Creating an SEO Sandbox

An SEO sandbox is a website your organization can create to help with training, business development, experimentation, and even hiring. Regardless of its purpose, the sandbox gives you the freedom to build what you want without any risk to your organization or customers. Below I cover the benefits of a sandbox, the costs you should expect, and how to pay for these costs. I will also share a slideshow template that you can use to get others on board.

SEO Sandbox



The most effective way to train someone on a technical subject like SEO is by allowing them to practice what they learn. This is difficult without a sandbox for them to “play” in. In other words, a sandbox allows someone to apply what they learn in an environment where:

  • Mistakes do not impact the client

  • There are no deadlines

  • There are few restrictions

  • Training can be conducted anytime

  • The complexity of the environment can be controlled

Team Confidence:

Your team needs reassurance that what they do makes a difference. When it comes to SEO, however, it can be difficult for the team to see the results of their work. Even if they have full control over what they do and when they do it, it can take months before the results of their actions are measured.

At most organizations, the long-term nature of SEO is accentuated by factors such as:

  • Budget limitations
  • Infrequent updates
  • Workflow constraints
  • Recommendation dilution
  • Legal restrictions

These factors make it even more difficult for your team to see the results of their work. A sandbox, on the other hand, allows your team to remove these barriers, creating a faster feedback loop that more accurately represents the difference their work makes. Over time, your team will become more confident in their recommendations because they will have seen the benefits many times over in the sandbox environment.


Regular experimentation improves your ability to optimize the search experience. A sandbox provides a “lab” for these experiments to take place. You don’t have to risk negatively affecting a client site and you don’t have to set up a completely new environment for each test. A sandbox allows you to:


“80% of your success in developing someone comes from choosing the right person in the first place.” – John Maxwell.

Given the cost of hiring the wrong employee, organizations should do everything they can to find the right person for the job. While personality, interest, and grit are more important than “hard skills” like SEO knowledge, this SEO knowledge is essential for certain positions. A sandbox allows you to objectively evaluate someone’s SEO skillset. You can set up a controlled environment for testing them on their ability to perform a technical audit, code structured data, and draft metadata.

Business Development

Here are some ways a sandbox site can help with business development:

Cross-team collaboration

Other teams in your organization like social media, user experience, development, and creative can benefit from your new SEO sandbox. Find ways to partner on training, research, and business development to help your organization achieve more success.


Estimates will vary. Here is an example:

Initial sandbox configuration

Out-of-pocket: $50 one time + $130/year

  • WordPress CMS: Free
  • Domain: $10/year through Namecheap
  • Hosting: $10/month on Bluehost
  • Theme: $50 through Avada

Time: 10 hours

  • Purchase all the above: 1 hour
  • Configure environment: 3 hours
  • Set up a series of test pages: 6 hours

Content creation

After the initial setup, your main cost will be the time required for content creation. Below is one estimate you can use as a starting point.

Time: 15 hours/page

  • Keyword research: 5 hours/page
  • Keyword mapping: 1 hour/page
  • Copywriting: 4 hours/page
  • Metadata creation: 2.5 hours/page
  • Structured data creation: 2.5 hours/page

Total first-year costs (assuming a ten-page website)

  • $180
  • 150 hours

Paying for the SEO sandbox

For most organizations, the $180 out-of-pocket cost is not the issue. It is the 150 hours required to build the sandbox content. Below are some tips for navigating this conversation.

Start small:

Many of the benefits above can be realized with minimal time investment. For example, training someone to perform a post-launch quality assurance test only takes a few pages of placeholder content.

Build through training:

Offset a large portion of the cost by using training as a way to build your sandbox site. For example, place your keyword research training in the context of updating content for your SEO sandbox. By doing this, you improve your training by providing real-world applications. You are also contributing to an increase in the sandbox’s organic search visibility. This increased visibility will allow you to realize other benefits, such as the business development opportunities discussed above.

High ROI project for downtime:

In any organization, there will likely be a time where work is held up for one reason or another. Developing your sandbox is a perfect activity during these slow times.

Quantify the ROI whenever possible:

While some benefits like business development are hard to quantify, others may be easier. Here is one example of how you can quantify the training benefits:

Currently, a new team member must code structured data for about five websites at six hours per site before their training is comprehensive enough for them to code structured data without help. This is due to the unpredictable variability of the content on each site.

Given these assumptions, it would take 30 hours until a team member is trained.

5 websites X 6hrs/website = 30 hours

With a sandbox site, you would be able to train them on how to code all common structured data in one environment. Let’s assume it would require 10 structured data training sessions (at 1.5 hours each) before the new team member’s training is comprehensive enough for them to code structured data without help.

Given these assumptions, it would take 15 hours until a team member is fully trained.

10 training sessions in the sandbox environment  X 1.5hrs/training session = 15 hours

Here’s the difference in time between our current process (train on client websites) and our new process (train in the sandbox):

Current process:

5 websites X 6hrs/site = 30 hours until fully trained

New process:

10 training sessions in test environment X 1.5hrs each training session = 15 hours until fully trained

Difference = 15 hours, or 1/2 the time.

Where to start

Use this slide deck to start conversations within your organization. Some pushback is to be expected, but you should persist if you truly believe the idea will help your team. Feel free to reach out to me if you are experiencing issues while you make the case for setting up an SEO sandbox.

Now go make the world a better place!

The benefits of an SEO sandbox range from training to business development. It helps you foster a happier and more confident workforce that delivers better results to clients. In this small way, you are contributing to a better world!