- Written by Nicolas Vanhoucke
The early days of SEO were like the Wild, Wild West.
Blackhat SEO experts were doing everything imaginable to rank their sites on Google.
That included keyword stuffing and creating spammy backlinks on a regular basis.
And for a time, it totally worked.
But these days, those older SEO hacks are long gone.
Now we deal with a much more sophisticated algorithm that pushes innocent-sounding updates like Hummingbird and Panda.
But as innocent as they sound, they can create some real problems for your ongoing SEO efforts.
One of those updates that affected SEO forever is known as Penguin and it specifically dealt with how Google uses backlinks to evaluate page rank.
And with Penguin now a part of the core Google algorithm, the anchor text you use in your backlinks and internal links is more important than ever.
So in this guide, I want to show you how to optimize your anchor texts so that they will positively impact your SEO.
But before we go there, you have to understand how anchor texts work at all.
What is anchor text, and why bother?
Even if you don’t realize it, there’s a good chance that you use anchor texts on a daily basis.
Anchor text is the clickable text that you see in a hyperlink.
So if the Internet is a highway, then you can think of anchor texts like signs for upcoming exits.
They send signals to both your website’s user and search engines.
And when used correctly, they will connect you to a different “lane” by allowing you to source credible information from another website.
They also play a role in helping users navigate your site as well.
If you were to look into your site’s code, you would see a line that looks like this:
This is the part of your site that Google is going to see.
There is a section that tells your web browser and search engines which link to follow.
Here’s how that translates to what’s on your page:
Or when a user clicks on the link, it will navigate them to the indicated page.
If you’ve never dug into the details of URLs before, it’s easy to imagine that merely creating a link is where the fireworks end.
But there’s a much more profound reason for brands to focus on this one simple element.
As I previously mentioned, in 2012 Google decided to rock the SEO world by releasing the Penguin algorithm.
Due to this change, anchor text quickly became the easiest way to determine how relevant a reliable website was.
Google also started using backlinks and its anchor texts to see if a website had been over-optimized.
And since Google penalizes over-optimization in this case, the role of the anchor text was only magnified.
Since 2012, Google has updated the Penguin algorithm multiple times with dramatic effect each time.
More than a few brands saw massive traffic dips as shown by the orange line:
In many instances, traffic dips like this will also mean a dip in revenue.
Dip too far from too many hits, and your brand could be in trouble.
Or on the opposite side of that coin, if you don’t optimize your anchor texts from the start these days, you’ll never see traffic at all.
The changes hit 3.1% of websites that had been over-optimizing their anchor texts.
And those are just the bigger websites that were visible with each successive update.
At the very least, it’s clear that the anchor text used in backlinks is an SEO signal for the foreseeable future.
And with the recent Penguin 4.0 update in 2016, the game has changed once again.
Instead of rolling out on a progressive basis, Penguin now penalizes offending sites in real time for any anchor text errors.
Google now will only penalize the offending page instead of entire sites, but that could still affect your traffic and revenue in the long run.
So now that you know just how important anchor texts are to your traffic, let’s start diving into the different ways you can create an anchor text.
The different types of anchor texts
When it comes to search engines, SEO experts like to leave no stone unturned.
And in the case of anchor texts, we’ve had more than a decade to parse through all of the available information.
So it should not surprise you that there are a wide variety of ways that you can create anchor texts that are both useful and useless.
First of all, there are exact match anchor texts.
An exact match anchor text is when you use the same words as the targeted keywords for your entire page.
In the early days of SEO, using exact matches enough times on a single page almost guaranteed that your post would do well.
They were overused to such an enormous extent that, as mentioned previously, Google started to penalize overuse.
It’s still a good idea to use some, but in general, you should lean toward other types of anchor texts.
Next is a partial match anchor text, which is when you include your keyword along with other words.
As you can see here, I will typically try to use a few of these on my own site:
This is a helpful method to anchor text because I can still effectively include my keyword without coming across as spammy.
Google can still follow my link and have a better idea of the content that’s on my page without suspecting me of trying to manipulate its algorithm.
And since this will not be seen as manipulative linking practice, it’s a highly recommended way to boost the authority of your page.
Next, you also have branded anchor texts that rely on a brand’s name to establish authority.
