SEO Anchor Text Need-to-Know Guide
We all know ‘that’ SEO who has discovered the ‘perfect’ anchor text ratio. But is that actually possible? And will what works for one website, work for someone else? There’s actually quite a few people in the SEO world who profess themselves to be ‘anchor text experts’, but what does good anchor look like for your website? What do the latest SEO studies and data reveal about anchor text ratio, ‘natural’ anchors, and the rest?
What is an Anchor Text?
When you see a link, the anchor text is simply the words that are hyperlinked back to your webpage. They help search engines place your website in context and also give users information about what they should expect next: sometimes an anchor text will include a command for the user, like “click here”, or “read more”.
In HTML, your anchor text looks like this (in bold):
<a href=”https://www.w3schools.com/html/”>Visit our HTML tutorial</a>
In days gone by, manipulating anchor texts to increase search engine rankings was an SEO tactic exploited by many SEOs and business owners.Nowadays, people prefer a more more measured, data-driven approach to anchor texts.
Anchor Text Before Penguin
Before the days of search engine updates, there was a lot of obvious anchor text sculpting going on. SEOs were using anchor text as a way to inflate their search engine rankings, trying to rank for very specific keywords, including adjectives and locations. This was a problem for search engines who weren’t able to provide users with the best possible search results.
The solution? Penalize unnatural anchor texts and spammy link building. The Google Penguin update back in 2012 specifically targeted anchor text sculpting which has reached ridiculous proportions. Many sites had thousands of low-quality links in the style of “buy the best cheap carp fishing tackle in Oregon here” — anchor texts that were way too optimized and misleading to the user.
Thanks to Penguin and the subsequent penalties, brands and businesses now focus on having a much more natural anchor text profile (though Ryan Stewart highlights the irony of over-engineering ‘natural’ anchor texts). Ryan’s research shows that big brands like Google have a lot of ‘other’ anchor text: a collection of miscellaneous words and phrases that have been naturally selected by people. (Maybe the most natural thing of all is having no control)?
Types of Anchor Text
So what different types of anchor texts are there? It’s important to understand the differences:
- Exact-match: an exact match of your main keywords in an exact match phrase “buy flowers online”
- Partial-match: a partial match of the main keyword “buy flowers online today” or “buy some flowers” etc.
- Long tail: a phrase that includes extra relevant information “buy some flowers for your wife online”, “buy flowers from an online flower shop”
- Branded: this is your brand name, and it includes different spelling and variants of it: “Coca Cola”, “Coke”, “Coca-Cola”etc.
- Generic: these are generic phrases you’d expect to find online like “click here”, “read more”, “visit” etc.
- Naked: just the URL of your webpage, with or without http(s)
- Image: when the image is linked
- Brand + keyword: a mixture of keywords and brand for more context: “HR software PeopleHR”, “brand alert tool Google Alerts”.
- LSI: the anchor uses synonyms of your keywords as in “purchase floral arrangements” or “get your blooms online”.
- Author: very common in guest posting and other online PR activities, your name would be the anchor text (useful for named domains and entrepreneurs).
These hopefully give you an idea of the complexity of anchor texts, and how managing them can be a very hard thing to balance. You may also want to think about how using sales power words in your anchors, especially in internal links, can help drive qualified web traffic to target pages. After all, the right anchor text will attract the right kind of visitor and the right kind of action.
Anchor Text Distribution
So, even though SEOs agree that unnatural anchor text manipulation and engineering is NOT a good idea, there are still a lot of theories of what the ideal ratio is. The idea is that you need to mix anchor text relevancy in order to place your site in the right context, and signal that it’s a reputable source of information.
Here’s one ‘formula’ that some people swear by:
Branded Anchor Text: 50%
Naked Links: 20%
Generic Anchors: 5%
LSI, Partial Match Anchors: 1-5%
Exact Match Anchors Text: 1-3
But in fact, trying to achieve a certain percentage is just manipulation and may put you at a disadvantage. I’ve found that anchor text distribution very much depends on your niche, domain quality, link quality, link velocity, and a whole other lot of important factors. Trying to beat your competitors using some secret ‘formula’ probably isn’t the best way to go: focus on site and backlink quality instead.
Pro tip: Check the backlink profiles of the top ten ranking sites in your niche (you can use a tool like Ahrefs to help you gather this data), and see what you can learn from their anchor text distribution. How far have they gone with their keywords? Do they have very powerful, aged domains? Is it all about branded and ‘other’ for them? It might help you design your own SEO strategy a little better.
Bottom line: keep it natural don’t put much effort into diversifying or manufacturing your anchor text.
It’s important to exercise common sense. By all means, look at the data and read the studies, but don’t try to over-engineer or manipulate the situation. Think very carefully about how you are going to manage your link building activities, both from an anchor text and quality angle.
Hopefully you have found this anchor text guide useful! What kind of anchor text works best for your business?