There has been a lot of talk about anchor text links and how it affects a websites link profile (the list of links that are directed towards your site that Google stores and uses to rank your site with).
- Some say that due to Google algorithm updates such as Penguin, anchor text links are not that important anymore…
- Some say that that they DO MATTER – but overuse of optimized anchors are ill-advised because it will put you in Google’s bad books..
- Others say that to have a successful link building campaign then your SEO supplier should LOAD UP on optimized anchors – because more backlinks mean a higher SEO ranking, right?
So, with so many conflicting views… what’s a site owner to do?
As with a lot of things that are debatable, the real answer is found somewhere in between.
The short and skinny of it all –
Yes, anchor texts do effect your site’s performance in search engines…
And so long as you integrate a varying arrangement of optimized and unoptimized anchor texts, and ensure that EVERY SINGE ONE is contextually relevant… you’ll stay in Google’s good graces.
The process is strategic, Which is why I’ve outlined it clearly for you below…
What is an Anchor Text?
It’s the colored, highlighted, clickable text that redirects you to another website.
Before Google changed things up by bringing in the Penguin update (more on that later), an anchor text was one of the best ways for Google to understand the context of any website.
The types of sites that linked up to each other painted a clearer picture of the content available to Google’s users. In turn, sites that featured highly optimized anchor text were rewarded generously by Google – with higher SEO rankings.
Then, the honeymoon ended…..
And in 2012, Google unleashed “Penguin”.
Nothing was the same again.
Welcome To Spam City
Before Penguin dropped, anchor text linking was simple and as with all things that make it easy to rank, it got spammy.
Back in the day, it wouldn’t be farfetched to see content littered with 100% exact match anchors – meaning sites would be linking out to content anchoring the exact keywords that they wished to rank for.
A practice in today’s standards that will get you penalized severely.
But back then, there was nothing holding SEOs back!
By using 5+ exact match anchors in a single article, SEOs played search engines into giving their content higher rankings for their desired keywords – only through the sole merit that they used a lot of the same anchor text for a single article…
(and not because what they were actually contributing to the internet offered any value).
Link building is great. The reason why link building is great is because link building increases the SEO of your site. Through link building you will get a lot of online traffic which in turn will convert into customers. Link building is not that complex. All you need to know is that link building takes a lot of work. So why don’t you jump in and try link building.
Not pretty.. is it?
This kind of “content” if you can even call it that… was the by-product of unregulated anchor text linking and it was found EVERYWHERE! Prior to Penguin this junk actually worked wonders as a SERPs scaling strategy.
The content wasn’t made to inform or educate, its sole purpose was to house a boatload of exact match anchors.
For a long time, nothing stopped this practice.
Until… Google Penguin.
The watchful eyes of Google saw how this was ruining the user experience of not only its search engine but also the digital content industry as a whole.
Seeing that the internet was filling up with content that was not well-written nor useful in any way, crafted only for selfish gains and optimized for backlinks…
Google fired back and unleashed the Penguin update.
THE POWER OF GOOGLE PENGUIN
The Google Penguin update completely overhauled how SEOs conducted their link building campaigns.
The update targeted one thing in particular – cheating SEOs who were manipulating the algorithm to increase site rankings via artificially made backlinks.
In short, the purpose of Penguin was to reduce the practice of creating spam-riddled content. And as a result, Google began penalizing sites that had spammy anchor texts.
These were pretty easy to identify as different from the sites that obtained white hat backlinks (i.e. legitimately earned ones) because legit links didn’t use spammy anchor text within their content.
Why would they? They were already creating high-quality link friendly content. Their anchor texts were either completely unoptimized or naturally flowed with the text.
After just a few days of launching Penguin almost 3% of ALL search queries were impacted by the changes in the algorithm.
A lot of sites that used aggressive link building strategies such as exact match anchor links vanished from the rankings overnight.
Just like that… Gone.
A well-established practice that guaranteed “results” – rendered useless.
Quality content became paramount.
The fear of a penguin penalty totally changed the mindset of SEOs and their backlink building practices.
Read through any SEOs “about me” story on their site.. and you’ll likely find the day their world came crashing down… you can read about my day of Google reckoning in our free link building course.
Anyways, being penalized was no joke. Once you got categorized by Google as an offender, your site would get buried in the search result pages.
Some tried to salvage their sites but cleansing “bad” links is an exhaustive and resource-heavy task to accomplish.
