How to Prepare For the Real Time Penguin Algorithm

Chris Dreyer, President and Founder of

The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Cirlce of Legal Trust.

The Penguin algorithm update[1] originally rolled out back in 2012 and was designed to target web spam.  This meant that website owners using questionable link tactics to game search engines saw their rankings plummet.  In theory, those who had been using white hat SEO link tactics should have seen an increase in rankings.  There have been a lot of updates to Penguin since its release. Recently, however there has been some buzz stating that a live version of the Penguin algorithm may roll out by the end of the year.

“Google’s Gary Illyes said today (10/01/15) at SMX East that next Penguin update will be in the “foreseeable” future, adding “I hope” by the end of the year, and it will be the real-time version of the algorithm.”

– Barry Schwartz via

And this image on Twitter last night (11/23/15) confirming the algorithm will be live:


Here are some Penguin ranking factors which may help you prepare for it.

Branded Links

If you have ever made a link to another site (unless you are an SEO professional) you probably gave little thought to the text you used to make the link.  If you are like 99% of people publishing things online, chances are when you make a link you use either the domain name or the company name of the site you are linking to.

Google knows this too and a pattern of non-branded links to a website can look suspicious.  For example if a law firm has a link profile with 80% of the links using the anchor text as keywords they are trying to rank for, this is a dead giveaway that they are trying to manipulate search results and could end up in a penalty.

If you take a look at the distribution of anchor text pointing at my site below, you can see that it is much heavier on the branded side.  Most sites will look like this if they have not been blatantly breaking the rules when it comes to link building.

branded anchor text distribution

Here is an example of a distribution that is playing with fire a little.  This particular lawyer has a significant amount of exact match anchor text in their backlink profile.

non-branded anchors

If you or an agency is engaged in an active link building campaign for your firm, make sure that the majority of links being built to your site are branded keyword phrases.  This includes links with anchor text that have your domain in them, your firm name, or some variation of it.  Targeting exact match keyword phrases may work for the short term but the more you do it, the more likely you are to get dinged.

Vary Your Anchor Text

Similar to the branded link approach above, lawyers need to vary their anchor text when building links to their site.  Each link built to your site contributes to the overall profile.  The profile gives a snapshot of what your link building activity has been (as well as the activity of others).

When you use the same anchor text over and over again, the profile begins to look unnatural.  For instance if over the course of a month or two, all of the links built to your site have the keyword phrase “personal injury lawyer” this begins to look like someone is intentionally building these links to manipulate search results.

There are a lot of theories out there[2] on what percentages you should have in terms of anchor text for your backlink profile.  For the most part lawyers should avoid too much of one type of anchor text.  Most of the links pointing at your site should be branded or generic in nature.  There can be some linking of phrases that you want to rank for but the profile should not be weighted in that direction.

Deep Linking

This refers to linking to pages other than your home page and it is important for ranking pages in search.  Properly configured links flow PageRank and much of that is typically pointed at the home page of a site (the most linked-to page on any site).

Since the home page flows PageRank throughout the rest of the pages it is linked to, other pages on the site benefit from those links however PageRank is diminished the more times it is passed.  Linking to pages other than your home page is a great way to get them a boost in search.  Often this is also the best way to direct a person to the most relevant content on your site.  For example if you wanted to cite a blog post on someone’s site, it would make more sense to link to the actual post page rather than the home page of their site.

Matt Cutts gives a good overview of how PageRank flows[3] through a site although Google’s analysis of links has advanced considerably over the years.  Linking directly to lower pages of a site helps those pages benefit from links and also provides a better user experience.

The reason deep linking is good to avoid the real time Penguin algorithm is because it varies the link destinations on your site.  Notice a trend here?  When link building happens naturally, there are links built to many different parts of a website, not just the home page.  People naturally link to relevant documents and not just the home page of a site.

Natural Link Acquisition

Link building strategies should always include approaches that promote natural link building.  This means creating content that people will want to share on their social networks or link to from their own websites.  It also means creating campaigns that would create an environment for links to be built such as a scholarship campaign[4] or a promotional relationship.

This is the kind of link building that Google wants you to be doing.  If you can create buzz around a topic, generate content that is really good, and build strong relationships with other site owners, high-quality links will follow.  Here is a short list of natural link acquisition tactics that you can try:

  • Making infographics or other shareable graphics
  • Scholarship campaigns
  • Blog on a regular basis
  • Do blog post collaborations with other lawyers or business owners
  • Crowd sourced link building
  • Share your content in social and get others to do so

Natural link building campaigns can take a long time to be successful.  They can also take a lot of effort and often some additional investment of time or money (or both).  Getting these kinds of links will ensure that you avoid getting penalized by Penguin and the long term positive effects can be very good for your website.

Contextual Relevance

Another obvious sign that people are building links they shouldn’t be are because the sites they are getting links from have nothing to do with their own website.  Keep in mind that we are talking about things on a larger scale here.  Yes website owners will get natural links from sites that have no relevance to them and there is no need to worry about those.

Likewise if a site owner built a handful of irrelevant links to their own site, there is also no need to worry about those.  A problem arises when the link profile overall starts to look bad.  If all of a sudden there are hundreds of links from a Canadian music sharing site to your law firm’s home page that looks a little suspicious.

Make sure the sites that are linking to you are in some way relevant to yours.  There will always be links that have little or nothing to do with the legal industry or sites that have no business linking to you but as long as there aren’t a lot of them in proportion to the rest of the links leading to your site, you should be fine.

The Main Takeaway

The key thing that has changed here is the real time aspect of the algorithm.  Before this change, website owners had some time to make changes before they had consequences.  So lawyers who may have been working with an agency that was less than careful with their tactics had a little time buffer before the bottom fell out of their SEO campaign.  Now those effects are felt in real time.

The bright side of this is that website owners cleaning things up will be able to recover more quickly.  When you think about it, the real time algorithm is natural progression that makes search better for everyone.  Website owners who can prove they have made good changes should be rewarded instantly and users looking for relevant content should be shown the best results even if the best ones just popped up a day ago.

Chris Dreyer is the CEO and founder of, an Internet marketing agency with an emphasis on SEO for lawyers. Learn more about at






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