Understanding Anchor Text
Anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink. When analyzing a link, search engines typically look at the anchor text of the link itself to get an indication of the page’s topic. For example, if a link uses anchor text like “iPhone accessories”, that’s a strong signal to the search engines that the page on the other side of that link is about iPhone accessories.
In the past, the more webpages that linked to that page with the anchor containing the phrase “iPhone accessories”, the higher the likelihood that Google would rank the page for iPhone accessories, especially if those exact words were used in the search query. Here, iPhone accessories is the exact match. However, exact match anchor text was abused as a key strategy by link builders in their SEO campaigns.
In early 2012, the Penguin algorithm update was released and completely changed the game as far as anchor text optimization was concerned. Websites that had an overabundance of exact match anchor text in their backlink profile were severely penalized.
Today, Google looks at the keywords in anchor text pointing to your website. If too many inbound links to a page contain the exact match, it is often a sign that the links weren’t acquired naturally. For example, imagine you have a webpage on your mobile phone site that sells Samsung Galaxy phones. You have over 30% of the 100 links that point to that page using the exact keyword phrase, “gorgeous Galaxy i900 S6 smartphone”. This will likely trigger the Penguin penalty because it is simply not natural for so many different people to refer to the same device using exactly the same words.
A more natural outcome will see some people spell “smartphone” with a space, some will spell it wrong, some will not include an adjective and some will use a different adjective. The Penguin update has just underscored how important natural anchor text optimization really is, and it is something you’ll need to take very seriously in your SEO campaigns.
Exact Match Anchor Text is Effective
Now, don’t get it twisted: using descriptive keywords in your anchor is still a legal and very effective tactic. In fact, an Ahrefs study found that exact match anchors still have some influence on top placements in competitive niches. A search engine ranking factors study by Backlinko also found that exact match anchor text still appears to have a strong influence on rankings. The algorithm update was specifically aimed at websites that abused the technique. These sites used the same anchor text on majority of their links, which is a clear indication that the links were not obtained naturally.
You don’t want to completely stop using keyword-rich anchor text. You just want to make sure they are in the minority (as little as 10% – 15%), particularly if you are a brand new site. You should also deploy a little variety so that it appears much more natural to the search engines.
In this case, you would use the results of keyword research to identify high search volume synonyms of your keywords that you can use as anchor text.
Developing an Anchor Text Optimization Strategy
In order to maintain a natural linking profile, it is necessary to link to your websites with a wide variety of seemingly random anchor text. Here are some examples:
A naked URL is a link for which the anchor text is the URL itself, so called because the URL is fully visible. They typically consist of some variation of the brand name of the destination website. Naked URLs are generally the strongest signal to Google of a “natural” backlink profile, and they should form the majority of your anchor text. Examples include: http://seoeducation.org, http:// www.ppceducation.co.uk, ppceducation.co.uk and www.ppceducation.co.uk.
Brand keywords are keywords with your brand names. They are comprised of some variation of the brand name for the destination website. Examples include “Nike shoes”, “Dell laptop”, “Rayban aviator sunglasses”, “I’m on Twitter” “Prada loafers”. Bear in mind that if you are highly optimized for your own brand terms, it is generally not a problem. In fact, it is generally a good thing. What you should never be over-optimized for are your money words. However, this is part of the reasons why you should not get an exact match domain, because you’ll be able to manipulate exact match anchor text with ease.
Moz recommends that 17% of your anchor text should be brand names.
A partial match anchor text is generally more specific than exact match anchor text. This type of anchor text includes one or more of the keywords you are trying to generate more visibility for. It also contains additional words. So, if your exact match phrase was “leather jackets”, these would all count as partial match anchor texts:
- “Gucci leather jackets”
- “black leather jackets for men”;
- “leather jackets for men with gold buttons;
- “gorgeous leather jackets for women”.
In the past, partial match keywords were seen to be more valuable than exact match keywords because they attracted better converting traffic. These types of anchor text should form no more than 10% – 15% of your backlink profile.
