10 websites to contact in any niche…..

    I think you haven’t really tested this out yourself, also that email sample could do with improving it A LOT!! no1 is going to reply to that… let me know if thats not the case ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Reply Chris Lee June 1, 2016 at 3:45 am

      Yup, they are pretty difficult to find since you have to email and negotiate a deal with the site owner.

  • Reply Ranga June 29, 2016 at 3:31 am

    Hello Chris,

    Thanks for the great post. I have a noob doubt here & hope you won’t mind answering.

    I have shortlisted a domain which was registered in 2011 and was not used to create any website at all. The domain is still active but with no website. Would this qualify ? I mean can this bypass Google Sandbox?

    Many thanks,
    Ranga

    • Reply Chris Lee July 1, 2016 at 6:48 pm

      It depends. If there are strong links built to it then it’s possible. But if it’s just a parked domain with no links, then don’t expect too much.

  • Reply Nagaraju Gunda July 29, 2016 at 12:08 am

    Hi Chris,

    I am currently facing this sandbox and this is a good idea. Thanks for the great article.

    • Reply Chris Lee August 1, 2016 at 8:21 am

      No problem. Thanks Nagaraju!

  • Reply Hemanth km August 18, 2016 at 9:57 am

    Hi chris,

    Is’t good to buy an 8 month or 1year old website from flippa.com and build an authority website. instead of asking webmaster for transferring ownership?

    • Reply Chris Lee August 20, 2016 at 6:31 am

      Yup, both do the same thing.

      The only difference is that people on flippa are looking to get max value out of the sale, whereas site owners with dead sites could be happy to let it go for a very low price.

  • Reply Andrew May 23, 2017 at 4:32 am

    Really interesting read and makes good sense. Wish that I found this site a few months earlier so I could have tried this technique earlier.

    • Reply Chris Lee May 23, 2017 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks for checking it out, Andrew ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Timo June 1, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Hey Chris! Great Article!
    Found pretty good website on GoDaddy auction, but it’s expired.
    So my question is, maybe a stupid one tho, If I buy expired website can I make it running again? Domain that i keep my eye on is 7 yrs old

    • Reply Chris Lee June 1, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks Timo. I don’t prefer picking up domains that are already expired and offline.