As an outbound backlink, this is a great practice.
This is another safe and effective way to build a stronger anchor profile, as it signals to Google that you’re pointing toward other high-quality tools and services.
Of course, you also want to try to find other brands that will help you with your link building efforts in this way as well.
But don’t hesitate to link to another brand, especially with a keyword attached to it.
Google sees that as a healthy practice so long as you’re not over-linking to that brand.
Next up is the naked anchor text, which is basically just the website name.
In most cases, this is considered unhelpful.
When reading content, it’s pretty disruptive to suddenly read a URL instead of text that’s more topically suited.
This type of interruption can be off-putting and ultimately lead them away from your site.
It also might lead your visitor to believe you’re not as technically inclined as you should be, which ultimately calls into question your authority.
So whenever possible, avoid this type of anchor text.
After that comes a slightly better use called a generic anchor text.
You’ve probably seen a lot of these, as they’re much better suited to utilizing flow in your content and even prompt a call to action.
You can’t help but agree that these anchor texts are simple and generic, hence the name.
Use this type of anchor text when you want to draw your audience’s eye to a credible source or useful tool.
But don’t use it too much.
A repetitive “this page” and “over here” link practice can get pretty boring really quickly, and it doesn’t tell Google anything about the content you’re linking to.
The next option is known as Latent Semantic Index keywords or LSI for short.
While this may sound complicated, it’s really just the method that search engines use to predict what users will type into the search bar.
When I type “what is anchor” into Google, the search bar provides a series of other popular search options for me to select from.
The idea of using LSI keywords as anchor text is to create search-friendly elements of your site that Google can instantly recognize as relevant to a unique search.
And while there’s debate over the validity of this approach, it’s still not a bad idea to implement this approach when you can.
Of course, you want to make sure that you can naturally use these types of keywords in your content.
“What is anchor baby” or “what is anchor app” might be difficult to use in a way that flows as a coherent thought, so be aware of that when adding these to your blog or website.
Last but not least, you can also use an image anchor to help users navigate in and around your website.
In these instances, Google will read the alt tag of your image as the anchor text.
And if you don’t have an alt tag optimized, then Google will read it as a noText anchor, which you should avoid.
This method is a great way to vary your anchor text methods and provide a more non-traditional approach.
As long as your user knows they can click on it, then feel free to include one in a blog post or on your site.
But now that you’ve learned more about the various types of anchor text, it’s time to start diving into some best-practice SEO tips.
These will be simple, basic guides that can help you develop a more nuanced strategy with time.
To get started, let’s talk about keeping you anchor texts relevant and helpful to your content.
Tip #1: Stay on topic
The unfortunate truth is that there’s a lot of misconception about what good anchor text is.
But when it comes to SEO in your linking practices, relevancy is high on the list when it comes to what Google wants to see.
That means your anchor text should consist of words and phrases that closely match the topic of your embedded link.
Say for example you run a company that offers content marketing services to small businesses.
If you want visitors to your site to navigate to a blog post you created about the importance of content, you would need to add a link.
In that link, you need to select a word or phrase as your anchor text that is related to the content on your blog.
Otherwise, Google will see that hyperlink as manipulative and potentially penalize your site.
Here’s an example of what that could look like in your content:
In the image above, I’ve used the anchor text “how to structure your URLs.”
That introduces the concept that I want my reader to understand and shows them that they should be able to find relevant information on that topic.
Here’s what you would see if you follow that link:
On the other side is a blog post that’s an exact match to the topic I introduced.
Imagine what would happen if instead of a helpful blog post, I linked to a page that was attempting to sell you sunglasses.
You would be confused and probably wouldn’t ever want to follow another link on my blog.
You probably wouldn’t come back and read my content because it is seen as manipulative.
So Google isn’t the only one looking for relevance here.
If you want to establish trust with your website’s visitor, they need to know that you’re using sources and linking practices that are in their interest.
In one study, it shows that having at least one keyword anchor that signals relevancy creates a greater chance of ranking higher.
That means Google still values a keyword-relevant anchor text that provides a good idea about the topic of your content.
As long as you try to keep at least some of your anchor texts relevant, Google will have an easier time categorizing your content and ranking you accordingly.
Tip #2: Always incorporate variation
If you always want an exact match, Google’s spam filter will go off and you’ll take a hit.
