google honeymoon effectAh, Google. The Search giant that SEO “experts” around the world love to pretend they understand. As the years go by Google evolves, their search algorithms change, and it becomes apparent that very few really know anything about their complex search algorithms. Google is in fact very cautious about what they say and confirm about the way their search engine works, and some of the more complex theories can only be speculated about. Starting in 2004 the debate about the google sandbox has raged around the web, though it is now generally believed that the sandbox is a myth, and google has more or less denied its existence. It is still not unusual to run into webmasters who believe their site has become ‘lost in the sandbox’. This confusion around the way google operates has led to hundreds of speculative articles and so called SEO Experts who pretend they know what they’re talking about and offer advice based on their speculative opinions.

The Google Sandbox is a myth. What about the google honeymoon?

A recent google phenomenon that I’ve been hearing about is the “Google Honeymoon”. The essence of the google honeymoon is this. New sites are receiving unusually high ranking in the SERPs for their targeted keywords. This temporary honeymoon period can last for an unpredictable period of time (anywhere from 2-8 weeks, so I’ve heard), and after the honeymoon is over the site drops in the SERPs to a more realistic or natural position.

I have read differing opinions on the google honeymoon as individuals speculate on its existence, how it works and what its purpose may be. I have my own opinions as well, but remember it’s ridiculous for anyone to assume they know what google is up to.

Three theories as to why the google honeymoon exists:

1. Google may use the honeymoon as a way to get trending topics or news in to the top of the results pages. Google is assuming that new content is more relevant than older content, so it artificially inflates the position of new content in the SERPs. I think this theory is bogus. Google has clearly communicated over the years that they want to promote quality content. Pushing anything intentionally to the top of the SERPs, especially content that has not yet proven itself or demonstrated that it is authoritative is completely contradictory to google’s traditional modas operandi.

2. The google honeymoon is designed as a method to gather information and statistics such as CTR (click-thru-rate). It’s a quick shot at fame for a new site in order for google to assess whether the content of the site is valuable and whether or not it is matching the keywords and drawing clicks. I think this theory is even more bogus than the first one. Again reiterating my point above, I can simply not see google ever associating themselves with behavioral statistics in this manner. Pushing unproven content to the top of the SERPs is totally against anything google has ever declared publicly.

3. The site is actually ranking naturally, but as google assesses it, the site drops in the SERPs based on a varying number of factors. I agree with this theory the most. By agreeing with this theory I am actually offering up a whole new opinion, and here it is…

The google honeymoon is not a specific part of the google algorithm but rather a natural side effect.

Google is always at work on their top secret search engine algorithms, the most recent “Panda Update” caused many sites to drop severely in the SERPS (sites who according to google are lacking in quality content). There are a ton of speculations about what kind of content google is interested in promoting, but rather than speculating let’s hear from google directly. Google’s goal with search is this “Our goal is to return highly relevant results for every query.”

Why would a site suddenly drop in the SERPs?

  • One part of the Panda Update is that Google has knocked sites with too many banners or affiliate ads (links) and seriously dropped their rankings.
  • Too much backlinking too soon. These links could appear as unnatural to google and will affect a sites position in the SERPs.
  • Not enough variation in anchor text, again google sees this as unnatural.
  • Duplicate content. Even spun articles can have tracers in them that google could potentially spot.

The Panda update was all about rewarding sites with original and unique content. Content that google would consider as authoritative and content which is easily classified as highly relevant.

My Experience with the Google Honeymoon Effect

I launched a niche site at the end of February which ranked quite well in its first six weeks. I was targeting 3 primary keywords and 7 longtail keywords, and they were all ranking well, many of them were in the top 10 and a few of them were in the top 3 results. By the way if you think your keywords are doing well, they may not be doing as well as you think, read this article to find out the number one mistake website owners make when assessing their keyword ranking.

The niche domain was brand new and all SEO efforts were undertaken by myself. From the on page SEO to various link building tactics (including web 2.0 properties, social bookmarking, site commenting, obtaining some .edu and .gov backlinks, link wheels etc.). Suddenly at the end of the sites 7th week and in only a 24 hour period of time all my targeted keywords went from their well placed position on the first page to completely out of the top 100. To believe that this is the cause of an algorithm on a timer that suddenly went *ding* and said “your time is up, the honeymoon is over, your site is now going to rank more naturally, hope you enjoyed your five minutes of fame.” is absurd and ridiculous. The drop in the SERPs must be explained more logically, for whatever reason google has determined that the site is not worthy of ranking that well. Perhaps the backlinking methods were far too unnatural for google, and the site has been temporarily ‘penalized’. Perhaps google has determined the content of the site is designed for only one reason, to push a reader onto another website (to generate affiliate sales). Whatever the reason, as a webmaster I can not give up. I don’t expect google will be letting me know what happened any time soon. For now I suppose I’m a recipient victim of what I now call the google honeymoon effect. Though it is a setback, it is not the end of the site. Developing some original content, slowing up on my link building tactics, and ensuring that the built out links are more natural will cause the site to rise back up naturally over time. Remember time is a significant factor in the value and ranking of a site, the older the domain the more established and authoritative a site is considered by google. New domains should anticipate a lot of movement in the SERPs.

Is the google honeymoon an aspect of google’s search algorithms or something far less sinister, and more along the lines of what I propose simply a natural side effect. Sound off: What’s your opinion on the google honeymoon?