Which means, once penalized, an authority site became mediocre (at best) in the blink of an eye.
It was dark days my friends…
However, those of us who stuck it out and leaned into the lessons… learned how to avoid getting the Google boot.
The most important thing to note – to avoid getting buried with penalties – is the Frequency and Quality of the anchor that you use.
In the following sections, I’ll show you How and When to use optimized anchor text.
To start it off let’s talk about what anchor text is recommended to use.
Types of Anchor Text
There’s a lot more to anchor text then just exact match keywords.
To better utilize anchor text let’s first learn the different types and how they should be used.
Think of it as kitchenware. You shouldn’t use a butter knife to cut a sirloin steak, neither is it common to eat soup with a fork.
Sure… you can still do it… but it’s not really that effective.
Alright enough with the food metaphors…
Let’s talk about:
To avoid being penalized for using exact match anchors, partial-match anchor are popular alternatives – and to be frank we really love using this anchor text type because it is the most natural way to link to another site.
Partial-match anchors are anchor text that includes additional words that supplement the targeted keyword on the linked-to page.
It’s really a win-win. Not only do you avoid a penalty but you add even MORE context to your anchor text.
This type of anchor text is widely used by well-known brands.
However – regardless if you’re a fortune 500 company or a humble start-up, branded anchors work in the same way.
Branded anchors as the name suggest are anchors that use brand’s name as the keywords of choice.
This doesn’t carry the same weight as exact-match or partial anchors given the specificity of the keywords used but nevertheless, it is a great alternative for any link building campaign.
It’s safe to use only if you have a branded domain (think: moz.com or ahrefs.com) but if you have a phrase-based domain (luxurywatches.com or bargainbags.com) you should steer clear from using it.
Google will not associate your branded anchor with your phrase-based domain because it will think that you are using an exact-match anchor instead. This might end up as a penalty, and it’s not worth the risk.
Naked Link Anchors
Sounds funny… but it just means that there are no keywords or phrases, it’s just a link.
A naked link anchor is a URL that is used as an anchor “www.moz.com”.
This, in my opinion, is the safest anchor text that you could use for your link building campaign BUT this doesn’t mean that you can go crazy with it and fill your content with naked links.
Remember that the best way to avoid getting penalized is to be moderate.
Note: Naked anchors include URLs in every variety.
A generic word or phrase that is used as the anchor.
Simple. Widely used. But also quite boring.
You can freely use generic anchors all you want, but the thing about them is that they yield minimal SEO ranking oomph compared to its siblings.
For example: You can use the widely popular, “Click Here” anchor text. By doing so you tell Google that your link should be ranked for the “Click Here” because that’s the keyword you associate it with.
Given this, I advise that you use generic anchors sparingly, use it as something to diversify your anchor link portfolio and not the focus of it.
Linking is a little different when it comes to images because you’ll have to use alt attribution in the web pages code.
I know it may seem complicated but through the use of CMS tools like WordPress and plug-ins like Yoast, the process is made quite simple.
You just add in what keyword or phrase you want that images to rank for.
Rinse and repeat.
It is imperative that you remember to add in the alt attributions because without them Google will never find out what those images are or what they’re about.
And a word from the wise, every backlink matters.
And last but not least, exact-match anchors.
Having both the power to raise your site to the apex of search results or bury it under the weight of penalties.
Exact-match anchors are the golden double-edged sword of link building.
For an anchor to be categorized as exact-match, it must be a composed of a keyword or keyword phrase that is the same as the keywords that, that piece of content ranks for.
So if you want to rank for the keyword phrase “link building”, for an anchor to be an exact-match, it should, therefore, be “link building”.
This is an essential strategy to implement… However, given that it could also hurt you, means that it should be used with intention.
Note: Google has tightened its grip on this and every use of an exact-match anchor is reviewed and scrutinized heavily.
When done right, a properly planned out and executed anchor text strategy will fuel the development of any site’s SEO rank.
Which brings us to one of the most crucial sections of this guide.
When and how should you use anchor texts?
Should you stuff your content with naked links or are partial-match links the way to go?
The answer is quite simple – diversify.
That way you’ll ensure that you avoid being hit with penalties while also ensuring that you rank for the keywords that you target.
Anchor Text Percentage
The goal – diversify your anchor link portfolio.
Utilize each and every link type listed, and maximize the return-on-investment (ROI) of your link building campaign.