If you always only link to brand names, you’ll probably have a similar effect.
When it comes to creating a strategy for anchor texts that help SEO, I’ve found that using your own unique and varied approach is best.
That flies in the face of typical advice you see that focuses on which anchor texts you should use based on certain ratios.
In this instance, it’s recommended to use 5% exact match, 20% phrase match, and so on.
The issue with these types of recommendations is that they vary widely based on whoever is advising you about what to do.
As you can see, there’s a wide gulf between these two recommendations.
In one case, it’s recommended to only use 25% branded anchor texts.
In the other, the prescription is for 50%.
Who is right?
Or are any of them right?
The answer is nuanced, and it ultimately depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.
In both cases, you can follow the prescribed advice and attempt to establish a baseline methodology for your anchor text practices.
But once you get a baseline, you should do what works best to boost your SEO and organic rankings and that requires a more in-depth evaluation.
I make this recommendation based on a study that displayed the after effects of Penguin 4.0 on a variety of different brands across different niches.
After the update, the first brand decreased its “target” or exact match keywords and redistributed its anchor text strategy more widely.
Once the changes were implemented, it fought its way back to its pre-Penguin 4.0 standing on Google.
But just compare the graph above to this one:
The most notable difference is that they are different.
And in each case, both are ranking well.
So what does that mean for ration prescriptions and other similar anchor text optimization schemes?
You should take them with a grain of salt.
While it may work for one brand, there’s no guarantee that it will work for you.
Plus, it’s incredibly tedious to try and exactly match another brand’s strategy to the letter.
Instead, you should focus on creating a more natural distribution for your anchor text scheme.
All of these variations rely on very natural language and display a clear intent to both search engines and your user.
By focusing on experimentation and natural language in your anchor texts, you’re more likely to see better results in the long run.
Tip #3: Test and track your anchor texts
Tracking how you use anchor texts on your site will take a bit of effort, but it’s the only way to test how they affect your SEO over time.
To start tracking the variety of anchor texts you use, I recommend using the Anchor Text Categorizer Tool by Linkio.
This tool will ask you to fill in various details about your content, including the URL, page title, your brand name, and your keywords.
You should also fill in the exact anchor texts you use in the content, as you can see below.
In this case, I’ve filled in a few from an actual blog post from my site.
There’s also a helpful percentage calculator just to the side of your screen.
This is where you can start creating a baseline for your anchor text procedure.
As I mentioned in the previous point, you can attempt to implement another brand’s scheme or develop your own.
As long as you see a wide variety of anchor texts that help your SEO, then you’re taking the right approach.
Another good idea is to start using SEMrush to keep tabs on what types of anchor texts link to your site.
To find this info, you’ll need to navigate to the Backlinks tab of the SEMrush dashboard.
From there, you’ll click on the option that says Anchors.
Now you can see which terms are being used by other brands when they link to your site.
Remember that anchor texts are largely used by Google as a signal of content relevancy and domain authority, so these anchor texts are vital to your SEO.
In my case, most anchors to my site are either my name or something marketing related.
That’s good because my name is my brand, and I help businesses grow through digital marketing.
These anchor texts took years to build, but because of the content I produce and the relationships I’ve built, they help my SEO and in many cases my articles rank on the first page of Google.
With enough time and the right approach to your own backlinking, you can build this type of backlink anchor base for your own brand and see excellent results.
Anchor texts are nothing new, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important.
Since 2012, Google has had anchor texts and backlinks on an ever-tightening leash, so it’s a good idea to ensure that you’re using the best approach for your own SEO.
Brands have been hit hard by Penguin in the past, and there’s always the chance it could strike again.
Knowing the various types of anchor text will help you create a well-rounded arsenal to use in your content and on your website.
As long as you keep your anchors contextually relevant, they will send a positive signal to Google’s crawlers.
It’s also a good idea to implement your own variation strategy based on your findings.
And speaking of findings, using tools like Anchor Text Categorizer and SEMrush will ensure that you don’t miss any important changes to your anchor text SEO efforts.
If you follow these tips, your anchor text strategy will be strong enough to boost your SEO and potentially weather any future changes.
What strategies have you used to improve your anchor texts?
Read more: neilpatel.com