The South African government issued a gazette on the weekend of 27th March stating that every SA website needs to include a link to https://sacoronavirus.co.za/
This https://sacoronavirus.co.za/ domain was registered on the 11th of March 2020 and the website was probably loaded a few days after that. By the 30th of March, the website had 429 000 backlinks and on the 7th April, it had over 3.1 million backlinks.
Currently, the website doesn’t rank at all for keywords relating to COVID-19, which you would find quite strange considering the high number of quality websites linking to it. Some of South Africa’s high authoritative websites are linking, such as government websites, universities and online news websites, but this hasn’t impacted Google’s SEO rankings for the site much at all.
There are some points to consider with this website. Firstly, studies have shown that it can take 10 weeks for Google to consider backlinks, but from the exceptionally high number of backlinks that have suddenly linked to this website, Google may have ‘sandboxed’ the website. Sandboxing refers to an alleged filter which prevents new websites from ranking in Google’s top results. This is a sort of probation period for new websites. This would certainly have triggered the Google AI bot to be wary of this website possibly because Google’s AI software sees the website as having bought all these backlinks.
Our suggestion is that the Government should rather have registered this website under a .gov.za domain. This would have looked more legitimate.
The website’s low SEO ranking could also be due to lack of an on-page SEO strategy such as header and other copy optimisation, as well as ensuring the website is relevant to not just the user but to Google too. Google has to learn about websites and does so by understanding the copy/text within the website.
After a few months, the SA Coronavirus website started to rank in the Google SERP, the Google rankings are all quite stable now. Does this show that the Google Sandbox exists?
From this brief case study, we can learn that SEO involves many different techniques and strategies to be implemented in order to achieve a high ranking on Google. Backlinking is a good strategy but cannot be done alone. On-page optimisations (ie numerous changes to the website itself) are also needed in order to rank highly on Google.