LSI keywords are keywords that are closely related words or phrases that are semantically related to each other. These words or phrases are commonly found alongside your targeted keyword. They are not synonyms. They are words that often go hand in hand without being synonyms.
For example, if you’re writing about steam irons, then you’d probably mention words like Philips, home appliances, energy efficient, electric irons, etc. These are LSI keywords. They help differentiate your articles from words and phrases such as “iron rich foods“, iron deficiency symptoms, iron supplements, iron man (the movie), and related keywords.
Using LSI keywords around your targeted keyword is a sign of quality content. The search engine spiders typically scan your page searching for closely related terms which will help it to understand your page content better, and LSI keywords will reinforce the relevance of the article to its topic.
With LSI keywords, Google can return search results that don’t contain the keyword that was searched for. This is as long as the webpages are semantically or thematically related to the query. In the vast majority of cases, a natural link profile will include thematically related anchor text. This is because people search for terms in different ways. For example, if your target keyword is temporary building, thematically related keywords include a prefabricated structures, storage units, emergency structure, etc.
This type of anchor text is a statement that contains none of your target keywords when referring to your page in the link anchor text. For example, if your webpage is about temporary buildings, a zero match anchor text could be: an alternative solution to conventional buildings. Other examples include terms such as “click here“, “learn more“, “more info“, “read more here“, “this website“, etc.
Exact Match Anchor Text
Exact match keyword-based anchor text are those where the anchor text exactly matches the keyword the link builder is trying to rank for. This should form no more than 10% of your anchor text.
Using the title tag of the page being linked to is a great tactic that will help increase the diversity of your link profile. For example, say you’ve written a guest post on how to cook baked beans. If “baked beans” is one of the keyword phrases you want to rank for, you can create your anchor text using the actual title of the page. For example, if the title of the page is How to Cook Baked Beans, instead of doing something like this:
… the best way to cook baked beans is to…
In the article: “How to Cook Baked Beans“, the author describes…
This is an in-context link (which should be the page title), and will look more editorial and organic to the search engines because it sounds like a recommendation to help the reader of the article, rather than an attempt to manipulate the search engine through the use of exact match keywords.
Other types of anchors include:
- Author – your name would be the anchor.
- Image links – the alt text may be counted as the anchor.
You need to add a lot of variety into your anchor text. For example, assume that the product you’re trying to rank for is a pair of blue jeans. You would alternate between the following:
- Image links;
- The title tag link;
- Authored links;
- Generic keywords (e.g. blue jeans);
- Keyword fragments (e.g. jeans);
- Related keywords (faded jeans);
- Keyword stems (blue jean pants);
- LSI keywords (e.g. denim pants);
- Long tail keywords (dark blue, stonewashed jeans) and
- Keyword variations (jeans that are dark colored or dark colored jeans).
If you’re a Bermondsey, London based plumber and your website is AndreSmithPlumbing.co.uk, a natural backlink anchor text could look like this:
- London plumber
- Plumber Bemondsey
- Boiler Service and Repair
- London Plumbing
- Best Plumber in Bemondsey, London
- A plumber in London
- An expert at fixing broken boilers.
- Plumbing company
- Plumbing Bermondsey
- Andre Smith Plumbing
- More info, read here, etc.
Importance of a Natural Backlink Profile
It is important for your backlink profile to look as natural and as authoritative as possible. It should contain each of the anchors described above. The most natural anchor texts to use for any link to a page on your site are the page title, naked URLs and brand anchors.
In 2012, Google updated their link schemes document specifically citing three new topics:
(1) Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
(2) Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for these types of articles that include links that pass PageRank
(3) Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.
If you were writing a guest post for another site with the intention of generating a backlink to your site, avoid using too many optimized anchor text to avoid attracting a Google penalty. In such a situation, use either the page title or branded URL as the anchor text.
It is important to vary your link text. If you have published an article on the health benefits of coconut oil for example, be sure to do some research on Google Keyword Planner to find out what people are typing into Google when searching for information on coconut oil, and then use those keywords to craft your page title so that you can use them in a more natural way in your anchor text.