Note: With any SEO strategy it should first undergo a series of tests, reviews and calibrations. This percentage is what works for us and our clients but this doesn’t mean that it will work for you as well.
AKA – test this out first before completely overhauling your whole link infrastructure.
Okay.. let’s start with the anchor text that should be sparingly used:
- Percentage of use: 2%
Nothing more, maybe less.
I only use exact match anchor text if it is within a high authority web page – mostly external websites such as blogs, resources pages, general news sites, etc.
Because being posted or published in a site like Forbes, INC, or Huffpost, and being able to include a link in them only happens once in a blue moon. Therefore, maximize every bit of SEO rank that you’ll siphon from them by including an exact-match anchor.
- Percentage of use: 18%
Given the partial-match anchors are a more robust version of exact-match anchors, you should be wary of overusing them as well.
I advise that you aim for a reasonable 18%.
Again, you should ensure that you don’t go way beyond this percentage of use.
Because Google tracks this form of anchor link the same way it does exact-match link though not as harsh.
To fully maximize the use of partial match anchors you should always try to include the targeted keyword.
Best practice is to use phrases that are interrogatory in nature because those are the phrases that people use in the search queries.
- Percentage of use: 20%
Generic links are a necessity.
Not because they’ll help you rank higher in search but because they make your link profile look NATURAL.
For this reason alone, you must integrate generic anchors into your profile.
The use of them will shield your link profile from Google’s scrutiny. Without them, Google may deem your site (and every link directed towards it) unnatural or artificial.
And nobody wants to roll in that crowd.
Another crucial tip with regards to generic anchors is that you can freely use any word in the English dictionary as the keyword of your choice as long as it is not in any way related to the keyword you are ranking for on the site that you were linked to.
And when I say anything, I mean anything.
Naked Link Anchors
- Percentage of Use: 20%
Pretty straightforward stuff – naked links are one of the safest anchors to use and as such you should maximize the use of it.
Given that their safe to use, try to play around with their placements. It’s advisable to ingrain the naked anchors within the body of your content and not just inside the footnotes or ending remarks.
This gives it not only visibility but also increases its relevancy which in turn Google will reward with higher rankings.
- Percentage of use: 40%
Think of Google like that older (kinder) big brother that wants to see you grow and prosper.
It wants you to increase the presence of your brand which is why it holds little to no grudge to any SEO that uses branded anchors.
The key here is to make sure that your site has a truly branded domain that isn’t relatable to anything.
Think…. names, places, random words that don’t mean anything – they’re all fair game.
The ones you should avoid at all cost are site domains that are in essence exact-match or partial-match keywords.
Best examples are – flowerseller.com, nailsalon.com
Using branded anchors for these kinds of domains will only hurt you in the long run.
But… if your domain is clear of any keywords then you can go crazy with branded anchors as much as you want as long as they don’t exceed 40%.
Relevancy of Content is Key
Always make sure that the site that you are linking to is relatable to the keyword that you used for your anchor text.
Because this will help Google with indexing your site which will, in turn, support your ranking efforts for that specific keyword.
I know, ain’t that neat.
That is why you should have a strong emphasis on only using relevant anchor keywords at all times – excluding the times that you use branded, generic, or naked anchors, of course.
Haha – the irony is not lost on me.
Anyways, to ensure that you send Google the right signals, always make a point to use highly descriptive anchors in every backlink that you link back to your site – this would mainly apply for exact-match and partial-match anchors.
- Keyword: “Beer Pong”
Rather than write an article about restaurants that offer beer, why not dive into the various rules and mechanics that make up beer pong as a whole. This increases the relevancy of the targeted keyword which is “Beer Pong” and also helps user experience tremendously.
- Keyword: “Hamsters”
Instead of writing an article about rodents, you should write an article that is laser-focused towards the keyword that is used. Maybe an article about the different breeds of hamsters or a brief history of the species.
Now It’s Your Turn
It’s time to review your anchor text strategy.
Get clear on what content is aimed to rank for which keywords. Review the links you have within in it.
- Are they relevant?
- What anchor text strategies have you implemented?
- Are they diverse?
If not, perhaps it’s time for an anchor text overhaul.
While you’re at it, perhaps a content review is in need too.
Because ultimately, at the end of the day a clear anchor strategy will only get you so far. What Google really cares about is the quality of the content you provide and the links that it attracts.
We offer a free course on how to nail both of those key Google influencers.
Just click the anchor text below 😉